Zion Lutheran Church - 100 Year History 1905-1919

Zion Lutheran Church History

First Hundred Years

Picture of Zion Lutheran Church about 1924.
Zion Lutheran Church and Parsonage about 1924. - Click to Enlarge.

A Year Book

Reasearched and Written by
Pastor David Johnson

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Before There Was a Silverhill, Alabama


         Dr. and Mrs. E. C. Slosson and daughters Ellen and Lois (later Mrs. Ellen Slosson Bouse and Mrs. Lois Slosson Sundberg) raised sheep south of Silverhill beginning in 1888. The Slossons had emigrated from Illinois and were instrumental to the land development that would become Silverhill. Dr. Slosson engaged in the care of the ill and needy, making countless trips on horseback in the area. More significantly, the Slosson home welcomed travelers and land seekers who came to the area, the most important for local history being Oscar Johnson. Oscar Johnson settled in Silverhill, built a home, and encouraged people to come and settle in the area. Ultimately a hotel would be erected, followed by a small store in 1902, built by Theodore A. Johnson of Chicago.1

Oscar Johnson          Oscar Johnson is fascinating, because each of the early churches which developed in Silverhill sprang from services held in his land office, home of the Svea Land Company. An interview with Elvera Armstrong fleshes out the man: "Her father Oscar Johnson took care of almost everything in Silverhill. In the beginning, he provided facilities for both school classes and church services. When there was no pastor in the settlement, Johnson preached and conducted funerals. He donated the land for the cemetery. Sometimes he also paid for having a grave dug and a casket made. The family was of the Lutheran faith, but since a Lutheran pastor was not always available, Elvera was married by a Baptist minister (in the Lutheran Church). Elvera's sister was confirmed by a pastor of the Evangelical Covenant faith. The pastors often exchanged pulpits."

Early Lutheran Activity
in Silverhill, Alabama


         Pastors J. E. Hedberg, H. F. H. Hartelius, and J. J. Richard began visiting Silverhill on an irregular basis in conjunction with their ministry in Thorsby, Alabama, an outreach of the Augustana Synod, the Swedish Lutheran Synod in North America. The Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Church was not formally founded in Thorsby until January 1, 1897, by Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius. Emanuel Lutheran at Fruithurst was founded about same time. There were only 50 Swedish Lutherans between those two churches when Swedish Lutheran Zion Church (later called Zion Lutheran Church) became the third Augustana mission church in Alabama in 1905.3


         Despite the optimism concerning Silverhill that many have reported, the view of early Augustana Synod church workers was reserved at best. Pastor Hjalmar Frithiof Hartelius reported on Augustana Synod activities two decades later: "In this state [Alabama] the Synod has carried on home Mission work since before 1895. The latest statistics show that three congregations belong to the Synod, named Emanuel in Fruithurst, Concordia in Thorsby and Zion in Silver Hill with a total of 66 communicants. These small communities are the results of private speculations and do not seem to have any future. But since those who have settled down there have realized their lack of spiritual and churchly care and have asked for help, the Synod has tried to do everything possible for them. The pastors who have served the field in Alabama are: J. E. Hedberg, H. F. H. Hartelius and J. J. Richard. They made their homes in Thorsby, the largest congregation and from there they visited different localities in the state."4


C. O. Carlson, C. A.
Vallentin, and Oscar Johnson.
C. O. Carlson, C. A. Vallentin, and Oscar Johnson.

         What did those early settlers of the area really see? Silverhill was seen as a pleasant town in Alabama. The Svea Land Company of Chicago began development of the area in 1896. It was pine-wooded and lay east of Mobile Bay. Land company officials, C. O. Carlson, C. A. Vallentin, and Oscar Johnson, initially directed the development. The town derived its name from the activities of Martin Lowell, operator of a turpentine distillery east of the town site, on "The Hill" (later gifted to the area as Oscar Johnson Memorial Park). Martin Lowell reportedly paid his workers in silver coin obtained from a bank in Mobile and shipped by boat to Daphne, and then by mule to The Hill, which became "Silverhill" when the new town was so named. It would become a picnic spot for the churches in future years.5

         The Axel T. Westerlunds were the first family to arrive in Silverhill with their infant daughter, Esther Louise (later Mrs. George Lundberg). Several weeks later, Mrs. Oscar Johnson and daughters, Vera and Agnes (later Mrs. Phil Armstrong and Mrs. G. W. Utter) arrived from Chicago. They found Silverhill to be laid out like the markets in Sweden. The town center was comprised of four squares, called Market Square which later would become endowed with parks, flowers, shrubbery and pecan trees.

