Trinity has an august and fascinating 259-year history. Trinity’s historian, Jim Briggs has compiled a thorough and intriguing history of our congregation, which you may read below.
The Early Years: 1725 – 1790
Families, predominantly from Germany, began to settle in the area known as “Forks of the Delaware” from 1725 to 1750. The area did not get its name because of the confluence of the two rivers, the Delaware and the Lehigh, but by reason of the numerous indigenous trails which forked into various directions to reach the few passes in the mountain. The area, approximately 8,300 acres of land now known as Lower Nazareth Township, in which our Church is located, was known as the “Drylands” because of the lack of springs and brooks. The indigenous people called the area “The Barrens”. This entire area was a vast treeless plain, having for ages been burned by the indigenous people to chase game through the mountain passes and trap it on the way.
Our Church records indicate that a church was built in 1759 by the Reformed Congregations or Religious Societies along the road between the Moravian settlements of Bethlehem and Nazareth. The road in those days was known as the Great Road and is supposed to be the same distance from Bethlehem to Nazareth as in the Holy Lands. The church was built of logs and had a thatched roof and Christian Gross was paid three Pennsylvania pounds to put mortar between the logs. It was called the Dryland Church.
The first regular pastor of the Reformed Church was Casper Weyberg. The Lutheran Congregation, which shared the church, was formed by Rev. John Frederici on February 2, 1763. On May 22, 1763, he confirmed a class of 21 and in addition 107 Lutherans communed.
There is in our possession an old account book which some light on the time of the building of the school and graveyard. We would know more, but the first and important dates, as well as other entries have been destroyed by silverfish.
In 1763, the trustees paid Christian Nauman 3 Pennsylvania pounds 3 shillings to mark the graveyard, construct a fence and gate. Right above this entry is an entry of 5 shillings 7 pennies for shingles for the house. There is another entry showing the purchase of 300 nails costing 3 shillings.
In those days a Pennsylvania pound (gold or silver) was equal to 1/2 of the English pound sterling which was valued at about $4.84. The Pennsylvania pound was then worth about $2.42. A shilling was 1/120th of a pound and a penny was 1/12th of a shilling. In 1765, a stove was purchased for the schoolhouse for 1 pound 1 shilling (about $2.55). The funds to erect the graveyard and schoolhouse may not seem like a lot of money today, but to the early settlers it was a heroic sacrifice to come up with this money. Many of them were poor and when they arrived from Germany, they had very little in the way of possessions.
In 1766, Rev. Henop of the Reformed Congregation reported 36 children in the school. In 1785, the log schoolhouse was torn down and on the same site a gray stone two story building was erected. School was held on the lower floor or basement while the schoolteacher lived above. The Bible and Catechism held prominent places in the school, in fact it was known as the Bible School in those days. Classes were conducted in the school until around 1818 or 1820 when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania introduced public schools. When this happened, religious training until 1846, became a thing of the past. The schoolhouse was never demolished and is still in use today. It is the present sexton’s home and is one of the oldest buildings in this area.
The log church built in 1759 was demolished in early 1790 and much of material was used in the construction of a residence located nearby. The second church, a stone structure, was erected in 1790. It was rectangular in shape and was situated a little to the North of our present building with the side toward Route 191. The doors opened into the church from the North and South. There was also a door on the side facing Route 191. The pulpit was on the side toward the graveyard. It was shaped like a goblet or as some term it, a “swallow’s nest”, resting on a high pedestal. A stairway led from the North side into the pulpit, and the Pastor, when in the pulpit, would close the door behind him. The chancel was circular in shape and was in front of the pulpit. The pastor, when coming down from the pulpit, entered the chancel by a door in front of the pulpit.
To give you some idea of how high the pulpit was, when the church was crowded, people actually sat under the pulpit. I guess one could say that in those days preaching had its ups and downs. In the center of the chancel stood the communion table, and the people when communing formed a circle around the chancel, which had a high railing. Opposite the pulpit, on the gallery on the East side was the pipe organ and choir loft.
