Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Churches

by Tom Castaldi

Fort Wayne’s first church buildings reveal interesting stories. The Presbyterians built the first church structure during the years 1836 and 1837. A forty by forty feet frame meetinghouse, it was situated on the south side of Berry Street between Lafayette and Barr streets. The Presbyterian congregation, in 1836, established the town’s first year-long school.

  Inside the walls of the church, five other local religious groups held their initial meetings. That list of early worshipers includes some familiar names: the First Baptist Church constituted in 1837; Episcopalians in 1839; St. John’s German Reformed congregation founded in 1843; the Methodist North Indiana Conference organized in 1844; the Trinity English Lutheran Church held its first services there in 1846.  When the county courthouse was deemed too unsafe in 1842, court was convened in the old forty by forty foot church.  The English Lutherans bought the facility in 1846 and installed its original bell in the steeples of its successive buildings.

Trinity English Lutheran c. 1870 from the Randall Estate

During 1846 the English Lutherans separated from the German Lutherans.  The congregation grew slowly, receiving members from among new arrivals from the eastern states as well as American-born children of immigrants and a few Scandinavian Lutherans.  The congregation first worshiped on Sunday afternoons in the First Presbyterian meeting house on Berry Street.  The Presbyterians, in anticipation of moving into a new church, soon sold their fifteen-year old building to the English Lutherans.  When the completion of their new structure was delayed for two years, the Presbyterians were forced to rent their old church from its new Lutheran owners.

Under the leadership of the first full-time ordained minister with pastoral experience, Reverend William Patton Ruthrauff arrived in 1859 and the membership of Trinity English Lutheran doubled. It meant that the parish might now support a larger church.  A lot on the corner of Wayne and Clinton streets was purchased and the cornerstone was laid on July 29, 1863.   By 1864, a gothic-style brick church building was erected.

 In 1868, the Reverend Samuel Wagenhals assumed the pastorate, continuing for fifty-two years, the longest tenure of any Fort Wayne clergyman.  His successor, the Reverend Paul H. Krauss, served the parish for nearly fifty years and led the congregation in the erection of the present facilities on the south side of Wayne Street between Fairfield and Ewing streets.
Designed by B.G. Goodhue, one of the leading architects of the Gothic revival style, the church was dedicated in 1925.  From the steeple still rings the town’s oldest church bell.  Originally installed in the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church, the bell first rang in 1837 both as a call to worship and as the town’s “fire alarm.”

In the autumn of 1995 through the spring of 1996, the congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – March 2010 No. 64.
  Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at

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