         The early settlers were Scandinavians, mostly Swedish. They cleared land, built houses, and laid out fields. Soon they began to build churches and schools. All denominations met for worship services and Sunday School in Oscar Johnson's land office (the present Library Building). Services were conducted in Swedish by Mr. Westerlund, and later by Mr. Carl Edfeldt. School classes were initiated there as well and the first teacher coming to the settlement would be Miss Millie Anderson, followed by Miss Sara Carlson. A school was eventually constructed (later to become the home of Mrs. G. Edhegard). Settlement growth brought church development along the denomination lines present in the Old Country. The Baptists were the first to exert autonomy becoming First Baptist of Silverhill, followed by the Mission Covenant people becoming Silverhill Mission Covenant, and lastly the Lutherans who incorporated Zion Lutheran Church. Oscar Johnson was instrumental in providing lots for the school and the churches. Early Lutheran services for the first ten years of worship would utilize the school.


Picture of Rev. Hedberg. Picture of Rev. Hedberg.          The Reverend John Emil Hedberg organized the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Church in Thorsby, January 1, 1897. The pastor had arrived in the settlement in 1896. In addition to serving the Thorsby congregation, he also would serve the developing Zion Lutheran Church in Silverhill and the Emanuel Lutheran Church congregation in Fruithurst. The baptismal records for Concordia Lutheran Church (1897-1928) show that many of the people who had their children baptized in Thorsby lived in Fruithurst and Silverhill.8


         Pastor Hjalmar Frithiof Hogstedt Hartelius would succeed Pastor Hedberg in 1904 and would stay in Alabama until 1908. He was able to identify with and minister to the Swedish émigrés, being born in 1861 in the city of Lund, Sweden, and himself an émigré from Jonkoping in 1887. He, like other Swedish immigrants had initially traveled elsewhere in the United States, arriving in Thorsby from Sweaburg, NE. His wife, Edith Olivia Olson, and four children were born in Sweaburg. Little daughter, Anna Edith Irene, would be born in 1907 in Thorsby."9

Organization of
Evangelical Swedish
Lutheran Zion Church
in Silverhill, Alabama


         Pastors J. E. Hedberg and E. J. Werner of Thorsby preached and performed ministerial acts when they visited Silverhill in the late 1890s, but there were no formal, organized activities until Zion Lutheran Church was developed late in December, 1905, by the Reverend H. F. H. Hartelius of the Augustana Synod.10

         Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius gathered Lutherans in the Silverhill area together and organized Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church on December 18, 1905 with 16 charter members.
11 Pastor Hartelius had been ordained in Moline, IL, about the time Silverhill was developing. He had attended Augustana College and Seminary, and served in Marshfield, OR, Concord, NE, and Sweaburg, NE, before coming to Thorsby, AL, in 1904. Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius was sent to Silverhill by the Augustana Synod. The formal church name would become the Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Zion Church the next month. Record documentation would be filed in the Office of Probate in Baldwin County on May 21, 1906. A constitution was adopted. The first members of the congregation were: Sam Jacobson, Hugo Valin, Herbert Jacobson, Jonas Hammarstrom, Lina Hammarstrom, Gilbert Jacobson, Bengt Johnson, P. M. Johnson, Carl Johan Swenson, Emma Kristina Swenson, Mr. and Mrs. P. W. Paulson, Lars Peterson, Tilda Peterson, Erick Ulrickson and Mrs. Otto Anderson.12

The 1905 Organizational Book of Zion Lutheran Church.
Click on the book to read pages.

         That first church meeting is interesting in itself because it is apparent what is important to these 16 charter members. At this first meeting of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Silverhill, Bengt Johnson was made secretary; Pastor Hartelius was made pastor. Sam Jacobson, Hugo Valin, Herbert Jacobson, Jonas Hammarstrom, Lina Hammarstrom, Gilbert Jakobson, Bengt Johnson, P. M. Johanson, Carl John Swanson, Emma Kristina Swenson, P. W. Paulson, Lars Peterson, Tilda Petterson, Erik Allrikson, and Mrs. Otto Anderson were present. The fifth item of business was to add "Zion" to the church name so that it became Svenska Evangelistic Lutheran Zion Congregation. A formal decision was made to affiliate the church with the Augustana Synod. Carl Hugo Valin was appointed deacon, Jonas Hammarstrom was appointed trustee for three years, Oskar Johnson for two years, and P. W. Paulson for one year. Contact was to be initiated with Herr Vallentin in Chicago to obtain transfer of an organ to Silverhill and P. W. Paulson was appointed organist. Herr P. M. Johanson was appointed church care-taker.13

         Education was important to the early settlers in the area. Sunday School for this new Lutheran church would start on the first Sunday in 1906 with C. H. Valin and Lina Hammerstrom teaching. Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius was to be recognized as the formal Augustana mission pastor for Alabama. The developing congregation decided that meetings would be in the public school house. Secretary Bengt Johnson and Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius each signed the minutes for the meeting.

