1853-1887: The Founding and Early Years
The original wrought-iron fencing with the German name of the Evangelical Church is still partly in place
1890 photo of Rev. August Pistor, during whose tenure the present church cornerstone was laid (photo courtesy of his granddaughter Verna Ruth Searle)
The German Evangelical Church and Parsonage in 1908
Cornerstone of the 1915 church expansion directed by William Martin Rowe
Church sanctuary, pre-1941 renovation
Church sanctuary, post-1941 and still today
Depicted in one of the stained glass windows is Bernhard Plockhorst's 1890s 'Jesus and Mary Magdalene' or 'Christ Taking Leave of His Mother', as alternately thought
Fred Oerly (R) repairing the church windows, with Charles Jaeger and Kyle Boyer (L&C) observing. After damage from a May 1963 hailstorm, the repaired windows are now protected by plexiglass covers
The Church and Parsonage in June, 1966
The Educational Building in June, 1966
1985 Choir Appreciation Day [Row 1, L-R]: Delores Pearson, Elaine Litwiller, Cacky Neckermann, Louise Meyer [Row 2] Ruth Zeller, Lily Bueker, Carrie Anna Gerding, Anneta Hansett, Nona Lea Alverson, Marilyn Williams, Nancy Casanova, Bea Hickam [Row 3] Robert Herfurth, Roy Bueker, Henry Pyles, Pearl Cook, Russ Bradshaw, Mary Frances Putnam
The church today, with parsonage at left and Educational Building at right (2009 photo by Karen Ratay)
In 1853, the population of Boonville was 2,800 and growing, each year gaining about 139 new residents. A high percentage of this growth was immigrants from the German-speaking areas of Europe. As their numbers increased, they felt a strong need for a church of their own where they could gather and worship in their own language.
The immigrants had been served previously since 1849 by the circuit-riding German ministers Rauschenbach and Kroenkle, who visited Boonville periodically. Starting in 1850 the Evangelical Rev. Hoffmeister from Moniteau County agreed to conduct services twice a month, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church Mission Board’s decision to support German services in Boonville via an annual grant of $250.
Yet periodic services were not the same as having their own church, and as their numbers rapidly increased, the German Evangelical Congregation was organized in August, 1853. At first, the Rev. Johann Wettle led services on alternate Sundays at a building on the corner of Seventh and Spring Streets which was used for Roman Catholic services on alternate Sundays.
On January 1st, 1855, the German Congregation adopted its first constitution, and elected a Church Council. The Presbyterian Church continued its support until 1856, when the new congregation was ready to stand on its own. In 1856, Rev. Wettle resigned, and was replaced by Rev. C.L. Greiner, who had served as a missionary in India for the past 23 years. Rev. Greiner served until his death in 1877, at which time the German Evangelical Congregation consisted of some forty families. Rev. Greiner is buried just inside the current entrance to Boonville’s Walnut Grove Cemetery.
1877-1896: A New Building and New Service Groups
In 1877 the Rev. N. Lange began his pastorate, the first Sunday School clases were conducted, and year later a church choir was formed. Rev. Lange was followed by Rev. H.E. Schneider (1880-1882), Rev. L. Kohlmann (1883-1886) and Rev. August Pistor (1886-1890). On March 30, 1887, during Rev. Pistor’s ministry, the cornerstone was laid for a new church building on the corner of Spring and Seventh, which was completed in 18 months and consecrated on January 8, 1888.
During the late 1880s the Evangelical Congregation also began to expand into service areas in addition to formal worship. In 1880, 29 of the congregation’s women formed the ‘Frauenverein’ as the church’s first service group (which continued until 1922). In 1887, the ‘Young Frauenverein’ was also formed, but disbanded ten years later after they had ‘come of age.’
From April 13, 1890 until October 3, 1896, the church was served part-time by Rev. B.H. Leesman, who also oversaw in 1892 a revision of the Church’s constitution, which provided for the incorporation of the church as ‘The German Evangelical Congregation’, later amended to ‘The Evangelical Church of Boonville, Missouri’.
1896-1921: Years of Great Change ...
In 1896, the Evangelical Church called as its pastor the Rev. H. Kamphausen, who would be its first full-time clergyman. In 1898 the first Evangelical District Conference was held, bringing German Evangelicals to Boonville from considerable distances for the business meeting. The following year, the Boonville Evangelical Church became a member of the ‘Evangelical Synod’. Then, in 1898, an even greater change occurred when the congregation voted to have one Sunday evening worship service each month conducted in English.
Rev. Kamphausen’s pastorate ended in July 1990. His successor, Rev. E.L. Mueller, was the first to institute Confirmation Classses, and was also the first to conduct all Sunday evening services in English, as well as all meetings of the youth organization. During his ministry the church parsonage next door on Spring Street, which had been constructed in 1878, was also rebuilt, and dedicated on November 15, 1903, the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Evangelical Church in Boonville.
