History...

FIRST TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
WELLSVILLE, NEW YORK

1859-2009

We give thanks to God for His blessings bestowed on our congregation for so many years. God used the faithfulness of the early Lutheran settlers to extend His church in Wellsville and the surrounding area. The first trace of Lutheran settlers in Wellsville is found about 1854. Among these were the families of Simon Dornow, Christian Gallmann, and Christian Vossler, who with their families settled on Niles Hill.

The Dornow family came from Saxony. After a short residence in Sullivan County, NY, they followed the Erie Railway westward, buying a piece of hemlock woods with the intention of converting it into a farm. At that time there was no road from Wellsville to the place where they planned to locate, so the path to their new home was marked on the trees with an ax. Mr. Dornow’s sister, Mrs. Kate Wack, had previously settled in the village of Wellsville, engaging in the butcher business.  

In 1853 two Christian friends, Christian Vossler and Christian Gallman left their home in Thunningen, Wuerttemberg, Germany and immigrated to America. They arrived in Utica New York, were they worked on a farm to raise money before they continued their search for land. They were told of good jobs at the Eleven Mile south of Wellsville, so their journey continued. In 1857 they found their way to Wellsville where they also bought land on Niles Hill. The men remained employed at a sawmill, which transported its output by tramway to Wellsville, where it was loaded on cars of the Erie Railway for shipment. During the week they worked in the mill. On Saturday evenings they would shoulder an ax, gather up some provisions and walk to their property, where they cleared a plot for their future homes. On Sunday night they would again go back to their work at Eleven Mile. Soon they had erected their small log cabins and moved their families to Niles Hill. From their log houses they could hear another pioneer across the valley cutting timber and see smoke rising above the tops of the tall hemlocks. Because there was not yet a market for timber, what was not used for building was burned. One Sunday afternoon they blazed a trail to their unknown neighbor. They found the home of Mr. Simon Dornow and learned that he  was also a German Lutheran. That meeting on Niles Hill marks the beginning of our Lutheran congregation. These three families met together as often as they could. Each family had some good books with excellent sermons and one of them would read one of these sermons from Sunday to Sunday, either to his family or to the three families when they were assembled together.

These families made contact with other Lutherans living in and around Wellsville, and their numbers continued to grow. About 1856 the We1lsville tannery business came into existence. The Germans were skilled in the art of tanning, so many were recruited and had their way paid to work in the tanneries and later the cost was deducted from their wages. Among its employees were a number of Lutherans.  Mr. Christopher Friederich came to work as a foreman. Other Lutheran families had settled on the hills south of Wellsville, and as they came from Hannover, they called their settlement Hannover Hill. Mr. Henry Schrader was instrumental in bringing these colonists to Wellsville. When this group heard about a Lutheran pastor, Rev. H. Schmidt, living in Eden Valley, near Buffalo, they wrote to him to see if he would come to Wellsville to baptize their children and hold services. Pastor Schmidt visited here and encouraged the people to seek the services of Pastor J. H. Doermann of Olean.

Note: The earliest Pictures we have of these gentlemen were taken about 50 years after their first meeting during the church’s 50th anniversary celebration

In the summer of 1859 Pastor Doermann gathered the scattered Lutherans of the Wellsville area and by February 1860 the group was organized. The new congregation was to be known as the "The First German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity at Wellsville, Allegany County, New York." This small Lutheran congregation did not have it's own pastor for almost ten years. Pastor Doermann continued to come from Olean every fourth Sunday. On the Sundays when the congregation was without a pastor, the members gathered to sing hymns, read Scripture, pray, and listen as one of the men read one of Dr. Martin Luther's sermons. Services were held in homes and at different public locations, making it hard for some members to attend. In order to heat the meeting place male members were requested to bring a piece of stove wood when they came to worship.