         The plan initiated in 1905 was for Pastor Hartelius, who was headquartered in Thorsby, to visit Silverhill every other month and to hold services in the schoolhouse. Sunday School was to be held every Sunday whether or not a Pastor was available. Whether Sunday School activities ceased after pastoral supply was limited and some members withdrew or moved from the area, is uncertain. What is apparent from the record is that there was emigration from Silverhill to the North, perhaps related to agricultural cycles, the economy, and to cyclical maladies such as yellow fever endemic to the area. It would only be with the arrival of Pastor Swanlund from the Augustana Mission Society in 1913, that the congregation would be reactivated with a pastor. This in turn would lead to the building of the current (2005) church structure in 1915."15
Zion Lutheran Church began under the auspices of the Augustana Synod in 1905, then became part of the United Lutheran Church in 1953, the Lutheran Church of America in 1962, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 1988, and the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations in 1995, each with a distinct hymnal.
Click to enlarge.

         We have already had some insight into worship expectations. Services were held in the school house. A tramp organ was received from Illinois, the home of the Augustana Synod. The original church bell was obtained to call the community to worship and to mark the beginning of services. This original bell would later be given to the Silverhill School in 1928 when the current (2005) bell was obtained for the church. That original bell is now permanently erected on the Silverhill school campus in memory of the early days of Silverhill.


         On January 21, 1906, the first of six services per year were commenced with Pastor Hartelius in the school house in Silverhill. Formal church organization would occur on May 21, 1906, but actual registration would not be processed by the Office of Probate in Baldwin County until June 2, 1906.17 Church and Sunday School services were initially held in Swedish, the language of most people in Silverhill. English became the language of the church as the children of émigrés became adults and as other nationalities settled in Silverhill. It is significant that the Silverhill school had been built early in the development of Silverhill and was able to allow the congregation to hold services there until a church could be erected. It would be another nine years! That school building continues to be part of the Silverhill community, remodeled (in 1942) and occupied (until 1976) by Mrs. Grace Edhegard, and now (2005) by the Phil Owen family.18

         After 100 years, recovery of historical events relating to the first days of Zion Lutheran Church sometimes has been difficult. Peter Midgarden, Congregational President at the time of this writing, was researching historical documentation relating to the 2003 church building project. He found that Zion Lutheran Church's Articles of Incorporation were not public record with the State of Alabama until the 1980s. As a result, only corporations that are fairly new or have had their incorporating documents forwarded by the county are public record. Zion Lutheran Church's original incorporation document states that the congregation held an organizational meeting, May 21, 1906, at which time it agreed to incorporate and elected three trustees, Jonas Hammarstrum, P. W. Paulson and L. Peterson. The document also specifies that a replacement trustee will be elected each year for a three year term so that there will always be a viable board of trustees for the church as required by Alabama state law.

         Regardless of formal incorporation documents, the church was functioning before formal incorporation. Church minutes from January 22, 1906, reveal a discussion about the church organization structure for the Augustana Synod. Specific organizational articles were discussed, item by item. Deacons were formally appointed: Mr. Bengt Johnson for 3 years, Mr. Carl Johan Swenson for 2 years, as were a trustee, Mr. Lars Peterson for 2 years. A church care-taker was appointed to replace P. M. Johanson, i.e., Mr. Erik Ulrikson. The minutes are duly signed by Bengt Johnson, Secretary. It is, perhaps, interesting that Pastor E. Oscar Johnson annotated these minutes July 3, 1930, and apparently conveyed the document to Rock Island, IL.

         These early church minutes were affirmed in a short meeting, April 2, 1906. Incorporation papers were completed, May 21, 1906, but C. H. Valin was now acting as church secretary. The official church record shows that the "organization was filed for record in the Office of Probate in Baldwin County on May 21, 1906."21a
Pew with two-board back was used upstairs of the Silverhill School for church meetings from 1905 to 1915 when there was no church building.

         A dramatic event changed the Silverhill community later in the year. A hurricane came ashore west of Mobile and devastated much of the Silverhill area. Specifics may be gleaned from a number of resources including history data at two web addresses: Newspaper of Silverhill's 75th Anniversary and A History of Silverhill.


         The church apparently met in January and the minutes of the previous year were reviewed for meetings of January 22, 1906, April 2, 1906, and May 21, 1906. No documentation regarding this meeting is extant. Indeed, there is limited information for the next five years.


