The recorded history of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church of Olean, in Ripley County, Indiana, begins with a baptism. In an elegant and fading handwriting on the first line of a hand-ruled parish register which is now falling apart, it is written that an infant named Marie Sophie Reller, born on January 6, 1857, was baptized on May 3 of the same year.
Where was she baptized? Probably in the home of her parents, Johann Heinrich and Caroline (nee Linkmayer) Reller. Like many of their neighbors, they were from the state of Hannover in Germany. They came from Essen, probably a small village near the city of Osnabruck, in today’s Lower Saxony. (Just a few years ago, the German magazine Stern dubbed the people of Osnabruck “the happiest people in Germany”!)
The Rellers had found their way to Ripley County in Indiana, where they found many fellow German immigrants. They farmed the area around Olean, and they built a community. Their occupations are shown in the early baptismal register, where it lists the father’s occupation and place of dwelling.
Johann Reller was “a farmer who lives in Olean on the Raccoon Creek.” Heinrich Heckermann was “a farmer in the vicinity of Olean.” Johann Heinrich Twelbeck was “a storekeeper.” Johann Friedrich Lubbe was “a farmer south of the Harts-mills road.” There were farmers “in Olean,” “close to Raccoon Creek on the Madison plank-road,” “on the Vevay-Road,” “on the north side of the Laughery,” “on the Madison road,” “3 miles south of Olean,” etc. Another baby’s father was a shoemaker in Olean, another a merchant in Olean, a grocer in Olean, a day-laborer in Cross Plains, a wheelwright in Olean, a brick-layer in Olean, a cabinet-maker in Olean, a blacksmith in Olean, a saddle-maker in Olean, and a county auditor. Those are the occupations listed for the years 1857-1865. The vast majority were farmers. Unlisted, of course, is the occupation of the mothers – all of whom were at home caring for families.
There was no church yet in which Marie Reller could be baptized. But her parents and neighbors were working on it. Some time in 1857, a dozen or so neighbors got together and decided that they must found a Lutheran church. There were churches around them, but they were not satisfied that they could find a home in any of them. Partly, they were concerned about joining a church whose teachings were different from what they had learned growing up. Partly, they wanted to worship in their mother tongue.
By June 1857, these men had engaged the services of a minister: Rev. Rudolph (also spelled Rudolf). We do not know his first name. The only way we even know there was a Rev. Rudolph in our history is that we have receipts for his pay during the period shown above…..
Pastor Rudolph may have been at Olean even earlier than July 1857; we cannot know. The parish register entry for Marie Reller’s baptism is written in the same hand as later records, and such records were usually maintained by the pastor.
Rev. Rudolph probably conducted the first wedding at Olean in 1857 (month and date are not given) in the home of the bride’s father. The groom was Moritz Peege and the bride was Julie Thum. (The name Peege was later spelled Pegee.) He probably also performed the first burial: a child named Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Tepping (an early spelling of Tebbing). The boy was only about a year and a half old when he died of scarlet fever.
An earlier history published on the centennial of the congregation says that Communion was first celebrated by Rev. Mueller on Palm Sunday 1858, with six people taking part. However, this appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the old German records, which only show that six young people were confirmed on that date: Heinrich Stute, Carl Geissler, Heinrich Auf der Heide, Catharine Bulthaup, Marie Rolf, and Marie Schulenberg.
The records of our first communion, first confirmations, first baptisms, first funeral, and first wedding, are all in the same handwriting – and they all date from the time of Rev. Rudolph. Thus, we must certainly call him our first pastor.
The German immigrants of Olean would not be satisfied, however, until they had a church building to go with their pastor. So during the same year, 1857, they constructed the first church building at Olean. A receipt on the same page as the receipts for Rev. Rudolf’s wages shows that J. H. Schmidt was paid at one time $272.00 and another time $348.53. The treasurer (“Schatzmeister” in German) who signed for the congregation was A. H. Dresselhaus.
The building was constructed on the west side of what was then called the Vevay Road, now State Road 129. It was build on land belonging to one of the earliest members, John H. Smith. In 1860, he and his wife Louisa W. Smith sold three acres of this land to the congregation. The deed written up by someone who probably didn’t know German, says it was for the “Evangelist Lutheran St. Pauls Church.” John and Louisa Smith were paid $120.00 for the property. The trustees of the church on the deed include John himself, as well as Charles Wagenfeld, Frederick Reller (was this perhaps Marie’s grandpa?), Gerhard Rosengarn, and Gerard W. Tebbing. On that property there would eventually be a parsonage and a cemetery as well.
