19th century German roots
SITKA-Motorists passing the little white building that sits on Ohio 26 in Lawrence Township might not look at it and believe it was once the Sitka Church, with German emigrant roots dating back to 1853.
The building, which is just a tiny one-room structure that sits on the intersection of Cow Run, was once called the Evangelical Protestant Christian Church of Lawrence Township, but neighbors and those with connections to the church report there has not likely been services there since the World War II era.
The church was repainted in 1997 and got a new roof in the late 1980s, and besides a small role on the Fall Foliage Tour of eastern Washington County several years ago, typically sits locked and empty.
“Once 1830 came along, (Germans) arrived in big numbers, and began to settle across Marietta City, Highland Ridge, into Fearing and then finally Lawrence,” said Kurt Ludwig, a local historian specializing in German heritage. “The Sitka Church and nearby Ludwig Church were like the grandchildren of earlier German churches.”
Original founders, which include German names like Charles Barth, Christian Weinstock, Peter Wagner and Jacob Jung, began meeting at a nearby school house. Some of them are buried in the adjoining Sitka Cemetery.
There is no official record to when the current building was built, but records of an organ purchased in 1892 for $45.15 gave some indication of when the current structure went up, according to Milley Covey Frye’s record of German-American communities.
“The geography was quite difficult for people to get to, especially in winter time,” Ludwig said. “Even a short distance was a problem, and that’s why the churches were founded one right after another in this area.”
Ludwig said the church was so small that it would not have had its own regular pastor, but instead would have signed a contract to share a pastor with other area churches.
Covey’s records indicate that John P. Mueller served the congregation as early as 1877.
Helen Hall, 74, of Lawrence Township, who is one of the last descendants to be left with the up-keeping duties of the church, said the last recollection she has regarding the church is her grandfather’s funeral in 1938, when local township officials agreed to re-open the church for his services.
“That was in 1938, so some of the last services had to have been around then,” she said.
Hall’s grandfather was William Weinstock, connected to one of the first known leaders of the church.
An account written by Washington County German Emigrant Historian Donna Betts said services likely stopped around the beginning of World War II.
“Changing to the ‘new ways’ didn’t always sit well with old timers, and the small congregation undoubtedly dwindled by the exodus of young people to move to more ‘modern churches,'” she wrote.
Hall said efforts by local residents have included new paint jobs and roof replacements throughout the late half of the 20th century, but as of now no income or funds are attached to the church.
“The stove, the benches, and everything original was still in it at that time, and the lights,” Hall said. “It’s almost like they just walked out of it and left it just like it was.”
About five years ago, the annual Fall Foliage Tour held in eastern Washington County led community members and members of the Little Muskingum Grange to brighten the building up and restore the building for tours, but Hall said since then it has remained relatively untouched and locked up.
“Right now, none of the trustees or any particular group has claim over its upkeep,” Hall said.
The adjoining cemetery, which is still available for burials, is managed by Lawrence Township Trustees.