HISTORY of the OLD GERMAN LUTHERAN CHURCH
(1732-1987)
Fallowfield Township, Washington Co. Pa.

compiled by Sara M. (Hayward) Irwin


The following article was submitted by Lois Ammerman of Rockdale, TX for inclusion at the Genealogy in Washington Co., PA web site in January 1998.

Lois writes:

My mother-in-law lived in the dwelling described below for 20 years, became very interested in its preservation, but the money was not available from the Lutherans or the Monongahela Historical Society. This was her method of preservation. She is now buried in the second location of the church, Mt. Zion Cemetery.


The history of the "Old German Lutheran Church", located in Fallowfield Township, Washington County, had its beginning in Pfalz - the Palatinate in Germany. Deeply disturbed by the political unrest in Germany and the persecution of Lutheran Church members and inspired by the propaganda of William Penn and his promises of religious freedom, Hans Meichior Stecher (1710-1786) and his wife emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1732. They located along the Eastern seaboard and raised, a large family including seven sons and one daughter. Most of the Stecher sons saw action in the Revolutionary War.

Three of Hans family members came from the extreme notheastern to the extreme southewestern part of Pennsylvania to locate in Fallowfield Township. They were Lewis (b. 1743). Christopher (b. 1749), and Barbara (b. 1750).

The next documented date of 1769 places Christopher Stecher and Cornelius Weygandt in Fallowfield Twp. At this time William Wilson of Pittsburgh, Pa. had two tracts of land for sale in this area. Christopher Stecher bought a one-acre plot from the "Carlisle" tract, and Cornelius Weygandt bought a 30 acre plot nearby.

Barbara Stecher and Cornelius Weygandt were married in 1770. They built a log cabin on their land and started a family.

Lewis Stecher, Christopher's older brother, served in the Revolutioary War as a Captain of the Sixth Battalion in Northampton Co. but was transferred from that post to the Ginger Hill area to take command of the Frontier Rangers during the Indian troubles which lasted from 1778-1783. Christopher served under his command. In 1781 Christopher bought 200 acres nearer to Ginger Hill and built a mansion there.

In 1779 the second son of Cornelius and Barbara Weygandt was born. He was named John Henry. During this early period the religious needs of the Lutheran settlers were met by traveling missionaries. The first one of the pioneers to carry a Lutheran ministerial seal across the mountains was Reverand John Stauch. He baptized the young lad John Henry in 1794 on one of his visits to the log cabin and he also instructed the young man in the Lutheran ministry.

Several Hamilton families also moved into the Ginger Hill area in 1783 and 1784. One of these had a son named David who contributed greatly to the history of Ginger Hill.

As these German Lutheran pioneers moved into this region, it became known as a German settlement. They brought with them their language, culture and religion. So the building of a church and school seemed imminent. Christopher Stecher donated his "acre of ground" and his brother Lewis, having gained much affluence, supplied most of the material needed for the church. In 1784 the church which consisted of a two story log cabin with a loft was completed. It was called the Evangelical Lutheran Church but it was also referred to as the Stecher Church. Christopher Stecher also permitted a Presbyterian group of settlers to build a church beside it.

Another German settler who attained great prominence in our history settled in this area in 1784. His name was Frederick Cooper. He purchased 287 acres of ground across from the church and up the hill behind the church.

Lewis Stecher came back from the War to rejoin his brother Christopher and sister Barbara. His family consisted of three daughters and five sons. He purchased a 75 acre plot and a 40 acre plot of land and built a beautiful home in 1795. He also donated 40 perches of his land for a cemetery for the Church and community. It was called the Old German Cemetery.

Michael Yohe, a soldier serving in George Washington's army during the Whiskey Rebellion, liked the region so much that after the War he moved here in 1794 with his five sons and six daughters. His youngest daughter Margaret could have been born in Ginger Hill.

In 1800 Christopher Stecher sold the Church building and the acre of ground on which it stood to the Lutheran Church Societies for seven shillings and sixpence.

In 1812 the members of the Pittsburgh Local Conference gathered at the site of the Old Stecher Church and established the First Conference of the Lutheran Church west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Brethren assembled at the Weygandt homestead which was not far from the Church. It is believed that the gavel used by the chairman at the Joint Synod Conference was made from the seasoned oak of the Old Weygandt parsonage.

