Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s History
The first meeting place of the congregation of Bethlehem Lutheran Church was at 401 North Broad Street, a tannery house. It was used jointly by the Mission congregation and for Bethlehem Lutheran. This house was believed to be used in the years of 1880-1882. The next meeting place was the “German” church on South Street which is now First Lutheran Church. During this time, a lot was bought on Metoxet Street and the foundation was made. It was discovered that a deed to the property could not be secured. Dr. Earley returned the money for the lot, plus $50 dollars for the labor. On October 7, 1887 the congregation succeeded in buying a lot on Ash Street from Mr. Fred Dickenson for the price of $325. The church when first constructed, did not have a basement; but on October 1, 1899, it was decided to raise the church and construct a basement under it. Rev. O.N. Glim, Edward Martinson, Alexander Carlson, Peter Nelson and August Jacobson were the members of the committee that made this happen. Mrs. Holmerg and Mrs. Green have related about the rejoicing when the congregation finally got its own building in which to worship. Church suppers were held almost frantically in order to raise sufficient funds to pay for the church. Mr. and Mrs. Peter Johnson, personally donated funds for the erection of the tower and for the purchase of the bell. This is the same bell that is in use in our church today. The congregation worshiped in the West Ridgway church, as it was usually called, from 1888-1913.
In 1903 an attempt was made to buy the old Methodist church on Center Street, lying between the library and the home of Mrs. Laura Whitemore, but the two parties could not come to an agreement on the price. June 7, 1904, the corner lot, now occupied by the post office was purchased for the price of $3,500 form Mrs Nancy H. Rhines. April 12, 1905, also an adjoining lot was bought from Mr. E. C. Powell for which the congregation paid the additional sum of $2,500. These two purchases gave the congregation a lot 160 feet along Mill Street and 130 feet along enter Street. October 6, 1911, this corner property was sold to the government for the sum of $10,000. On January 12, 1912, the congregation had purchased the present lot on the corner of South and South Broad streets for the price of $5,047.89. There was a small gully running through this lo, i.e., where the present church building and parsonage now stand. The neighborhood used this particular spot for the dumping of refuse. Upon our congregation’s moving to the present location proceedings were started to sell the West Ridgway property to the Church of Christ congregation. At a special congregational meeting August 27, 1913, it was decided to sell this property to this congregation for the sum of 43,500. One reason for the congregation’s moving from West Ridgway to the present location was that the old church often proved itself too small to house the growing congregation. Another reason was that the new location was more centrally located.
The full name of the church was “The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem” church of Ridgway. Through the help of the Canegie Foundation in giving the church half of the cost of the organ; the organ was purchased. On Thursday, June 4, 1914 the inaugural organ recital was held in the church. Today, the pipe organ was not able to be maintained: therefore a wonderful sounding Allen Organ was purchased and it what is used today.
Maria Lutheran Church History
Starting in the year 1850, the Italians, Scotch, Scotch-Irish and the Swedes came to Fox Township to work in the lumbering and mining industries. The trickle of the fifties became a torrent in the eighties and nineties. The Swedes came from several provinces of Sweden, hoping to better their lives by the unlimited employment in America. The Northwestern Coal Company opened mines in the Dagus, Coal Hollow area in the decade of 1860. The workers found homes in the company houses erected by the Mining Company.
The beginning of Maria reached back to 1875 when the earliest of our people arrived from the homeland. Rev. P. A. Bergquist of Tabor Lutheran, Kane, PA., came here and preached the Gospel to the Swedish settlers. Mindful of their faith, some of the immigrants met for worship in a rural schoolhouse in Coal Hollow not far from the present Church. As more and more immigrants arrived, the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dagus Mines, Elk County was organized September 17, 1887, which grew to 212 persons. Members were all who “pledged to work in God’s service and to abide by the by-laws”. Dues were from .25 to .50 per month. The aim was, according to the by-laws, “to preach God’s word in the Swedish language amongst the Swedish people of Dagus Mines, Elk Co., PA.., by qualified pastors of the Swedish Augustana Synod in the U.S.”
