Happy Anniversary! 2022 Marks the 275th Anniversary of St. John’s

By Susan Shinn Turner and Rhodes Woolly

Artifacts dated from the 1770s found on the North Lee Street site of the first church, including a “host box” from 1772. Quotes are from Martha Agner’s history of St. John’s .

It may be hard to believe, but 2022 is the 275th anniversary of St. John’s Lutheran Church! A committee has been formed to plan events for this exciting time in the life of the church. In the meantime, check out our opening event on page 5 and enjoy some of our historical highlights:

  • 1747 — Lutherans in the Salisbury community begin worshipping together in their homes.
  • Sept. 9, 1768 — John Lewis Beard deeds the “German Lutheran Church” land on which to build a church, the only one in Salisbury for 50 years. It was called “The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in the town of Salisbury.” This church building and its successor were built on North Lee Street at what is now the old Lutheran Cemetery, the main thorough fare into town.
  • Early 19th Century — A second building is built to house the Lutheran congregation and a smaller group of Episcopalians. The N.C. Synod is formed here in 1802. The church became informally known as “John’s Church,” perhaps in reference to the Rev. John Reck, who revitalized the congregation in the 1820s,and John Lewis Beard, who gave the land in 1768.
  • 1856 — Railroad tracks are laid out through Salisbury and the first train passes through town.
  • 1857 — The congregation moves to a larger location at North Main and Liberty streets, along the “new” main thoroughfare into town. The name “St. John’s Lutheran Church” is recognized as the congregation’s formal name. Salisbury was taking “its lead among the counties of the state in population, wealth, and agriculture.” That same year, Thomas Southerly became the first Black member of St. John’s. In 1872, the Synod conferred upon him “such ministerial powers as they may deem expedient,” ostensibly to be a “missionary” to “labor in our territory among the colored people.”
  • 1861 — The Civil War and its aftermath decimate Salisbury and St. John’s. No pastor served the church between 1865-1870. Membership had dwindled to 40 and its building was in significant need of repair; nevertheless, the congregation hosted the 1867 NC Synod Convention.
  • 1870 — The congregation embraced a challenge to fully support a new pastor — 30 year old Jacob Neiffer of Pennsylvania — to refurbish the church building, and to build a new wall around the Lutheran Cemetery. The congregation began to grow and flourish.
  • 1872 — The first Christmas tree is recorded to have been placed in St. John’s. “The tree itself, touching the high ceiling of the church, seemed to reach to heaven.” Thomas Dosh was called in 1875 to succeed Neiffer as pastor. In 1877 he left St. John’s to become president of Roanoke College in Virginia.
  • 1883 — The cornerstone was laid for the new St. John’s Church at Main and Liberty streets.
  • 1891 — The church’s first pipe organ was purchased for $1200 and its first paid organist was hired.
  • Jan. 2, 1927 — Following explosive growth, the congregation dedicates its new Sanctuary on Innes Street.

And that just gets us into the 20th century! Watch the Eagle’s View each month for an article about the history of St. John’s as well as upcoming events related to the 275th celebration.


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