First English Lutheran Church in Wheeling
The First English Evangelical Lutheran Church was originally established as a Missionary Station in 1859. While Wheeling had several German Lutheran churches, the synod, in the late 1850s, was making a push to establish English Lutheran Churches. A missionary was sent into the northwestern territory of Virginia, and in 1860, with 24 charters members, First English Lutheran Church was born.
The lot of the present church at the corner of 16th and Chapline Streets was purchased on August 18, 1867. The cornerstone was laid November 14, 1868, and the Church was completed and dedicated on December 18, 1870. The congregation grew quickly and in 1874, an addition was constructed.
First English as it now stands was a complete rebuild. In 1897, the congregation was said to be “determined to remodel the church building.” Dedicated on January 12, 1898, the rebuilding and refurbishing of the larger structure you see today – with its impressive Richardsonian Romanesque façade of cut stone, grand stained glass windows, slate-covered steeple, and bright red ornamental rooftop pinnacles – came in a cost of just under fifteen thousand dollars. The chancel in this new First English was modernized in the “Akron plan,” a design in which the pews of the nave form a horseshoe shape around a central rotunda. This design was popular in the US in the late 19th and early 20th Century among Evangelical and Reformed denominations, but “rarely if ever found in churches built by more liturgically oriented groups.” The total cost of the rebuilding and refurnishing of the church was less than $15,000.
In 1927, at a cost of approximately $21,000, extensive improvements were made, and the 1898 2-manual Moller pipe organ was replaced with a 3-manual pipe organ. In 1940, a special note burning service was held, celebrating “all indebtedness liquated.” Further renovations, begun in 1957, were finished in 1960 and coinciding with the congregation’s 100th anniversary, totaled approximately $100,000.
In 1988, the brick facing on the north and south walls was completed and in 1999, major renovations totaling nearly $1,000,000 were done to and in the First English. In addition to making the church handicap accessible, major interior and exterior restoration work took place. The stone exterior was cleaned, repointed, and sealed, and a new roof was installed. The old oak pews in the nave were restored to an original finish, which had previously been stained black. A sky mural with fluffy clouds was added inside the sanctuary dome.
The following year, in 2000, preservation work was completed on the church’s stained glass. The windows created by German immigrants, employees of the Von Gerichten Company of Columbus, and originally installed in 1899. They feature visual symbols of Christian faith and include five figure windows depicting Martin Luther and the four Evangelists standing above their Christian symbols: Matthew, with a winged man; Mark with a lion; Luke with an ox; and John with an eagle. Restored by Renaissance Glassworks of McMurray, PA, while craftsmen took measures to repair and save as much of the original windows as possible, much of the glass had to be replicated and replaced due to improper firing at the time of the windows’ creation and because of unsuitable prior repairs. It was noted that Martin Luther was literally put back together again.
▶ Read a brief history of the church: from Program of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wheeling, West Virginia, 1960, by Nina M. Buechler.
▶ 36 16th Street
▶ Corner Stone Laying. (News-Register, November 14, 1868)
▶ Program of the one hundredth anniversary of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wheeling, West Virginia, 1960.
▶ Archives Vertical File: First English Lutheran Church, Archives and Special Collections, non-circulating, view by appointment only. Please call 304-232-0244 to make an appointment to view this collection or use the Ask a Librarian form.