History of the Watertown Moravian Church
The Watertown Moravian Church had its beginnings as a “sprout” of the Ebenezer Moravian Church. It is a product of those hardy pioneers who came to this country from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Family names include Strehlow, Klatte, Flath, Witte, Hans, Klausch, Botzel, Klar, Gerbsch, and Eberle. They were immigrants to the States from the province of Brandenburg, Prussia and settled in and near Watertown in the spring of 1851. Prior to their long travels to this country they had been ministered to by diaspora workers of the Moravian Church in Europe. After settling in south-central Wisconsin these families applied to the governing board of the Moravian Church in America, located in Bethlehem, PA.
The Moravian Church in America sent the Rev. John Gottlob Kaltenbrunn to be the minister to those in and near Watertown. Through his 40 years of pastoral leadership “Father” Kaltenbrunn arrived in early May 1853. He was a man of great energy, faithfulness and abounding love to God and the church. Since most of the families lived in the country south of Watertown, the center of worship for the newly organized congregation was located there and became known as the Ebenezer Moravian Church.
A number of the other families in the city of Watertown joined the Ebenezer group but it soon became apparent that a separate and local organization needed to be formed. While there was a real desire to continue in fellowship with those members living in the country, all felt that it would be in the interest of growth and further development to have a congregation in the city proper.
On September 11, 1854 the “city” Moravians met for the purpose of organizing a new congregation, and was incorporated as of that date, under the name “The Moravian Church in the City of Watertown.” The lot in the city was purchased for $80, $40 of which was given by the Ebenezer congregation, $15 given in cash by the members of the new congregation, and $25 was loaned by the Ebenezer board until the next spring. Cemetery privileges were also extended by the new congregation without charge until the new group could purchase their own burial plot.
In 1855 the little congregation undertook the erection of a building to serve as a place of assembly for stated services and to provide a room for a parish school. The rear of the one-story structure contained rooms for the schoolmaster. The building, which had been located on the south side of Cole Street (no. 609), was standing until 2006 or 2007 when, in the process of being remodeled to be used as a home, the sides caved out and the roof tumbled down. The debris was hauled away and a new house stands in that spot today.
The brethren Marquart and Homen were voted building commissioners as plans got underway for the building of the Christian Day School. Tuition was set at no more than $.25 per month per child. The teacher was to receive $100 per year, living quarters and wood for fuel.
Lumber for the new building, erected in summer of 1855, was donated by the Ebenezer congregation from their cemetery. Bolz and Quintmeir made a gift of a thousand bricks. Individuals within the congregation donated labor and cash. Cost of the building: $500. School commenced September 10, 1855. The quarterly church council learned quickly that “the number of pupils was growing and places for them were too few.” The congregation had a debt amounting to $105, which was sizeable for those days when the pastor’s salary (Watertown’s contribution to the shared pastor) was $9.50 per quarter. But by December, 1856, the congregation was debt-free.
In 1857 the congregation began to meet the first Monday of each month, receiving offerings at the monthly mission hour to go toward Moravian missions. Thus began a devotion and interest in the mission of the Moravian Church that has steadily grown through the years. There is reference to a Sunday School in 1858.
In 1863 the school was turned over to a Christian Society, with the understanding however that the regular services of the congregation were still to be held in it. With that decision the desire for a separate church building grew and in November, 1863, the church council resolved to proceed with plans and sufficient monies were received and gathered so that the work could be started the following spring and the cornerstone could be laid on May 5, 1864.
The Civil War was raging at the time and the cost of living had reached staggering heights due mainly to the devaluation of the paper currency. Progress on the church building was so rapid that both roof and tower were added five weeks after laying the cornerstone, and the interior completed early in August, 1864. The building – which looked so much like Ebenezer’s building – was dedicated on August 14. The people gathered in their school house where they had worshiped for nine years, and then walked the short distance to the northwest corner of Cole and Sixth streets and entered their new church building.
Brother Kaltenbrunn had served the Watertown congregation from Ebenezer for eleven years. He had been asked several times if he would “confine his labors sole to Watertown,” but Brother Kaltunbrunn felt called to a more extensive service. With a request to the PEC in Bethlehem, PA for a pastor to serve the Watertown congregation, Brother Julius Eugene Wunsche, formerly of Germany, was called to become the first resident pastor, which he began in November, 1865.