         Although we have no formal records for this period, we do know a number of things. Pastor Hartelius continued in Alabama until 1908. We know that Sunday School was conducted regularly, but church services were only conducted as Lutheran Home Mission pastors were sent down this area. Congregational life apparently did continue in this historically quiet period, although we find no regular written records of Zion's services from 1906-1914. At the end of this period, a fully functional Ladies Aid was organizing in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Carl J. Swenson just a couple years before the first full-time pastor was called by the congregation. Mrs. Swenson was elected first president, but it is interesting to note that the pastor served as the Ladies Aid official "president" when present at the meetings. That term continued to be used for the pastor at various times throughout the century. This Ladies Aid continued until almost 2000. It would become the "Lutheran Church Women" when Zion Lutheran Church joined the Georgia-Alabama Synod, ULCA in 1953, and with a later name change with the church mergers of the 1960s, become the "Lutheran Church Women of America" in the mid-1960s.22

         People have tried to interpolate what transpired in the silent years, but such information may disagree with what is known and actually be misinformation. For instance, Lilly Setterdahl reported that Pastors J. E. Hedberg of Thorsby and E. J. Werner preached and performed ministerial acts when they visited Silverhill, that there were no organized activities until Zion Lutheran Church was founded on December 18, 1905, by the Reverend H. F. H. Hartelius of the Augustana Synod, that there were 16 charter members, that Pastor Hartelius visited Silverhill every other month and held services in the schoolhouse, that Sunday School was held, that activities ceased when several members moved to the northern states while others withdrew.

         The sequellae of what we believe was a 1906 hurricane hitting near Mobile resulted in a mass destruction in the area and mass exodus. People reportedly lined up at the train station to go north leaving everything behind. By 1910’s census, less than a third of the original 16 members of Zion still resided in Silverhill.
23b We have no information about Lutherans moving into the church fellowship after the devastation, but we know there were Lutherans functioning in the community. Thus, the scenario presented by Setterdahl is partially correct, but there was activity in the community prior to the arrival of Pastor Swanlund from the Augustana Mission Society in 1913, who typically gets credit for activating a quiescent church.24

         However, Zion Lutheran Church may not have been as quiescent as previously reported by others. Pastor Albert A. Swanlund was formally charged with the Alabama mission field of the Augustana Synod in 1917 but was somehow active in Alabama from his home base in Galveston and Texas City, Texas, during the period from 1908 to 1916. Pastor John J. Richard was resident pastor in Thorsby from 1908 till 1912. Given the previous three-point parish history of the Augustana Synod in Alabama (i.e., Thorsby-Fruithurst-Silverhill), it can reasonably be argued that something continued to happen in Silverhill since Pastor Richard apparently stepped into the ministry of Pastor H. F. H. Hartelius who was into a six times a year worship service schedule there.


         It certainly is affirmed from church archives that Pastor Albert A. Swanlund did indeed come to Silverhill from Augustana Mission Society. Although received into Ministerium June 1905 in Stanton, Iowa, he had originally been recommended for ordination by Illinois Conference of the General Synod. He too was from the Old Country, born May 11, 1863, in Kristianstad, Skane, Sweden, coming to the U. S. in 1887. He was formally charged with the Alabama mission field 1908-1916. Given the three-point parish history of Alabama and given that parish bookkeeping in baptisms, for instance, recorded activities in other of the three parishes (i.e., Thorsby-Fruithurst-Silverhill), it can reasonably be argued that Lutheran church activity continued in Silverhill up to 1913 when Pastor Swanlund is first mentioned in archival data from Zion Lutheran Church.26

         Pastor Swanlund did not labor alone. Seminarian Albin Larson, who would be ordained June 13, 1915, in Minneapolis and who would subsequently be involved in mission congregations and higher education management, did short-term mission work with the congregation.
27 He was one of a number of theology students who would serve the congregation in the summer. Supply pastors from other communities would conduct services and provide ministerial service. The work of the Reverend Arnold Nilson is noted.28


         The name of Pastor Jon Leaf who would become associated with the church for a number of years first is mentioned in 1914. Zion archives noted that he traveled from Tennessee for services on several occasions. All services were conducted in the Swedish language until 1919.29

From its beginning, Zion Lutheran Church has been interested in children
as these early Swedish Sunday School books illustrate.
Note the mixture of Swedish and English Resources.
Click to Enlarge.

