Many immigrants arrived at the booming lumber town of Bay City in the late 1800’s. Several Germans who settled in the south end of Bay City made the long trek downtown to worship at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church. As there were no sidewalks or streetcars in Bay City at that time, it often was very difficult, especially in winter, to travel to church and school. The need for organizing a congregation in the southern part of the city was apparent, especially to older members.
In the first meeting with their pastor, Reverend John Oehlert, they resolved to build a congregation in South Bay City, which was a very promising mission field.
The use of a small Episcopal Church at the corner of Cass and Webster was offered to them with no charge. Pastor Oehlert conducted services in German every Sunday night. A month of meeting after evening services came to fruition on March 1, 1886, with the organization of the congregation. There were all of 20 men and their families. Henry Knaak and Ludwick Heck were elected elders; Henry Heckroth, Ludwick Meyer, and Carl Schuessler trustees.
After much debate, it was resolved to build a church and school at Broadway and 32nd
street. The Building Committee consisted of the three trustees, Heckroth, Meyer, and Schuessler.
Architects Pratt and Koeppe were engaged and submitted plans for a church and school with an approximate cost of $3,000 - 4,000. Mr. John Keys submitted the low bid for the construction of the buildings and was awarded the contract, which specified the church had to be completed by Christmas.
Contractor Keys had the church and school well under construction when he discovered he had underestimated the cost and could not finish the construction at the contract price. Contractors Kircher, Weber, and Loeser, who were members of Bethel Church, finished the work. The church was built for a cost of $3,500; the school for $800.
The wood framed church was constructed with a high steeple (which was later hit twice by lightning). The interior was purposely made similar to Bethel, the mother church. The one room school was also wood framed. Both the church and school were heated by coal burning stoves.
Too much time was lost to complete the church by Christmas, and dedication ceremonies for the church and school were postponed to January 9, 1887. There were three dedication services, morning afternoon and evening. Pastor August Bendles, who had traveled from Milwaukee, conducted the evening service in English.
Sunday school, or “Christenlehre” as it was called then, was originally held in the afternoon since Pastor Oehlert conducted services at Bethel in the morning and Trinity in the evening.
The first classes began in the one room school, Monday, January 24, 1887. F. Bertling was temporarily called as the first teacher, engaged until the congregation could obtain its own resident pastor. Pastor Oehlert also continued to serve until Pastor Gustave Bergemann
, fresh from the seminary, was ordained and installed June 26.
The first pastors were called to serve also as teachers. An interesting item from the congregational meeting on October 2, 1887, reads, “The children shall not be instructed in English until they have thoroughly learned the German.”
Original parsonage, built in 1890.
The growing mission congregation soon built a parsonage, which was erected between the church and school, in 1890. The home was built by Edmund Harrison for $828.00. Bay City was also growing, as even the rails for the streetcar routes now made it to the south end, and some streets were paved with wooden blocks.
Unfortunately, Pastor Bergemann suffered a stroke early in 1892 that, combined with nervous prostration, forced him to discontinue his services for 6 months. A seminary student, Fred Bliefernicht, served the congregation during pastor’s absence.
At this time the young congregation suffered a blow which would impact it for many years. During that hot, dry summer, a fire at Miller and Turner’s sawmill burned out of control. A stiff southwest wind fanned the flames and consumed nearly 40 square blocks of homes and businesses in Bay City’s south end. Fire departments from as far away as Saginaw and Flint fought the fire. Many people were left homeless. The “Great Fire of 1892” was the worst in Bay County history.
Standing miraculously unburned were Trinity’s church and school. However, as the country was in a deep economic recession at the time, many local businesses were not rebuilt. Several members were forced to move out of the area. The congregation also lost the ailing Pastor Bergemann, who needed to seek a change of climate for his health’s sake.
The Reverend Timotheus Sauer
arrived at Trinity among the burnt remains of the “south end” in November 1892. It was a precarious time for the congregation. Pastor Sauer served the Lord with much energy to keep the young congregation together, and was left physically exhausted. Pastor Sauer prayerfully accepted a call to a larger congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1895. He was replaced by Pastor Hermann Hoffman, who unfortunately left the very next year due to poor health.
Before the departure of Pastor Hoffman, the congregation purchased a bell for the church. The bell weighed 1,200 lbs. and was cast by the Henry McShane Manufacturing Company in Baltimore, Maryland. It was dedicated September 27, 1896.
In January 1897, the Reverend Adolph C. Haase arrived. During his service the school was enlarged by adding another classroom, and calling a teacher. Also the first service organization at Trinity was founded, the Ladies Aid. Pastor Haase accepted a call to Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and was replaced by Reverend Carl F. Lederer in 1906.