On January 6, 1907, the Rev. R.M. Hinze began his pastorate. During his first six months the Evangelical Church was renovated and rededicated on July 5, 1908.
Meanwhile, the tempo of life was increasing. With the emergence of Boonville as a regional railroad center had come prosperity and peace, which had been disrupted by the Civil War. Yet living conditions were far different from today. At the turn of the century, Boonville had few paved streets and no electricity. Jobs such as typists, bookkeepers, and stenographers were held by men whose salaries averaged $6 to $8 a week. Potatoes were selling at about 35 cents a bushel, corn about 30 cents, and wheat about 70 cents a bushel. Eggs could be purchased at about 12 cents a dozen, and a steer was worth about 4 cents a pound at the marketplace. A restaurant dinner was about 20 cents, a man’s suit about $13, and gingham cloth was 5 cents per yard.
In 1915, the Evangelical Church voted to expand its building south from the original structure. Led by William Martin Rowe, son of church co-founder Johann David Rau, and now President of the Boonville Mercantile, the cornerstone of the addition was laid on October 17, 1915, with work completed on January 6, 1916.
In the addition was a new 14-rank vacuum-electric pipe organ, donated in 1916 by the Gmelich family in memory of the late Jacob Gmelich, long-time Boonville mayor and at his death, Lt. Governor of Missouri. This replaced the previous 1894 reed organ, which in turn had replaced an 1890 reed organ, both also gifts of the Gmelich family, who have provided all of the organs for the church since the original reed organ from the early years of the congregation. The 1916 Gmelich organ, rebuilt in 1973, is still being used.
There were also other changes in the congregation following its expansion. ‘The Dorcas Society’ was formed on May 11, 1916, absorbing the membership of all previous women’s organizations. The change in name from the previous ‘Frauenverein’ groups was partly in response to the strong anti-German sentiment before and during World War I, but also reflected the fact that few among the church’s second and third-generation were fluent in German.
Rev. Frederick Stoerker replaced Rev. Hinze in November, 1921; during his pastorate all German-language services and activities were discontinued. Rev. Stoerker served until 1935, overseeing a new constitution in 1924 and plans in 1929 to expand the church’s educational facilities. In 1934, following denominational mergers, the name changed to ‘Evangelical and Reformed Church’.
Between 1853 and 1935, the church had witnessed 1,630 baptisms, 541 confirmations, 571 weddings and 688 funerals.
Building into the Modern Era
On April 17, 1935, the Rev. Emil F. Abele accepted the call to serve the church’s growing congregation. With the growth in numbers came additional change in church facilities. In 1941 the sactuary was rebuilt to provide a formal chancel area, and to rebuilt and relocate the Gmelich pipe organ, which had stood in the middle of the sanctuary, surrounded by its large organ pipes, with the choir sitting on both sides and in front of it. Included with the rebuilt organ were chimes donated by Dr. Alex van Ravenswaay. The church basement was renovated at the same time to provide space for Sunday School rooms, also including a stage at the north end of the basement auditorium.
The renovated sanctuary from 1941 remains the same today, with a stained glass window at back center of the raised upper level, beneath which is the altar. The relocated organ is at the east rear, with the organ pipes concealed in the upper area. The pulpit is on the left side of the sanctuary, with the lectern at the right (as one views the congregation from the pulpit). Four steps lead from the congregational area to the sanctuary, with the choir area on both sides of the sanctuary, two benches on each side fronted by walnut panels. At the sanctuary's west rear, across from the organist, is the Hopkins piano, a gift to the church from the family of Woodard B. Hopkins Sr., choirmaster and music director of the church for over three decades until his death in 1961.
In the fall of 1953 a building fund was begun to construct an educational building south of the church, at a cost of $95,673. It was dedicated on Sunday, April 24, 1955. The same year the congregation voted an amendment to its constitution to require at least one woman to be elected to serve on the church’s 12-member council. In 1957, following another denominational merger, the original German Evangelical Congregation was now known as the ‘United Church of Christ’ in Boonville. Rev. Emil F. Abele, the church’s longest-serving pastor, retired on June 1, 1965.
Stories of Our Stained Glass Windows
A distinctive and meaningful feature of the church is its stained glass windows, several depicting highlights in the life of Christ. Originally the church had solid red glass windows, but after the 1907 renovation, the new windows were commissioned and added ca. 1910.
There are eight windows altogether, three each on the East (facing the parsonage) and West (facing 7th Street) sides of the church, and two on either side of the North (entrance) door, facing Spring Street. Each was donated by groups or persons in the congregation, with four dedicated to the memory of a family member or past pastor.