The young minister, John Henry Weygandt, was licensed in 1812 and ordained in 1815. In 1812 he married and built a log cabin home for his family. This union was blessed with 13 children. John Weygandt served the Lutheran Parish along with five other congregations in Washington, Fayette and Allegheny Counties until he moved to Wayne County, Ohio in 1829. He served his Church well until his death in 1847.

In 1845 the members of the Lutheran Church decided to build a church closer to Ginger Hill. So Christopher Stecher donated the acreage across the road from his home which was another part of his land that he had purchased in 1781. The new church was finished in 1846. It was a beautiful red brick building with enough land adjoining to provide a cemetery. It was called the Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery. Through the years this modest church has housed several ministries and it is still in good condition on the original site.

In the chapter on "Prominent People" in the Washington County History Book the elder Frederick Cooper is mentioned along with several sons and daughters. His son Frederick Cooper built a large home in the old "Dutch" settlement and lived and died there, deeding the property to his son F.K. Cooper and Samuel Cooper. Frederick K. Cooper and Lydia Cooper had a daughter Nancy who apparently eloped with D.T. Irwin.

After living in Ohio for several years, they returned and built a home on the thirty acre farm across from the Cooper homestead. To the west was the Weygandt property and to the north was the Lewis Stecher home. They raised three sons, one of whom was Joseph Irwin.

After the congregation left the Log Cabin Church and relocated in the Mt. Zion Church in 1846, Frederick K. Cooper bought the Church and ground from the Lutheran Society. He covered the logs with 1830 oak siding and added a dining and kitchen area. He also extended the floor of the loft into a full second floor. The addition of two attractive porches and a white picket fence cotnpleted the residence.

Joseph Irwin grew up and married Sarah McElhinny, and Grandpa Cooper permitted them to move into the church home. In 1884 a son was born named William Frederick Irwin. Another son John did not survive. William grew up and farmed alongside his father until 1907 when he married a young teacher, Grace Keath. William and Grace moved into the home where D. T. and Nancy had lived which was approximately one mile west of the log church nestled on a hillside accessible by a long tree- lined lane. Their first child William F. Irwin was born in 1917 and in 1920 their second child was born, Lloyd Templeton Irwin.

In 1912 on a beautiful October day the Pittsburgh Local Conference met at the old church, now a dwelling, where 100 years before their fathers had gathered at the first Lutheran Conference. That was a solemn hour when the great-grandsons of the fathers stood in that time- hallowed place with bared heads and listened to the same scripture that had been read 100 years before. A large granite marker was placed in the yard of the church home in 1926. Lloyd Irwin, who was in attendance at the ceremony placing the granite marker, remembers large crowds and a picnic held under the trees following the ceremony. The William Irwin family enjoyed their haven on the hill for many years until the passing of Grandpa Joseph necessitated the relocation of the family to the church home.

Time takes its toll: first with the passing of Grandma Sarah followed by Mother Grace in 1967 and William F. Irwin in 1979. The church home and land willed to Joseph by his mother Nancy and subsequently willed to William Irwin was passed on to his two sons Lloyd and William Jr. who still own it.

I thought I could bring this history to a close in 1985, but in March, 1986, a situation arose which brought this old empty church into the limelight again. A reunion was planned by the Yohe, Stecher and Weygandt families to be held in the summer of 1986. During the course of their reunion, they planned to rededicate the old German Cemetery which contained the remains of five soldiers of the American Revolution. Many of those in a ttendance expressed a desire to see the old church in which many of their ancestors had worshipped. The reunion was held in August 16 and 17. On Sunday, the 17th, a picnic was held preceding the re-dedication, on the same grounds where their ancestors had gathered in 1912.

Members of the families traveled from 21states; 125 people attended the reunion. Many of those in attendance at the picnic also toured the church. Although the original log construction was not evident from the outside inside the logs were visible in several places. It is rumored that this old church is the oldest log cabin church building still standing in Western Pennsylvania.

SOURCES

  • Old German Cemetery Records
  • Mt. Zion Cemetery Records
  • Stecher's Saga
  • Synod of the Luthern Church
  • History of Washington County
  • Index of Baptisms - The German Church Records of Western Pennsylvania
  •   Georgeann Malowney 1996-2006 websites: www.irishgenealogy.com | www.springfieldohio.org | www.redmondwashington.org | www.chartiers.com | copyright information | email