In those days most churches had seating arrangements, ours was no exception. The church officers sat on the North side of the pulpit. Behind them sat the men who were advanced in years. The pews for the aged ladies extended from the door on the North side backward to the side toward the street. These pews had footrests to make them more comfortable. The pews on the South side, and the Southwest corner were occupied by the girls, and those pews between the girls and the aged mothers, by the married women. The men and the boys sat in the galleries.
The church was dedicated on August 15, 1790. The archives of the Moravian Church in Nazareth state that an extraordinarily large concourse of people from the surrounding countryside were present at the dedication ceremony. Special music was furnished by musicians from Bethlehem and Nazareth. Toward 10 o’clock in the morning the church was opened with a dedication prayer offered by the Reformed Pastor Fred H. Herman, after which the Reformed Pastor Winkhouse, of Saucon, preached the sermon. The second sermon was preached at 1 o’clock in the afternoon by the Lutheran Pastor. The third sermon was preached at 3 o’clock in the afternoon at the request of the consistory and pastors of both congregations by Moravian Pastor Reichel, of Nazareth. At the opening and closing of every service the musicians played appropriate selections.
The cemetery, which is directly behind the church and consists of approximately 2.3 acres, is divided into three sections, the oldest starts just South of the Memorial Board listing the names of the people buried there and runs North to the end of the upper parking lot. The second oldest section runs from the Memorial Board South toward Steuben Road to about 200 feet from the band shell. The third section, with the gravestones still standing, runs from the end of the upper parking lot North to the beginning of the baseball field. A total of 2,024 people are buried in the cemetery. In 1975, all of the gravestones in the first two sections were removed because of deterioration and for safety reasons. A new memorial was erected listing all the names, date of birth and of all the burials. The first burial in the cemetery in 1769 and the last in April 1953.
The cemetery was surrounded by a stone wall built in 1840 at a cost of $682.79 and 1/2 cents. Because of deterioration sections of the wall were removed in early 1989. The last section is at the rear of the cemetery and can be seen from the upper parking lot.
The congregation worshiping in the Dryland Church believed in holding funeral services in the Church. After a short service at the deceased’s home, the funeral procession moved toward the church. A good neighbor would sometimes transport the coffin in a common vehicle or sleigh. The most common was to hitch four horses to a Conestoga wagon, into whose spacious body the coffin was placed, while the nearest relatives sat around it on chairs. It was not until the middle of the second quarter of the nineteenth century that a hearse was first seen at our church. Jacob Boram was in possession of the first hearse in this vicinity. It was a rectangular box curved at the top and covered with black cloth around the lower part of the wagon. The hearse had springs, but no side glass or ornamentations.
In 1844, the congregations began a movement to purchase their own hearse. Members contributed all the way from 10 cents to one dollar and twenty-five cents. On the title page of the subscription book, it states that those members whose names are not marked with a cross refused to contribute toward the project. All the members who contributed toward the purchase of the hearse could use it free of charge in case of a funeral in the family. Those who refused to contribute or people not belonging to the church paid one dollar for its use. It was the duty of the janitor of the church to clean the hearse after the funeral for which he received twenty-five cents.
The most unusual event involving the old graveyard was when a hot air balloon landed on it on July 3, 1931, at 6:30 p.m. It was flown on an overnight flight from the U.S. Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey. When the balloon landed, pigeons were released and arrived back at Lakehurst before the two balloonists. When the balloon was inflated for take-off, it flew over the church and dropped on a tall cedar tree. Lieutenant Kentworthy asked for someone to climb the tree and release the balloon. A young lad by the name of George Bartron climbed the tree and released the balloon. However, the balloon was not able to continue its flight and Frank F. Heller hauled the balloon to the Nazareth Freight Station for the trip back to the U. S. Naval Station. A few days later, George Bartron received a thank you letter from the Lieutenant.
The Church Building
The two trustees held title to the property until the death of Christian Brown. The surviving trustee, Mathis Gress, by deed dated June 9, 1837, granted and conveyed the property unto Joseph Unangst in trust for the German Lutheran Congregation and Christian Brown, the younger, in trust for the German Reformed Congregation for the sum of $5.00.
