Posted By Norman Gasbarro on December 9, 2010
A church building and cemetery may be found on north Center Street in Gratz that looks much as it did in the Civil War period, 1861-1865.
From a history of the Simeon United Lutheran Church, Gratz, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, we read the following:
A small number of Lutheran and Reformed people united in the year 1822 and organized themselves into a congregation. A house wherein they might worship at the time was given by Mr. Simon Gratz, free from rent….
They assembled in larger and larger numbers, until the house was too small, and many of them under God’s blessing felt compelled to undertake to build a church to worship the Almighty.
On 14 Aug 1831, the cornerstone was laid for the proposed Lutheran and Reformed Church at Gratztown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. From the beginning, the congregations remained separate, holding services usually on alternate weeks, and having separately appointed ministers.
Ministers who served the Lutheran congregation during the Civil War period were:
Rev. Dr. William R. C. Hasskarl (1809-1875) was a German immigrant who had received his Ph.D. at the University of Muenchen and L.L.D. degree at the University of Berlin. He came to America in 1857 and served the Gratz congregation from 1861-1865, most of the period of the Civil War.
Rev. August Unkerer followed Rev. Dr. Hasskarl but he only remained in Gratz for about a year. Not much is known about his service, except that the Memorial Jubilee Volume of the Danville Conference in 1898 reported that he left an “odius record behind him.”
Rev. Jeremiah Schindel (1807-1870) first began his service as a supply pastor in Gratz in 1864. He was formally assigned in 1865 following the conclusion of the Civil War and remained until his death in 1870. He is buried in the Union Cemetery in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Rev. Schindel served in the Civil War in various regiments including the 110th Pennsylvania and the 104th Pennsylvania. He also served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate representing Lehigh and Northampton Counties from 1858-1860.
It is not as easy to identify the Reformed ministers who regularly served Gratz during the Civil War. Early ministers who served the Reformed Congregation at Gratz were usually based at David’s Church in Killinger. In addition, around the 1840s a split occurred in the congregation, largely a result of a sensational movement called “new measures” and part of the membership left and established another church in Gratz which failed after a short time and eventually sold its building to the Evangelical Association. The Reformed church history does not record a “permanent” minister until the arrival of Rev. Calvin Wehr in 1905.
Simeon United Lutheran Church, circa 1977
The Lutheran and Reformed Church congregations continued to jointly use the Simeon’s Church building until 1969 when the two congregations merged into one called Simeon United Lutheran Church.
Simeon Lutheran Cemetery, circa 1883
Cemeteries were important parts of the church properties. The area to the south of the church building was originally designed as the Simeon’s Reformed Cemetery, and the area to the north was designated as the Simeon’s Lutheran Cemetery. After the aforementioned merger of the two congregations, the cemetery became known as Gratz Union Cemetery – but most of the locals still refer to it as Simeon’s Cemetery.
Around 1979, the Lutheran congregation published a history of Simeon United Lutheran Church that was written by Lynn C. Schadle. In it, the various stages of the construction of the facilities are discussed, there are pictures of the social life of the church, biographies of the ministers, pictures of many of the confirmation classes with the confirmands identified, and some early church records from the 1820s and 1830s. But one of the most important parts of this book for genealogical research was the final section entitled “Gratz Union Cemetery.” This was the first widely publish list of those buried in the cemetery. It was organized by section and row as well as alphabetical by surnames of those interred. This list was used to identify the exact burial location of the Civil War soldiers and their families who were buried in this cemetery. Over 50 Civil War veterans are buried here, most with the G.A.R. star flag-holder placed at their grave. There are also four unidentified graves on the north side in row one; each bears the G.A.R. star flag-holder. Unfortunately any record of who is actually buried there has been lost.
Today, the Gratz Historical Society has a collection of high resolution digital photographs of nearly all the grave markers in this cemetery. Many of the older stones have been worn over time and are difficult to read. Enlargements of these new photographs makes the data on the stone more easily readable. Also, a group of people at the church has been working on a video of the cemetery and a new list of those buried there. Information on that list can be obtained from the church.
Some additional pictures of the cemetery follow: