St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Church in Wheeling
Originally called “St. Jacobus Evanelishe Luterische Gemeinde” by the German immigrants who founded it, the congregation of St. James came into being when pastors of the early Lutheran churches in Wheeling deviated from the doctrine and practice of the old world tradition. Many of the German immigrants had a problem with this and, in 1856, withdrew to establish their own congregation where they could worship in a way that was more in line with what they had been taught in their native land. Those meeting in 1856 felt, “that the Word of God was not being proclaimed in all its truth and purity. Other souls, too, were seeking the pure Word of God, hence the withdrawal.”
On March 30, 1856, the first public worship service had held and the congregation officially established itself as a Lutheran Church in April of the same year. The site where St. James stands today, on the west side of Chapline street between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets, would not be purchased by the Church until 1859. The corner-stone of the church was laid in August of 1860 and the dedication of the edifice took place following year. This first structure, a brick church, was set back from Chapline Street, allowing a front courtyard to face the street.
In 1890, the congregation explored building a tower and bell in the belfry. The cornerstone for the projecting tower and supporting structure which filled in the previously existed courtyard was laid in 1891. The addition was created with an estimated $9,000 of Cleveland sandstone, with much of the labor completed by members of the congregation. The lines of the older section of the church are still visible on the north side wall. The entire cost of the 1891 addition and remodel was $22,000 and included a new bell, organ, chandeliers, pews, fresco paintings, carpeting and the front of the quarry-cut sandstone. The side and front stained glass windows also added at this time, though not a part of the total cost as they had been donated. The dates above front doors of St. James read 1860 and 1891, and reflect the dates of the original structure and the Gothic-style addition. The beautiful rose window above the front entrance was added a year later in 1892.
In 1906, a new altar was installed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the congregation. At this time, because the younger generations were growing up speaking English, only the morning services were held in German, while evenings were reserved for English language services. When World War I broke out, the German-American population was Wheeling went to great lengths to convince other citizens of their allegiance to the United States. Many Wheeling businesses dropped their German-sounding names. So, too, was the case for “St. Jacobus Evanelishe Luterische Gemeinde,” which stopped offering German-language services and changed its name to St. James Lutheran Church.
Extensive remodeling done in the 1940s and 50s added a new balcony, an elevator, a chapel constructed in memory of those who lost their lives in World War II.
In 1987, an Administration and Education Unit, a modern red brick addition with a roofline composed of three triangular protrusions, which appear to be pointing at the spire of the original church, replaced an old church house on the south side of the building.
▶ 1409 Chapline Street
▶ Vertical File: Wheeling Lutheran Churches (non-checkout, Wheeling Room)
▶ Archives vertical file: St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, (non-circulating - access by appointment only, call 304-232-0244)