Berlin Reformed Church

Berlin congregation of the Reformed church is doubtless the oldest church of that denomination in Somerset county. This place was visited by ministers from the eastern part of the state as early as 1770. The congregation was organized in 1777. The records, which begin with that year, do not mention the name of the minister who organized it. At this early date the congregation had no house of worship; but, according to the records, it was resolved during the year 1777 to build a schoolhouse, which was to be the common property of the Reformed and Lutheran congregations. For a time this building served both as church and schoolhouse. The first ministers of the Reformed church who labored in Somerset county were no doubt pastors of congregations in the East, who left their charges and journeyed on horseback to this distant region to preach to the settlers. The first record of a baptism bears the date, October 9, 1777, when Sophia, daughter of Heinrich Glessner, was baptized. Among the original members and first officers of the congregation the following names are mentioned:
John Gibler, Jacob Keffer, Jonathan Nicholas Foust, Peter Cover, Valentine Landt, Peter Loebley, Jacob Fisher, Francis Hoff, Walter H. Reil, Jacob Glessner, Henry Glessner, Peter Glessner, Frederick Altfather, Peter Sweitzer, Michael Berger, Godfried Knepper.

The first regular pastor of the Berlin congregation was Rev. John William Weber, who, on May 1, 1782, was appointed by the coetus of the Reformed church, then in session at Reading, to visit the congregations west of the Alleghenies, "in the back part of Pennsylvania." He resided in Westmoreland county while serving the Berlin congregation. His successor, Rev. Cyriacus Spangenberg, was pastor from 1788 to 1794. Rev. Henry Giesey came next, and for twenty-three years was the only Reformed minister in Somerset county. He probably continued as pastor of Berlin church for over thirty-five years. Succeeding ministers have been as follows:
Rev. Jacob Siegmund Ringier, 1833-4; Rev. Solomon R. Denius, 1835-41; Rev. William Conrad, 1841-59; Rev. F.A. Edmunds, 1860-3; Rev, William Rupp, 1866-77; Rev. S.R. Bridenbaugh, 177, now in charge.

The old church erected in 1777 was a log building. Two edifices have since been erected. The third building was built in 1843, at a cost of $3,000. Its corner-stone was laid July 4, 1843. In the spring of 1883, during the pastorate of Rev. S.R. Bridenbaugh, the Reformed congregation at Berlin was induced to undertake the erection of the present beautiful edifice. Although the houses of worship previously built by this congregation were located on one of the back streets of the town, and while some of the older members persistently sought to have the new building erected on the same ground, an overwhelming majority of the congregation possessed sufficient foresight and wisdom to change the place of building. The present eligible location was chosen, being a corner lot near the center of the town, and fronting both on Main street and Vine street. Ground was broken for the new building in the early part of June, 1883, and the corner-stone was laid with appropriate ceremonies on July 27th following.

The plan or design, which is the work of the well-known architect, D. Knox Miller, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is truly unique and beautiful. The style of architecture is Gothic, that form of Gothic known as Early English. In the building are clearly visible many of the beautiful and peculiar characteristics of this type of architecture. Its strength and solidity, as exhibited in the walls and buttresses; its gracefulness of form, as seen, indeed, in the whole exterior and interior of the building; its beautifully formed windows, its arches and pinnacles, all are embodied in the structure, and are so combined as to produce an effect at once striking and pleasing. The entire length of the edifice, including pulpit recess, is eighty-seven feet. The width of the nave is forty-five feet, while in the transept the width is sixty-four feet. The pulpit recess is 32x14 feet, spanned by a massive arch. Adjoining the recess is the sacristy, a neat room, 16x14 feet. Midway along the front, at the corner of the north transept, stands the graceful tower, culminating in a beautiful spire surmounted by a large cross, reaching a height of one hundred and twenty-five feet, In the erection of the building regard was had not alone to beauty, but to durability as well. The foundation is massive and is built of gray sandstone. The walls are of pressed bricks. They contain a large amount of ornamental brickwork. The other ornaments in the walls are of white marble and gray sandstone, Without any redundancy of ornaments, they are in sufficient numbers and so combined as to add greatly to the beauty of the edifice and leave a pleasing effect upon the beholder. In both the north and south transepts are a group of windows, consisting of two small ones near the ground, then a row of five neat arched windows, above which is a large circular or rose window with an accompaniment of two smaller ones, all of which are surmounted by a graceful arch, which springs on each side from the extreme portion of the space occupied by these windows. The windows in the nave are long and narrow, all having the pointed arch. Five large heavy trusses support the slate roof. On the first floor is a commodious lecture and Sundayschool-room, connecting with which is a neat primary Sundayschool-room. Although at this writing the audience-room is not yet completed, it is proposed to finish it in such style as will be in keeping with the remainder of the building. The wood used will be chiefly cherry and black-walnut. The walls are to be beautifully frescoed, while elegant stained-glass windows, many of them memorial ones, will admit a mellowed light. Although the exact cost of the building cannot be known before its completion, it is safe to assume that it will not fall far short of twenty thousand dollars. Taken as a whole, it is a building which will bear very favorable comparison with churches in much larger places, and by reason both of its size and beauty has perhaps been justly denominated the cathedral of Somerset county. The congregation now numbers three hundred members. The number of sabbath-school scholars is two hundred.

(Source: History of Bedford, Somerset & Fulton Counties, PA; 1884)




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