I have decided to give Warren the day off today. I have a story I have been working on for a few months that I have been inspired to write for multiple reasons. The focus of today’s post is Rev. Johann Wilhelm Lehr. Today is the 80th anniversary of his death. He was also a former pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, New Wells, which is where I attend church in the area while going to school. But I will have to hold on to the main inspiration for writing this story for the end.
Johann Wilhelm, who commonly went by J.W., Lehr was born on January 18, 1862, in Schadeck, Germany. He was the son of Wilhelm and Mina Lehr. He immigrated to the United States at Castle Garden, New York on August 22, 1879 aboard the ship Main at 17 years old. In the immigration passenger list he is listed as a student.
I also included the Martin Kammerer listed above him as well because it appears they are both listed as students and came to the United States for the same reason. Both men graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary, located in Springfield, IL, at the time, and were ordained in 1883. J.W. Lehr is a personification of part of the history of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and its synodical institutions. I was able to learn a lot of this history this past June while completing an archival internship at Concordia Theological Seminary. Before being moved to St. Louis and then Springfield, Concordia Theological Seminary was established in Fort Wayne, IN, in 1846 to serve as a “practical” seminary. F.C.D. Wyneken was sent as a missionary to Northwest Ohio, Northern Indiana, and Southern Michigan to establish congregations among the many scattered Germans throughout the region. Realizing many more pastors would be needed, he implored the assistance of other Lutherans in Germany to send candidates and students for the ministry to fill the large demand. The goal was to give these students a two- to three-year curriculum with the basic knowledge of what a pastor should know in order to quickly place them in parishes. One German pastor who took up this call was Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe. Over the course of about ten years, he sent many students to be trained for the ministry. His relationship with the seminary ended in 1853, but the same practice carried on for many years as many more young men from Germany arrived to receive training at the school.
J.W. Lehr received his initial training for the ministry in Steeden, Germany, under Pastor Friedrich Brunn. According to the Christian Cyclopedia from the LCMS, Friedrich Brunn first came into contact with the Missouri Synod after receiving a letter from G. Loeber, one of the leaders of the Saxon Immigration. He later met with Walther during Walther’s trip to Germany in the 1860’s, which paved the way to opening a preparatory school in Steeden, and this school ultimately supplied the Missouri Synod with about 235 men for the ministry – J.W. Lehr being one of them.
I was unable to locate J.W. Lehr in the 1880 census. I was able to find the rest of the Concordia Seminary students listed in their own section for the city of Springfield, including Martin Kammerer, but J.W. was not listed with them.
J.W. Lehr graduated from Concordia Seminary in Springfield, IL, in 1883 and was ordained and installed at First St. John Lutheran Church in Germantown, KS, on November 11 of that year, as announced in an edition of Der Lutheraner.
It was during his service here that J.W. married his first wife. According to a tree from Ancestry.com, J.W. and Louise were married on January 20, 1884, in Germantown by a Rev. C. Meyer. Let’s take a little look at Louise’s life leading up to this.
Louise Kesel was born on August 18, 1851 in Kempten, Bavaria. She immigrated to the United States on September 20, 1879, on the ship Rhein at Castle Garden, New York. She immigrated alone with no specified occupation.
The only result I was able to find for the 1880 census was for a Louisa Kesel working as a domestic servant in Evanston, IL, in the household of Eugene L. Chapman. This may or may not be the same Louise Kesel that would later marry J.W. Lehr.
J.W. Lehr would serve the congregation at Germantown, KS, for a very brief period of about two years. The beginnings of the congregation date back to about 1872/1873, where services were originally held in members’ homes. It was officially chartered with the state of Kansas as First German Evangelical St. Johannes Congregation of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession in 1880, and it joined the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in 1894. J. W. Lehr was one of the first pastors to serve First St. John Lutheran Church. The community of Germantown no longer exists. This was due to the citizens of the town voting to reject the building of a railroad through the town in the early 1880’s. Instead, it was constructed about four miles south, where the town of Kensington, KS, grew. First St. John Lutheran Church is today located in Kensington. The only remnant left of the old Germantown community is the old cemetery. More information on the congregation and community can be found at the following links: http://www.edlnklgen.com/kslcms/Churches/FirstStJohnKensingtonSM/History%20of%20First%20St%20John.pdf https://lostkscommunities.omeka.net/items/show/116.
The next small part of J.W. Lehr’s life is kind of hard to trace. While I do not know exactly where he was pastor at, I do know he moved to Franklin County, NE, right across the state border from Germantown, KS. The April 15, 1885 edition of Der Lutheraner states that his address was changed to Locust, NE, and a biographical sketch of J.W. Lehr provided by the Concordia Historical Institute states that he became the pastor at the Lutheran church in West Salem, NE, on August 17, 1884. There is no name of that congregation given. The difficulty in tracing this part of his life is that neither of those communities exist today. In fact, there are barely any mentions of them in the historical record. The only information I could find on Locust was in a transcription of the June 5, 1887 issue of the Daily Nebraska State Journal. This was a special “Immigrant Issue” whose purpose was to describe the communities in Franklin County, NE, to attract new immigrants to the region and state. The only mention of Locust here was that it was a post office in the northwestern part of Franklin County.