The little congregation continued under the leadership of a succession of pastors. There was Heinrich Mueller from 1858-1859, whose wife Wilhelmine had a baby (Alwiene) while he was serving Olean. Rev. Mueller was not on the roster of any Lutheran church body, but may have been affiliated with some Protestant organization. In those days, Lutheran congregations in America were not nearly as unified or organized as we are today.
Then came Rev. Friedrich Dulitz, who served from 1859-1861. During his tenure, we find the first list of communicants, which includes the following: Tobbing (an early spelling of Tebbing) and wife; Schulenberg and wife; Fruchtnicht and wife; August Freundling (?); Buldhaup and wife; Twelbeck and wife; H. Reller and wife and mother; Eugen Hunger and wife; Stelzner and wife; David Hunger; Geisler and wife and son; Heincke and wife; and, the pastor (no mention of his wife). Counting someone listed as a servant of the Fruchtnicts, twenty-six took communion.
In those days, Communion was only celebrated two or three times a year – usually at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. The pastor kept a meticulous list of those taking part.
The present strong tradition of church music at Olean has its roots in the earliest days of the congregation. We have it on the authority of Lucille (Williams) Miller of Versailles that “my grandfather Kroeger played the organ at Olean Lutheran Church for many years.” Her mother Louise Kroeger was the daughter of Johann Heinrich Kroger and Christina Lisette Dresselhaus, and she was born November 20, 1869. Louis was one of nine children born to that couple. The oldest was born in 1861, the youngest in 1881. Johann Kroger was born in Hannover and came to Olean from Cincinnati, according to another grandchild, Bill Gilliland. Johann Kroger and Christina Dresselhaus were the fourth couple married at Olean. It is quite possible that he played the organ at Olean from the time he arrived there until the time of his death on May 17, 1896, at the age of 59. If so, his impact on the congregation was perhaps as great as that of any of the pastors.
After Pastor Dulitz, the next pastor, Rev. Carl Robert Otto Mueller served five and a half years. He was the first pastor of Olean to belong to the Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States. The Ohio Synod, as it is sometimes called, was strong in its adherence to the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions. We may safely assume that calling a pastor who belonged to that synod was an important step for Olean.
Just before being called to Olean, Rev. C.R.O. Mueller had been received into membership of the Ohio Synod at the second meeting of its Southern District, held at Richmond, Indiana, from June 1-5, 1860. One of the leaders of the district was a Rev. Borchers, who would later play a role at Olean in the revision of the constitution. Before joining the Ohio Synod, Rev. Mueller was a member of the Indiana Synod.
Perhaps because Rev. Mueller was a member of the Ohio Synod, he took care to see that the congregation had a constitution before he left. The earliest constitution we know of was adopted in January 1866 and recorded on May 29, 1866 in the Miscellaneous Records of Ripley County (vol. 1, pp. 141-157).
Rev. C.R.O. Mueller served at Olean until 1866, which means his ministry included the time of the Civil War. He would later return to Olean to play an important rol in our later history as the first pastor of the group that left St. Paul to form St. Peter Lutheran Church.
Next came Rev. Theodore Deichmann. Judging from the handwriting in the register of baptisms, he arrived between 15 July and 7 September 1866. An earlier congregational history says that, while Rev. Deichmann was a very intelligent man and had a doctor’s degree, nevertheless “being unfaithful to the teaching of God’s word as he taught and confessed by the Joint Synod of Ohio,” [he] was asked to resign, which he did. He was permitted to serve only 10 months. It is interesting to note that prior to serving at Olean, from 1858-1859, Rev. Deichmann was the pastor of our neighboring congregation St. Paul Lutheran Church in Milan.
Olean’s next pastor, Rev. Friedrich Nestmann, came to Olean from St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Brookville, also one of our sister congregations. During the ministry the constitution was re-ratified and re-recorded at the courthouse, without changes except that two amendments were noted. Basically, they affirm the unchangeable character of five parts of the constitution, including its confession of faith, and say that if even three of the members ever wanted to stick with that confession of faith (and others did not) they would retain ownership of the church property.
On June 30, 1867, Pastor Nestmann baptized a baby, Anna Maria Lisetta Fruchtnict, of whom we have a special souvenir. Her mother Anna Maria Auf dem Berge, immigrated some time before 1852 using the old wooden trunk which is still to be found at church. She married Kurt Heinrich Fruchtnicht (who later used the names Conrad and then Cord), and they had seven children who were baptized at Olean. (The trunk was bought at an auction by Rev. Harry Ray and donated to the church, where for some time it was used to store paraments.)