On Christmas Day, 1862 the congregation voted to build a house of worship. However the nation was at civil war, and times were hard, so the plans remained on hold. A Sunday school was organized in May 1866. It was noted in the church history that the entire membership attended these Sunday classes. In 1863, the congregation voted to become affiliated with the Lutheran Synod of Missouri. The congregation was self-supporting from the very beginning. The ladies who spoke German formed the St. Paul's Ladies Aid; it existed perhaps as early as 1865. It was not until March 1865 that the congregation was able to buy a large lot and dwelling on Martin Street for $800. The dwelling was at once made suitable for divine services. Trinity congregation grew rapidly and in 1867 Pastor Engelder accepted the call to move to Wellsville and become Trinity's first full-time pastor. His salary was $400 per year and his responsibilities included Trinity's sister congregation on Basswood Hill in northern Allegany County. Mr. Gallman sold his farm on Niles Hill and moved his family to Basswood Hill. They joined a small settlement of Lutherans, Wesche, Behrens, Gauss and others who built a small church. Pastor Engelder served only a short time for later that same year he accepted a call to Pittsburgh. That same year, Trinity members formed the Wellsville German Relief Association to provide life insurance for its members. In August 1869 Pastor John C. Himmler began pastoral work in Wellsville. In 1871 a parsonage was built on the church property. 

The congregation continued to grow and the Martin Street house had already become too small for the number of worshipers. In 1871, a disbanded Presbyterian church on West Genesee Street was available and Trinity was able to purchase the building and the land for $2700. The Martin Street building was remodeled to accommodate the growing parochial school. In 1873 Pastor Himmler accepted a call to Cohocton, NY and Pastor H. Bernreuther of Olean served as vacancy pastor until a new graduate, Pastor C. A. Geyer, came in August 1873. Impaired health forced him to resign after two years. Another new graduate, Rev. Carl Zollmann, was assigned to Trinity and served faithfully until 1882.

Pastor George Buch came to Wellsville from New York City in 1882. The congregation grew and prospered under the leadership of Pastor Buch. He also taught school, trained the church choir and served the Basswood Hill congregation. In 1884 the church was enlarged at a cost of $1,650. In 1894 the younger women of the church formed a new group for English speaking women called the Concordia Ladies Aid Society, which eventually replaced the German-speaking St. Paul’s Ladies Aid. Trinity observed its 25th anniversary on Reformation Day 1885.

In 1900 the congregation numbered 699 souls. To meet the demands of continued growth, the church building was enlarged, new fixtures added and pews were installed. The church basement was divided into rooms for Sunday school classes and social functions. The cost of this renovation was $6,689. Pastor Buch is given credit for much of the thought and design that went into this building project. Whether he did this for the 1884 or 1900 renovation is not clear.  Several church societies as well as individual families, including those of the original founders, donated stained glass windows. The altar, crucifix and pulpit were carved and donated by Otto Gaede. The Concordia Ladies Aid Society donated a marble baptismal font. Its German inscription translated means "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." In 1901 Mr. George Fleischman was hired as parochial school teacher, and also served as organist and choirmaster.

In the fall of 1901 a young people’s society was formed and the same year a pipe organ was installed in the church balcony. It was a hand pump organ, but soon a water motor was added. Prof. Charles Rupprecht of St. Louis played two dedication concerts.

In 1901 a house on West Genesee Street was purchased as a teacher's residence. It came to be known as the "Gallman House." The congregation invested $2,618 in remodeling this property. In 1902 Trinity members formed a Lutheran Mutual Fire Insurance Association. In 1907 there was a change in the congregation's constitution, which allowed English to be used. English was rapidly replacing German as the primary language for worship and confirmation instruction, although church records continued to be kept in German until 1918. On July 25, 1909 they celebrated a “Golden Jubilee" for the German Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. German was used for the morning services, and the evening service was held in English. In 1910 the congregation sold the Martin Street property to the Village of Wellsville for an elementary school, a building that today houses medical offices. A smaller lot was purchased on Grover Street and the parsonage was moved to this location. A Men's Club was organized in 1916 and eventually it affiliated with the International Lutheran Laymen's League.

With the closing of the parochial school in 1926, Saturday School and Sunday school became the primary source of Christian training and instruction for the children of the congregation.  In 1927 the organ was moved from the balcony to the front of the church. An electric blower was added. This organ was of the "tracker" type with about 12 ranks, or sets of pipes. In 1929 Pastor Buch retired after serving Trinity for 47 years. During his pastorate a number of Trinity's sons and daughters entered full time church work. Two years before Pastor Buch's retirement, Rev. August R. Potrafke was called from Ashford, NY to assist Pastor Buch. For two years the two men worked together. Upon Pastor Buch's retirement, Rev. Potrafke became Trinity's pastor. He would serve Trinity throughout the Depression. 1932 marked the formation of a Lutheran Emergency Relief Organization. In 1933 the pastor,  organist, and custodian agreed to take a 15% reduction in  salary.

