German Methodism in Perry County
from "A Living History of Perry County" by James Mosby
The German Methodist Episcopalians while no longer functioning as distinct congregations in the county were from the late forties until 1914 a strong and influential body of Christian men and women. The German churches belonged to the same great denominations as do the English Speaking Methodist Episcopalians and were distinguished from their English brethren only by the language used. Work among this people was begun by circuit riders from Boonville and Huntingburg missions. The earliest established date is 1847 at which time Frederick Heller from Boonville visited the Rome and Cannelton Settlements. He held services in the home of the people and in school houses. In 1848, Karl F. Heitmeyer as assistant to Rev. Heller carried on the work under his direction. Johann Luckemeyer appears in 1850. The Reverends J. Kisling and J. H. Barth were presiding elders during this early period and visited at regular intervals the German settlements in the county. When the Rev. Luckemeyer left Boonville he was given charge of the Huntingburg mission and from there continued his work in Perry county. In 1852 Gerhardt Frederick Miller as pastor of Huntingburg mission followed up the work already began. The work was begun simultaneously in Cannelton and in Rome settlement. In 1849 a class was organized in Oil Twp. and added in the two already formed.
When these early preachers visited the classes they would arrive the latter part of the week, hold services each afternoon and evening, all day on Sunday, and continue into the next week, departing in time to make their next group of churches. These meetings were evangelistic in character and many converts were made. The three above mentioned classes were formed into a circuit and in the autumn of 1853 the Rev. Frederick Becker was appointed to the Cannelton Mission. He served for two years and during his time churches were built at Cannelton and Oil Creek. The Cannelton church erected in 1855 was a frame building and the cost about $1500.00. This building yet stands and is now used by the Free Methodists. The trustees of the Cannelton Church as named in the deed to the property were Henry Vogel, Bernard Wippach, August Hubner, Philip Rau, Henry Honabuth, John Stilz and Charles Bom. These men with their families formed the nucleus around which a strong society was gathered. In Rome settlement, afterwards known as German Ridge, services were held in the log school house, which stood in the valley between the two ridges, until a log church 25 by 35 feet was built on the ground donated by John Block and Katherine Block, his wife, both ardent Methodists. The deed in two acres of ground was made June 1, 1857 to John Block, August Miller and Frederick Marmor as trustees. This church was burned by an enemy of the society and was replaced by a frame structure in 1871 under the pastorate of the Rev. Louis Miller. Mr. Miller was born September 21, 1829 in Alsace, was brought to America by his parents when he was but 10 years of age. The family settled in Posey county. He entered the ministry in 1855 and was given a charge within two miles of his father's home. He still lives at the advanced age of almost 104 years. (This was written Aug 24, 1933) After penning the sentence concerning the Rev. Miller I learned that he had passed away at his home in Mt. Vernon Aug 23, 1933 lacking one month of reaching 104 years of age. This society acquired another tract of land one half acre in extent Sept. 6 1880 from Frred Speidel and Catherine Speidel. The trustees named in the deed were Julius Helwig, August Schmall, John Block, Frederick Speidel and Frank L. Kapperman. The building erected in 1871 was a plain oblong structure. Under the pastorate of Elmer Roessner 1902-'03, a hall and steeple were added. This building still stands and is used for Sunday School and occasional preaching services.
The first church in the Oil Creek settlement was built in 1853 and the second in 1864, both of logs. We have located three transfers of property to this society. June 9, 1862 William Bradbury, Eilen Bradbury, Ernest Winter, Mary Winter, William Lukemeier and Elizabeth Lukemeier Conoev to Daniel Keilman, William Lukemeier, Ernest Winter, George Konold, Andrew Keiser and George Keck, trustees of the Oil Creek M. E. Church, a tract of land. The character of this deed indicated that the society held this property previously and this deed was executed to clear title. There were three acres of land in this tract. The other deeds were, first, April 5, 1875, by Daniel Keilman and Elizabeth Keilman, two acres of ground for a graveyard to Charles W. A. Schanberger, Exaver Schmitly, Ernest Winter, Jacob Goelzer, George Kissling and George Keck as trustees of Zoar Church and second, made by the same parties December 12, 1879 to Ernest Winter, John Frey, Jacob Goelzer, George Kissling and Michael Messner, trustees of Zoar Church. It appears that Oil Creek and Zoar Church was one and the same.
The German churches in Perry county were served by the same pastor. A fourth, the German M. E. Church in Tell City came into being under the occasional preaching of Daniel Stoll and J. J. Baechtold and was brought to a culmination under the ministry of Jacob Allinger when a church building was erected and dedicated on December 13, 1886. This church continued its activities for two years after the other German churches in the county had merged with the English work, and was served from Santa Claus by William Weller and Louis Ackerman when it too joined with the English brethren and its life as a German society ended. Through the life of these societies when the pastor could not be present, services were conducted by the local preachers and by the class leaders so that no Sunday passed without a worship service in addition to regular Sunday School.
