The History of Zion
The traditional date of Zion’s founding. When George Washington was about 8 years old, groups of recent German immigrants came to the valley from Pennsylvania. These were honest, hardy, God-fearing people who brought their Bibles, hymn books, catechisms, and prayer books. After constructing their log homes in the dense chestnut forests, their first thoughts were for their children.
Philip Kefauver deeded 67 acres to the Lutheran and Reformed churches about two miles west of town. A 30' X 33' log building was constructed and served as a school and church until the Reformed church first moved to Middletown and the Lutherans shortly also moved.
It is recorded in the Frederick County Courthouse that for a consideration of 1 penny sterling the owner conveys to the Lutheran trustees to build “one finished and completed - one church edifice for public worship for the use and service of a congregation of Lutheran Augustine Confession - yielding and paying the rent of one pepper grain yearly”. The Lot No. 6 (66' X 330') was well within the laws of the time restricting non-church of England Churches from owning more than 2 acres.
The exact date for construction of the first church is not known but was near the revolutionary war period. Money was scarce and it is recorded that the farmers gave wheat, which was made into flour, and afterward exchanged for lumber and labor employed in construction of the church. The church was sextangular in form, surmounted by a tower which contained a bell once used on a man of war, and also contained a fine organ. This was truly an auspicious beginning in the new location.
The old log church was torn down in 1812 to be replaced by a fine brick building. The brick church was erected on the same site as the first log church It’s dimensions were 40' X 50', and cost about $9,000.
Dedication was in September and it was at this time that the name Zion was used. The official name has been retained as “Evangelical Lutheran Church Zion”
Since most of the members were of German extraction, that language was used exclusively until this year. Some members demanded that only the “mother tongue” be used in the new church but that was not to be. Times were changing and it was evident that those using the English language had an economic advantage, so it was used exclusively after 1834.
Church membership had grown significantly; a building committee was appointed and a Baltimore architect was selected. On February 27, 1859 services were held in the old church for the last time.
On April 22, the new church was dedicated with about 2,000 people present. This beautiful structure stands today as the third on the same site. Facing the Old National Pike, the principal route westward for settlement in Ohio and beyond. The congregation of over 600 had committed itself to house of worship of grand proportions, not sparing elegant details. All of this was accomplished not for display but to provide an enduring house of worship and for proclamation of the gospel and administration of the sacrament. Little could they imagine the horrors that would be visited on their small town and their new church within 3 years.
Sunday, September 14, the bloody battle of South Mountain was fought between the forces of the Union and the Confederacy, just a few miles west of Middletown. This was followed a few days later by the terrible conflict at nearby Antietam. The wounded from both battles filled all surrounding villages. So it was in Middletown. Zion Church being the largest building in town, and in excellent condition, was designated by the Army as a “general hospital”. This meant that this facility would receive critical patients, especially those requiring surgery. Pews were removed and were replaced by cots. The undercroft, container Sunday School rooms and the balcony were also utilized. Hundreds of young men were brought up the beautiful columned portico into the church to be cared for by Army and local physicians and ladies of the community. Many lost limbs and many died. Some were buried on church grounds.
The Army turned the church back to the Church Council. The church was awarded $2,395 damages for its use and was re-occupied for worship on August 30, 1863. Many years later a bronze plaque was affixed on the front of the church in recognition of its service as a general hospital with the governor of Maryland in attendance.
A remodel of the church and was dedicated on November 26th. Also at his time a new organ was purchased. This Christmas there was no Decorations put up because the sentiment of the people was it was so beautiful as it was before.
The first addition to the church was added in the form of Sunday School and Chapel facility.
The sanctuary was remodeled and took on a very similar look to the present day sanctuary.
A second addition was added which provided more office space, music practice room and music library, meeting and conference rooms, enhanced social rooms and a suitable vault for church archives.