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The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word
597 East Avenue
Rochester, N.Y. 14607
(585) 244-6065
Fax (585) 244-5480

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

 

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History of the 1869 Samuel Bohler Organ

 

 Original Bohler The builder of the organ, Samuel Bohler, was from a family of Swiss organ builders who emigrated to Pennsylvania about 1830. Samuel Bohler was born in 1823 near Berne to Johann and Margaretha Bohler and was one of eight children.     His father Johann and uncle Daniel initially found work as lock keepers in Berks county Pennsylvania before establishing themselves in the organ business. The family and organ business was moved to Reading about 1850 and by 1856 Samuel was listed as principal of the firm. In addition to his father and uncle, at least two of his brothers were involved in the business. Bohler built a number of organs for churches in the city of Reading and in Berks and surrounding counties.     The total output of the firm is not known, but was probably less than 50. There are seven extant Bohler organs, the earliest built in 1859 and the latest built in 1894. Samuel Bohler died in 1896 while installing a large organ in Harrisburg, Pa. The business continued for a few years under his son-in-law Gideon Jeffries.

Muddy Creek Evangelical Lutheran Church
celebrated their 275th anniversary in 2007

The Bohler Organ’s First Home was in the Muddy Creek Evangelical Lutheran Church. 2007 marked the 275th anniversary of Muddy Creek congregation’s continuing existence making it one of the oldest continuous Lutheran congregations in America. 138 years ago Muddy Creek’s union congregations purchased the Bohler Organ.  

On the first anniversary of Incarnate Word’s acquiring this unique instrument and Muddy Creek’s 275th anniversary, it is fitting that we look at the history behind one of the oldest German Lutheran congregations in  America. Who were the members, where did they come from and what were some of the notable events in their 275 years of existence? 
   

Muddy  Creek Church  began in 1732, as a union church of German Reformed and German Lutheran immigrants. It remained a union church until 1967 when the Reformed congregation joined with other Reformed congregations to build Peace ChurchMuddy Creek was the first “union” church in America and one of the last to disband

  

In 1967 the Lutheran members purchased all of the Reformed church assets.  Muddy Creek Evangelical Lutheran Church today remains on the original tract of land near Denver, PA. 
  

The “union church” was an ecclesiastical arrangement almost unique to the PA German culture. Two congregations–Lutheran and Reformed – shared a building and a cemetery shared sacramental ware, and a combined union Sunday School each managed independently otherwise. Each congregation had its own pastors, synodical affiliation, and doctrinal basis. 

  

It has been said that the story of Lutherans in America is the story of America itself. During the years following the Reformation, Europe was thrown into a series of bloody civil wars, and Germany was often the battleground. Many decided to leave Europe for the new world. The first Lutherans came to America in small numbers as German, Dutch and Swedish colonists in the 17th C. to New Amsterdam ( Later named New York) area. Later large groups of German and Scandinavian immigrants arrived. The Muddy Creek founders were some of these first settlers. 

  

In eastern New York, large numbers of German immigrants arrived in 1712 settling in the Schoharie River region. These immigrants primarily came from the Palatinate area of Germany seeking freedom from the troubles left behind. At about the same time other groups of German and Swiss immigrants landed at Philadelphia. William Penn offered the opportunity to live without religious or ethnic persecution to all who would come. They moved west into the ”wilderness” to the area now known as Lancaster and Berks counties in Pennsylvania.  The 1718 tax list recorded about seventy German taxpayers who by faith were of Lutheran, Reformed or Mennonite persuasion. 

   

In about 1713 a group of the Schoharie immigrants made the 400 mile trip down the Susquehanna River to the area known as Tulphocken Valley just north of Muddy Creek in Berks County west of Reading, Pennsylvania. Among this group was a young Lutheran German   named Conrad Weiser who along with other famous contemporaries such as George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were responsible for formulating the courses with which American was built. Here is a link to an in depth historical summary of his life written by Rev. Frederick Weiser, a direct descendant who lives in the area today. Rev. Weiser is also the principle interpreter of Muddy Creek's old handwritten German parish records. 

  

The present day Muddy Creek Church nine and one half acre tract of land was purchased from William Penn's sons . Conrad Weiser was most assuredly influential in them obtaining this track of land from the Penn family.
 
 

Much more information about the Lutheran Germans of this time and Conrad Weiser is available through Berks County, PA Historical sites 


Lutherans, were accustomed to having university trained ordained clergy, and they held to the custom that communion, baptism, and confirmations could not be performed by laymen. It was in this setting that a young divinity student, John Casper Stoever, arrived in 1728. He was ordained in Philadelphia and became the “first German Lutheran Minister ordained in America”.    

 

plaque     monument

John Casper became Muddy Creek’s first Lutheran pastor. MCELC archives contain the original records of Pastor Stoever’s baptisms, marriages, confirmations and deaths dating back to 1730 thus establishing the existence of the earliest organized congregations. Services in those days were held in parishioners’ homes and barns.

In 1732-34 these German Reformed and Lutheran settlers built their first log church on a nine and one half acre tract of land purchased from William Penn’s two sons for one pound, eight shillings, eleven pence. The original copy of the deed executed in 1744, signed by Penn’s sons is in Muddy Creeks archives. This log church had an open hole in the roof, earth floor and a fire pit in the center for warmth. Sentries were stationed at the door to ward off any Indians that chose to interfere. Both Reformed and Lutheran services were held in this log building until a stone church was erected in 1747. Muddy Creek is the second oldest Lutheran congregation in Lancaster County, PA.

stone    3rd church

In 1847 the second stone church was erected. It was in this church that the Bohler organ was installed. Music has always been important to Muddy Creek Church. so in 1869 they decided that their church needed a pipe organ to assist in their worship services.

Samuel Bohler, an organ builder from Reading, PA, built and installed the organ now known by us as the 1869 Bohler Organ. It was installed in the church’ s upper level. Both congregations formed their first choirs thereafter. When the choirs were organized, each member paid for his or her own chair. Each member had his chair marked, and none but the owner was supposed to use it!

In 1870 the Sunday School took a special "penny" collection to help pay for this first pipe organ. These "penny" offerings were collected at every session and the offerings received amounted to a low of 15 cents to a high of 97 cents.”

In 1939 the old stone church was razed and the current red brick building was constructed across the street. When the two congregations - Lutheran and Reformed -decided to build the new church their intention was to defer the item of an organ to a later date but it was found that the Bohler organ would not fit into the plans for the new building so it was reconditioned, an electric blower added and installed in the basement Sunday School area by Mr. Justus Becker, a local pipe organ technician, who was a son of the first organist at Muddy Creek.

It was soon decided that music was very essential to worship and an organ was vitally necessary. A new instrument was purchased and built by the Gottfried Organ Co. of Erie, PA. and is the organ in use today. The Bohler organ found little use in the basement and was sold to Ray Brunner in 1995. Ray began restoring it for installation in his in-laws’ home church in memory of his late father-in-law, but those plans were never concluded. The organ remained in Ray’s shop in Lancaster until Incarnate Word purchased it.

Click for more information about Muddy Creek Evangelical Lutheran Church.