These two trustees held title to the property until the death of Christian Brown, the younger, at which time Joseph Unangst, surviving trustee, by deed dated October 20, 1848, granted and conveyed the property unto John Laubach, trustee for the German Reformed Congregation and Joseph Unangst, trustee for the German Lutheran congregation, for the sum of $5.00. No additional conveyances were necessary after 1848, since the Commonwealth passed a law which empowered a church or religious societies to take and hold title to real estate for its own use. However, trustees were still required as the congregations were not incorporated. Acts of incorporation were granted to the German Reformed Congregation of the Drylands on August 8, 1853, and to The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Dryland Church of Hecktown, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1908. Title remained in the names of both congregations until the Reformed Congregation conveyed its interest in the property to Trinity Lutheran Church on April 15, 1965.
In the spring of 1849, the second church was demolished. The wall toward the graveyard was thrown in first by means of long props that reached far into the graveyard. Then the gable walls were thrown down last and out toward the east with such force that some of the stones rolled into the street. The subscriptions taken by the trustees for building the present church amounted to $5,189.38 and the money collected by 10 of the ladies of the congregations is recorded as having been $246.05 and 1/2 cents. The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, May 20, 1849, and the offering on this sacred occasion amounted to $154.28. The trustees at that time were George H. Beck, Joseph Unangst, Jacob Herman, Arthur Ritter, John N. Kemmerer, Joseph Santee, Peter Kern and John Laubach. In erecting the walls a long scaffold reaching almost from the stone schoolhouse to the church was erected, upon which the stones and mortar were hauled up by means of a wheel-barrow. The stones to build the church came from an old farm just south of the present K-Mart shopping center on Route 191. The stones were hauled up Nazareth Pike (Route 191) by wagon each evening so that the stonemasons would have a fresh supply for the next day’s work. The church was completed at a total cost of $5,269.26 and dedicated to the Services of God on December 8th and 9th, 1849. On Saturday, December 8th, the choir from Nazareth was present and Reverend Thomas Pomp who was serving in his 53rd year as Pastor of the Reformed Congregation, advanced in front of the altar and read the dedication ceremony. There were three sermons that day all by different pastors.
On Sunday, December 9th, the choir from Bethlehem was present and the church was again filled with attentive listeners. There were two sermons that day and after the close of services, Pastor Wenzel of the Lutheran Congregation handed over to the congregation a splendid new Bible as a present. The offering at the time of dedication was $132.00.
The church was erected without a steeple and had no organ. The pipe organ that was in the second church was disassembled and installed in the schoolhouse. It was a small instrument and had only one manual and not more than 10 registers. The church was without an organ from 1849 to 1857. During this time Benjamin Wagner was chorister. He put his own melodeon in the church and played it while leading the singing. In August 1856, John Laubach, Barnes Fenner, George Hellick, George Schnabel, Peter Kern, Solomon Koehler, Abraham Dewalt and Jonathan Ritter commenced to collect donations for a new organ. The cost of the bare organ was $1,339.50 and was built by George Krause, an apprentice of David Tannenberg, the preeminent colonial American organbuilder. It was painted for $10.50. Edward Van Steuben, John Heckman, Peter Lawall, Charles Hess and Edwin Breidinger fetched it by wagon from Palm, PA. The organ was dedicated on Whit Sunday, May 31, 1857 and the last payment for its purchase was made on April 19, 1858.
The present steeple which is 59 feet tall, measured from the peak of the roof, and is 19 and one-half feet square at its widest point, was built in the summer of 1899 at a total cost of $2,072.75. The bell which weighs 2,360 pounds was also installed at a cost of $600.00. Both were dedicated on December 3, 1899.
The interior of the church was remodeled in 1872 and had balconies extending along the side walls with the organ centered in the rear balcony.
