The first German Lutheran immigrants, the Schmidt, Martens, Frost, and Westfahl families, reached Crystal Lake in 1863. The Rev. Henry Schmidt, Sr. of Dundee conducted the first Lutheran service in the old “Brick Block” on Virginia Street in 1869, with nine families attending. For about a year, Rev. Schmidt conducted a service every two weeks. The German Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation was formally organized by 36 voting members on Dec. 26, 1870. The congregation felt confident enough in increasing numbers to call a resident pastor, the Rev. H. G. Schmidt, son of the Rev. Henry Schmidt, in 1875. In 1876, more concerned about the education of their children than a permanent church building, the congregation erected a school house 20 x 36 feet at the cost of $575. A tuition of 75 cents per month was established for children whose parents were not congregation members. The congregation chose to build their school on McHenry Avenue near Church Street because it was “between two Lutheran settlements, one of which is near the railroad, the other near the lake. In 1877, the abandoned Methodist church was acquired, moved to their property on McHenry Avenue, and equipped with a steeple and vestry. An eye-witness account of the 1877 dedication reported over 500 in attendance and provided a description of the interior:
“ … built in true old-fashioned German style. The door is in the cupola in front and the entrance is arranged so that as one enters, a stairway on each side that leads to the gallery, where the singers and musical instruments perform their part of religious exercise. There is on the back part of the church a building where the minister prepares for service with steps out of it to the pulpit, which is raised high above the audience.”
The Rev. H. G. Schmidt served the congregation until 1880. Rev. Karl Schmidt, brother of the first Rev. Schmidt, served from 1883 until 1897. In 1885, a pipe organ was installed in the church. In 1890, Immanuel became a member of the Missouri Synod.
By 1895, the church was proving too small for the increasing numbers. The congregation decided on Easter Sunday to purchase four lots for $450 to build a new church. The plans were made by Architect Ganger and the contract to build a new church was awarded to John Lange on the 10th of June for the sum of $5,000. Interior furnishings were to cost an additional $1,400. The cornerstone was laid June 30th and the church was dedicated Nov. 10, 1895. A new church bell weighing one ton was purchased and the old bell traded in on the deal. William Pinnow was elected to serve as the congregation’s first treasurer in 1901 and served until 1934. Pastor Gardus Bertram replaced Rev. Schmidt in 1897 but left in 1904. The Rev. F. G. Kuehnert was installed as pastor in Dec. 1904. The church interior was remodeled in 1903 at a cost of $1,300.
In 1907, electric lights were installed in the church. A new two-manual organ was purchased in 1914. In 1915, gas was piped into the school kitchen. English language worship services began in 1915 once a month on Sunday evening but German services were still conducted every Sunday morning. Services were only in German until 1915. In April 1917, the congregation adopted a resolution opposing the entrance of the United States into the European War and sent it to their Congressman. Twenty-five men of the congregation served in WWI, 23 of whom returned. Two died of the influenza epidemic.
1920 provided the occasion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the congregation. Services were held in the morning, afternoon, and evening of Sept. 19, the first two in German and the last in English. Four of the eight former pastors and teacher Hicken returned to participate in the celebration. Pastor Kuehnert compiled a history of the church containing pictures of the officers, former pastors and teachers, and the first church and school and current church, and wrote it in German. The Herald translated the text. Starting in 1921, two worship services were conducted each Sunday, one in German and the other in English. In June 1923, the church was closed for about 3 weeks for interior redecoration. The work was done by C.H. Beigel of Chicago, who specialized in church redecoration. The walls were painted in “soft shades of tan,” while the ceiling was painted in an ivory color. The lower side walls were painted in a marble effect. The altar niche was canvassed and then painted in a “clouded effect.” The pews and woodwork were refinished in ”natural shades.” Beigel painted on canvas “Christ the Good Shepherd” which was hung to the left of the altar. The painting was 7 feet wide and 12 ½ feet high. The cost of the work was in excess of $2,000. In 1930, a resolution passed requiring the voter assembly minutes be kept and read in both German and English. On April 23, 1933, a homecoming and reunion of all confirmands between 1905 and 1933 was held. A program that included the names of all by class year was published. More than 700 invitations were sent from coast to coast. More than 50% of those confirmands were present. The Rev. Kuehnert, who had confirmed them all, spoke at the service. In 1934, Pastor Kuehnert left and Pastor Gehrs was installed.
