Salem Church celebrates its 100th birthday

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 08/05/97.

The brick church north of Paynesville will be celebrating its 100th birthday this weekend, Aug. 9 and 10.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m., a celebration of gospel music will be held featuring Kendra Johnson, the Diversity Choir and the Salem Community Choir. This event will be filmed by Minnesota Public Television as the pilot for a documentary.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, a potluck dinner will be held at noon with a slide lecture at 2:15 p.m. with Dr. Marilyn Chiat. She is the co-director of the Center for Documentation and Preservation of Places of Worship. Following the program will be a question and answer session.

The program is set to help raise funds to restore the 100-year-old structure. The mortar between the bricks is crumbling, the wood steeple tower is in need of repair, the walls need replastering, and the hardwood floors and benches need refinishing.

Since its closing in 1967, Salem Fest has been held at the church, bringing together former members. Offerings from the Salem Fest have helped maintain the church over the years but major repairs need to take place. Rick Miller hopes to raise $150,000 to start the needed repairs.

Norma Miller, former member of the church, said they are trying to get the old church on the National Register of Historic Places.

Religion played a very real part in the lives of the pioneer farmers who settled in the Salem and Zion areas near Paynesville. What all pioneer families missed was regular church services.

At first, church services were held in M.F. Plantikowís home and other homes until the schoolhouse was built in 1865 about three miles north of Paynesville, which later became known as the ďbrick school.Ē

In 1864 Rev. Brill organized the first class in Salem and F. Moede was the first class leader. He later became an ordained minister.

In October 1870, the Salem congregation was reorganized under the guidance of Rev. F. Emde. At its first meeting a cemetery was of primary concern. The fence would be five boards high. Each member was responsible for delivering his share of posts for the fence and burial plots were designated by casting of lots. It was also decided the church would be built across the road from the cemetery.

The Salem Church was built in 1871 under the supervision of E.H. Bauman. The church was so badly damaged by a severe storm in 1896, that it was declared unsafe for use.

The church was torn down and a larger, substantial, brick-veneered church was erected under the guidance of Kris Koenigsriter (Kingsriter), Paynesville, at the cost of $6,183 during the pastorate of J. Gongoll. The cornerstone was laid on Tuesday afternoon, June 24, 1897 and dedicated on Oct. 24,1897.

According to the New Paynesville Press, an October 1897 edition, Sunday was an ideal Indian summer day. The morning services were attended by upwards of 600 people and the seating capacity of the church was taxed to its utmost.

ďIt had been the original intention of Bishop Bowman of Chicago to dedicate the church, but a $1,400 debt still remained to be raised before this could be done. Eleven hundred of this amount was raised at the morning service in the collection and by subscription. An attempt was made to raise the balance at the afternoon service but without success. It was accomplished, however, before the evening services at 7 p.m. and the building was duly dedicated at that service.Ē

Salem was the first Evangelical church to be built in the Paynesville area. It was followed in 1874 by Zion, Grove in 1891, Paynesville in 1892 and Ebenezer in 1895. This group of churches comprised the Zion Circuit and had the largest nonmetropolitan area membership.

In June of 1908, the Salem concert band was organized. The Brotherhood was launched on Dec. 10, 1931. The Salem Evangelical Ladies Aid was organized in April 1936 under the direction of Mrs. Adelmann with 18 members.

The Salem Church closed in 1967. With its closing, many church members joined other churches, but once a year they return for Salem Fest on the second Sunday in August.

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