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Bethlehem Presbyterian Church
Roland Goessling Bauer
edited by Sue Cooley Blesi
HISTORIC CHURCH TORCHED
The Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, located
several miles northeast of Union, Missouri in Franklin County, was
torched by vandals in 2001.
The stone church was built circa 1848 on ten
acres at the intersection of present-day Bethlehem Church Road and Bieker
Road off of Highway V or Clearview Road. The land was
donated by George H. Hollmann and the small industrious congregation built the
stone church with arched windows and a bell tower.
Over the years, the adjacent cemetery grew to
include quite a few graves, many with impressive headstones. A manse
(parsonage) was once part of the premises, but had been removed long before
the incendiary blaze destroyed the church.
This Cumberland Presbyterian Church sect, German
in origin, was active in many rural areas of Central Missouri. In
later years, as the availability of modern transportation made travel to
Union easier, the congregation joined with the First Presbyterian Church in
When the new church at Union was built
several decades ago, the old Bethlehem church bell was presented to the church and
hangs proudly in the tower of the new structure, beckoning members to
At the time of the fire, the old church was being used for hay storage by a
neighboring farmer, who had maintained the roof and exterior of the historic
An out-of-state great grandson of the Reverend
William Goessling (pastor from 1883 to 1900) has offered to provide funding
to save the cornerstone and adjoining stones to build a memorial to those
old German immigrants who gave thanks to God for their life in a new land.
Whatever thrill the vandals received in the
destruction of our heritage will never be known, except to them.
Mr. Bauer added that he would still like to see
the engraved name plate saved and perhaps be given to First Presbyterian
Church in Union, the library, or another interested party.
update: I spoke with Mrs. Dale Eilers, who told
me the land was owned by the Eilers family at the time of the fire, but has
since been sold to Jeannie Hoelscher. Although the roof of the church caved
in, the walls are still standing. - Sue Cooley Blesi
Account of the History of the Bethlehem church as
reported in History of Missouri, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington,
Crawford, & Gasconade Counties by Goodspeed Publishing, 1888, page 359,
listed under Presbyterian Churches, not under Cumberland Presbyterian
Churches (could have been an error, but there was a separate listing for
Cumberland Presbyterian churches)
Bethlehem Congregation of
the Presbyterian Church, located in the town of Union, was organized
December 1, 1845, Revs. Joseph Fenton and John Gilbreath, and David Bishop,
elder, officiating. The following persons comprised the original
congregation: John H. Toerner and wife, John H. Hollman and wife, George H.
Hollmann, John H. Wiemann and wife, Mathias Gronefeld and wife, Mrs. A.
Heiyer. The following officers were elected and ordained: John H. Toerner
and George H. Hollman as ruling elders, John H. Wiemann and Mathias
Gronefeld as deacons. George H. Hollmann gave ten acres of land on which to
build a house of worship. The first building was but a common log house (now
an old stable), and was used for dwelling and meeting house. Rev. Philip
Heier was the first minister who lived and preached in it. In 1846 the
congregation built a two-story frame house, the upper story for the
congregation to worship in, the lower for the minister's dwelling; its cost
was $534. The present church building, erected in 1866, was built of rock.
It is 28 x 40 feet; with steeple and bell, its cost is $2,300, and including
furniture, $3,000. The following ministers have served the Bethlehem
congregation from its beginning: Revs. Philip Heier, Wm. Grote, John Shible,
Henry Blanke, R. Scheide, A. Elfeld, Jacob Schwartz, Mathias Wittenberger,
H. Stauss, John Bardil. The present minister, Rev. Wm. F. Goessling, has
served since August 15, 1883, as stated supply. The present membership is
forty-seven in number, with the following officers: Wm. Hollmann and George
Hollmann, elders; Henry Niebruegge and Chr. Hollmann, deacons. Services are
held every Lord's Day, and also Sabbath-school and a young folks' meeting.