The church was again redecorated in 1940 at a cost of $1,000 and new lighting fixtures were installed for $600. In 1944, the congregation voted to re-build and modernize the pipe organ for $4,000, which was accomplished in 1945. The choir loft was also remodeled. Also in 1945, the Board of Trustees accepted several large gifts for the purpose of remodeling the chancel with a new altar and pulpit. Other projects included modernizing the church and school heating plants and floor covering for the church nave. The congregation observed it 75th anniversary and the booklet published for the occasion cited these statistics: 350 families, 165 voting members, 651 communicant members, 932 total membership, and 50 children enrolled in the school.
In 1949, Pastor Gehrs left and Pastor Arnold Wessler arrived. The Sunday service schedule was revised to offer English worship services at 8 and 11 a.m. and a German service at 9 a.m. Walter Krause was hired as the congregation’s custodian. Pastor Wessler left in 1954 and was replaced by Pastor Fred Duever. German services were discontinued in 1954.
1957 brought big changes to the look of the church. The congregation started a program to remodel the organ, the balcony, and church interior, to the cost of $30,000. On the outside, the steeple changed from brown to gray and white and the entrance to the church was enclosed and remodeled to include a cloak room and a cry room. Pastor Duever left in 1959 and was replaced by Rev. Leroy Vogel. After serving part-time since 1954, Mrs. Arlene Blanken was hired as the congregation’s first full-time secretary in 1959. An 8-foot high and 4-foot wide fluorescent lighted cross donated by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Bertram in 1959, shining during the night, was added to the height of the steeple 125 feet above the ground. Pastor Vogel left in 1964 followed by Pastor Harre’s sudden death. The Rev. W. Gail Rabe became pastor on November 22, 1964 and a building committee started to consider the need for more facilities for church use.
1966 brought many changes to the church. The church building underwent a complete renovation including a new ceiling, painting, wall-to-wall carpet in the nave, excavating and finishing of the church basement, and other miscellaneous improvements to the cost of $34,291.68. An anonymous gift was received to permit the installation of new pews.
Planning for the 1970 congregation centennial began in 1967. In 1968, total congregation membership reached 2,000 for the first time. In 1969, church properties were valued at $1 million, including parsonages which haven’t been included in this article. The congregation resolved to call an assistant pastor and after 20 years, custodian Walter Krause retired.
The centennial celebration in 1970 consisted of a whole year of special services and events. Leo Krumme, teacher and principal between 1946 and 1953, chaired the centennial planning committee. Other committees worked on displays, a history booklet, and the banquet. The biggest weekend came in June and included a pageant at Veteran Acres, a reunion service in the Crystal Lake High School field house, and a reunion picnic at Veteran Acres. Many former members, teachers, and pastors returned. Rev. Vogel came back as guest speaker and Victor Freudenburg came back as guest organist. The whole congregation participated in the many scenes of the pageant, which included re-enactment of Pastor Kuehnert’s arrival, a 61-year old wedding ceremony, Christmas yesterday and today, the founding of the school, and the school fire, as well as staffing a choir and barbershop quartet. A jubilee service at the end of the year featured a display of historic mementoes, including a translation of Florence Bohl’s personal copy of the July 5, 1895 issue of Das Volksblatt, a German language newspaper published in Woodstock, describing the cornerstone setting of the new 1895 church. Also in 1970, Pastor Ed Bergen was called as assistant pastor.
1978 took Pastor Rabe to another church and Pastor Bergen became senior pastor. A year later, Thomas Tews became assistant pastor.
The church was completely renovated again in 1992 and re-dedicated in November 1993. In 1994, Immanuel received the memorial gift of farmland (now known as the Bohl Farm Marketplace) from Florence Bohl, after her death in December 1993. This gift had been planned since 1981. The Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce honored Immanuel’s 125th anniversary in 1995 with their holiday ornament. Over the summer of 1998, the bell tower in the historic school was refurbished in addition to a new roof. Also that year, Immanuel sold 42 of the 60 acres on Route 14 that was the Bohl farm to Minneapolis developer Ryan Companies for nearly $245,000 an acre. Immanuel then purchased 60 acres of land further west along Main Street on Route 14.
