What's Historic About Brookville, Pennsylvania?

The History of the Lutheran Church in Brookville
"Tolling for the Lord"

By Kristy Kelso

The oldest bell in Jefferson County has been calling people to the Lord for more than 150 years, but that was not its initial duty.

Even before an actual Lutheran Church was established in Jefferson County, several Lutheran pastors preached in Brookville as early as 1844. The Grace Lutheran Church, however, was organized on Sept. 4, 1850.

Two traveling missionaries of the Western Pennsylvania Synod held services in the county. They were Henry David Keyl and the Rev. G. Shultz. These pastors were unable to organize a church due to the small number of families in any one place. Therefore, they traveled to different homes to preach.

The first congregation in the county was formed in 1835. This group met in a barn owned by Abraham Hoch which was located on mile south of Sprankle Mills. A student of theology, J.G. YOung conducted services there.

A second Lutheran Church was organized i9n 1838. Joel Syker and Peter Thrush were active in erecting a log church on the Andrew Ohl farm. This structure was replaced with a frame building in 1865.

The early council had only two members, Daniel Coder, an elder, and John Boucher, a deacon. Norman and Griffith, sons of William and Maria Clark, were the first children to be baptized.

In 1851, the first Lutheran Church in Brookville was built on a lot purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Litch and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Miller. This lot is the site of the present Grace Lutheran Church in Brookville. The first pastor was Philip Sheder who conducted the first communion service for the 13 charter members. The next pastor was Rev. Jacob Wright who was licensed by the ministerium of Pennsylvania. Rev. Wright came to Brookville by stage coach.

The bell that is in use in the church today had been originally placed in the county's first courthouse. The bell was bought from the Jefferson County Commissioners in 1873 for $200. A few years later, historian Kate Scott wrote, "This bell has a history that links it to the past, it being the first bell in the county, which has for so many years not only summoned the citizens to the temple of justice but which, in turn, called the people of the different dominations to hear the gospel dispensed within the walls of the old court house."

Grace Lutheran Church was first dedicated on August 1, 1852. The early church likely had clear glass windows to allow for light to enter. Later kerosene was used for lighting, then natural gas. Shortly before or after the First World War, when Brookville was wired, electric lights were probably installed in the church.

It is unsure, how much of the present building is original. Possibly, the tower was built to accommodate the newly purchased bell. The present foundation is made of cement block which replaced the older foundation. The original windows were most likely square and the later renovations added stained glass and Gothic arches. Later renovations added the wooden ceiling with its carved beams. The early outhouse was replaced with running water and central heating replaced the old wood stove.

There is a mystery in the church however, the stained glass window in the chancel is older than the rest of the stained glass in the church. The faded inscription indicates that it was presented by the patriotic Order of the Sons of America, No. 389 and by "OUAM No. 397." It may date from the first 20 years of the building's life.

The history of the Grace Lutheran Church in Brookville can be traced back to the earliest settlers. It is the oldest church building in Brookville and has been in use continuously for 150 years. Yet it is not the oldest congregation in town. The Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches were all started a few years before the Lutherans began to meet.

But only the Grace Lutheran congregation continues to meet in the original church building.

And the original church bell continues to announce services at 11:00 a.m.


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