Heritage Site Plaque.
Much of the substantiating information for this chronicle was gleaned from the private archives of St. Peter’s.
Click HERE for Old St. Peter’s Church location.
St. Peters German Lutheran Church, as it was first called, starts its history back in the 1857-58 time frame.1 As a developing community, Waterford welcomed a variety of ethnic immigrants from New England and some European countries. This was also a time when other faith-based organizations were developing. Methodists and Congregationalist started meeting in the “little red-brick school house” in the 1840s, while the Catholics had built the first church in 1851 on south First Street.
A small group of the Germans of the Lutheran faith started meeting with Rev. Goldhammer, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Burlington. The exact meeting place is in question since it could have been at a home or at the public schoolhouse as other protestant groups had been doing.2
If it was in the public school, it was located on the southwest corner of Main and Center streets. Today, the location would be on the northeast corner of Waterford Union High School campus.
Rev. Titze replaced Rev. Goldhammer and the worship services were relocated to a “commodious” stone church built by the Congregationalists in 1859.3 Today, it is the site of Waterford Union High School, just northwest of the old brick schoolhouse – see map insert on EARLY RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS page.
Congregational Church Description by Ruth Albee.4-p.35
Services were held once or twice a month, but only in the German language. Over the next few years, the group grew and on January 25, 1864 a committee met and decided it was time to build their own church edifice.
First Meeting to Incorporate and Appoint Trustees for St. Peter’s Congregation11, Raciine County Register of Deeds.
On February 22, 1864, two lots, number 21 and 22, Block 21, were purchased for $90 in the Bemis and Whitney subdivision, which are on the southwest corner of Third and Division streets. Construction started in early spring.
Portion of Deed for First Lutheran Church, Racine County Register of Deeds, Vol. 45, p175.
It took about six months to construct the church making it ready for dedication in September of 1864. However, there was a requirement of the Evangelical Lutheran synodical constitution that they would first have to join Rev. Titze’s Wisconsin Synod or he would have to discontinue his services. The congregation’s Trustees voted not to join at that time and Rev. Titze was compelled to leave.
The congregation reached out to the Missouri Synod in Racine whereupon the Synod appointed Rev. Englebrecht to help them dedicate the church. The riff was ultimately resolved by joining the Missouri Synod and the church was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies as St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Waterford sometime in the Fall of 1864.
1864 ST. PETER’S CHURCH BUILDING
The original church was built of limestone with the orientation of the entrance facing West, toward the river, and, according to church records, did not have a steeple until 1880. During the summer of 1865, due to work pressures, Rev. Englebrecht was replaced by Rev. Georgii who became the first resident pastor of St. Peters. The parsonage was a rented home on the west side of the river – address unknown. Official incorporation of the Congregation was done in the 1865.
Winter months saw the parsonage used as a schoolhouse while education was continued in the church in the summer months. A parsonage was built on the lot south of the church the following year. Again, it was used as a schoolhouse until they could build a permanent education building in 1872. It was a small structure added to the back corner of the lot church on the northeast side of the church.
St. Peters from across the Mill Pond, c. 1880s, Wisconsin Digital Collection.
Services were conducted in German until 1904 when English was introduced at separate services held in the afternoon. However, the sermons were still in German. Shortly thereafter, English replaced German throughout the service.5
1928 ST. PETER’S CHURCH BUILDING
According to the August 19, 1926 edition of the Waterford Post, a meeting was to held August 29, for the congregation to discuss contemplated changes to the church. Discussions continued through 1927.
Farewell to the 1864 Lutheran Church, Waterford Post June, 26, 1928.
“In 1928, the congregation decided that they would build a new house of worship to take the place of the one that had served for so many years. And so, a farewell service was held on June 24, 1928 in the old house of worship and the next morning, men came with teams of horses and equipment began tearing down the old church because the new church, our present St. Peter’s Church was to (be) built on the site of the old. This church was built in 1928 at a cost of $26,000. We had no decorations. It was just plain white plaster walls until on the 10th anniversary when the interior of the church was painted and decorated and then of course we had a big celebration.”6
Laying of the Cornerstone, Waterford Post, August 23, 1928.