The congregation celebrated 130 years on October 28-29, 2000. During services that weekend, the congregation heard a lot about their history through a taped interview with Lillian Buhrow, Immanuel’s only 90-year member at that time. In 2001, the school was educating about 380 students from as far away as Carpentersville, Island Lake, and Woodstock. City council granted permission for Immanuel to use four mobile classrooms for five years until a new school was built. The one mobile building with four classrooms was allowed to sit in the center of Immanuel’s property. Legat Architects of Crystal Lake were hired to begin planning a school building for the Route 14 site.
On May 19, 2002, ground was broken for The Pointe Outreach Center behind Target on the Bohl Farm Marketplace (5650 Northwest Highway). The Pointe opened in February 2003 on the remaining Bohl property. Many Bohl mementoes are on display in The Pointe. In addition to its outreach services to the community, The Pointe is available for rent to the public and businesses.
The Crystal Lake city council voted in 2005 to allow Immanuel to split the 60 acres further west into 4 lots, where plans were to build a church and school, a possible senior housing complex and two lots for possible commercial use.
On June 4, 2006, Rev. Larry Tieman replaced Pastor Bergen who retired after 35 years at Immanuel. Ground for the new school was broken in July 2007. It was to be built using tan and gray neutral tones, would include 13 classrooms, a science lab, multimedia room, a 6,887 square foot gymnasium featuring a regulation-size basketball and volleyball court designed to ISHA standards, a 3,560 square foot common area that would hold church services, a 1,173 square foot music/choir room designed with acoustics in mind, and a playground and sports fields outside. The plan was to sell or lease the old school building when the new school was finished. The new school at 300 S. Pathway Court opened in Sept. 2009 with 207 students. The entire building is energy efficient and designed to be expandable. The gym is twice the size of the old school’s. The science room is top-notch, with a fume hood. The art room is state of the art, with a kiln. The library is 2,053 square feet. Adjacent to the library is a 1,055 square foot computer lab that can house up to 36 computers for student use. An archive room in the new campus was to hold historical documents being collected about the church and the school. A dedication ceremony was held at 300 S. Pathway Court on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. The modular classrooms were sold and removed from the historic campus. The new school was Phase I of a planned 60,056 square foot campus. Phase II, the new church, was to follow in 2 to 3 years. In the meantime, the old church was still to be used for special services, such as weddings and funerals, and Saturday evening services. The new sanctuary was to be 2 to 3 times the size of the historic church, with two levels and the capacity to seat 1,000 people.
On June 2, 2010, 21 eighth grade students were the first graduating class at the new school. Immanuel planned to sell part of its 60-acre property along Main Street to finance construction of a church on Pathway Court but it hasn’t been able to sell the vacant land. So it listed the 9,100 square foot historic church and two houses for sale in 2012 for $1.34 million. They hoped to lease or sell it to another church as preserving the structure was a high priority. The 38,000 square foot school was listed separately for $1.52 million. Faith Lutheran High School leased the school in 2009 but purchased it later. Faith closed its doors ten years later.
In 2016, church membership was 1, 629 souls and the school enrolled 228 students. As of 2019, on the eve of Immanuel’s 150th anniversary, Pastor Tieman is the senior pastor and 3 Sunday services are held in the school’s common area and a Saturday evening service in the historic church. Ed Bower is the school principal, and according to Immanuel’s website, 233 students and 13 teachers spend their school day at Immanuel.
What does the future hold as Immanuel celebrates its 150th anniversary?
Postscript – This is a selective history/chronology of the congregation’s church and school from the beginning to the present (written in 2019). It concentrates on the church and school buildings and some of the more prominent pastors and teachers. It does not discuss auxiliary buildings, such as parsonages, its organizations, such as Sunday School or Ladies’ Aid, nor its policies. The historic school and church on McHenry Avenue are being sold to a developer, who intends to convert them into apartments (beginning in 2020).