At Pastor Potrafke's urging, the congregation decided to have the organ redesigned and updated. The work was done by the Herman L. Schlicker Co. of Buffalo. The organ was rededicated in October 1941. Also during Pastor Potrafke's years at Trinity the left wing of the church building was remodeled and the Ascension window, donated by the Ladies Aid, was installed. The Lutheran Hymnal was introduced in worship services in 1941. Pastor Potrafke served Trinity until his untimely death in July 1941. The preacher for his funeral service was a classmate, Lutheran Hour speaker Dr. Walter A. Maier.

Rev. Elmer W. Krentz was installed as Trinity's seventh pastor in November 1941. He would serve Trinity for 34 years. In 1942 the congregation purchased a house on West Genesee Street for the parsonage. Prior to that, the pastor lived in the parsonage on Grover Street.

During the 40's and early 50's Wellsville was doing well and it was reflected in the congregation as it continued to grow and flourish. New organizations were added to minister to congregational needs, such as; The Lutheran Service Society to care for the physical needs of people of the area, the Walther League, a branch of Synod’s youth organization and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. There was a growing enrollment in the Sunday school. During this period several professional church workers were employed to assist the pastor in the areas of youth, music, and education beginning with Walter Neuchterlein (1945-50). In May 1948 he guided the Walther League members to publish, editorialize, illustrate, print and mail the first “Telco News”, a monthly newsletter dedicated to informing the congregation of past, present and future church activities. This project was carried out by the Walther league for 10 years. After 1958 it became a church office published newsletter.

At this time Trinity had only a male choir and he introduced a mixed choir and a youth choir. He added and taught an adult bible class during the Sunday school hour. Following Mr. Neuchterlein in this position were Peter Luedig (1950-52) and John Buelow (1952-54). The congregation's activities continued to require more space than the remodeled school building could provide. An ambitious building program resulted in the erection of a parish hall on the site of the old school building. It cost $140,000 and also contained a new boiler that provided heat for both the parish hall and the church. It was dedicated in July 1954. The Sunday school’s primary department continued to meet in the "Gallman House." During this period a number of sons and daughters of Trinity prepared for full -time church service.

In 1959 Trinity celebrated its 100th anniversary with a weeklong schedule of services and events. Five pastors who had grown up in the congregation returned to participate. Dr. John W. Behnken, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, preached at the conclusion of the centennial celebration. On Its 100th birthday, Trinity had 750 communicant members and more than 1,000 baptized members.

During the 1960's and 1970's additional organizations came into existence, including the Altar Guild (1962), Dorcas Guild (1964), and Senior Citizens Fellowship (1970). During these years Trinity was blessed with large adult, youth, and children's choirs.

The winds of change came from Hurricane Agnes when it blew into Wellsville with torrential rains that permanently changed much of our town's landscape. It was a day that will always stand out in the memory of Trinity's members. Early in the morning of June 23, 1972 at 6:50a.m., Trinity's parish hall collapsed into the flooded Genesee River that washed out the riverbank beneath the building. The southwest corner of the church building itself was left dangerously close to the undermined bank of the river. Jones Memorial Hospital also lost a large three-story wing. Trinity needed land to rebuild, as did the hospital. In the months following the flood, the congregation reluctantly decided to sell its property to the hospital and to relocate to a new site.

A musical farewell was held at the church on April 8, 1973 to commemorate the building that had served the congregation for 102 years. The final service in the building was on Easter Sunday, April 22, 1973. On May 5th the church building’s furnishings were auctioned off. A member recalls that day as "a sad, cold day." The building was razed. During the next year, Trinity met in the Congregational church building on North Main Street. The number of confirmed members was 800 at this time.