It was a Gothic design with a larger seating capacity of 280 persons.
Reconstruction would change the entrance to face East on to Third Street. A lower level consisted of a main hall, boiler room, kitchen, ventilation system, restrooms and cloak rooms. The upper level consisted of the main floor, balcony, ladies restroom, Trustees room, and the Sacristy. The belfry had two bells, the original bell from the 1864 church and a new, different pitch bell to be hung side by side.8
The little schoolhouse was moved to a lot across the road from the church and was used as a meeting place for the building committee.8
During reconstruction, services were held in the old American Legion Community building, currently the vacant lot on Main Street between Third Street and Milwaukee Avenue.8
Dedication services were held on December 23, 1928.
Thanks to a generous donation of member Bertha Hilger, a new Wangerin Pipe Organ was purchased, installed, and dedicated on August 27, 1939.5
St. Peter’s Church, c. 1930s, St. Peter’s Archives.
According to church archives, there was a complete remodeling project in the late 1950s which included altar and pulpit modifications. This facility would serve the congregation well until they found a need to expand the school and perhaps build a new church some day.
During 1956, the congregation appointed a committee to study the need for a larger facility to house an education unit and new church. As a result, the church acquired the property at 627 E. Main Street consisting of a home and seven acres of land. In 1962, another committee was formed to study and recommend a Master Plan for the 14 acres they had accumulated. Opening of the new school building took place in 1965 with an enrollment of 360 students.7
By 1964, according to church records, St. Peter’s was serving 475 communicants and 700 baptized souls.7 St. Peters archives also shows that by the end of this church’s era, it had served 1081 baptisms, 1532 marriages and 1725 burials. A new larger and modern church adjoining the school was built in 1988 and dedicated on January 8, 1989. Click HERE for it location.
COPTIC CHURCH BUYS ST. PETER’S
The Coptic church dates back to 42 AD and is the oldest of the Christian tradition. It is said that St. Mark, the evangelist, under the direction of St. Peter, set out for Egypt to start his missionary work and established a church in Alexandria. The Coptic religion is practiced mainly in Northern Africa until more recently when the Egyptians started to migrate to other parts of the world.9
To condense the narrative, on December 22, 1988, after 20 years of yearning for a church building of their own, the Copts of Wisconsin bought the old St. Peters Lutheran Church in Waterford. It was consecrated as St. Mary and St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church. Worship services were held on a regular basis with members from throughout southeast Wisconsin. But, it wasn’t until 1993 that the church was able to support a full time priest. The church would serve its purposes until the parishioners outgrew it and built a new church at 1521 W. Drexel Avenue in Oak Creek. It was consecrated February 5, 2008.
New St. Mary and St. Antonious Church in Oak Creek – 2005.10
In 2006, the 1928 St. Peters church was sold to a private owner who uses it as a very uniquely decorated home. It is periodically opened to host private functions.
Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through director@ExploreWaterford.com. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
- Waterford: Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, Waterford Post,1923. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/WI/WI-idx?type=article&did=WI.WPLStories.i0027&id=WI.WPLStories&isize=M
- History Community United Methodist Church Waterford, Wisconsin, 108 ppg. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.HistComUni
- Lydia Rossmiller, The History of St. Peters, date unknown, St. Peters Historical Archives.
- 1864-1964 Saint Peters Lutheran Church. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/WI/WI-idx?id=WI.Pete64
- Waterford Post, 12-20-1928 edition.
- The Origins of the Ancient Coptic Church of Egypt: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/origins-ancient-coptic-church-egypt-002462
- Church Records, Racine County Register of Deeds, p. 18, Feb. 14, 1865.