         To this point in the church history note has related to Sunday worship services and Sunday School. It is nine years after Zion Lutheran Church was organized that women's ministry is first noted. The Ladies Aid Society started in home of Carl and Christiana Swenson.
30 Significantly, all minutes were in English. Also called the Lutheran Aid Society, the women met at homes of Mrs. Emma Swenson, March 7, 1914; Mrs. Victor Olson, April 4, 1914; Mrs. Wicklund, May 9, 1914; Mrs. Anna Linder, July 11, 1914; Mrs. Torsen, Sept. 12, 1914; Mrs. Hammerstrom, Oct. 10, 1914, Mrs. A. Norden, Nov. 14, 1914; Mrs. O. Wickstrom, Dec. 12, 1914; and Mrs. H. Erickson, January 1915. Their membership was 15. The Ladies Aid Society assessed dues and received $71.14, designating $7.70 for Pastor Hess. Mrs. Swenson served as secretary Mrs. A. Norden served as organist for salary of 50 cents a Sunday. Pastor Swanlund received $26.15 and a Christmas gift of $5.07. Picnic expenses were noted, totaling $5.24.31

         Pastor Hess was from Michigan, but was active in some sense with the congregation in late 1914. He began collecting pledges of resources and labor commitments for the building of the historic church building in December, 1914. These pledges were actualized and were recorded in 1915.

Zion Lutheran Church
Constructed in
Silverhill, Alabama


         It is at this point that some kind of reorganization of Zion Lutheran Church occurs. As discussed above, it cannot be presumed that the church was not functioning in the period for which we have limited history. What we do know is that record-keeping in the church takes on a formal organization subsequently after Pastor S. Swanlund re-organizes the congregation. Church records do continue in Swedish and will be so-recorded for another 15 years.33

The 1914 - 1915 Church Building Book of Swedish Lutheran Zion Church, in English.
Click on the book to read pages.

         Perhaps the reorganization is noteworthy in Zion church history because the nine-year old congregation commenced a building program. Community organizer and benefactor, Oscar Johnson, donated land for church and parsonage valued at about $450 and cut all lumber gratis. Member John Elfstrand jumpstarted the Building Fund with $500. Members joined together to construct the church building, the same building now on the Baldwin County Historical Register. The same archive that records the church building pledges begun with Pastor Hess's assistance in 1914, also shows the hours donated by members in the building project and the approximate value of that labor in the dollars of the time.
34 Outhouses were placed in a corner of the lot "behind" a parsonage garage that would be built several years later. Those privies would be in use till construction of current (2005) church bathrooms in the 1950s.35

         The church records for this new church administration showed that at the service held on January 18, 1915 a business session followed. Mr. Victor Olson was elected as secretary and treasurer. The congregation voted to express appreciation to Mr. Oscar Johnson for donation of three lots for the congregation which were across from the Edhegard residence, formerly the old public school.
36 On July 10, 1915, the building committee was formed consisting of Victor Olson, Carl J. Swenson, Hans Erickson, Sven Torsen, F. O. Linder and John Elfstrand who himself gave $500 to start the fund in late 1914.37 Mr. Hans Erickson was elected chairman and Mr. Victor Olson was designated as the architect. Mr. Erickson supervised masonry for the foundation. The church building was painted white and had a bell tower which waited for a bell for several years. Members helped in the construction of the building.38 The church held its first service in the new building in 1915. The first organist was Miss Anna Linder (later Mrs. Trygve Anderson). Mr. Victor Olson was elected the Sunday School Superintendent. The teachers were Mrs. S. Torsen, Miss Gudrin Erickson (Mrs. Oscar Swanson) and Miss Anna Linder.39

         Oil lamps were used in the church at first. The actual date of electrical installation is unknown, but the Zion electrical supplier notes that electricity was present in the building by 1947. Child of the church, current (2005) member Ralph Utter, whose memory would go back into the early 1930s, cannot remember a time when there was no electricity in the church, suggesting electricity was added within the first 15 years of building.40 Pews (now in balcony) were removed from the previous meeting site, the school house across the street, and installed in the church. The current (2005) primary church pews were installed at some unknown point, but we do know those current pews were in use by the 1940s. A pump organ had apparently been obtained in 1906 for services, but the first "church" organ was obtained for the new building in 1915 and was played by Anna Linder Anderson. This organ was apparently linked in some way to the first bride married in the new building in 1916, Elvera Johnson. 41

         Pastor Swanlund continued his ministry in Texas while doing mission work in Alabama. With church reorganization, his work was continued by Pastor Arnold Nilson and by students of theology visiting the congregation in the summers. Occasionally, supply pastors from other communities conducted services and ministerial duties."