The building committee and architect worked together to develop plans to meet the needs of Trinity's members, young, old, and physically disabled. Specific areas were designated for worship, music, education, fellowship, office and storage. The business of establishing a new house of worship took top priority for the next several years. Three members of the congregation, Alwin Schaller and Norbert and Helen Shear, pledged the necessary funds to purchase property at the corner of North Main Street and Park Lane. Excavation for the new building could not begin until existing hotel building was demolished and the land was cleared. On October 14, 1973 ground was broken. Construction began, and the cornerstone laying took place on June 30, 1974.

Art objects in the interior of the sanctuary would include a large faceted glass window behind the altar, a sculptured hanging cross, sconce candelabra, and ten Christian symbols executed in colored faceted glass. Parts of a stained glass window removed from the Genesee Street church (Christ ascending and a dove) would be placed in a window on the south wall. These pieces and other items were incorporated from the old church to serve as a reminder of the many years the congregation worshiped on Genesee Street. They also remind us that the Lord was with the congregation through the loss of one building and the completion of another. The organ was sent to the Schlicker Factory to enlarge and make it ready for installation at the new location. The organ now has 16 ranks (about 1100 pipes) and is was installed in the balcony.

A serious disagreement between the building committee and the contractor made it necessary to dismiss the contractor. Members went to work to complete the interior of the church building, often working day and night. Descendants of the early founders were among those who worked so tirelessly to complete the new building. The first worship service was held in the unfinished building on December 1, 1974, the first Sunday in Advent. The interior was completed and the service of dedication took place on June 15, 1975. The cost of the building project was approximately $750,000. The church library was re-established in the new building in 1975, on shelves made from pews taken from the old church.

Trinity congregation, on February 15, 1976 observed Rev. Krentz’s retirement with a daylong celebration honoring the Krentz family. The same year Rev. Donald Schroeder was installed as pastor. Mr. Larry Gerdes, who was serving the congregation at that time as Director of Christian Education, continued to serve in that capacity until 1979 when he entered the seminary.

The 125th anniversary of the congregation was observed throughout 1984 with special services and events planned for each month. Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Lutheran Hour speaker, spoke at the kickoff dinner. Pastor Krentz returned for a special Homecoming Celebration and preached on the "Three R's “Remembrance, Rejoicing, and Renewal." Memorial funds were used to purchase hand bells during this anniversary year. In 1985, Trinity established a Christian preschool to serve the wider Wellsville community.

Pastor Schroeder resigned in 1985 and Rev. Luther Bauer was called that same year. Pastor Bauer resigned in 1989 and was succeeded by Rev. Daniel Johnson in 1990.   Pastor Johnson resigned to take another call in 1993.  Rev. Robert Pillar from Batavia, NY became our vacancy pastor until a new pastor could be obtained.

In 1993 the Men’s Club under the direction of Chuck White, built a large pavilion for outside church activities.

In January 1995 Rev. Dr. Harold Kitzmann accepted our call. In June we celebrated our 136 years in Wellsville, including twenty years at North Main Street and ten years of service for the Trinity Preschool.  In 1999 the congregation invited the LCMS missionary crusade “Lift High the Cross Ministry, Inc.” to the Wellsville balloon rally. It was an uplifting experience in more than one-way. The Rev. Jay Mason and his wife not only trained members in how to handle a balloon but also how to reach out to the community with this unconventional missionary tool.

In 1998 we received a sizeable trust fund from the Gallman family, Arthur, Agnes & Myra (Gallman) Hawley. This fund has been the finical support for many of the improvements that were much needed, and to replace equipment that was no longer working. The investment stays in the trust and the church is given a quarterly allotment to be used only as specified by the trust.

One of the first uses other than organ tuning was a small addition that was constructed at the rear entrance to make the basement entryway to the class rooms more accessible for the preschool children.

In the fall of 2000 Pastor Kitzmann made the decision to retire. Rev. Art Cox from Bradford, PA became our vacancy pastor. Rev. Cox was like a breath of fresh air to a congregation that had had a rapid turnover in pastors and vacancy pastors.

Calling of a new pastor can often be a long and trying time for a congregation. Rev. Cox  was very instrumental in helping us make the transition to another new pastor.

