A Brief History of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
As Written By Reverend George B. Shealy, Pastor Emeritus
(To order St. John’s Lutheran Church 1853-2009, click on the title)
In the year 1848, a group of German Lutherans living in Charleston, SC formed The German Colonization Society. These German citizens had recently come to America and desired to make a settlement in Piedmont, SC. They chose this area because it reminded them of their homeland in Northern Germany. In 1849, the first land was purchased here and in 1850, the town of Walhalla was founded. St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church was formally organized on November 20, 1853 with 38 members signing the constitution. At a meeting on January 21, 1859, the congregation voted to begin construction of their church. John Kaufmann designed the building and directed the construction with the assistance of August Brennecke and members of the congregation. Mr. Kaufmann had never before constructed a steeple and this matter was a particular challenge to him. The four posts supporting the steeple were hewn out of selected trees by broad axes and raised on the front stone foundation. These timbers are approximately sixty feet long and square, 15 by 16 inches at the base, and 14 by 15 inches at the top. the steeple continues another thirty feet, terminating with a weather vane. Trees from the four acre square on which the church stands were felled and this provided most of the timbers for the building. The Church is put together with wooden pegs and the lumber hand-planed.
The first bell used in the Church was a ship's bell and was placed in the steeple in 1868. The tower clock which strikes, tolls, and rings was installed in 1889. The pulpit is of the style used by the High Church of Germany and was built of "twisted wood." It is built into the foundation of the Church. The pews were made of panel backs. The original windows were plain glass, and in 1866 the window behind the pulpit was boarded up and the panes from it used to repair the other windows. This window remained boarded up until 1940 when Mrs. Sophia Rimrodt Ritter gave the Good Shepherd Window. The memorial stained glass windows were placed in 1910. The first meeting in the Church was held on June 24, 1860. The Church was dedicated Sunday, March 17, 1861.
In 1931 the Sunday School Building was constructed, consisting of an auditorium with stage, classrooms, and basement with a kitchen. This building was renovated by removing auditorium seats, knocking out partitions and adding a second story, creating a nursery-kindergarten complex and classrooms and was dedicated on May 8, 1977.
In 1953 the new parsonage on the Church lot was completed and dedicated. Ground breaking services for the Parish House were held on September 21, 1969. It provides Church offices, sacristy, lounge, kitchen, fellowship hall, classrooms, restrooms and storage area.
In 1980 Samuel Cabot Biggerstaff donated land on Lake Keowee to St. John's in memory of his wife, Bertha Brucke Biggerstaff. This land, dedicated on October 30, 1988, has been named the Biggerstaff Christian Retreat Center. It is presently equipped for camping, picnicking, boating, and other sports activities. Future facilities will include a dining, cooking, and meeting facility and three cabins.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church stands as a silent monument to our forefathers for their faith, workmanship and personal sacrifice.