In 1869, Rev. Philip A. Peter arrived. His ministry lasted only five years, but his influence in the development of the congregation was very significant. For under his leadership, the congregation decided to strengthen its commitment to orthodox Lutheran teaching.
Most churches include at the beginning of their constitution a statement of their doctrinal position. The “Glaubensbekenntnis” or “confession of faith” that opens the earliest constitution of Olean said the following:
“The congregation confesses the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the revealed Word of God and the only rule for our faith and life; and binds itself to them in its interpretation of the apostolic confession of the faith, to which all denominations appeal as their common foundation. This confession is final for Pastor and congregation. Teaching shall always accord with this confession, and the conduct of worship, and doctrinal disputes shall be decided by it.”
In other words, apart from calling itself Lutheran, the congregation did not specify any commitment to Lutheran teaching. That confession of faith, moreover, was “unchangeable” according to the Constitution.
That constitution was drafted in the mid-1860’s. It contains the signatures (or marks) of 46 men. When the same constitution was recorded once again in November 1867, only 34 men signed the document.
There were definitely arguments about whether the confession of faith should be changed. It is possible that the differences between the two lists of signatures reflect differences in attitudes. Perhaps the arguments over Rev. (Doctor) Deichmann’s teaching led to a reassessment of the constitutional basis for the congregation. At any rate, when they called Rev. Philip A. Peter, they began the process of changing the “unchangeable” confession of faith to make it more Lutheran.
Rev. Peter served Olean during the national epidemic of diphtheria. During the six months from July 1870-January 1871, he buried fifteen children, including his own nine-year-old daughter Mary Louise. He and his wife had two children who were baptized at Olean (Laura Marie Louise and Julianna Elisabeth) and one son (Frederic Jacob) was confirmed here. Another son, Martin Luther Peter, became a Lutheran minister as well. After attending seminary in Columbus, Ohio, he came to Indiana and served in La Paz, south of South Bend. He founded two congregations, including today’s ELCA congregation at North Liberty, Indiana.
Rev. Peter was a serious student to the end of his life, writing not only for church publications and Sunday School materials, but also hymns and books. He was commissioned by the Ohio Synod at the turn of the century to write a history of that synod, Geschichte der Aligemeine Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Ohio ind andiron Staaten. Co-author of the work was Professor Wilhelm Schmidt. In 1916 he wrote a popular History of the Reformation at the request of the church, so that duringthe 400th anniversary of that event members of the Lutheran churches in America could be better informed about their heritage.
He wrote at least one hymn that was sung at Olean in later years, because it was published in a Sunday School song book used at Olean from 1938 to about 2000. The hymn, “Who Shall Ope for Us the Portals,” is a hymn for New Year’s Eve.
It has been said that “during his pastorate conservative Lutheranism became firmly enrooted in the hears of the membership.”
Shortly after he arrived at Olean, Rev. Peter called on the services of a senior Lutheran minister, Rev. Borchers, to help him put the church on a more confessional footing. A new constitution was drawn up as a result of this, with a fresh confession of faith which made it clear that the congregation bound itself to Lutheran teaching. The new statement of faith read:
“The congregation binds itself without reservation to the collected symbolic books of the evangelical-Lutheran church, namely the Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, the Visitation Articles, and the Formula of Concord, as being a form and norm of the Christian faith drawn from God’s Word.”
Furthermore, the new constitution stipulated that the former confessional article was null and voice, and that any pastor of the congregation must be bound by this new confession, and belong either to the Joint Synod of Ohio or to another orthodox Lutheran church body.
Rev. Peter left Olean in 1874 for West Baltimore, Ohio, to serve a congregation where he remained for 35 years. During that time he became one of the most respected leaders of the Ohio Synod.
By the time Rev. Peter left, the congregation at Olean was well established. From 1858-1869, on average five your people were confirmed each year. During his five years at Olean, 72 were confirmed, an average of about 14.
After Rev. Peter came Rev. Johann Martin Koepplin, who served for three years. Then Olean called Rev. Frederick Wendt, who served for ten years.
Rev. Wendt was born October 24, 1838, in Botzenberg, in Mecklenburg (Germany). He studied in the Mission House at Hermannsburg, a famous place for the training of missionaries. (Remember that America was still considered a mission field at that time.) He served between 1870 and 1877 in Logansport, Indiana, and Wapokaneta, Ohio. After leaving Olean, he served at Vogel, Indiana, Weisburg, and Bear Creek, Indiana, and Reading and Cincinnati in Ohio. During his time at Bear Creek, he apparently helped out a little at Olean during the interim between Rev. Luedemann and his successor. He is named as opening the congregation’s meetings during that time.