Finding West Salem proved to be similar to Germantown, KS. The only element left of that community is the cemetery. There is a history of that cemetery along with a former West Salem Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church published online by a David Carlson. (Google West Salem Nebraska Lutheran Church to find it.) That small article states that there were also many Germans in the area. The West Salem cemetery is located about 5 miles south of Hildreth, NE. A 1905 township map of Salem Township in Franklin County shows two churches located within a half mile of each other about 5 miles south of Hildreth. Findagrave shows two cemeteries located in this location right across the road from each other. West Salem Cemetery, which was associated with the Swedish Lutherans, is located to the south, and Emmanuel Lutheran Cemetery is on the north side of the road. I would like to say there is a good chance that J.W. Lehr was the pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, but there is no definitive proof. That may be a question that will never be answered. I will provide the township map, as well as the Findagrave map, to provide reference to these congregations’ location.
On March 2, 1886, J.W. Lehr was installed at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hinton, Iowa. This congregation was organized in the spring of 1885, and J.W. Lehr became their first pastor the next year. Their first church building was built under his tenure there. Their current building can be seen below.
J.W.’s service in Iowa would only last a few years as he was installed as pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lockwood, MO, on May 12, 1889. A newspaper article about the history of the congregation and its pastors was published in the Lockwood Luminary on September 9, 1932. The section on J.W. Lehr can be seen below.
An old photo of the church building can also be seen.
On May 8, 1894, J.W. Lehr was installed at Immanuel Lutheran Church at New Wells. It is here that the Lehr family begins to be found in church records for this area and also our German Family Tree. Emma Wilhelmina Lehr was born on November 24, 1894, and was baptized on December 2, 1894, at New Wells. Her baptism record is displayed below.
J.W. Lehr served Immanuel, New Wells for about five years, but during those years, it appears he made a decent impact on the congregation. Based on looking at the church records, Lehr performed about 123 baptisms, 24 weddings, and 45 funerals, and confirmed 6 confirmation classes.
In 1899 J.W. Lehr accepted a call to Immanuel Lutheran Church at Honey Creek, MO, just south of Jefferson City. An extensive history of the congregation and J.W.’s service there can be found at the following link: https://www.colecountyhistoricalmuseum.org/lutheran-churches.
The 1900 census shows six children living in the household in Osage Township. Wanda, Frieda, and Clara were all born in Hinton, IA, in 1886, 1887, and 1888, respectively; Olga and Paula were both born in Lockwood, MO – Olga in 1890 and Paula in 1891; and Emma was, of course, born at New Wells, MO, in 1894. An older son, Ernest, was born in 1885 in Wilcox, NE, but he is not listed with the family in this census. As he would later become a pastor like his father, there is a good chance he was a student at St. Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, MO, at this point in time.
A family photo of the Lehr family was taken around 1906-1907.
Louise Lehr died on September 2, 1908. She is buried in the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery at Honey Creek. She must have been a very popular person at congregations that J.W. served, as her death was announced in the newspaper at Lockwood, MO.
As this post is now beginning to get very long, I will have to pick up with the rest of the story tomorrow with J.W.’s second wife. But it is at this point that I’m able to state some other significance for this story. This story has personal significance in that J.W. Lehr and Louise Kesel are the third-great grandparents of my fiancé, Olivia Hart. J.W. and Louise’s daughter, Wanda, married Johann Heinrich Christian Sommerer, whose family originally settled in the Honey Creek area. Their descendants mostly stayed in the Honey Creek area. Olivia is from this area, and I met her while going to school in Cape Girardeau. Olivia also served as a big inspiration for this story when she told me that her ancestor was once a pastor at New Wells, which is where I have been going to church for the last three years and taking Olivia as well. It is amazing how some things come back around when it seems very coincidental that I brought one of J.W.’s descendants back to one of the congregations he once served.
It is also fitting that I am able to share another small story. According to a family history, Louise Lehr became sick for a time before she died. While she was sick, other ladies of the congregation at Honey Creek helped out with a lot of the household chores. Louise also began to take up embroidery before she became ill. When she began to realize she would not recover from her illness, Louise did what she could to pay back the ladies for their help. Louise Lehr gifted a Mrs. Elizabeth Beck with an embroidering of the Lord’s Prayer that she started but was unable to complete. It is stated that Louise told Elizabeth upon giving her the gift, “I cannot finish this picture – I give it to you to complete and this is my way to say thanks for all you have done and this is a way for you to remember me after I am gone.” Elizabeth went on to finish the picture and display it in her kitchen. That picture would eventually make its way back into the Lehr family. One of Elizabeth Beck’s descendants, Olivia’s mother, Kelly, married one of Louise Lehr’s descendants, Rodney. They have been able to provide me a lot of information about the Lehr family and the story on Louise’s last days. The Hart family still owns that picture today, which can be seen below.