         The Ladies of the Lutheran Aid Society elected Officers. Pastor Swanlund became President and was to receive $7 per meeting. Mrs. E. Swenson was elected Vice President, Mrs. Thorsen was elected Secretary, Mrs. Hoff was elected Treasurer, and Mrs. Anna Norden was elected Organist and was to be reimbursed 25 cents each meeting. Mrs. Oscar Johnson was active early on and apparently became the President when the pastor was not present beginning in 1916 through 1923. Meetings of the Ladies Aid continued in homes and in the school house in which the church had met since 1906.
Lanterns, such as this, lit the early meeting spaces of people gathered for evening worship. This particular lantern was used along with its twin in our historic church building in 1915, and may have been used earlier in the church history.
Click to enlarge.
Original mock-slate hymn board used in the original church prior to the use of bulletins to announce hymns of the day, etc. This board may have been used in the school rented by the church as early as 1905 or in pre-church days beginning in 1897.
Click to enlarge.

         Church minutes for January 18, 1915, show that N. J. Anderson was appointed deacon for one year, C. J. Swenson for two years, and Victor Olson for three years. Victor Olson was appointed trustee for three years, John Elfstrand for two years, and Mr. Larson for one year. Victor Olson was appointed secretary and treasurer. Church books were to be reviewed by Mr. Thorson and John Elfstrand. It was at this meeting that Oscar Johnson donated three lots and John Elfstrand donated $500 initiating the first church building program. Pastor Swanlund was present, closing the meeting with a blessing. Victor Olson signed off as recorder of the minutes for this meeting. On July 10, 1915, the congregation officially authorized building on the three lots obtained from Mr. Johnson.

         The first Zion Lutheran Church Building Committee met officially on July 14, 1915. It was determined that Victor Olson would be the building contractor and Hans Erickson would be the foundation contractor.

         There was discussion over how to site the church on the lots and the actual building methodology. The church was built by the members of the church, both men and women, under the experienced eyes of Victor Olson, Hans Erickson and F. O Linder. On November 17, 1915, the Building Committee reconvened to discuss wall board and insurance.

        It is interesting to note that the deed instrument to Zion Lutheran Church by which Oscar Johnson conveyed the three lots for the church building was actually recorded on March 14, 1916 and is located in New Deeds Book number 24 on page 297. It would appear that the church building had actually been in use for about half a year by that time.


         Building Committee concerns continued as the new building was being completed. The meeting of January 15, 1916, revealed specific insurance issues that were unresolved.47 The regular congregation Council church minutes two days later revealed another challenge: The spark plug Pastor Swanlund had received a call and would be leaving. On a positive note, Anna Linder began playing for services for 25 cents a Sunday.48
Picture of Zion Lutheran Church about 1920.
Zion Lutheran Church soon after construction. An early meeting place was upstairs in the school (the building to the left) which was across the street from where the church was ultimately sited. Notice the school's bell tower which held the bell given to the school by Zion.
Click to enlarge.
         On July 23, 1916, student Arthur Larson from Augustana Seminary came south to serve a summer in Silverhill with Zion Lutheran Church. He began catechistical classes, the first Luther League, and a choir. I believe the student volunteer known to us as Arthur Larson is Pastor Albin A[rthur?] Larson, ordained June 13, 1915, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had been born July 13, 1886, in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. He graduated with a B. A. from Gustavus Adolophus College in 1912 and from Augustana Seminary with a B. D. in 1915. He was active in at least seven mission congregations from 1915 to 1924 in Minnesota. He married Olga W. Longren of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, June 27, 1916, the probable year of summer work in Silverhill. Father of six children, Pastor Larson died January 4, 1956.49

         The first wedding in the new church was the marriage of Philip Armstrong and Elvera Johnson. Philip G. Armstrong was from Omaha, Nebraska, and would later serve on the Church Council and as church treasurer. A pump organ, donated by a Lutheran church in Chicago, brought a full worship program to the new church.
50 Reports of a church bell are contradictory. One report notes that the tramp organ donated by the Chicago Lutheran church came about the time of a new bell hung in the belfry.51
Pastor Dave Johnson examines Zion's bell in the bell tower in 2004. - Click to enlarge.

         As student volunteers would come, they were housed with church members. Two theological students are specifically remembered, Arthur Larson alluded to above and Arnold Nelson. Pastor Nelson later married Hildur Swenson and lived where the Ellis Nix family lived in the 1960s. Pastor Arnold Gottfrid Nelson was ordained June 15, 1919. He had been born on September 13, 1891, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a B. A. in 1915 and Augustana Seminary in 1919. He died October 8, 1972.
52 As yet, there was no regular pastor at the church. In addition to summer volunteers, the deacons conducted services when no pastors were available.

