Portions of this history were written by St. Matthew members for our 60th, 75th, 90th, 100th, and 120th anniversary booklets and Lemont’s Centennial Book. The remainder was compiled from research for St. Matthew’s 140th anniversary. Special thanks to Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, MO who provided background information and photographs of our earliest pastors, to the Lemont Area Historical Society, Lemont, IL for the research assistance, and to the members who provided background information told to them by their parents and grandparents. A large portion of the links will redirect you to Wikipedia for more details on historical events occurring parallel to St. Matthew’s history.
Native American Indians signed the Indian Boundary Treaty in 1816 which ceded a 20 mile strip of land to the U. S. which connected the waterway of Lake Michigan to the Illinois River (the future site of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the future site of St. Matthew Lutheran Church). This small piece of land would be critical for linking the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi and Illinois rivers with the Great Lakes. Eventually trade by water would be possible to the Atlantic Ocean via the Erie Canal (1825) and later the Saint Lawrence Seaway (1959). Illinois became a state in 1818.
After the 1832 Black Hawk War, the U. S. worked to remove all Indians from Illinois. By 1833, the Treaty of Chicago required Indians to relocate to reservations west of the Mississippi River, and by 1835 most had left the region. The first farmers arrived in what is now Lemont in 1833.
Immigrants began to settle in Lemont in 1833. They fled famine and religious persecution occurring in Europe. They were also attracted by the natural beauty of this area, the rich soil, and the promise of work in the digging of the Illinois and Michigan Canal (built from 1836-1848) and later in the dolomite limestone quarries which peaked in the 1870s and declined rapidly by the end of the century due to competition from higher quality Indiana Bedford limestone and more readily available modern building materials. In addition, Lemont benefited from the 1850s Chicago and Alton line railroad and the 1890s Sante Fe line. The completion of the canal, the railroads, and dozens of newly formed quarries attracted waves of immigrants, and among these were many who brought with them their religious heritage. The German Lutheran immigrants of Lemont would eventually decide to formally establish a congregation due to the hard work of three visiting missionary pastors that served the community by gathering Lutheran Christians in and around Lemont, meeting in various homes where services were held, conducting baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials, and preaching to a faithful few who later would be the founders of St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Records of these early years exist only in bits and pieces since it is believed that some official records were destroyed in a tragic fire in 1918. We do know from one preserved record book that the development of Lutheranism in our community began in the fall of 1869 by the Rev. Gustav A. Barth, an 1869 graduate from the St. Louis Seminary. He held a position of “Mission Assistant” at the First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Chicago from 1869 until 1871. Rev. Barth was installed and ordained as an assistant pastor at First Immanuel, Chicago on August 29, 1869. He was to assist that congregation in carrying out its mission outreach activities. It was the second oldest Lutheran church in Chicago formed in 1854. (The oldest Lutheran church was First St. Paul, Chicago, where the Missouri Synod was first organized in 1847.)
In the fall of 1869, mission work was begun among the German Lutherans in the Summit, Sag Bridge and Lemont area by Rev. Barth. The oldest surviving records of St. Matthew date back to December 31, 1869 with the first recorded baptism of twin babies born in Sag Bridge, Wilhelm and Christian Krueger, by Rev. Barth. St. Matthew’s records indicate that he officiated at least 31 baptisms during his two years of service. There are no records of him officiating any marriages, funerals, or confirmations at St. Matthew.
The second of three pastors that served Lemont as a preaching station starting in 1870 was Rev. Herman W. Querl. He was installed as pastor at Trinity Lutheran, Willow Springs (now Burr Ridge) on May 8, 1870 (a congregation formed in 1865) and served that congregation until the summer of 1874 before moving to Toledo, Ohio. Rev. Querl’s first recorded baptism in our records was in June of 1870. He went on to baptize at least 82 more people in Lemont during his four years of assistance. He also confirmed the first class of 15 confirmands in April of 1874. A total of 4 couples were married by Rev. Querl with the first marriage in 1871. Finally, he officiated 7 funerals during his service with the first one held in March of 1872.
Zion Lutheran Church in Summit was officially organized in 1871. Rev. Barth’s home church, First Immanuel, Chicago, became a refuge for those who were homeless due to the Great Chicago Fire which began on October 8, 1871. (First St. Paul, Chicago burned to the ground and later rebuilt.) That same year Rev. Barth accepted a call to Iowa. Rev. Querl served the newly formed Zion, Summit congregation during their pastoral vacancy as well as Lemont. Sag Bridge never organized a formal church. Its people were served by the surrounding Lutheran churches. Lemont’s congregation had yet to name itself, build a church, or call a permanent pastor from The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (established in 1847).
In 1872, the congregation of Zion, Summit and Lemont’s Lutherans joined Trinity, Willow Springs in a mission festival with other area churches. As the Lemont preaching station began to grow, the increasing attendance at the services held in homes encouraged and inspired those to organize as a congregation. One of the earliest surviving records of our congregation is a deed for the property (just the land, not any buildings) where the present church and parsonage now stand on the corner of Lemont Street and Illinois Street. It is dated May 20, 1872 and deeds the property to the “Trustees of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lemont, Cook County, Illinois”.
Rev. Martin Sondhaus was the third visiting pastor that served Lemont during this time with records showing his first baptism in June of 1872. He officiated 19 baptisms, 5 marriages, and 7 funerals by his departure in January of 1873.
In a meeting held March 16, 1873, and after lengthy discussion, the Lemont Lutherans debated whether or not to formally organize as a congregation and call a resident pastor. The matter was postponed until February of 1874. Later records indicate that the organization of our congregation took place in the Spring of 1874.