Press enter after choosing selection

Bethlehem Church, 1895-96

Bethlehem Church, 1895-96 image

423 South Fourth Avenue

Bethlehem Church, 1895-96
Creator: Clanfield Contractors

The history of Bethlehem Church is closely tied to that of German immigration to Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County and to the subsequent divisions within that community. In 1833 Reverend Frederich Schmid arrived from Basel, Switzerland, responding to a call for the gospel to be preached in German. A zealous missionary, Schmid organized many churches in Michigan but Bethlehem appears to have been the first. Schmid and his congregants built a small frame church in what is today Bethlehem Cemetery. A large stone now marks the location. In 1849 the congregation completed a new church in town on the northeast corner of Washington and First Streets.

In 1874, Schmid and some members broke away and formed what is now Zion Lutheran Church. The conflict arose over whether to expel members who did not pay their pledges for a new building, the old one having become too small. "For a time, there were strong feelings between Bethlehem and Zion, not known as love" said Reverend Orval Willimann in a talk before the Washtenaw County Historical Society in 1983. But today the two churches enjoy warm relations and share a common descent from Ann Arbor's pioneer German families.

Because of the split, the members of Bethlehem had to wait until 1895 to build their new edifice. It was designed by architect Richard Rasemann of Detroit, who was selected by a committee led by their energetic Pastor John Neumann. Built of native fieldstone in the Richardsonian Romanesque Style and incorporating Gothic features, it was constructed by Clanfield Contractors of Ypsilanti for $20,000. When it was dedicated in January of 1896, it was considered "Gothic with just enough variation to suit the modern eye." In 1935 an annex was added in a style similar to that of the original buildings.

No fewer than four congregations claim to be the oldest German church in Michigan but the State of Michigan has recognized Bethlehem as the oldest and placed it on the State Register of Historic Places in 1982. A State Marker was erected in front of the church in 1983 in honor of the church's Sesquicen-tennial.

Rights Held By
Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.