In the fall of 2001 the Rev. Robert Morris accepted our call to Wellsville. Pastor Morris has been our inspiration for eight years and it would be hard to imagine our church without his leadership. We have opened up to the community and to missions as never before and in so doing we have been blessed.

As every home owner knows, there is always a long list of repairs and replacements that are needed and a church is no exception to that rule. Thirty five years of use has taken its toll so many improvements have been required. Ceiling tiles, interior doors replaced, refrigerator and dishwasher parts were replaced. A canopy over the sidewalk to the parking lot was constructed.

The properties committee had been requested to research the possibility of incorporating mechanical lifts to the balcony and to the basement. There proved to be nothing that could be done with the existing structure without a very costly addition to the outside structure. After much research and discussion it was proposed that we bring the organ and choir down to the main floor and lower the altar rail for those that were physically able to approach it without steps.

In 2003 the project was undertaken by church members who worked in rotating shifts to first remove all the furniture  and then dismantle the sanctuary and make it ready for carpenters, plumbers and electricians. They salvaged all the lumber that could be reused and removed the carpeting. There was water damage to the existing lath on both the north and south window areas that was repaired. The altar platform was lowered and doors to the sacristy and vestry were removed. The organ company removed the organ console and modernized it with the present circuitry. While all this activity was going on services were held in the fellowship hall. All the work was finally completed and Christmas was celebrated in our newly remodeled, carpeted and painted sanctuary. The total bill came to $91,381 which included $46,545 for the organ and sound system.

Recent years have brought rapid and unprecedented change in America, in Wellsville and Trinity’s congregation. The church is not immune to changes and we are compelled to ask, "Where is God leading Trinity?" We have lost many members because of the changes that have taken place in the area due to industries moving away or cutting back. We have a large number of senior citizens and we continually lose more and more of them as they go home to their Lord. We need to believe, and to pray fervently, that He will provide us with the faith and the resources to move boldly out into the future. Opportunities abound for us to serve God's people and to reach out to those in our community who do not yet know Christ, or have fallen away from the faith.

The preschool was closed in 2006 due to the dwindling attendance and replaced with a day care facility. The daycare rules demanded that many changes be made to the Sunday school rooms and kitchen before it could be New York State approved. It is sometimes difficult to give up the daycare area. However we are beginning to see the results of this undertaking. It is very obvious that these children will never forget the Christian training and their introduction to Christian beliefs. For the most part we have learned to live with the situation and the daycare is now operating in the black. Our forefathers probably would approve because they were very intense about educating their children in a Christian manner.

We enter a new era as we wait for God’s direction. He alone knows what path is the correct one for Trinity. We know there will be trying times but we pray that Trinity will remain faithful and the next generation will be blessed as we wait to celebrate a 200th anniversary.

Charter members
Charles F. Biemann, H. Louis Bosse, Simon Dornow, Peter Freiermuth. Christian Frey, Christian Gallmann, Ernest Geffers, Heinrich Heinemann, Henry Hennecke.
Adam Herbig, Christian Loesch, Ernest Paulmann, John Schroeder, Friedrich Schwarzkoph, Christian Schulz, Christian Vossler.

Sons and Daughters of Trinity that  entered into full-time church work.
Rev. 0. H. Restin, Rev. Henry C. Biermann, Rev. Theodore Buch, Rev. Carl Gallman, Rev. Adolph Kruger, Rev. Herbert H. Gallman, Rev. Max Zschiegner,   Rev. Walter A. Reuning,  Rev.  Ralph  Kruger.

Rev. Jack Munro. Rev. Carl Grossman. Rev. L  Richard Vossler    Rev. Larry Gerdes, Rev. Dr. Lee Brumbgck, and Rev. Lee  Stisser


Teachers  Martin Braunschweiger, Joanne Herman Brandes, Gloria Krentz Schulz, Glenn Havens Olsen, Alan Merrifield, and Lois Krentz Seaman
Deaconess Pauline Meyer . Joan Jensen Eckelman and Alice Vossler Stevens
Director of Christian Outreach  Betty Wood

This history was compiled from anniversary booklets, newspaper articles, church records, and personal recollections of Trinity's members by Eleanor Cott. When a discrepancy was discovered regarding a name or date an attempt was made to cite the information that seemed accurate.

 

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