J.D. Gackenheimer–Zion Chatt’s First Minister

This week’s Tombstone Tuesday mentioned that George Heffner and Sophia Martin were married by Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer in 1851. Rev. Gackenheimer was a pioneer minister in this area and he was the first minister at Zion Lutheran Church, Chattanooga.

Rev. Gackenheimer performed the Heffner/Martin marriage four years before Zion Chatt was formed in 1855 and their marriage was recorded at St. Paul Lutheran, Liberty Township, aka St. Paul Liberty.

Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer, first minister at Zion Lutheran, Chatt.

Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer, first minister at Zion Lutheran, Chatt.

Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer was a traveling minister. Some call him a traveling missionary. Several times a year he traveled on horseback from Van Wert County to the Chatt area and ministered to the congregation at St. Paul Liberty. St. Paul was organized in 1841 and is located about 2 ½ miles southeast of Chatt, on Wabash Road.

Zion Chatt was established in 1855 as an outgrowth of St. Paul Liberty and Rev. Gackenheimer, the traveling minister, took on another congregation to become Zion’s first pastor. In fact he served both St. Paul Liberty and Zion Chatt at the same time, as well as two churches in Van Wert County. When he was in the area he would preach, perform marriages, baptize, and give communion to the adults.

Church members worshipped in homes, or barns, or schools during that time because neither congregation had a church building. Zion’s first church was constructed in 1860.

The first recorded events at Zion Chatt were recorded in German script by Rev. Gackenheimer: the baptism of Johann Haffner, born 22 October 1854, baptized 18 November 1854; the marriage of Johann Becher to Anna Maria Becker, 22 January 1855; the death of Jakob Bollenbacher on 30 July 1856, son of Adam and Elisabeth Bollenbacher. Rev. Gackenheimer also likely officiated at Zion’s first recorded communion in 1861, when 43 members received Holy Communion that day.

Johann David “J.D.” Gackenheimer was born 25 April 1820 in Güttlingen, Württemberg, to Johann David Sr. and his wife Elisabeth Catharina Maier.

He was educated at Basel Mission House in Switzerland from 1840-46. He was ordained and then sent to minister to the German immigrants in America. His first congregation was in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, late in 1846.

While in Pennsylvania, Rev. Gackenheimer married Elisabeth Kramer/Cramer in about 1850, probably in the Bridgewater area. Elisabeth was born about 1831 in Württemberg.

Soon after, in 1850, the Gackenheimers moved to Van Wert County, where German immigrants wanted to have their own church with services in their native language. J.D. first established a German Evangelical church, now known as St. Paul’s Reformed Church in America. The church is located in Harrison Township, north of Schumm, on German Church Road. Rev. Gackenheimer was their minister from 1850-1874.

St. Paul's Reformed Church in America, Harrison Twp., Van Wert Co., founded as a German Evangelical church in 1850 by Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer.

St. Paul’s Reformed Church in America, Harrison Twp., Van Wert Co., founded as a German Evangelical church in 1850 by Rev. J.D. Gackenheimer. (2013 photo by Karen)

It was during this time that Rev. Gackenheimer would ride on horseback to the Chattanooga area.

During the nearly 25 years Rev. Gackenheimer lived in the Van Wert area he established and served at several churches.

In Van Wert County he established St. Paul’s Reformed Church in America, Harrison Township, in 1850 and served there until 1874; he established St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Van Wert city in 1868.

In Mercer County he served at St. Paul Liberty from 1850-1861; he served at Zion Lutheran Chattanooga, 1855-1861 and likely had a part in its establishment.

Rev. Gackenheimer was a farmer as well as a traveling minister. He owned about 40 acres of land in Section 2 of Willshire Township, north of Schumm. His farm was very close to the Harrison-Willshire Township line.

The Gackenheimers had seven children and three of their sons died young. Those three sons are buried in the Evangelical Protestant Cemetery in Harrison Township,located by the church J.D. founded.

Rev. Gackenheimer and Elizabeth had the following children:
John G (1851-1851)
Maria C “Mary” (1853-1929)
John David (1854-1854)
Louis F (1856-1893), married Emma Brodnix
Joseph U (1858-1858)
Martin Ulrich (1861-1932), married Byranna Summersett
Emanuel (1863-1940), married Emma P. Schmidt

Rev. Gackenheimer and his family left the Van Wert area about 1875 to serve an Evangelical congregation in Hayesville, Ohio. He retired from the ministry at St. John’s, Warren Township, Huntington County, Indiana.

J.D. Gackenheimer died 29 November 1882 in Bippus, Huntington County, Indiana, at the age of 62. He was buried in Woodland Union Cemetery in Van Wert County, Ohio. Taking part in the funeral were Pastors A. Debus from Urbana, G. Hess from Columbia City, H. Dippel from Huntington, and W.A. Walter from Andrews.

His wife Elizabeth died 29 October 1887 and is buried near her husband in Woodland Union Cemetery.

Zion Chatt is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year and I plan to write about Zion’s history and some of its pastors and charter members during the year.


Sources of information:

Johann D. Gackenheimer obituary, Friedensbote, (Messenger of Peace), 1 Jan 1883, p.4. Note: Via e-mail from Lowell Zuck, Eden Seminary Archives, archives of the Evangelical Synod of North America, September 2005. The obituary was translated from German for me.

The Van Wert county Chapter OGS, “Index for 1872 Map of Van Wert County,” (Privately printed, 1992), p. 39, 40, 42.
Hon. S.S. Scranton, editor and compiler, History of Mercer County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, (Chicago, Illinois : Biographical Publishing Co, 1907), p. 155.

Thaddeus S. Gilliland, editor and compiler, History of Van Wert County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, (Chicago, Illinois : Richmond & Arnold Publishing, 1906), p.178.

“Anniversary Observance,” Van Wert Times Bulletin, Van Wert, Ohio, 12 October 1968, p.8.

“Church to Mark Its Centennial Celebration Set in Van Wert County,” The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 4 May 1953, p. 9C.

1860 U.S. Census, Harrison, Van Wert County, Ohio, p.165, line 27, John Gackenheimer; digital image by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 February 2015) from FHL microfilm 805045, from NARA microfilm M653, roll 1045.

Schneider Family Tree, Ancestry.com, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 February 2015).

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