Marshfield, October 1906: Immigrants build German-speaking elementary school
By Kris Leonhardt
By the turn of the century, more than 2 million German immigrants called Wisconsin home. Large concentrations settled in Wisconsin’s southeastern and south central regions as well as the center of the state, including the lands surrounding the young community of Marshfield.
German pioneers, like most settlers of the day, held tight to the customs they brought with them from the old country. Religion played a large role in not only why they immigrated but where they immigrated as well.
Lutheran Germans were one of many religious factions that would not give in to the Prussian Kaiser when he began religious reform in their homeland. Like many other religious groups, they headed to the land of the free.
In 1880 a small group of Lutheran German pioneers met and formed a new church in Marshfield, which they named The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Marshfield and Vicinity. A church was built the next year, but new members arrived slowly, and it was not until 1885 that the congregation received a priest.
Wanting to preserve its German culture and common use of their native language, the congregation began teaching elementary classes within the church as only English-taught schools were available in the community.
As the school grew in numbers, a principal was hired, and a few years later the original church building was moved to the corner of Sixth and Chestnut to be used for school facilities.
In 1905 several additional lots were purchased, and work began on a building specifically dedicated for school purposes. In October of 1906, construction was completed on a new three-story red brick building.
The dedication of the school was an all-day affair, including two church services and a dinner and supper served by the congregation’s female members.
School lessons continued to be delivered there, strictly in German, until World War I, when the United States was at war with Germany. At that time English was introduced inside the school walls.
The school would close in 1932, possibly due to the effects of the Great Depression, and reopen in 1941. During these years the church would change its affiliation from the Wisconsin Evangelical Church to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
In 1952 a detached gym was constructed for the school, requiring the students to exit the school building to access it. When the red brick school building was torn down in 1958, the new school facility was constructed around the gym’s locale.
Today the Immanuel Lutheran Church & School continues to operate from the site developed so long ago.