Rev. Wendt’s wife was Karoline Kruekeberg. The Wendts had several children while at Olean: Wilhelmine Karoline, born 25 January 1880; Friedrich Christian, born 6 September 1882; Ernst Hermann, born 30 August 1883, and Ludwig Karl, born 1 December 1884. An older son of Rev. Wendt, Emil Wendt, eventually became a Lutheran minister.
About the time of his ministry it is reported that Sunday School had begun at Olean, specially for pre-confirmation children. A steeple was added to the church building and a bell was installed in the steeple.
During Rev. Wendt’s ministry also occurred the split which we have referred to before, as a result of which St. Peter Lutheran Church was founded. According to one of our older members, his mother told him that the cause of the split was the building of that steeple.
The written record of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Olean begins with a baptism on September 20, 1881. In 1882, some former members of St. Paul purchased a third of an acre from Robert C. and Elizabeth Blair, for $160.00 to erect a church. They called upon one of their former pastors, C.R.O. Mueller to help them. He was at that time serving the Lutheran church in Friendship. He served the congregation of St. Peter until they were able to obtain their own pastor, Rev. C. Titze. In 1885 Rev. C. Wooge served briefly, and he was followed by Rev. Richard Lehmann, who stayed until 1904. After this, they were sometimes helped out by Rev. G. Geibel, a Lutheran pastor from Osgood.
On the 28th of july 1885, Rev. Lehmann conducted the funeral of Rev. C.R.O. Mueller at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Olean. Rev. Lehmann was assisted for the occasion by Rev. August Schachter of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dillsboro, who played the organ for the funeral.
Rev. C.R. Otto Mueller’s biography is interesting in that he served both St. Paul and St. Peter. Here is the brief biography written in the records:
“Born October 6, 1817, he came to America in 1852. He was for many years a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Ohio, but lost that connection when he went to Michigan. He came back to southern Indiana for health reasons, and served the congregation at Friendship a little over six years.
In the morning on Sunday he preached, and by that afternoon at 5 o’clock he was dead.
Twice married, he leaves behind a wife and a little daughter of nine years (a little son of seven years preceded him in death), one brother (a lawyer) in Germany, and a sister at home. The deceased served during the American Civil War as the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul in Olean, Indiana. And in 1882 he helped out at St. Peter’s Church in Olean, Indiana. Age: 67 years, 10 months, 20 days. Richard Lehmann, local pastor”
The parish register also shows that his place of birth was Dresden, in the kingdom of Prussia (Germany). The place of death was the parsonage of the Lutheran Church in Friendship. Manner of death: Stroke brought on by the bursting of a large blood vessel near the heart. Place of burial: Common German & English burial place in Friendship. The text for the funeral was 2 Corinthians 1, 3-4.
The parish register of St. Peter Lutheran Church is kept at St. Paul, since many of its members eventually transferred to St. Paul. The record of baptism ends in 1908, confirmations and communions in April of 1905, burials in 1912, but the property on which their school and church stood was not sold until 1921. At that time, the trustees were listed as Henry Hoeferkamp, John H. Tebbing, William Gardeman, and Charles Hoeferkamp. Perhaps this sale was precipitated by the construction in Olean of a new, large brick church for St. Paul that year? At any rate, by 1920 St. Peter was no longer functioning. Only its cemetery remains to this day, still used by descendants of the members of that congregation.
Some of the surnames in the St. Peter record include Sprossig, Thum, Donath, Dresselhaus, Fuhrer, Barth, Hoeferkamp, Haase, Strubbe, Teuber, Barrelmeier, Fisse, Haase, Carr, Basset, Pegee, Gardemann, Stute, Gortemiller, Tebbing, Schmidt, Berner, May, Strautmann, Walter, Brodbeck, Hoefft, Schwagmeier, and Ballman. Several of these names will be familiar to members of St. Paul today.
The St. Peter parish register, like that of St. Paul is rich with historical evidence about the life of the congregation. We find in the register a list of the books owned by the church and school, fairly long obituaries for those who died, a list of song practices held, a detailed record of the Sunday services for some years, a list of the collections for various mission projects, and so on. For example, a love offering was gathered for those who were devastated by recent floods in Kansas and Missouri in 1903 – total of $25.00. Also an offering was taken up for the Syrian Orphan House in Jerusalem, in 1904.
As we said before, it was during the tenure of Rev. Wendt at St. Paul that the congregation split. His successor, Rev. August Stein, came to St. Paul, Olean, in 1887 and served until 1893.