         There were two visiting pastors specifically mentioned at this time, the Reverends Leaf and Stone,
53 but church funds were directed to others, the list including the Reverend Swanlund, Pastor Hess, Pastor Leaf, the Reverend A. Larson, and the Reverend Nelson.54

         Pastor John Peter Leaf had been ordained June 17, 1883, in Redwing, Minnesota. He was an older pastor, born January 18, 1859. He had attended Augustana College, graduating with a B. A. in 1880, and graduating from Augustana Seminary in 1883. He served in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee, from 1911 to 1921. He edited the Lindsborg Posten. He married Anna Carlson of East Union, Minnesota, on Jan. 26, 1890. They had 10 children. He died May 7, 1931.

         Pastor Emanuel Olson Stone was ordained June 10, 1894, in St. Peter, Minnesota. He also was an older pastor, born April 13, 1860, in Farskalla, Bohuslan, Sweden. He would be the last Swedish-born pastor at Zion Lutheran Church. He came to the U. S. in 1880, attended Gustavus Adolphus College, graduating with a B. A. in 1892, and attending Augustana Seminary in 1894. He was Vice President of the China Mission Society and a variety of other church-related organizations. The connection with the China Mission Society may be significant to Zion, since its first full-time pastor would resign from the congregation to go into China mission. He received his D. D., from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1942. His first wife was Anna F. Olson, who died in 1913. His second wife was Caroline Carlstedt. There were five children. Pastor Stone died on Oct. 29, 1936.

         The Ladies Aid continued to be important to the congregational ministry. The pastor asked its members, for example, to call on sick Mrs. Hammarstrom. It was the Ladies Aid which covered the freight costs for the organ donation from Chicago. Besides meeting in homes, meetings for the Ladies Aid were held in the church parlors by end of year.

         Sunday School activities had been ongoing informally before there was a church and on a more organized basis since 1906. In 1916 on July 23 and on August 20, there is formal Sunday School organization. In September 1916 we find 22 students in four classes, the smallest with four, the largest with 13 students. The average Sunday offering for the month was 48 cents. Class books cost 30 cents, "Children's News" cost $1.33, and the "Olive Leaf" cost $1.32. Sunday School Record books cost 60 cents, Bible Stories cost $1.25. Twelve cents was expended on postage and money orders. Christmas materials cost $1.99. Pearl Swenson, Alvin Peterson, and Mabel Swenson had perfect attendance. On a sadder note, early church benefactor John Elfstrand had good attendance, but his attendance then falls off abruptly in 1917, perhaps arguing for the beginning of health problems.


         The first of many Sunday School picnics was organized by the Ladies Aid Society. The 1917 picnic was held on "the Hill" where it would continue through the 1950s on a regular basis. The Ladies Aid made donations to a variety of missions, e.g., Bethphage Inner Mission Orphanage, Gustavus Adolphus Children's Home, Immanuel Deaconess Institute, and Lowman Home for the Aged.59 Zion received correspondence from Bethphage in May of 2003 advising the church of a name change relating to a merger--that's mission feedback 86 years after the beginning of donations to a ministry that has continued as has Zion Lutheran Church!

         Although he was apparently active with the parish in some capacity in 1916, note of Pastor Jon Leaf traveling from Tennessee for services at Zion, is annotated in the archives for 1917. Seminarian Arnold Nelson served the congregation in the summer. The next summer he married to Miss Hildur Swenson.

         The first mention of weather in the archives occurs in 1917. A major storm occurring September 28 required specific cleaning up at the new church by the Ladies Aid. Their minutes note that they now had ten members.


         Pastor Emanuel Olson Stone spent two months in Silverhill holding services. Seminarian Arnold Nelson served the congregation for his second summer, and he married Hildur Swenson. The second wedding in the new church united Paul Anderson and Gudrun Erickson.
62 In 1914 and 1917, Pastor John Leaf made several trips from his parish in Tennessee to held services. Now, in 1918 it is Pastor Stone of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who will spend two months in Silverhill and holding special services. Again, we should remember that all services were conducted in the Swedish language until 1919.63

         A review of Sunday School records for January 1, 1918, showed that Anna Linder was teaching class 1, Gudrun Erickson was teaching class 2, and Mrs. Torson was teaching class 3. Mrs. F. O. Linder served as Bible clerk.64

         The church now had five deacons and five trustees.
65 The deacons officiated at church services when no pastor was present. During services on April 21, 1918, special note is made that Pastor Stone used a Psalmbook with an English Bible for the church readings.66
Confirmation class of 1918:
(l to r) Mabel Swanson, [John Olaf or Karl ??] Olson, Seminarian Arnold Nelson, Mildred Paulson.
Click to enlarge.