The first parsonage – pastors had been living in part of the school building – was occupied on August 6 by Brother Jacob Hoyler and his family, and was formally dedicated the following evening.
The summer of 1865 saw the formal organization of a Mission Society which was to meet quarterly. It’s purpose was to “further the work of the Kingdom of God through word, work, and contribution.”
The Watertown and Ebenezer congregations had their first joint Mission Festival on May 21, 1866. The Mission Festival of 1867 produced $132, and one gold ring, by way of offerings for the day.
The 25th Anniversary of the congregation, observed on September 14, 1879, had members from Lake Mills, Ebenezer, and Mamre participating in the festivities of the day. A lovefeast was held in the afternoon.
The congregation purchased a pipe organ for $665 which replaced the melodeon that had been used. The organ was dedicated on May 23, 1897. Brother Albert Haupert was the pastor at the time. The total cost of the organ and installation came to $930.
The present church building was erected in 1904 during Rev. Meinert’s pastorate. It was the 50th anniversary of the congregation and was known as the Jubilee Church. The cornerstone was laid by Brother Meinert on June 12, 1904. Bishop Levering officiated at the dedication services held on November 20. The sum of $15,558.44 was needed to cover the cost of the building and fixtures including the chapel but not counting the organ and the pews from the old church. Those straight pews were used for many years in the chapel. The total membership of the congregation was 296 in 1904; 223 communicants and 73 children.
The bell in the church tower was added in 1907, the pastor Gerhard Francke officiated at its dedication on November 17. It was the gift of Brother and Sister Henry Homan, charter members of the congregation.
At the time of its 100th Anniversary, in 1954, the congregation had a large Sunday School; a Ladies Bible Class; a Men’s Bible Class; Ladies Aid; Mission Aid; Sewing Circle; Young Adult Fellowship (led by Sister Edna Gnatzig); Evening Circle; Youth Fellowship; and, Choir.
With the Baby Boom in the late 1950’s and 1960’s it was decided to build a Christian Education wing onto the building. The parsonage to the west of the church had to be torn down, and the parsonage of the Evangelical Brethren’s Church also had to go. The Brethren’s Church which once stood where the present parking lot is, to the west of the education wing, had lost so many members that they gave up their charter and closed. Brother Thorlief Harberg was pastor at the time the education wing was built and dedicated in 1964.
The house, a duplex, on the northeast corner of Cole and Sixth was purchased and renovated to become the parsonage, which has three floors of living space plus a full basement.
The 150th Anniversary of the congregation was observed in 2004. Each month for a year a son or daughter of the congregation or former pastor was invited to come “home” and be the guest speaker/preacher for the day. This was begun in September 2003, and culminated with a wonderful celebration in worship September 12, 2004. The congregation and guests were then invited to a celebration dinner at Turner Hall.
There were many Anniversary projects accomplished before, during, and following the anniversary year. A handicap-accessible lift was installed at the west (parking lot) end of the education wing; four restrooms (men/women on the lower level, and men/women on the main level) in the education wing were renovated to be handicap-accessible; new pews were made, the sanctuary floor sanded and varnished; new carpeting laid in the sanctuary, chapel/library and entryways; the sanctuary and chapel painted; and it was discovered that the sanctuary roof needed to be replaced. Pew cushions were also purchased as a memorial.
The congregation has always been active in missions. It has produced sons and daughters that have gone to the mission fields to serve in years past. It has produced sons and daughters who have become pastors within the denomination. Lay people have taken mission trips to Nicaragua and Honduras, mostly has work trips. Lately lay members have been short-term missionaries to Morongo (to help lead VBS), CA, and to Alaska (VBS leadership and work teams).
The latest partnership with the Ebenezer Moravian Church is the blessing of Loaves & Fishes every Monday evening, providing not only the building for this community dinner, but also people willing to work. Other missions in the community include working at and providing food for Bread & Roses (every Thursday), delivering Meals on Wheels, collecting food for the Food Pantry, supporting and using our Mt. Morris camp, among other efforts.