The extant minutes of a congregational meeting are from his time. Translated from the German, they say:
“The extra meeting [that is to say, not a quarterly meeting] was held on the 21st of November 1887. The meeting was opened by Pastor Stein with prayer and song, and then to the selection of candidates for the New Year’s elections to the church council. The following members were chosen: Ernst Hunger, Herman Peter, Samuel Fisse, Heinrich Aufderheide, Bernhard Hunger, William Otte, Moritz Lomatzsch, Dietrich Rahe, Gerhard Rosengarn, Friedrich Wichmann. For the election master: J.H.W. Aufderheide, Friedrich Schwegmann, and Eugen Hunger. Then the meeting was brought to a close and adjourned, whereupon Pastor Stein closed the meeting with prayer. (signed) Bernhard Hunger, Secretary and Herman Peters, President.”
In the subsequent election, held on January 2, 1888, the vote was as follows: Ernst Hunger 14, Samuel Fisse 10, Heinrich Aufderheide 16, Bernhard Hunger 5, Herman Peter 15, Wilhelm Otte 9, Dietrich Rahe 5, Moritz Lomatzsch 12, Friedrich Wichmann 13, Gerhard Rosengarn 11. The five with the most votes were elected: Ernst Hunger, Heinrich Aufderheide, Herman Peter, Moritz Lomatzsch, and Friedrich Wichmann. According to the constitution, these five then organized themselves, deciding who would hold which office.
Pastor Stein was followed by Rev. Wilhelm Luedemann, whose seventeen-year ministry (1893-1010) was by far the longest the congregation had enjoyed until that time.
Wilhelm Luedemann was born in Falkenhagen, Germany, on March 18, 1850. He served as a minister first in Celina, Ohio, for six years, and then came to Olean.
Pastor Luedemann’s seventeen years at Olean were decisive in many ways for the future of the congregation. Not only were a parsonage and school built, but the groundwork was laid for the erection of the present church building. Also, near the end of his ministry it became clear that we were going to have to begin using English for worship and instruction.
Pastor Luedemann’s first baptism was recorded on 29 October 1893. The last baptism recorded in the congregation’s original parish register was 16 December 1906. After that, since fifty years of records had totally filled the old register, Pastor Luedemann started keeping the congregation’s records in a new register – a very substantial leatherbound book. What a fitting way to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the congregation!
The tenth anniversary of Pastor Luedemann’s service at Olean coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, and the congregation celebrated the double anniversary in style, according to an account (in German) published in the Lutherische Kirchenzeitung of November 14, 1903, and included in the booklet which was published on the occasion of the dedication of the new church building. After a festive service, he was presented with a new buggy in which he was escorted from the church to the parsonage, where a festive meal was served to all by the ladies of the congregation.
The next year, on February 21, 1904, the congregation dedicated a handsome new pipe organ, which apparently replaced the reed organ seen in some earlier photos. Rev. Luedemann’s daughter Agatha played the organ, which was 12 feet high by 7 feet wide and 6 feet deep, and contained 250 pipes. It was purchased from Hinners and Co. of Pekin, Illinois, and cost $550.
An article about the dedication service notes that the congregation has “about 40 voting members and their families, and enrolls some of the most substantial farmers in the surrounding community. The following gentlemen constituted the board of trustees: Bernhard Hunger, Pres.; Eugene Obendorf, Sec’y.; A.W. Lomatsch, Treas.; H.H. Samuel Fisse and Fred Werner, deacon and elder.” This was in the Versailles Republican, February 24, 1904.
On November 6, 1904, a Lutheran minister named M. Friedrich Giering married Laura Lomatsch, daughter of Alban Lomatsch.
In the fall of 1907 the congregation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. “New circular four-ply veneered pews took the place of the straight back plank benches, and many other improvements were made.”
Pastor Luedemann did not speak English, and it is reported that “unfortunately the language question caused unfriendly feelings between pastor and congregation.” Perhaps on this account, when he was finished at Olean he left the ministry and became a farmer in the vicinity. He lived first at Benham and then bought a farm in Cross Plains just east of where Jimmy Hyatt now lives.
And so the history of the first fifty years of St. Paul, Olean, came to a close on a fitting note. It had finally become necessary for the German Lutheran immigrants to begin adjusting to their American surroundings. No longer would they be able to simply recreate the circumstances of their beloved homeland, even at church where it seemed so important to do so. It would not be an easy transition. Nevertheless, they remained faithful to their Lord through those changing times.