At the West Virginia State Farm Museum, tucked away in between the other buildings, there is a small, log church. Walking through the front door, you stop. Something’s wrong here. Unlike in a modern church, where the main entrance is behind the congregation, the pews are facing you, and there are even more seats staring down at you from a balcony. The little building probably can hold about 50 people. To your right, just beside the entrance, is a pulpit situated between the main floor and the balcony. From where you’re standing, it’s not difficult to imagine a minister delivering a fiery sermon against sin from the imposing platform. Oh, the stories that these walls could tell…
Zion Lutheran Church was established in 1812, though the first church wasn’t built on Broad Run Creek until 1818. The land on which it was built was donated by Abraham Roush to the German Congregation of Mason County. According to most records, this was the first Lutheran Church west of the Allegheny Mountains, though the one currently at the State Farm Museum isn’t an exact replica. The original church had no windows, and only one door. If the worst were to happen, and someone would attack the church, the singular door would have been easier to defend than multiple openings. The men would have barricaded the door, and the women and children would climb to the balcony, safely above any gunfire. As the record stands, this measure was never put to use.
The first pastor at Zion was the Rev. Paul Henkel, a friend of the Roush family from their time in the Shenandoah Valley. Convinced to visit Mason County in 1806, he began preaching at various homes in both English and German. Henkel is famous within Lutheran history for establishing at least 29 congregations, two of which were in Mason County.
Later, two other churches were established using the same building. In 1834, Rev. Francis Dutton organized the first Presbyterian Church in Mason County. Two years later, in 1836, Rev. Jacob Rinehart organized the United Brethren. All the while, the Lutherans were also using the building. Sadly, war would soon disrupt the peace on Broad Run.
In 1861, with the secession of the state of Virginia, the Civil War went into full swing. This forced our area into an awkward position, one which eventually led to the creation of West Virginia. However, Virginia was not about to just let us leave. In August of 1862, they sent General Albert Gallatin Jenkins to terrorize the Union forces in western Virginia. I’ll get into more specifics on his raid next week, but for now, suffice it to say that he ends up on Broad Run Creek. While there, five of his soldiers died under unknown circumstances. All that is known is that “they were given a Christian burial on the right side of the church” in unmarked graves.
Luckily for us, there was only one church along Broad Run at the time. This means that in September of 1862, five Confederate soldiers were given a Christian burial by Lutheran Pastor John W. Miller on the right side of Zion Lutheran Church. Sadly, their graves were left unmarked, even after the war.
In 1895, Zion Lutheran relocated to a new building slightly up Broad Run Creek from the old, where they still hold services. The old building was then converted into a barn, hence the nickname, and eventually, the whole structure began to rot. When it was proposed that the church be moved the State Farm Museum, they found that the logs were too far gone, and it had to rebuilt from scratch. Thankfully, there were old photos and an architectural drawing to help in the reconstruction. Today, the church is still occasionally used for services.
Information for this article taken from The Lutheran Church in Mason and Jackson Counties of West Virginia and the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.
Chris Rizer directs the Mason County Historic Preservation Society which can be found on Facebook.