In 1846, Sunday school resumed in the schoolhouse. As the Sunday school grew, classes were moved into the church. In 1915, it was decided to erect a church school building annexed to the church in connection with a complete renovation of the church. The congregations spent $43,693.22 at this time and dedicated the Sunday school building on April 29, 1917. The church was rededicated on October 14, 1917. The congregations retired this debt in the early months of 1925. The two congregations shared the facilities until 1965 when the Reformed Congregation moved into its new church building on Newburg Road. The church is now known as Dryland United Church of Christ.
Anniversaries, Renovations, Expansions, and the Dawn of the 21st Century
In 1995, the congregation approved a motion to move forward with the planning of a new Fellowship Wing and a new fund raising campaign was launched in 1996. Ground was broken on the first. Sunday in October, 1997 with a joyous celebration. Construction began the next morning and by Christmas Eve the studding for the walls was being erected. The new Fellowship Wing was completed in September, 1998 and the dedication and dinner took place on Sunday, September 27, 1998 at 4:00 p.m. The Reverend Dr. Harvey M. Weitzel, Pastor, was assisted by Reverend Cheryl F. Meinschein, Associate of the Bishop, and by Reverend David R. Strobel, Bishop of Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, who delivered the sermon.
The Rev. Weitzel’s pastorate concluded in 2004. The congregation called The Rev. David Newhart to be our interim pastor, a role he held for nearly 3 years. Towards the end of his happy tenure, the congregation called The Rev. Dr. Christian Eichorn to be its next pastor. He was installed on Sunday, March 18, 2007, at 4:00 p.m. The Rev. David Strobel, Bishop (and one of Pastor Eichorn’s childhood pastors) presided. During Pastor Eichorn’s tenure, the parsonage was sold, as was the triangular parking lot across the street from the church. Proceeds from those sales were combined with those raised by Trinity’s Mortgage Reduction Committee to retire the mortgage from the church’s fellowship wing several years early, on December 1, 2010. The church observed its 250th Anniversary in 2013 in grand style, including a series of historical talks by parishioner and parish historian, Jim Briggs, in January and February; a birthday celebration with cake and some German language in the service in February; a Celebration Service on June 2nd, which included the Mainstreet Brass and preaching by Bishop Samuel Zeiser and a banquet at the Northampton Community Center; and a Gala Christmas Concert by the Baltimore Consort in December.
In June of 2016, repairs were undertaken on the Church’s steeple, including an ambitious re-shingling-by-crane project. Beginning in the autumn of 2017, the church began a complete renovation of the Sanctuary and Sunday School Wing. During the renovation, which lasted until June of 2018, the congregation worshipped and held all events in the Fellowship Wing. The project’s architect was Gary Wagner, and Robert J. Doerr served as contractor. The Sanctuary was rededicated on September 9, 2018, during which the congregation also blessed the gift of a Young Chang grand piano for use in the Sanctuary. Pastor Eichorn’s tenure drew to a close at the beginning of 2020, and the congregation celebrated the grace of his time with us with a beautiful farewell service and luncheon on February 23rd. Soon after, the congregation called the Rev. Jennifer Hall to be our Transitional Pastor, a role she held for eighteen months. Her tenure spanned the COVID-19 Pandemic, during which the congregation pivoted to online worship, facilitated by council member and videography expert, Kristian Golick. During COVID, the congregation gathered for worship outdoors, including a memorable Christmas Lessons and Carols service at the bandshell on December 27, 2020, and later gathered indoors again, with significant safety protocols observed, and acquired equipment which enables us to livestream our services weekly. Pastor Hall resigned from her role in October of 2021, and the Rev. Otto Dreydoppel, a longtime friend of the congregation and Moravian pastor, began a preaching residency at Trinity. On December 19, 2021, the congregation elected its next Pastor, the Rev. Spencer Steele, and he began his pastorate on February 22nd. Pastor Steele was officially installed on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022 with Bishop DeForest presiding. A return to normalcy after the pandemic was observed in the early days of Pastor Steele’s time, with the church resuming all of its pre-pandemic activities. in 2023, the church observed its 260th anniversary with celebratory events, including a wonderful potluck brunch, and embarked on a capital campaign to continue to fund the 2017-18 renovations and to begin some new improvements to the church’s facilities.