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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

ST. JOHN'S LUTHERAN CHURCH. One of the first two congregations of the Iowa Synod, St. John's was located in 1990 at 1276 White Street. St. John's is considered the "mother" church of Lutheranism in Dubuque. The church founding dates to September 1853, when twenty-two people left Saginaw, Michigan, for the West.

With depleted funds, the travelers crossed the MISSISSIPPI RIVER into Iowa by ferryboat using the last fifty cents of one of the party. Once across the river, most of the group chose to remain in Dubuque. They founded WARTBURG THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY in 1854 and a German Lutheran congregation the same year. (1) Eventually part of a lot with a two story eight room brick house facing White Street was purchased for two thousand dollars.

Lack of funds led the congregation to use twenty-one feet remaining along White Street for the location of a church. On September 24, 1855, the first St. John's Church was dedicated. The congregation, which in 1860 stood at one hundred, increased by 1864 to 247.

In June 1867, the congregation was convinced by their pastor, Heinrich Luz, to purchase five acres of land near Windsor Avenue. Subdivided into lots, the land was sold for gravesites in what became known as St. John's Cemetery. Sales of lots provided a steady income source for the congregation to use in purchasing a site for a new church. After worshipping for twenty-plus years in a small chapel building erected for $1,500, the current Gothic Revival church on the corner of 13th and White Streets, was dedicated on October 26, 1879 after a cost of $29,000, complete with the 123-foot white steeple, a carved wooden altar, and a stained-glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd. In 1886 the parsonage and fellowship hall were completed, and the Moline tracker pipe organ was installed in the balcony of the sanctuary.

In 1865 a group separated from St. John's to form a Missouri Synod congregation, St. Paul Lutheran. St. Mark Lutheran in 1906 was an English language mission of St. John's. It closed in 1988 but became ST. MARK COMMUNITY CENTER. Continued growth of the congregation led to the purchase of a lot on Twentieth and Elm Streets and the construction in 1910 of a frame building named ST. PETER'S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH. HOLY TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH was established in 1939.

St. John's struggled with language problems for many years. Prior to 1910, Parish Day School sought to teach its students enough German to understand German preaching or instruction. Lack of popularity led the school to close in 1910. The use of English in sermons was started by August 1913, although services conducted in German were held for another twenty years. The last German confirmation class joined the church in 1917. English became the official language of the summer Sunday school in 1918.

St. John's was part of the first Lutheran social service project in January 1950 when the Thomas Mulgrew home east of Wartburg Seminary was purchased and remodeled to serve the needs of elderly members of the congregation. The home opened in June 1950.

The 1987 through 2014 Dubuque City Directory listed 1276 White.



St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church Dubuque, Iowa, Online: https://stjohnselcadbq.org/index.php/history/