         At the end of this year, on December 8, 1918, Zion Lutheran Church called its first full-time pastor, Pastor John Benson.

         1918 marked a major change in the congregation. Accounting procedures with a "paper trail" for donations, a regular Ladies Aid, a Sunday School with multiple classes, regular seminarian or pastor service during summers, introduction for the first time of English into the service, and the passing of earlier members from the scene. The Ladies Aid received a $10 gift from estate of P. M. Johanson. The Ladies Aid subsequently set up committee to care for his grave. World War I will have major effects in Europe, but in Silverhill the effects are present in small ways, the Ladies Aid agreeing to cut back on refreshments.

         One other activity is noted for the first time in the Ladies Aid minutes: Fund-raising. The women of the church would be actively involved in promoting the welfare of the congregation through one variety or another of fund-raising for most the rest of the century. In 1918 they inaugurate an auction fund-raiser to be held at school house.


         In 1918 visiting Pastor Stone introduced English into the worship of the congregation. 1919 is the year that full integration of English into the service was completed, all Swedish services being discontinued. Perhaps it is significant that it is the last Swedish-born pastor that brings the congregation into the American "English" mainstream.70 English changes were noted at the Church Council meeting of February 15, 1915.71

         Pastor John Benson, Jr., had been called by the congregation at the end of 1918. He accepted the call, arriving in August, 1919. Pastor and Mrs. John Benson were the first permanent Lutheran pastor family in Silverhill. Initially, they occupied what was later the home of Mayor and Mrs. Ben Kucera. The church initiated the building of a parsonage for the new pastor and his bride, Edith, next to the church edifice. Plans were drawn by architect Arthur Busch, and were accepted. Donations of labor and money allowed construction of the parsonage to proceed rapidly. The parsonage was fully completed a year later.

         Pastor Benson was ordained on June 15, 1919, in Lindsborg, Kansas. He had been born on July 29, 1888, in Hastings, Minnesota, to John D. Benson and Brita Nilsdotter. He received a B. A. from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1916 and graduated from Augustana Seminary. After serving in Silverhill and Thorsby, Alabama (1919-23), he did mission work in Honan, China, (1923-27), then returning to ministry in Concordia, Kansas (1927-40), Lafayette, Minnesota (1940-44), Creston, Iowa (1944-46), Vancouver, British Columbia (1946-50), and Ivanhoe, Minnesota (1950-58). Pastor Benson married Edith C. Knock in St. Peter, Minnesota, in 1919 before coming to Silverhill.

         First mention of other Augustana Synod churches in the area are noted in August, 1919. Pastor John Benson, Jr., apparently was being shared with churches in St. Elmo and Sonora. It is unclear whether they shared in the costs of the parsonage.
74 Perhaps this was the beginning of involvement beyond the church walls, as has been noted, "The church has accomplished much, and has contributed much to the community spiritually, socially, physically and economically."75 Patty Sherman reports that there was indeed a Zion Sunday School functioning in Sonora, but information back to 1923 suggested that the Sunday School was not "Lutheran" by that time. There are no extant records relating to the founding of that Sunday School or of church services at the building which now functions as community center. That building was reconstructed in 1923 after the original building had been destroyed by fire.76

         The coming of the first full-time pastor brought other events to the congregation. Can you imagine having a "Lutheran service at Christmas"? The Swedish tradition of Julota was celebrated Christmas morning and there was a children's program at Christmas Eve. And, of course, there was "a beautiful Christmas Service."

         Review of the Church Budget for 1919 reveals some interesting developments in Zion Lutheran Church. There were four separate budgets! The books of the church proper showed a Total Income of $699.75 and Total Spending of $377.69, leaving a Balance of $322.06. The Luther League generated Total Income of $85.42, Total Spending of $48.75, leaving a Balance of $36.67. Sunday School had a Total Income of $49.29 and Total Spending of $36.73, leaving a Balance of $12.26. The Ladies Aid generated Total Income of $131.50 and Total Spending of $60.86, leaving a Balance of $70.64.

         Officers of the Ladies Aid for 1919 were Mrs. Victor Olson, President; Mrs. Frank Linder, Vice President; Mrs. Torsen--Secretary; Mrs. Hoff--Treasurer; Mrs. Olson, Mrs. Linder, and Mrs. Svenson--Auditors. Mrs. Emma Linder was designated "Musician."

         A substantial growth in the congregation was seen in the 1920s. But there is a suggestion of growth to come in the Sunday School statistics. For 1919 there were now nine Sunday School classes.

Continue on to Zion Lutheran History Page 2, Years 1920-1969.

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