Founded in 1852

Built by German settlers

Still a part of the community after 160 years

The congregation of First Lutheran Church was established in 1852 and the current sanctuary was built in 1866 by German immigrants. It has not had an active congregation since 1947, but has been carefully maintained by a dedicated volunteer Board of Trustees.
1852 historic First Lutheran Church Genealogy History
1866 historic First Lutheran Church Genealogy History
1884 Gardiner Campbell and Sons Bell agreement First Lutheran Church Middleton, WI

Early Settlement from Germany

Between 1840 and 1850, a large number of immigrants came from Germany to this country. After weeks aboard sailing vessels on a seemingly endless ocean voyage, and then by rail, they landed in Milwaukee, then a small country town. They could find neither accommodations nor employment in Milwaukee.

There being no railroads between Milwaukee and Madison then, they procured wagons and teams of oxen to take them over to unknown roads in search of “Acres”, which they hoped to obtain, cultivate and make a home for themselves. They loaded their earthly possessions – homemade chests, boxes, bundles, wives and babies, and came to the small country town of Madison. The country surrounding Madison appealed to them, so they settled in Western Dane County, then practically a wilderness.

The men used the ax and grub hoe to clear the land; the women and children picked up twigs and brush for firewood.  Logs were hewn for their one room log cabins, which housed not only the family but often included friends or relatives until they could finish their own cabins.  The families worked together building their cabins, making crude tables, chairs, cupboards, and beds.  Their homes were crude and plain, but peace and love abode in those simple homes.

The First Log Church

They missed the church of their Fatherland, and even though they had brought their German Bibles, Prayerbooks and Hymnals they longed for the spiritual uplift of praying and singing together.  One Sunday in September 1852, one of the settlers named Gustav Pulkow invited his German neighbors to his home that they might worship together.  Pulkow led the devotions, read a sermon, prayers were repeated and hymns sung.  These meetings were held alternately at the Pulkow and Niebuhr homes.  This congregation of 14 families was the beginning of this First Lutheran Evangelical Church.

Early in 1854, it was agreed to build a log cabin church, on a half acre of land donated by Henry Frederick Niebuhr, and each family contributed squared hand hewn logs for the building and also of their labor in building the church.  John Voss, a wheelwright, was to supervise the work, having had the most experience with tools.  He also made the doors, window frames and door frames.  The log church was 16′ X 26′ according to the foundation which can still be seen on the “Old Cemetery” below the hill.  Each family also furnished a bench or seat, but since there were no specific regulations, the height, width and length varied considerably.

The Current Church Building

The membership continued to grow so that the log church was much too small.  It was decided to build a new church on the hill on an acre of land donated by Gustav Pulkow.  The building was 52′ X 32′, complete with steeple and new bell, and it was dedicated in May 1866.  There were now 31 families, who each provided a team to haul materials from Madison and donate $82 per family for the new church.  

The First Pastors

The Rev. Carl Schenck, who had founded two congregations in Berry, was the first ordained minister to be called.  He served as pastor from 1859 until his death in August 1883.

Reverend E.F. Scherbel was then called and was installed in April 1884.  In the fall of 1884, an additional 40 ft. was added to the church with a tall and stately steeple and a new and better bell.  A basement room was built under the last addition which was used for catechetical instructions during the winter as well as Saturday morning classes for all parish children.  The choirs – the Maennerchor and mixed choir, also rehearsed in this school-room under the direction of Rev. Scherbel. During Rev. Scherbel’s 36 years of service, many memorable festivities were held at the church.  Outstanding celebrations were the Dedication of the pipe organ, purchased by voluntary donations, in 1907; Rev. Scherbel’s 25 years as pastor, in 1902; the Golden Jubilee in 1902 which brought hundreds of former parishioners to the two day reunion.

National Historic Site wedding venue Middleton, WI
historic Wedding venue Middleton, WI 19
1902 genealogy history First Lutheran Church Middleton, WI

Rev. Scherbel resigned in 1920 and was followed by Rev. C.F. Stubenvoll, who gave sermons in English as well as German.  A Sunday School and Ladies Aid was organized at this time.  He was followed by Rev. George Beckman in 1922 who served until 1941. Rev. Reiff served the church from 1941 to 1947, when regular services were discontinued, and members of the congregation joined other Lutheran churches.

Decay and Restoration

It stood empty, falling into decay, occasionally providing a venue for bongo playing youth until it was restored.  In 1988 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.  In May 1990 the church received the City-County Historic Preservation Award. The country road is gone and modern horsepower now carries folks past the church but the old bell in the high peaked steeple still echoes across the disappearing farmland each time a wedding is celebrated at the “the big white church.”  The old log building has been gone for many years and unfortunately during the 1960’s many of the old tombstones in the original cemetery were vandalized, but “the big white church” still stands, looking over the cemetery and the graves of many early settlers instrumental in its beginning.


Maintenance of the church continues to be a community effort consisting of a group of volunteers who welcome new members at any time. The church is open to the public for weddings, baptisms, and funerals.  If you are interested in viewing the church records, want information regarding weddings, baptisms or other religious events or are interested in volunteering to care for the church or the purchase of cemetery plots, use the Contact page and a volunteer will get back to you quickly.    

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