Tour highlights area's historic churches

Sunday, December 12, 2004

More than 20 people boarded a bus Saturday to tour historic churches in Cape Girardeau and Perry counties.

Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Southeast Missouri Regional History Center at Southeast Missouri State University, led the all-day tour, which was intended to prompt people to explore other important places of worship in the area.

"It's nice to sit back and see where we came from," said passenger Teresa Blankenship of Jackson. "The history is there. It's nice to see how many people have taken the time to preserve it. It makes me wonder what people 100 years from now will think about us."

The tour started at 8 a.m. and passed more than 40 places of worship, highlighting 12.

Located on the Old Perryville Road, Historic Hanover Lutheran Church was the first stop on the tour and was noted for its traditional German Christmas service still held annually.

Arriving at Apple Creek Presybterian Church, just south of Pocahontas, the group was warmed by pot-belly stoves lit by the caretaker. The building has no insulation. The third-oldest Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi River, it was founded when Missouri became a state in 1821. The simple church, lit by gas lamps, retains its original pressed tin ceiling, perhaps the only ornate feature of the building.

The church is well preserved and there has never been significant damage to its cemetery, which, according to Nickell, "reflects the who's who of Cape Girardeau. ... Even some Limbaughs are buried here."

Regular services have not been held at the church since 1939, but special gaslight services, which coincide with the scenic drive, are held during the spring.

Enthusiastic congregation

Tourists were met by pastor Bruce Ritter at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pocahontas. The church, ornate in comparison to Apple Creek Presbyterian Church, was built in 1909, replacing the previous building, which was destroyed by lightning. Ritter described the congregation as enthusiastic.

Attesting to Ritter's comment, Nickell said, "St. John's holds a dinner the fourth Sunday in April with the best kettle-cooked beef. Prepared in large kettles behind the building, it is the best in the entire region. Ladies of the church spend all winter making quilts and afghans that are displayed at this event along the backs of pews, producing more than 200 in all."

Robert Fiehler, tour guide at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, Mo., has been a member of the church all his life. A 78-year-old retired auto mechanic, Fiehler shared the church's 165-year history, which included objects dating before the church's founding. Fiehler explained how 700 Saxons escaping oppression from Germany sailed to New Orleans, then St. Louis and finally Perry County.

Built to last, the church's stone walls are 29 inches thick, also making it energy efficient.

The first Evangelical Lutheran seminary west of the Mississipi River, Concordia was founded in 1839 near Altenburg. The school building, called the Log Cabin College, was moved to Altenburg across from Trinity Lutheran and is kept as a museum.

The school served the upper grades until 1969. Nickell said, "It's interesting to see the connection between church and school. The school, in those days, was supposed to extend ethics."

Trinity's present church, founded in 1867, the old church/school founded in 1845 and the Log Cabin College, founded in 1839, are all listed in the Missouri's Catalog of Historic Sites.

Fixtures from the original church, the pulpit, lectern and altar, are still in the present Trinity Lutheran Church. Fiehler passed around a silver-plated pewter baptismal font from 1839 that was used at his baptism and showed a gold and silver chalice from 1707. It was retired for the church's centennial in 1967, he said.

"We have fascinating history in this area," said Vicki Boren, a parishioner at Trinity Lutheran in Cape Girardeau. "Seeing it has made being a Lutheran more meaningful. I wish I could hear the organ in every church."

335-6611, extension 133

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