St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has played an important role in the Burkittsville Community for over two centuries.
The earliest families of St. Paul’s Church were primarily Germans who migrated to the region from Pennsylvania beginning in the late-18th century. In 1815, the first recorded Lutheran worship service was held in Burkittsville by Rev. Martin Stockman who traveled to the area from northern Virginia. Within a few years, Rev. Abraham Reck from Middletown began preaching in Burkittsville and under his direction the congregation was organized. In the early years of the church’s history, worship services were held in a cabinet shop owned by the Karn family in the eastern section of town. In 1829, the Lutheran congregation joined with the German Reformed Church and erected a Union Church, completed in 1831. The two congregations shared the church for 30 years until 1859 when the present building was constructed next door. The old Union Church became Resurrection Reformed Church and later home to the South Mountain Heritage Society Museum.
In 1859, St. Paul’s became an independent parish and under the leadership of the Rev. G.A. Nixdorff, work commenced on a new church building. The cornerstone was laid on August 20, 1859. The new church provided a lecture room on the ground level (today used by the Sunday School) and a sanctuary on the second floor. A schoolhouse was built next door at the same time which later served as Burkittsville’s elementary school (today it serves as the Parish Hall). Three years after this new building was completed, the church and school were commandeered by the United States Army to serve as field hospitals after the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. Over a dozen hospitals were established within Burkittsville to house and treat the over one thousand wounded soldiers from the battle. By the end of January 1863, the church had regained possession of the building and restored the space for worship.
In the years after the Civil War, St. Paul’s prospered in Burkittsville. The congregation founded the Burkittsville Female Seminary, an institution of higher education for women, in 1866. Under the direction of Rev. William C. Wire, the seminary built a three-story building for classrooms and dormitories for the students who attended the institution for up to three years. Many of its graduates became educators, teaching in the many one-room schoolhouses that could be found throughout the region in the late-19th century. The seminary closed in the 1890s.
The present appearance of St. Paul’s Church is the result of renovations which took place in the late-1870s. A new bell tower, spire, and narthex, designed in Italianate style, were added to the front of the church, modeled on St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, Maryland. During the pastorate of Rev. Harry Erdman, a Moller Pipe Organ was installed in the sanctuary in 1914. A two-story annex was added to the church in mid-twentieth century. In 1964, the sanctuary was renovated to its elegant Colonial Revival design and the pipe organ was rebuilt and enlarged by the Newcomer Organ Company.
Over its history, St. Paul’s formed two other congregations: the reorganized Trinity Lutheran Church in Knoxville (1865) and Luther Chapel in Petersville (1873). Though Trinity Church has since closed its doors, Luther Chapel continues to serve the Petersville community today. Now in its third century, St. Paul’s Church continues to be driven by a spirit of dedication to community, emboldened by this important history to serve the needs of our 21st century society.
Wentz, Rev. Dr. Abdel Ross. History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Maryland of the United Lutheran Church in America 1820-1920. Harrisburg: Evangelical Press, 1920, 329-333.
Williams, Thomas J.C., and McKinsley, Folger. History of Frederick County, Maryland. Hagerstown: LR. Titsworth and Company, 1910, 504-505