Photo - March 2011

zion church 2011
1417 Zion Church Road, Crockett, VA  24323



The German Congregation on Cripple Creek
 Zion Church  -  1791

      The second oldest Lutheran Church in Wythe County, according to organizational date, is Zion Church, which was established on the waters of Cripple Creek in 1791. A number of German pioneers from Pennsylvania and North Carolina, settled in this part of Wythe County prior to the Revolutionary War. Most of the earliest settlers came the normal route from the Shenandoah Valley to the western waters, however, many of those who arrived on Cripple Creek after the Revolution were those who went first from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and then came back north into Southwest Virginia. They were not only attracted by the farming bottom lands along Cripple Creek, but also by the reports of mineral deposits there, especially the abundance of iron ore.

      The people of Cripple Creek followed a pattern similar to the other settlements relative to gathering as a
worshiping and learning community, but they had an advantage that the Reed Creek settlements did not have,
namely, the North Carolina connection. The influx of Germans from Rowan County, North Carolina, including
the Sprakers, Goses, Rosenbaums, Rhudys, and Worleys, gave the settlement a unique experience from which to draw resources.


      It was through this connection that the people on Cripple Creek were able to secure the first resident Lutheran Minister in Wythe County. The Reverend John Stanger, at that time serving in Rowan County, answered the call of the Cripple Creek folks to come and be their pastor. Fortunate they were, for John Stanger was a European university-trained pastor with studies in both theology and medicine. These credentials were very impressive to the pioneers of Southwest Virginia.

      In Decemberof 1784, Stanger arrived from Germany at the Port of Baltimore. In 1787, he went to Charleston, South Carolina, and after a brief stay in Charleston, he accepted a call to minister to the churches of Rowan County. In the spring of 1790, Stanger came to Wythe County and settled on Cripple Creek. Upon arriving on Cripple Creek, he first made his home with the Christopher Spraker family, probably an acquaintance of his in Rowan County. On June 22, 1790, the year of the founding of Wythe County, the Reverend John Stanger was granted a license to solemnize marriages in the new county. Reformed Minister Jacob Repass also received a license the same day, and Stanger and Repass were the first ministers in the new County of Wythe set aside to perform marriages.

      Pastor Stanger soon gathered the people into a worshiping congregation. On January 1, 1791, the congregational baptismal book was started, thus marking the founding date of the congregation. These records, written in German, show that the first "German Church on Cripple Creek" came into being in that year as a "union house for mutually related worshipers, Lutheran and Reformed." As one of the first congregational acts, the baptismal records show that Catherine Lits (Litz), was baptized in January of 1791, and Eva Huddle was baptized in April of 1791. "On December 25, 1791, John Stanger was married to Magdalena Wampler, daughter of Hans George Wampler, Sr., and his wife Elizabeth Stephan (Steffey) of Wythe County." The Stangers had nine children.

     There is a popular legend about the humble beginnings of Zion Church. According to the familiar story, until a church building could be erected, an outdoor pulpit was improvised in the oak grove. Two locust poles were mortised between two white oak trees which stood about six feet apart This provided the pulpit and focal point where worship was held prior to the completion of the first church at Zion. The two oak trees stood, separated by the locust poles, until a storm in 1989 destroyed one of the trees. The storm was a part of the system known as "Hurricane Hugo."

     The date that worship was started in the oak grove is uncertain, but it was probably 1790 or before. The exact details of the outdoor worship site and service in the oak grove cannot be verified for documentation is lacking. This, of course, leads to typical legends common to the wilderness experience, and such legends die slowly. Borings in the two trees by the forester for Mary Kegley substantiate that the trees go back no farther than 1812. There is no doubt that the trees described above existed, only the date on which the locust poles were inserted is in question.

     The land belonging to the church was a tract of five and three quarters acres purchased from George Powers, and it was on this land that the first German Church on Cripple Creek was erected "This lot was part of 300 acres surveyed for Mr. Powers. The balance of the tract was sold to John Stanger by Powers but without reference to the church lot." On November 18, 1839, almost fifteen years after he had retired as pastor, Stanger released his interest in the church tract.

     Under the leadership of Pastor Stanger, and such lay leaders as Christopher Spraker and George Gose, the first church building was erected in 1794 and was dedicated on Whitsunday of that year At the time of the dedication of the building the congregation adopted the name of Zion Church "It was a small log structure built in the primitive style of old German Churches" according to the writings of a later pastor, James Andrew Brown. At the dedication sendee the Rev. John Stanger represented the Lutherans and the Rev. Jacob Repass represented the Reformed members.

      In an election following the organization of this congregation, the first officers chosen "were on the part of the Lutheran Church, Christopher Spraker and Henry Vaught, (and) on the part of the German Reform, Peter Spangler." At the same time, the congregation consisted of the following male members: Lutheran - Christopher Spraker, Henry Vogt, Stephen Gose, Michael Worle, Jacob Kimmerling, Henry Koch, Lenhard Litz, George Vocht, John Schupp, Valentine Worle, David Horn. George Bauer, Thomas Miess, Andrew Vocht, John Vilibe (Phillippi), and George Gose; Reformed -Peter Spangler, John Weizel, Peter Kolhepp (Cullop), William Betten, Peter Kinzer, George Wambler. George Wambler, Jr., Peter Weissle, John Hottel (Huddle), Jacob Dekert, Henry Kolhepp, and Henn Hudel.

      In the matter of the men being listed on the congregational roll, to the exclusion of women and children, the Rev. James A. Brown in 1868, wrote with "tongue in cheek," the following: "Strange as it may seem to us now they were all male members. It is not to be presumed that they were all bachelors because the baptism of their children commenced with the organization of the church."

      On December 20, 1790, John Stanger started a church school with the Spraker and Gose children, probably those of Christopher Spraker and Stephen Gose, as the first to enroll. Later they were joined by the Spangler, Wetzel, Yonce, Collepp, Earhart, Coppenbarger, Wampler, Solden, and Heckler children. John Stanger resigned as Pastor of Zion Church in 1824, but continued to be active in civic and community affairs until his death in 1848. Zion Church was next served by Jacob Scherer, who came to Wythe County from North Carolina in 1827, and served all of the Lutheran Churches in Wythe County at that time

     Above from "Beside the Still Waters", 1998, pp. 94-96, Author, Roger S. Kluttz

Zion Cemetery

Zion Lutheran Church Cemetary

Pastors, Zion Lutheran Church -1791

John Stanger                 1791-1824
Jacob Scherer                1830-1841
Gideon Scherer              1841-1842
Elijah Hawkins               1842-1844
James Andrew Brown     1846-1865
Edward H. McDonald     1866-1868
James Andrew Brown      1868-1882
John C. Repass                1884-1894
David Spangler Fox          1895-1898
Clarence M. Fox              1899-1902
Keller Yonce Umberger    1902-1906
David Spangler Fox          1906-1915
Keller Yonce Umberger    1915-1917
Aaron F. Tobler                1918-1925
Francis M. Harr                1925-1929
Marion David Huddle       1930-1938
William V. McCray           1939-1942
Rudolph F. Ludwig           1942-1945
Aaron F. Tobler                1945-1956
Aaron F. Tober (Supply)   1956-1965
Raymond L. Booze           1961-1963
Homing B. Pearson           1972-1977
Alan D. Traher                  1977-1983
Gary E. Kelly (Lay)           1984-1997


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