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Holy Ghost Lutheran Church celebrates 180th anniversary

Fri, Dec 15th 2023 11:00 am

Founders immigrated to Niagara County in 1840s

Submitted By Elaine Timm

Holy Ghost Lutheran Church in Bergholz, Town of Wheatfield, recently celebrated its 180th anniversary.

Founders of the church immigrated from the northeast area of present Germany in 1843. The area was part of the Kingdom of Prussia at that time. The king of Prussia had decreed that there would be one United Church whose doctrine was a combination of multiple Protestant religions at the time.

The Lutherans did not agree with this and started to meet secretly to worship their religion. As a result, they lost opportunities for jobs and for their children’s education. Also, their pastors were persecuted and suffered jail time. Economic conditions in Prussia for working people were not good at the time, either.

The Lutherans had decided to move to America after the king would not change his stance and recognize their religion. A total of 1,600 people left the area in 1843, sailing for New York City. They landed, then sailed up the Hudson River and across New York state on the Erie Canal to Buffalo, arriving in late summer. About half of the immigrants moved on to Wisconsin.

The 800 here were able to purchase land to form new communities they named Neu Bergholz (Bergholz), New Wallmow (Walmore) and Martinsville. They quickly cleared the land and built a few houses before winter, but also built a school. Education for their children was very important. Holy Ghost Lutheran School continues to this day.

While continuing to clear the land for farming, and to build more houses, they held church services in a barn. The first church building was started in 1847. It was a half-timber style (building), the method used in Europe, and was the largest church building in the county at that time. A steeple and clapboard siding were added over the next few years.

Meanwhile, many more Prussians from the same villages continued to arrive in Wheatfield. By 1852, there were about 1,300 members of the congregation. In 1853, a small group of families formed a church in St. Johnsburg, a few miles away, to be closer to their homes. Groups of families also moved to Wolcottsville, and some on to Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, where more farmland was available. It is estimated that about 20 daughter congregations were formed by members of Holy Ghost.

Many descendants of the original families are still members of the church today.

The author serves as Niagara Falls historian and is a former member of Holy Ghost Lutheran Church of Bergholz.

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