PORT BYRON — In the spring of 1894 a group of people organized a church to meet their needs, thus was born Friedens Evangelical Lutheran Church, known today as Peace Lutheran Church in Port Byron.
That church will celebrate its 125th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 18, during morning worship at 10:15 and at a reception from 1 to 3 that afternoon at the church.
Many of the families who were instrumental in planting Friedens Church in 1894 were of German descent and the word “Friedens” is taken from the German word meaning “peace.”
The Rev. Carl Ziehe was the first pastor of the church.
In April of 1895, the congregation agreed to purchase three acres of land at 20828 Friedens Road, the current location of the church building.
The exact date for the laying of the cornerstone is unknown, but according to Ila Gober, the church secretary: “It was determined to have been in late October of 1895. The cornerstone is said to contain a Bible; a copy of the original constitution of the church; a newspaper of that time; a bottle of wine; bread; silver and gold coins; and a nickel and dime dated 1895.”
In the early years of the church, pastors who served the church would travel by train from as far away as Barstow or East Moline. They were met by a church member with horse and buggy to complete the remainder of the estimated 5-mile trip.
As was the German custom, the men sat on the right side of the church and the women and children on the left.
In 1922, the congregation joined the Missouri Synod, and the church later became Augustana Synod. In 1962, the Augustana Synod merged with other Lutheran groups to form the Lutheran Church of America, which evolved into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, of which Peace Lutheran became part of in 1987.
An extensive church remodeling began in 1951 when the front wall was removed and a 30-foot extension was built with a new front entrance on the west side of the church. The church was rededicated on Nov. 8, 1953.
In 1956, an addition was constructed to the rear of the church that provided additional Sunday school rooms, a stage and room for choir robes. The new unit was called Andeen Hall.
On July 31, 1960, the congregation approved building a parsonage on the grounds where the church is located.
The church marked its 75th anniversary on Aug. 17, 1969, and celebrated its centennial year on Aug. 14, 1994.
A 1,000-square-foot, $220,000 addition, which the congregation was able to pay for in five years, was added to the church in 1999 and included an elevator, handicap-accessible restroom, enlarged narthex, office space and air conditioning. An asphalt parking lot was added in 2006.
Laurie Smith, who serves as congregation secretary, says the air conditioning of the church is “much appreciated."
"I was married on July 28, 1979, in the church and it had to have been the hottest day of the year,” she said.
Ninety-year-old Marilyn Stone, of Port Byron, recalls many of the events celebrated by the Port Byron church.
Her great-grandfather, Orville Hofstetter, was a founding father of the church, she said, and added, “Many of the first members of the church were of his family.”
“Besides it being our church home, it was all of our recreation in my day,” she said. “Growing up we had polka fests where we closed off the street by the church and we had a band.”
She said Peace Lutheran was known for its “famous ice cream socials, and we also had a food tent at the Rock Island County Fair for many years where we served homemade meals all day long to raise money for our church. When we built on to the church or did any repairs, the members did all the work, and I remember once when they were roofing the church, which is high up, one of the members fell off and broke his back.”
Her earliest recollection of attending Sunday school classes was before the addition being built, and she said, “We had our Sunday school class in the entryway, and it was very cold in there.”
Stone served as a Sunday school teacher and a Bible school teacher at the church as well as a board member.
“My husband, (the late Lynn Stone), also was a member of the church, and our four children were baptized and confirmed in the church,” she said.