Paul Kovert looks over a letter written in German nearly 140 years ago. The letter, a Bible, hymnal and newspaper seen on the table at right were uncovered buried in a wall at Immanuel United Church of Christ when brick masons were making repairs to the structure.
It was the fall of 1873 and a new church was being built in the growing railroad town of Crothersville. It was less than a decade after the end of the War Between the States and European immigrants were settling in the community.
The church leaders of a German church with the help of German brick masons, quietly and unceremoniously, placed a brick size metal box in the northeast corner of the German Reformed Church they were building at the corner of Howard Street and Kattman Avenue in Crothersville.
Last week, as brick masons were removing and replacing moisture damaged brick at the church, the metal box was uncovered.
“This was a first for us,” said brick mason Conrad Calmer who along with Tom Melton and Chester Deaton have been busy cutting out damaged brick and replacing with new. “We were all pretty excited and wondered what might be inside.”
Paul Kovert of Crothersville, who at age 92 is the oldest church member, was called to retrieve the time capsule.
Under his tutelage, the contents of the box saw the light of day for the first time in nearly 140 years.
Inside were found a Bible, a church hymnal, a copy of a church newspaper “The Evangelist”, and a handwritten letter explaining the events and the contents-all written in German.
The metal box was badly rusted through however a small padlock and key held the materials securely.
All of the printed material is in good condition and easily read.
About all that can be deciphered on the letter is “Crothersville” written in large flourished cursive at the top.
“The letter writer had remarkable penmanship,” said Kovert. “The lines are straight and letters (written with a fountain pen) all even and unsmudged.
Kovert explained that the original church, the First German Reformed Church, was located at the intersection of Main and Kattman Ave just east of the old German Cemetery.
The church locally and nationally was growing and a merger came about between the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Churches forming the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1935.
In the 1960’s the E&R Churches merged with the Congregational Christian Church to become the United Church of Christ, as the congregation is known today.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Bud Walther, explained that many immigrant churches were organizing and holding worship services in the 1800’s when the county was being settled and developed.
“Crothersville, Tampico, Wegan, Dudleytown, Seymour all had significant German immigrant populations which did not speak English,” he said. “As a result, they formed their own churches and conducted services in German.”
Many of those churches in the area continued to hold services in their native language up until around 1915 when the U.S. entered World War I against Germany.
Figuring that other members of the community may become suspicious of the church and its members if they continued holding services in the language of the country Americans were fighting in Europe, area churches began a conversion to English. Some, to further show their U.S. patriotism, began displaying American flags at the front of their sanctuaries, a tradition many churches embrace still today.
Kovert, who was born nearly 50 years after the metal box was sealed away in brick, said he hopes to find someone who can read old German to interpret what the letter, dated November 1873 and believed signed by the church’s Pastor Rev. F.G. Rodenberg, actually says.
“This is all pretty exciting but the value of the discovery will be for local church members to look over their early church history,” said Kovert. “Probably the most valuable part of the discovery is the small lock and key…which still works!”