The Old Church At 412 Water Street, Benwood

The History
St. Matthew's Evangelical
Lutheran Church,
Benwood, WV

Church history, written 1939, provided by Rev. David Twedt.
Submitted by Jack Cunningham.

The earliest records available of the history of the congregation are those of the Ladies' Aid Society which had its initial meeting on May 1, 1879.

No doubt, some months before that, possibly in March, the Rev. Jacob Stumpf of Frostburg, Maryland, was sent to Benwood by the Reverend A. W. Werder, of St. James Lutheran Church in Wheeling. There were quite a number of German-speaking Lutherans in Benwood, Boggs Run and vicinity. The distance was very great to the nearest church which happened to be that of Pastor Werder. The means of transportation also, were not of the latest type. With the increasing numbers of Lutherans in the community, it was considered imperative to form a separate congregation in Benwood.

After preliminary arrangements had been completed, the second floor of Heirick's Hall, a three-story brick building on the corner of Main and Eighth Streets, was leased and used as a church auditorium. Here the congregation, under the leadership of Rev. J. Stumpf, worshipped for about three months. During the summer months, when the school session was completed for the year, the congregation worshipped in the Old Center Benwood School building.

From what we have been able to learn of the beginnings, the ground was broken for the erection of a church edifice at 412 Water Street, Benwood, in the summer of 1879. The lot was donated, according to the records by August Schad and his wife Lauretta Schad to the trustees of the church. There was no money involved in this transaction. In 1884, however, the congregation made a new deed between the aforementioned parties and itself, in which transaction the plot was sold to the church for the sum of $300.00. This deed is recorded in the office of County Clerk of Marshall County, Deed Book No. 29, page 132.

The first church building served the congregation until 1912. At that time, during the pastorate of the Rev. B. E. Rutzky, extended improvements were made. The church auditorium was raised to a second story level and a Sunday School auditorium placed beneath the church proper. The combined parochial school house and parsonage to the rear of the old church was also raised and converted into a parsonage while beneath it was placed a dining room and kitchen to take care of the social activities of the church. The rededication service took place on May 12, 1912.

From its inception, the congregation maintained a parochial school for its children. This proved a very effective agency in the proper instruction of the youth of the church. It is to be very much regretted that this school had to close and remain closed from the end of the pastorate of the Rev. C. L. Boecele, in 1898.

At the 80th annual convention of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Luthern Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States, our congregation applied for membership and was received. This affiliation gave a sense of strength and unity with other Lutherans which could be had in no other way. The benevolent work of the congregation could be directed into useful channels and much wasted effort eliminated. St. Mattew's congregation automatically became a member in 1930, of the American Lutheran Church, newly formed in August of that year by the merger of the Joint Synod of Ohio, the Iowa Synod and the Buffalo Synod.

The old church building in all these years has passed through many floods, the most serious ones being in 1884, 1907, 1913, 1936. In 1936 there was 11 feet and two inches of water in the Sunday School rooms. Very faithfully has it served the purpose for which it was built and dedicated. Many straying souls found Christ at the services within. Many a storm-tossed life found shelter, and not a few weary souls entered to be refreshed, renewed, encouraged and strengthened by the Bread and the Water of Life. But as all earthly things fade and pass, so, too, the old building shows the wear of time, storm and flood.

In the summer of 1937 it was decided to relocate the church out of the flood area. This decision was reached after two floods in 1937, one in January and one in April, considerably damaged the building. No definite steps were taken until in the summer of 1939, when, through the instrumentality of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, the congregation received the lot upon which this church now stands on Boggs Run Road. In the fall of that year plans for a church and parsonage were drawn by Architect Jesse E. Martsolf of New Brighton, Penna. Events moved rather slowly then until the summer of 1941 when it finally became possible to proceed with the church part of the building. The Klotz Construction Company of Martins Ferry, Ohio, was the general contractor, the cost $20,800.00. A ground-breaking service was held on September 7, 1941, with about 125 persons present.

On Friday morning, September 26, 1941, the cornerstone was removed from the old church in Benwood. In it was a copper box which contained some papers and three old coins. The old papers were in bad condition, having been water-soaked. The cornerstone was refinished and two dates "1879" and "1941" cut into the stone. Into the cornerstone was placed a bronze cylindrical box, sealed to make it moisture-proof. Into this bronze cylinder were placed copies of papers which had been taken from the cornerstone on September 26, together with the following: An up to date history of the congregation; a New Testament with the Psalms; an old newspaper that carried an account of the Golden Jubilee of the congregation in 1929; twelve coins in an October 12, 1941 church envelope; a list of the confirmed and baptized membership as of October, 1941, and two pictures of an old church, one an exterior and the other an interior. The cornerstone was first laid in 1879, It was laid again in 1912. And on October 1941, at a service at which Rev. F. G. Alpers of Elm Grove was the speaker, it was laid once more, this time in the new church. But the chief cornerstone of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church has always been and must always remain Jesus Christ, the Stone which the builders rejected, but is now become the Head of Corner.

NOTE: The original church building at 412 Water Street, Benwood, is the presently the home of the Blake Brothers Post #46, American Legion.