The church was built by Protestant families of the Lutheran faith who immigrated from Austria to this country in the years 1852-53. Landing at New Orleans, these immigrants came up the Mississippi by flatboat to a spot called Willard’s Landing in Union County, Illinois, near the present town of Ware. Traveling a few miles eastward, they settled in a fertile valley which they called Kornthal, meaning valley of grain. The community was never incorporated as a village, but at one time consisted of a church, a church school and parsonage, a box factory, a grist mill, a country store and a distillery.
The planning of the church was begun soon after settlement was made and typical Austrian Betsaal (house of prayer) design was used. Austria was then under Catholic domination and Protestant churches were not allowed to have spires, nor were they permitted to have doors opening on the street. It was a plain frame rectangle structure with side doors and no steeple, 30x50 feet in size. The front entrance, the steeple and bell tower were added in 1889. The bell, weighing eight hundred pounds, was inscribed as: Cast by H. Stuckstede & Co., St. Louis. Ev. Luth. St. Pauls Kirche Kornthal A.D. 1889.
Some of the names of the organizers and first members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, all emigrants from Austria are: Peter Mayr, Johann Ecker, Kathias Reischauer, Joseph Kollehner, Joseph Duschl, Paul Peisell, Michael Hehenberger, Matthias Gattinger, Johann Haberfeller, Johann Mayr, Joseph Mayer, Michael Wismayr, Joseph Animus, George J. Stegmiller, Andreas Segsteiger, Michael Ransmeier, Marvin Gattermeier, A. Huettmeier, Johann Neidermeier, A. Bauer, Johann Pickel, Johann Gattermeier, Robert Starzinger, Joseph Wagner, Fredrich Bolte, Johann Silber, Michael Haberfellner, Johann Meyer, and Charles T. Fettinger, designer and carver of the church interior. Other members joining in the 1860’s were the Bernhards, WEbers, Sauerbrunns, J.G. Soergel, J.M. Grieb, Beiswingert, Schornberger, Durkheimer, and Mees.
The present church is the original structure finished in 1861. The interior of the church is impressive because of its unique design and the fine quality of its workmanship. The pews were handmade of native yellow poplar, complete with kneeling racks. Balconies were constructed the full length of the building on both sides. The high pulpit placed the minister on the level of the balconies.
A stairway consisting of 12 steps leads to the pulpit and its guardrail is done in graceful wood filigree. Each step represents one of the 12 apostles. According to legend, should any one of the steps collapse, then that step is the one that symbolized Judas. Painted on the altar in German script are the words, Halte Im Gedaechtnis Jesum Christum, which means “Keep Jesus Christ in memory”.
Until 1923, all services were conducted in the German language. The church was closed in 1949. In 1960, the State of Illinois passed legislation to acquire the property, repair and decorate the buildings. In 1965, the State returned local ownership to the newly formed Kornthal Union County Memorial, Inc.
The church is open daily from Easter Sunday through the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Services are held on the 3rd Thursday evening of each month at 7:00 pm.
For more information and pictures visit Southernmost Illinois History.