Forming a Union Church in Lower Saucon
In 1803 the Lutherans of Lower Saucon appealed, a second time, to the Reformed congregation to have the church, graveyard, schoolhouse, organ, and property be declared union. The incentive for the union of this church in 1804 was, no doubt, a desire not to build new churches which the separate congregations may not have been able to support.5
This Lutheran appeal was approved by the Reformed congregation on March 10, 1804. 5
On April 14, 1804, the Reformed Congregation sold half of its interest to members of the Lutheran congregation for $250.3
Immediately after this union, a property was purchased on the opposite side of the public road where a stone church was built, across the road from the original log building. The earliest date recorded to note such a building is 1816. The site of the log church was then added to the cemetery.5
However, the stone structure that was built in in the early 1800s was torn down in 1873 to make room for the church currently being used by the Lutheran congregation of Lower Saucon. This structure, located at Bethlehem, R. 5, was dedicated May 24, 1874.4
Records indicate that in 1863 Saucon was a one-point charge. This condition did not long prevail, for in the following year the “Williams Township Congregation” was added. The Rev. Tilghman O. Stem reported in 1876, upon leaving the charge, that it had grown to a three point charge with the organization of Christ Church (now First UCC) in Hellertown. 4
The Reformed Church in Hellertown
It was in 1870 that a small group of dedicated Christians were moved to separate from Lower Saucon and form a new congregation of the Reformed Church in the village of Hellertown. The village, with a population of about 350, was an old community dating back to the early 1700s, having been settled by people of German Lutheran and Reformed Protestants.2
The Reformed Church in Hellertown was organized at the suggestion of the Rev. Samuel Hess,
and the early Church services appear to have been an outgrowth of the Sunday School pioneered by his son, the Hon. Jeremiah Hess.6
It is interesting to note that Rev. Samuel Hess was a key figure in the organization of (Apple’s) New Jerusalem Church in Leithsville.
He was unanimously chosen as pastor before the church building existed there, when services were held in the adjoining school house. To him is due credit of doing the planning, collecting of the funds, and erecting the church building at that place, in the year 1834. In the old school house referred to, Rev. Hess used to gather the young people together and instruct them in singing. He also took great interest in education, and played an active part in establishing schools in Northampton County, upon the enactment of the public school system. He was public-spirited, kind-hearted, and an exemplary man, with strong personality, just adapted from his chosen calling.9
“Rev. Samuel Hess was also for many years extensively engaged in the brick manufacturing business on his own premises, at Hellertown, Pa.” 9
“Rev. Hess’s death occurred at Hellertown, Pa., November 23, 1875, aged 71 years.” 9
A Union Church in Hellertown
It is known that Union (Lutheran and Reformed) services were held earlier in the old schoolhouse which stood on the site of the present United Methodist Church, and in Hellertown Hall, on the southeast corner of Main and Durham Streets.
These earlier church services appear to have been an outgrowth of the Sunday School held at these places pioneered by the Hon. Jeremiah Hess, and which prompted his father, Rev. Samuel Hess to suggest that the members of the Reformed Church living in Hellertown, and nurtured in Christ Church, Lower Saucon, and New Jerusalem (Apple’s Church), organize themselves into a new congregation.12
The first meeting to organize a union congregation was held April 14, 1870 in the schoolhouse. 13 At this meeting the decision was made to unite with the Lutherans and form a Union church in Hellertown. John F. Rentzheimer offered a building lot at the southeast corner of Saucon Street and Northampton Street, upon which to erect a Union Church.5 A group of fifty-nine persons accepted the plan.
In a history of the Borough of Hellertown, written by J. S. Hess in 1877, we get some additional details of the school house and church in Hellertown.15
Owing to the proximity of the old churches, built when Hellertown consisted of but a few scattered farm houses, no RELIGIOUS SERVICES were regularly held in town until within the last few years. The congregations are still small, owing to the fact, that many of the citizens still attend the neighboring churches. There are two church edifices in town at present-the one a Union Church, in which the Reformed and Lutheran congregations worship-the other the Evangelical Church. The members of the EVANGELICAL CHURCH purchased the old school house in 1870, and had it fitted up for divine worship. The building is small, but answers except on extraordinary occasions. Before the purchase of the building, the members were wont to meet for divine worship in an upper room fitted up for the purpose in the dwelling house connected with the tannery, then the property of Joseph F. Landis.
Services were first held there, about twenty years ago, by Rev. Wm. Bachman, and ever since, more or less regularly, by the various pastors, who were sent to minister to them, down to the year 1870.
Rev. N. Goebel was the first minister of the Evangelical Church who preached in Hellertown. He came to Hellertown, some time in 1850, and asked to preach in the school house, but was refused admission by the trustees, so he spoke, in front, of the building. After the school house was bought of the School Board, twenty years later, and converted into a church, he assisted in the dedicatory service.
The regular pastors, since, 1870, were:
Revs. Henry Stetzel
The Sunday-school connected with this church, was started soon after the dedication. It is under the superintendency of Francis L. Fehr; numbers sixty scholars, and fifteen teachers and officers.
In April, 1870, previous to the sale of the School house to the Evangelical brethren, the members, of the REFORMED AND LUTHERAN CHURCHES met in the school house relative to the erection of a church edifice.
After an eligible site had been selected-on the southeast corner of Saucon and Northampton streets-a building committee was appointed, consisting of:
Rev. Samuel Hess
Thomas R. Laubach
P. B. Breinig was elected Treasurer
Jer. S. Hess. Secretary
From this time services were held regularly in Hellertown by T. O. Stem (Reformed), and Rev. Wm. Rath (Lutheran). The building was started at once, forty-five feet front and eighty feet deep. It is a plain, substantial brick edifice.
The corner-stone was laid July 30th, 1870, and services held on Saturday and Sunday, July 30th and 31st. The church was completed by the following spring, and dedicated to the service of God, on Whitsuntide, May 28th and 29th 1871. Rev T. O. Stem officiated until September 1876, when he offered his resignation and left. Rev A. B. Koplin has been elected his successor.
Rev. Wm. Rath is still the officiating Lutheran clergyman. The communicant members of the two congregations worshiped in this church-called Christ Union Church-number about one hundred and fifty. Services are held in two languages-one-half German and one-half English.
The first officiating of the Reformed Congregation were:
Elders – Thos. R. Laubach and P. B. Lerch
Lewis H. Heft
J. Franck Roth
Samuel J. Hoffard
Walter S. Green
Of the Lutheran Congregation:
Elders – T. S. Eisenhart and H. H. Klein
J. B. Leith
K. L. Rothman
While the sanctuary was being constructed, services were held in the schoolhouse [noted above] and in Hellertown Hall (southeast corner of Main and Durham Streets).2
The cornerstone for this building was laid in a two day ceremony, Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31, 1870. The building was formally dedicated for worship the following spring, Whitsunday and Whitmonday, May 28 and 29, 1871.8
Hess goes on to explain about the Sunday school.
The Sunday-school connected with this church comprises a corps of excellent teachers and officers. It was only a continuation of the Sunday-school, which has been in existence about thirty years. The school is at present under the superintendency of Jer. S. Hess. It numbers about one hundred and twenty-five scholars and twenty-five teachers and officers. The library is small. The singing of the school, which is in charge of Assistant Superintendent, T. K. Reichard, is excellent.
In September, 1876, the Sunday-school undertook the work of excavating Load placing a basement under the church. By Utristmas, the room was ready for a church festival, from which was realized three-fourths of the amount necessary to defray the expenses of the basement.15