Zion Lutheran Church in Wheeling
Erected in 1850, this red brick structure was built as a Congregational church several years before the German Lutheran congregation held its first services within its walls in 1852. "A textbook example of mid-19th-Cenury Gothic Revival design, the church exudes a proper Protestant primness. A projecting tower centers the facade and contains a street-level entrance. Buttresses with stone caps provide support at the corners and between side wall bays, while tall, narrow, lancet windows light the second-floor sanctuary.”
The Congregationalists of Wheeling decided to sell their new church building, and in 1852, a young Lutheran congregation marched from their former meeting hall to the new church they had purchased for $5000.
When, in 1850, the Rev. Frederick Zimmerman, Pietest of Lutheran doctrine and several parishioners, became ill at ease with the current practices at their mother church, St. Johannes, they withdrew from the church and formed their own congregation. Since, the 56 members who organized the new church reflected, Zion was mentioned so frequently in the Bible and that God so loved Zion, the new congregation should name itself Zion. And so, The First German Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church of Wheeling was born.
Music in the early church was played on a melodeon and the may source of income came from the rental of pews. According to church records, Wheeling’s first known Christmas Tree was displayed here in 1856, the same year the custom was introduced into the White House. In 1862, a rare tornado struck Wheeling. Approximately 100 children were attending school in Zion at the time. The roof of the church collapsed in the storm, trapping the children. Ten children were injured and three of the children, sadly, perished in the freak natural disaster. With the aid of the Pittsburgh Synod, construction began to rebuild, and less than a year later, a dedication service was held for the new church.
A bell was bought and installed in 1863, but its life was short-lived. During a spell of very cold weather in January of 1866, the bell, according to accounts, burst with a “terrifying report. After that, it had a strange sound, like mourner’s bell, or something out of this world.” The congregation quickly procured a new bell and replaced the anemic in March of the same year. In 1887, a Gothic steeple topped with a swan, the symbol of Martin Luther, was added to the tower. In 1940, this steeple was removed and a fluorescent cross was mounted atop the tower.
To celebrate the church’s jubilee anniversary in 1900, members and organizations of the congregation donated a crystal chandelier, a marble baptismal font, an elaborately carved altar, and 13 beautiful stained glass windows, many depicting scenes from the Bible. English was first introduced into services in 1902, but would not be exclusive until the mid-1940s. Though other German-speaking congregations in Wheeling stop conducting services in German during World War I, Zion was the exception. German services continued to be held throughout the early 20th Century, with the last German language service taking place on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.
When the Zion Lutheran congregation moved to the Wheeling suburb of Bethlehem, the Market Street building was sold to Oglebay Institute. Now called Towngate Theatre, it has been adaptively renovated to into a community theater and cinema.
▶ 1852-1970: 2118 Market Street (now Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theater)
▶ 1970-present: 2118 Market Street (now Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theater)
▶ Vertical File: Wheeling Lutheran Churches, Wheeling Room, non-circulating, ask for access at the reference desk.
▶ Geschichte der Ersten Deutschen Evan. Lutherischen Zions Gemeinde in Wheeling, W. Va., Im Auftrag des Jubilaums-Comites der Gemeinde Dargestellt von Ihren Pastor, 1900 (German language). Wheeling Room, non-circulating, ask for access at the reference desk.
Call #: Wheeling 284.173 G33 1900
▶ A Century of Service, 1850-1950: a short history of Zion Lutheran Church, Wheeling, W. Va., Erhard, William M., 1950. Wheeling Room, non-circulating, ask for access at the reference desk.
Call #: Wheeling 284.175414 Eh86c 1950
▶ 1850-2000, 150 Years of Service: a short history of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wheeling, W. Va., Erhard, William M., 2000. Wheeling Room, non-circulating, ask for access at the reference desk.
Call #: Wheeling 284.173 Eh86e 2000