We are entertaining two grandchildren at the Schmidt house these days, and today we have planned little trip to a place called Elephant Rocks which is located just outside the city of Pilot Knob, Missouri. Since I will not have much time to do research today, I choose to tell the story of a little church that is located in Pilot Knob. That church even has a connection to the Log Cabin College in Altenburg.
The connection to Perry County is found in one of its first immigrants who was involved in the building of the Log Cabin College. His name was Johann Friedrich Buenger.
The Buenger family once owned the property upon which I now live. Rev. Buenger was not in Perry County very long. In 1841, he took a call to become the teacher at Old Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis where Rev. C.F.W. Walther was the pastor. In 1844, he became Rev. Walther’s assistant pastor. In 1847, Rev. Buenger became the first pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown St. Louis. He would spend the rest of his career there. It was while he was at Immanuel in St. Louis when we see his involvement in the founding of another Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pilot Knob.
In the 1850’s, Rev. Buenger heard that there was a small group of German Lutherans in the Pilot Knob area who needed a pastor. With the opening of the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad opening in 1857, there was easier transportation for Rev. Buenger to use for trips to that area. He would occasionally go to Pilot Knob to conduct services for these Lutherans. The iron that was being mined in Iron County, Missouri was hauled to St. Louis by that railroad and made into the steel that was going to be used in constructing many early St. Louis structures.
In 1861, the new congregation in Pilot Knob was given some property by a mining company in the area, and they built a church. The new congregation took the name, Immanuel Lutheran Church. That building still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Above the door, you can find these words.
The U.A.C. is an abbreviation for Unaltered Augsburg Confession. The Bible passage written in German basically says, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
My wife and I visited the Pilot Knob area in 2014 and managed to get a tour of this church. That tour was conducted by a wonderful lady by the name of Polly Holley. That’s a type of name that is hard to forget. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate the photos I took when we were on that tour.
The church has several characteristics which are similar to churches in this area. It has an elevated pulpit and a pipe organ. The pews are likely to be the original pews when the church was built. In the rear of the church is a room which was once the place where the pastor would get ready for services. That room is now a little museum of artifacts which are part of that congregation’s history. On one wall is a photo of Rev. Buenger to honor his contributions to that church’s founding. Here is another photo of that church.
That congregation also conducted a Lutheran school for a while. The school was conducted in a small upstairs room in the back of the church building. You can see some windows in this photo which gives an idea of where the school was located.
There is a monument outside the church which tells some of the history of this church.
One of the most fascinating stories attached to this church is one that took place during the Civil War. The Battle of Pilot Knob took place at nearby Fort Davidson in September of 1864. Immanuel Lutheran Church was commandeered to become a hospital by Union leaders. Wounded soldiers were taken to the church to be treated for their injuries. There are a few spots on the wooden floor where you can still see bloodstains today.
Here is another photo of a confirmation class from Immanuel in 1894. In this photo, we not only see the pastor, Rev. Rohlfing, but also Professor Fuerbringer from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He was the son of another builder of the Log Cabin College in Altenburg……Ottomar Fuerbringer.
When we visited in 2014, we were told that there are still services conducted at this church occasionally by a pastor who comes from Fredericktown, Missouri which is not far away. The congregation is really struggling to remain active. It is certainly a church with a rich history.