Between 1839 and 1849, a small number of Lutherans left their homes in Bielefeld, Germany, endured a long journey on sea and land, and arrived in St. Louis. The rich farming area in which they settled was originally called New Bielefeld and was later called Black Jack. These Germans began worshiping together in their native tongue and, in September 1848, welcomed their first resident pastor, Reverence C. H. Schliepsick. In November 1849, Salem Evangelical Church of New Bielefeld was officially organized by charter members Herman Rosenkoetter, F. W. Twillman, Fred Rasche, Peter Muntzel, Henry Rosenkoetter, and Henry Clausmeyer, the last of whom donated two acres of land on which to build a church. A one-room log structure was completed by craftsmen from the congregation in 1851. It served as the church until 1861, when a larger brick building was dedicated to accommodate the growing congregation.
Hand-made bricks were used to construct the new building and foundation stones were hauled from a nearby quarry. In 1876, a German newcomer from Bielefeld brought a gift to the church — a bell cast in Bielefeld. Since there was no steeple on that church, a wooden bell tower was built in the church yard to house the bell. Though this church building was later destroyed by a fire, the bell survives in the present church, and, to this day, announces each worship service.A school was organized soon after the church was established, with the pastor serving as the teacher of the school in the early years. Because travel was difficult and roads were not well developed, students lived at the pastor’s house. Mr. G. A. Just, the first regular teacher, was called in 1868, and school has been conducted without interruption to this day.
In 1895, a brick one-room schoolhouse was built on property across the street from the church and was used as a classroom until 1950. The building, often called the Old White House, still stands today and is used for youth group functions, for Bible classes, and for applebutter canning in the fall. In 1970, the building received official designation as a Historic Building of St. Louis County.
Bricks for the present church building were hauled by horse and wagon from the Burlington Railroad near the Chain of Rocks Road, and the new church was dedicated on November 12, 1899. Residents of Black Jack in the early 1900’s came to set their clocks to the 6:00 PM ringing of the Salem church bell each Saturday evening, as it reminded them that there would be a church service the next day.
Salem celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1949. The congregation was growing rapidly, so in 1950 built a new school next to the church. During the years after World War II, metropolitan St. Louis expanded into the region around Salem. As apartments, subdivisions, and shopping districts replaced truck and dairy farms, Salem gradually changed from a rural to a suburban church. The school enrollment kept growing, requiring additions in 1956 and 1968. A new parsonage was also built.
In 1993, a large addition to the church completely updated the 1899 structure. The oak and stained glass interior of the sanctuary was thoroughly restored, and the balcony was enlarged. All the walls were refurbished, and the original murals were repainted. The expanded narthex includes a lounge area and large fellowship spaces. New restrooms for both gentlemen and ladies are handicapped accessible and include diaper-changing stations, with the ladies’ room having its own private gathering room. A new elevator stops at the main floor and at the lower level, which features a large fully equipped nursery. New stairs lead to the balcony, the lower level, and the new narthex. The canopied new side entrance to the church preserved the Gothic character of the original building and is convenient to the parking lot. We are thankful that there has been a church building on this Parker Road hill in Black Jack since 1851, and we pray that this renovation and addition will help us spread the Good News for many more decades.
In the year of 1999, however, we celebrated our past, present, and future as we observed the 150th anniversary year of our founding, which took place in November of 1849. Everybody in our congregation was very active this year in taking part in all of our anniversary celebration events which began in November of 1998. Our overall theme was “Sharing the Caring Christ, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Special celebration events took place in November of 1998 (with an emphasis on the past), in February of 1999 (with an emphasis on Evangelism today), in June of 1999 (with an emphasis on being gifted for today), in September of 1999 (with an emphasis on youth and our ministry tomorrow), and our final celebration event in November of 1999 (with a banquet and major worship celebration).
In 2001, the old school took on a new look. The decision was made for an addition to be built onto the back of the building to include a modern kitchen and bathrooms. Once that was completed the interior of the old school was dry-walled and painted. A new ceiling was added with all new light fixtures. Floors were re-finished and a new heating and cooling system installed. This facility is now used as a meeting room by many of Salem’s groups.
On May 20, 2012, Rev. Adam Filipek was installed as our sole pastor. He served Salem Lutheran Church faithfully, for four years until he took a call to Lidgerwood, ND.
Currently, Rev. Martin Dressler is Pastor and Rev. Alger Tormoehlen is Pastor Emeritus. The Principal of our school is Mr. Dan Schwerin.
The people of Salem continue to live up to God’s calling as the Body of Christ. In all we do, we strive to share the caring Christ; here, there, and everywhere, knowing that our past, our present, and our future are all in His hands.