Merrick House History Tom Woznicki, Tremont Neighborhood, Spring 2006

Zion Evangelical Church

June 25th, 2007

03.jpgLocated at the corner of W. 14th St. and I-490.  In January of 1867, forty German immigrant families living in the section of Cleveland, then known as University Heights (now Tremont), met with Rev. Stemple, pastor of West Side Church.  Many of the families had been attending Rev. stemple’s church, but with the great walking distance and increasing German population in this area, they decided to start a church of their own.  In the spring of the same year, a corner lot on College Avenue and Tremont Street was purchased for $400 so a permanent church building could be constructed.  The cornerstone was laid on May 12, 1867, marking the date we have come to regard as Zion’s birthday.October 6, 1867, was a day for double celebration as Rev. A. Bauer became the church’s first minister and began his ministry with a service to dedicate the new building.  Rev. Bauer remained with the church until August 1868 when he was succeeded by Rev. G. Bochert.  1872 was a year of expansion for the church.  The congregation purchased the track of land on the corner of Branch Ave. and Jennings Road (W. 14th St.) from Sarah and Francis Branch.  The church was moved from College Ave. to the new site in July.  At the same time it was renovated and enlarged.  At that time the church was a frame building capable of seating 600 people.  Lighting was provided by oil lamps fastened to the sidewalls with brackets.  It had a small hand pump organ in the balcony at the rear of the church.  Mr. E. A. Seidle was the first organist and was paid $25 for six months service.  In September, 1872 Mr. Hahn was hired as schoolteacher and organist for $50 a month.  In the same year the Ladied Aid Society was founded.  In November 1873 a small church was purchased and moved to the site of the church and remodeled as a schoolhouse with three whitewashed rooms and a kitchen.

 In 1874 the church joined the German Evangelical Synod of North America.  In 1927, the word, German, was dropped from the Synod title.  At that time the name of the church was changed to Zion Evangelical Protestant Church.  During this time a men’s organization called the Krankenverein (Sick Insurance Society) was formed.  In 1884, the Zion Young Ladies Sick Benefit Association was organized.

 The congregation continued to grow and the need for a new and larger building became evident.  On June 18, 1884, ground was broken and the cornerstone was laid on June 20, 1884 on the site of the former schoolhouse.  The new church was dedicated on February 1, 1885.

In 1890 the West Side of Cleveland was rapidly expanding and some members were moving out of the community.  Members liv ing at a distance found it difficult to attend church and Zion donated $1,500 in order for them to obtain a site to erect a new house of worship.  This church is the present Bethany United Church of Christ on the corner of West 41st Street and Storer Ave.

In 1897, Zion’s membership was over 1,000 and a new parsonage was built.  In 1906 a new schoolhouse was built at a cost of $20,000.  In 1911 electgric lights were installed in the church.  Rev. Benjamin Wulfman, who was selected as pastor in November of 1916, introduced the transition from the use of German to English with an occasional English service in 1916.  By 1919 one service a month was in English.  Renovation of the church was started in 1921 and completed in 1922.  During this time a well-menaing custodian destroyed the books containing the records of baptism, confirmation classes, weddings and funerals prior to January, 1888 because “they were full and of no further use.”  At this time also an English Bible was purchased for use in the church.

One of the most improtant events in the history of Zion Church was the union of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America.  On the evening of June 16, before an audience of two thousand people, the merger was consummated.

The south and west migration of members by 1941 brought up the question of relocation.  Results of balloting indicated that 94% of members were against this relocation.  Christ Eve service was held at 10:30 pm for the first time in 1945 and on Sunday, August 4, 1946 at Lakewood Park, an 11 am worship service was held with games and recreation in the afternoon.

The 90th anniversary of Zion was celebrated on May 15, 1957 with almost 600 persons attending the special service and a capacity crown of 400 attending the Anniversary Dinner.  On June 25, 1957, the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches was concluded in Cleveland which resulted in the formation of the United Church of Christ, to which body Zion now belongs.

In 1963 the Elders were requested to make a study of the future of Zion after the first plans of various highways to be built close to the church were released.  Results of the balloting of members indicated a majority preferred to continue in the current location.  The 100th anniversary was celebrated on May 14th, 1967 with a centennial supper.

The 1970’s saw an increase in crime and vandalism in the neighborhood.  It was at this time that the parsonage was torn down and a parking lot was created.  Theykey word for the 1980’s became “involvement”.  Involvement in “Food for Needy” campaigns, invovlement in summer tutoring programs for children, donations, church handicap accessibility, and other programs were initiated.

Zion celebrated their 125th Anniversary with a special worship service on May 3, 1992.  In 2000 Zion was blessed wsith a generous anonymous donation to replace the floor tiles in the office area of the School Building and back hall.  On December 12, 2000 a windstorm severely damaged the steeple and blew tiles off the roof.  Insurance funds could only repair the roof and temporarily patch the steeple.  Currently the roof and steeple are in good shape and the steeple is lit for all to see.  Many challenges continue to face Zion, both financially and in numbers of parisioners as is true with other parishes in the surrounding neighborhood.

 ****As a special note:  The Chelsea Apartments across from Zion was built in 1898 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It supposedly was the first “high-rise” in Cleveland and had the first elevator in the state.

Special thanks to Zion website, “Sacred Landmarks”, Tremont West DevelopmentCorp. for the picture.

Entry Filed under: Churches

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