A little house in Altenburg

Saturday, December 8, 2007

ALTENBURG, Mo.

The Memorial Walkway is a new addition to Trinity Church Park in Altenburg, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

An area rich in Lutheran Church history is becoming even richer with the completion of the Loeber Cabin Shelter and the Memorial Walkway.

Across the street from the Lutheran Heritage Museum is the original log cabin that was the start of Lutheran higher education in America. The cabin is considered the original Concordia Seminary. Next to it sits a one-room cabin that belonged to a member of the Loeber family, said to be one of the founding families of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, who immigrated in the 1830s from Wittenberg, Germany.

The Loeber cabin now sits under a newly designed shelter. Linking the cabins to the museum is a memorial walkway that not only makes walking between the museum and the cabins easier, but also memorializes and honors the family ties that go back to the 1830s.

The seminary cabin has been under a shelter since 1912, but the Loeber cabin has been on the site next to it only since this summer. According to museum director Carla Jordan, the tiny cabin once belonged to Johanne "Christiana" Magdalene Loeber, the sister of the first Lutheran pastor in the area, the Rev. G.H. Loeber. Miss Loeber was 43 years old when she immigrated to Perry County in 1839. She was an unmarried woman who kept a meticulously detailed journal of her activities and interests, which included weaving and the culture of silkworms and making silk.

Themed decorated trees are part of Luther's Walk in the Woods at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg.

Within months after her cabin was built, Jordan said, Christiana died, and her family in Germany gave it to the church. Over the years, the little house stood on Main Street in Altenburg, first used as a school for small children. In later years it became vacant and gradually deteriorated.

They weren't able to take care of it, Jordan said. "It wasn't safe, and kids were playing in it."

Finally this past summer, enough money was raised to shore up the walls and move the cabin.

"In 1840 the family in Germany endowed the cabin to the church," Jordan said. "They asked that it be called 'Christiannen-Schule' in her memory. We will call it that."

Eagle Scout candidate David Kiefer of Cape Girardeau along with Bob Schmidt, president of the Perry County Lutheran Historical Society, rebuilt the authentic walnut shingle roof on the cabin. Schmidt said plans call for furnishing it with some rustic furniture from the time, including a loom and spinning wheel to reflect Christiana's interest in textiles, and placing a Plexiglas window on the door so visitors can look in but not enter and possibly damage the fragile building.

A Chrismon tree is one of the points along "Luther's Indoor Walk in the Woods" at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg, Mo. Also on display is the altar from St. Paul Lutheran Church (1839-1987) at Wittenberg, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

The shelter over the cabin was designed by Natalie Schuessler Petzoldt, formerly of Frohna, a descendant of the original Saxon Lutheran immigration of 1839, Jordan said. Petzoldt is an architect who specializes in designing hospital cancer units and took on this job because of her family connection.

The shelter was built by Jerry "Bummer" Mahnken of KMZ Construction, also a descendant of the original Saxon Lutheran immigration. Mahnken grew up in the church and still lives in the east Perry County area, he said.

"It was one of the most interesting jobs I've ever done," he said. "I just loved it."

Mahnken also built the memorial walkway that connects the cabins to the museum. Imprints of leaves are scattered in the concrete among the granite memorial markers. Although it looks like it was meant to be that way, Mahnken said, it wasn't. It was early autumn and the leaves were falling and kept getting in his way.

"I put a couple of them in and it looked good," he said.

Jordan added that at the time, Mahnken didn't know that falling leaves are a symbol the museum uses.

The granite markers, from Liley Monument of Marble Hill, are what paid for the walkway, Schmidt said.

A new shelter is being built over the 1839 log cabin of Christiana Loeber in Trinity Church Park at Altenburg.

"We thought we would sell 10 or 15, but we sold over 100," he said.

Throughout the walkway small square markers memorialize family members who have passed on and honor those still living. Among the stones is one that will keep forever alive the memory of 58 German Lutherans who set forth from Germany on the ship Amalia -- one of five that set sail for their ultimate destination, Perry County -- but the only one that never arrived. Schmidt said no one knows if the boat was lost at sea or beset by pirates, which by all accounts was a possibility.

The founding Loeber family also bought a large number of memorial plaques that are placed closest to the cabins. Schmidt said the Loeber family has produced five generations of Lutheran pastors.

Those interested in Lutheran history can visit the museum daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and take part in the third annual Luther's Indoor Walk in the Woods, which features more than 30 decorated Christmas trees and artifacts. The museum will also be part of the Country Church Tour from 3 to 9 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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