Society buys church to save German, Swiss heritage

November 12, 2003|EMILY BURTON

OTTENHEIM - More than 117 years after their great-grandparents' long trek south from the gates of Ellis Island, the descendants of the original German and Swiss settlers of Ottenheim came together and rescued a former pillar of their community, the Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Now, as the Lincoln County Historical Society maintains the hand-carved altar and white-washed walls, the building is available for brides-to-be and other merry-makers to rent for celebrations. It is a chance to borrow a sense of history for a day, with all proceeds going toward maintenance of the church.

"We're saying you don't have to go to Gatlinburg to get married in a quaint setting. You can use this beautiful old church to get married," said Lincoln County Historical Society president Irene Jaggers. "We're going to have it for homecomings, family reunions, weddings and also funerals."

The church will be decorated in traditional German and Swiss holiday splendor Dec. 21 for an old-fashioned Christmas open house, starting at 2 p.m. and ending at 5 p.m. with a candlelight ceremony.


To keep holiday traditions alive at the church, former congregation members wrote an estimated 400 letters to local businesses, churches and descendants of community founders to raise money to purchase the church from Our Savior Lutheran Church of Danville for $15,000 in October.

The church was deeded to Our Savior last April when the remaining handful of members, numbering in the single digits, disbanded. Members of Our Savior were thinking of selling the building and its historic artifacts in separate pieces, including the hand-carved altar.

"They (Our Savior) just didn't know what to do with it," said Barbara Ann Bastin, Lincoln County Historical Society member and descendant of the original Immanuel founding members.

"When the people of Ottenheim heard about it, we approached the church and told them we wanted to keep it, and even buy it from them," said Bastin. "All of us had ties to that church, and we didn't want to see it sold."

"This is about the only original building (in Ottenheim ) that was still in good condition," said Jerry Zwahlen, a member of the historical society who's great-grandparents moved to the community in 1884. Zwahlen helped raise community awareness about the importance of keeping the church intact.

Ottenheim's history includes years of hard labor that German and Swiss immigrants put into the land to carve a farm for themselves out of the Kentucky wilderness.

"This was settled by Germans and Swiss many years ago. They bought this land sight unseen. They were told it was cleared; it was not," said Jaggers. "They worked very, very hard to get it cleared to build their barns, their houses."

In the graveyard beside the church, their heritage can still be seen on softening tombstones bearing long-past dates. It is a history of struggle and faith that the citizens of Ottenheim are continuing to preserve by letting others borrow the church, even if only for a few hours.

"It's just a unique place in Lincoln County that we want to preserve for the years to come," said Jaggers.

"My grandparents are buried there," said Zwahlen. "We'd like to preserve it for the heritage."

Donations may be sent to Lincoln County Historical Society, P.O. Box 570, Stanford, Ky. 40484. The church may be reserved through Barbara Ann Bastin at (606) 365-7339.

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