The three on the West side of the church (facing north toward the entrance from the sanctuary) were donated by the Sunday School (a plain window with a Bible at the top); by Mrs. J.F. Gmelich (Jesus Walking on Water); and in dedication to Rev. E.L. Mueller, pastor at the time the windows were installed (a plain window with a crown at top, inside of which are a centered 'E' and 'C' [Evangelical Church]).
The three on the East side of the church (facing north toward the entrance from the sanctuary) were donated by the Frauenverein (a plain window with a cross and crown at the top); by the Reinhart children in memory of their mother, Fredericka Trodler (the window of Jesus with either his mother or Mary Magdalene, as it is alternately thought); and by Dr. Cornelius van Ravenswaay (the same cross and crown design as the window dedicated to Rev. E.L. Mueller on the West side of the church).
The two windows at the rear of the church, on either side of the entrance, (left to right as one faces the entrance from the sanctuary) were donated by George Klein in memory of his parents Leonard and Margaret Klein (Jesus at the well); and the sons of C.W. Sombart in his memory (Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane).
Four of the windows depict stories from the Bible.
The Gmelich window shows Jesus and Peter on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is walking on the water and Peter seems to be sinking, becoming fearful of the waves while trying to walk across the water to Jesus. Jesus is reaching out his hand to save him, saying "O man of little faith, why did you doubt me?" The window was given by Mrs. J.F. Gmelich in memory of her husband, with the story taken from Matthew 14:22-32.
The Klein window depicts the story of The Woman at the Well, a rarely depicted episode from the Gospel of John in which Jesus, traveling through Samaria, reached the city of Sychar, and sat down to rest beside Jacob’s well. A woman came to draw water, and he asked her for a drink. She expressed her surprise that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, since that was not the custom at the time. Jesus then replied: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.” Their encounter was unexpected since, as Saint John said, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans”(John 4:4-42).
The Sombart window shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is based on the 1890 Heinrich Hoffman painting "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46 and Luke 22:39-46).
Finally, the Reinhart/Trodler window is based on an 1890s painting by the German artist Bernhard Plockhorst (1825-1907), whose work was widely popular at the time. However, exactly which painting is depicted by the window is debated.
Some say it is based on Plockhorst's 'Christ Taking Leave of his Mother', his final embrace with her the evening before the Last Supper. [If so, it would be derived from devotional sources, rather than Biblical.] 'Christ Taking Leave of his Mother' is a subject in Christian art, in which Jesus says farewell to and blesses his mother Mary before leaving for his final journey to Jerusalem, which he knows will lead to his death. In early versions of this depiction, as in this window, just these two figures are usually shown, with a landscape background.
Others feel it depicts another Plockhorst painting based on John 20:1-18, in which, shortly after his resurrection, Jesus asked a woman who was clinging to him, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” The woman was Mary Magdalene, who did not recognize him. Thinking he was the gardener, Mary said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary,” and she turned toward him and cried out, “Rabboni! [teacher]”. Then Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Collectively, the windows depict our dependence on Christ and the necessity of keeping faith in Him, our need for "living water" and our reliance upon God through prayer as well as our human need in times of sorrow. They illustrate that we are all dependent not only upon the Deity but also upon each other. Through their art, the windows illuminate our faith, so that as we worship each Sunday, our eyes may again be opened, and we may see something not seen before.
Creation of the Church History Center
During the early 1970s, in recognition of the church’s long and colorful history, a History Center was created in the Lay Center in the basement of the church building. Created through the efforts of Gene Branch and Mr. & Mrs. Arthur W. Putnam, it remained in the basement Lay Center until the spring of 2018, when it was moved to the Educational Building.
The History Center contains the altar and pulpit chairs and pulpit which served until 1910, along with its altar scarf and communion set. Other Center items include a German pulpit bible presented by Mrs. Greiner, widow of the church’s first pastor, prayer books and hymnals in English and German, and the founding ‘Kirchenbuch’ [PDF] or Church Register, with the original founding documents and constitution of the church, council minutes and treasurer reports, and records of the first marriages, births, deaths, and confirmations. Digital versions of these documents are now available as of 2018.
History of the Evangelical United Church of Christ, by Mary Frances Putnam, was first published as Article T-77 on pages 73-75 in Memorabilia of Cooper County (coordinated by Mary Wiemholt) ©1990 Curtis Media
Corporation, 1931 Market Center Boulevard, Suite 105, Dallas, Texas 75207.
This book was printed in a limited edition, and has long been out-of-stock. Curtis Media Corporation no longer exists. Full [re-]publication rights in digital or other versions were re-assigned to John D. Hopkins on February 4th, 2011, by Mr. Ron Wensel, President of Henington Industries, Inc, which controlled the remaining assets of Curtis Media. This digital version of Mary Francis Putnam's history was abridged and edited by John D. Hopkins.