As the spirit of harmony prevailed, the members of this society decided to organize a Lutheran Congregation. Maria was organized September 3, 1890 by Rev. E.J. Norden, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Ridgway with more than 60 charter members. The minutes of the meeting September 3, 1890 give this account:
“Having called a meeting after proper notification, the Swedish Lutheran Society met for services Wednesday, September 3, when a sermon was preached by Pastor E.J. Norden. After the services all those who wished that a Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation should be formed were asked to sign their names”. It was decided that a congregation be organized.” Each article of the Constitution was discussed and then the Constitution as a whole was adopted. Sven Anstrom was elected Secretary. Three deacons, Sven Asntrom, Soloman Johnson, C.J. Johnson, and three trustees, Gust Andersson, Solomon Swensson and August Andersson were elected. Hymnals were to be purchased. Dues for communicants were form .25 to …..50. A committee was selected to arrange homes for Church Services. Dues collectors were elected for the various areas of the congregation.
The minutes of March 9, 1891 record the action for building the Chruch: “Resolved to build the Church by Andrew Swanson’s place”. “It was decided unanimously it should be as large as the Ridgway Church 28X48.” (The reference is to Bethlehem Church.) A committee was elected to solicit the building fund. The building was to be started in May. The Building Committee elected was, Solomon Johnson, C.J. JohnsonS. A. Johnson, C.O. Carlson and Herman Johnson. The Building was to be of wood and the foundation of stone. “The steeple will be built later.” Pastor Norden presided and S. Anstrom was secretary. Some lumber for the building was donated by Mr. Robertson. The land was donated by the Northwestern Mining Company.
Maria Church building was dedicated October 22,1891. The newspaper Vart Land of Jamestown, New York in the November 12, 1891 issue reported this event. Three pastors of the Pastor’s Meeting in Ridgway journeyed to Dagus Mines at noon. “In the evening the president, gave the dedication sermon using as his text 2 Moses 20:24. The Church was filled to capacity with an interested group of people.” After the service Pastor Palmer asked the Congregation to subscribe the debt of $665. , so they could announce the Church debt free. The whole amount was subscribed and the people rejoiced at the accomplishment. “Pastor Norden then spoke and announced that the Congregation was one year old, has built a beautiful and substantial Church, has purchased a good organ, and everything is paid for.
The Church bell was purchased in 1895 by the Young People’s Society form the same company that supplied St. Boniface with their bell. At the annual business meeting in 1897, it was decided to secure ground for a Church cemetery. In 1901, a basement and vestry were added to the Church. Three years later a new pulpit was made and the Church beautified at the expense of $370 which was also paid by the Young People’s Society. At a special meeting November 4, 1907, the congregation decided to build a parsonage. The Joe Kemmerly property in Dagus Mines was purchased for $1600. This was the parsonage until 1954. The Luther League, organized in 1913, the Jr. Luther League and the Jr. Bible Class assisted in securing a new organ in 1916.
- In 1921 electric lights were installed in the Church. The Church was renovated by painting and new carpet for the sum of $850. paid by the Luther League.
- The first Homecoming was held August 28, 1932
- A bus was secured in November 1947 to bring people from the Toby Area to Church and Sunday School. This service was provided until March of 1951.
- In 1949 saw the erection of a steeple cross, the installation of water in the church basement and parsonage and improvements to the cemetery.
- In 1952 a motion was made at the congregational meeting to purchase as memorials, new windows of art glass for the Church. The windows came from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, at the cost of 2,560. These beautiful windows picture the life of Christ from birth to the resurrection with the altar painting of the Ascension completing the series.
- New lights were installed in the Church during August 1953. In April 1954 the congregation decided to sell the old parsonage for $5,000. Clyde Greene volunteered to draw up plans for a new house. The new house was dedicated November 28, 1954 with Rev. Nore Gustafson, Vice President of the New York Conference, officiating.
- In 1960, Aluminum siding was put on the church at a bout $4500.
- A new piano was purchased with the help of gifts from former confirmands at the cost of $650.