In Cannelton Bernard Wippach was for years an efficient local preacher as was also J. J. Baechtold until he entered upon the pastorate in 1887. Henry Vogel was an early class leader. We have not space for all but the following families were active in Cannelton besides those above mentioned: Daniel Miller, Phillip Ransom, who lived 103 years, Hanebuth, Guillaume, Neiper, Schott, Seigfried, Zellar, Dekinder, Dasch, Hoffman, Pohl, Rinkle, Giun, etc. William Knocka in 1881 and J. J. Baechtold in 1887 entered the active work of the pastorate from this church. Miss Martha May in 1903 became the wife of the Rev. William Brickner.
On German Ridge Julius Helwig, gifted, zealous and spiritual, served the church for years as local preacher, as did also John W. Plock who served also as Sunday School superintendent for several years. Later the Rev. Frederick Eitelgeorge moved into the community and rendered great help as local preacher and leader of song for he was specially gifted in the fine art of singing. He gave two sons to the Methodist ministry: Benjamin Eitelgeorge now of Roswell, New Mexico, and Samuel Eitelgeorge of St. Louis, Mo. His daughter Caroline became the wife of the Rev. Jacob Allinger and the mother of the Rev. Carl Allinger, now pastor of Salem Church, north of Evansville, Ind. Another son, William J. Eitelgeorge has for years served the church at large as local preacher and leader of song in Evangelistic meetings. Another local preacher, William Schwartz served for years. His preaching is remembered as dry but intense. Being disturbed once when leading in prayer, he arose from his knees, walked back and knelt among the disturbers and continued his prayer with the result that the leader of the band of rowdies was converted. Philip Stem entered the pastorate from this church as did Charles E. Plock in 1879, and Charles W. Helwig in 1888. Mary Schwartz became the wife of the Rev. Daniel Harrer. We must not forget the name of the following families who with other gave themselves to the Lord's work on German Ridge: Coleman, Kelse, Dhonau, Petry, Meyers, Klein, Moog, Seifert, Thomas and Schmall -- but the list grows long.
At Oil Creek, near the present village of Oriole, a camp ground was secured and for a number of years the German Church promoted successfully each summer a camp meeting which was a great spiritual uplift to the church and the community. At this point Ernest Winter was an efficient local preacher and Daniel Keilman an excellent class leader. From this class John Winter entered the ministry of the German Evangelical Association.
From the Tell City class Christine Grimmelsen became the wife of the Rev. John Claus and Sophia Buehl married the Rev. Charles Miller. Thus from the Cannelton circuit of the German M. E. Church many men and women went forth to carry the news of salvation to other comminutes.
Among the old time pastors of this circuit besides those named above were Rev. Johanes William Steinsberger, William Reichemeier, F. A. Hoff, etc. I know few dates and my list imperfect. After 1880 the pastors were mostly young men, many of whom rose to distinction in the Central German Conference. Note the following list: John Kuster 1980-81, John W. Huber 1882-83, Daniel Stoll, Jacob Allinger 1885-87, J. J. Baechtold 1888-89, John Claus, Charles E. Severinshause, two years, E. W. Bockstahler, L. S. Katterhenry, B. Roller, August Weigel as assistant at Tell City, William Bockstahler, Charles W. Helwig, William Brickner, Elmer Roesner, Joseph Lamy, Louis Ackerman, Edward Edelmeier and Samuel E. Kaetzel.
The Rev. Kaetzel was pastor for the Conference year beginning with the autumn of 1914. This year a merger was effected with the English work in the county. At Cannelton the German and English congregations were merged. The German Ridge Church was made a part of the Rome Circuit and so continued until it became too weak by the death and removal of its members to support regular preaching. At Oil Creek the members turned to the Oriole Church.
German Methodism wrote a noteworthy and important chapter in the religious life of Perry County Methodism. Many children of the workers remain in the county, many more have gone elsewhere. But wherever they are they bear with them the influence of their early training among the hills of Perry County and are giving a good account of themselves.
The story of early Methodism in Perry County is thus briefly and imperfectly told. Perry County was settled originally for the most part by immigrants from South of the Ohio. These were Protestant and were reached and helped by the pioneer circuit rider. Methodism in America was eminently fitted for pioneer work and succeeded where other churches failed. Its constant change of pastors kept the interest of the frontiersmen aroused. Their ability to overcome difficulties and endure hardship enabled the circuit riders to persevere when others not inured to frontier life, would falter and turn back. Every aggressive and ambitious. Methodists refuse to stay in any locality if they see greater advantages elsewhere. Thus the hills of Perry County have been depleted of Methodist stock and their places have been taken by others not so restless and more easily satisfied. The whole United States is indebted to Perry County Methodism for the many red blooded men and women who have left its borders to make their homes and do their work elsewhere.