A brief history of the County Line Church, Part 2
47°15’39.02” N 118°29’04.95” W
Last updated 1/20/2021 at 2:41pm
Continued from Dec. 3, 2020
Editor’s note: The previous installment ended with the arrival of 17 Volga-German families to the Ritzville area from Russia. Please also note a correction: The County Line Church is located in Adams County, not Lincoln County.
This pioneer group’s journey was a serendipitous one with multiple stops along the way. They left their home-villages of Kolb, Frank and Walter in 1878 and traveled to Hamburg, Germany where they boarded the SS Wieland bound for the United States. Their destination at this point was Nebraska, where they joined a larger group of former neighbors who had immigrated in 1876.
The years spent in Nebraska were difficult. The first three were years of terrible drought. Then in the fourth year, when the rains finally came, the locusts mowed their crops to the ground. In addition to battling the weather, these farmers were constantly in conflict with the cattle drivers who would cut down their fences nearly as fast as they could put them up.
After the difficult years in Nebraska, once again the land lure beckoned, this time with the focus on the Pacific Northwest. The group left Nebraska in March 1882, with the first leg of the journey occurring by train to Ogden, Utah, at that time the end of the rail-line. To reach Washington, the group was forced to travel by wagon train, achieving the distinction of being one of the last wagon trains to traverse the Oregon Trail, arriving in Walla Walla on August 20, 1882.
While in Walla Walla, the families met Ritzville founder Phillip Ritz, who encouraged them to settle in Ritzville, at that time a town of about 60 people. About two-thirds of the group chose to go to Ritzville with Ritz. Once in Adams County, the Russian-German immigrants found the area’s semi-arid climate and ecology (called shrub-steppe) well-suited to raising wheat, which many had cultivated in Russia.
The remaining third of the group went first to the Bickleton area, where they farmed for about 10 years. Bickleton, however, was not entirely to their liking, which led to a second move. The group left Bickleton in the mid-1890s. With land immediately around Ritzville already taken, they looked nearby to the Packard area, where land was still available for homesteading or for purchase from the Northern Pacific Railroad.
This is where the story of the County Line Church’s origins starts to come together.
The physical history of the Immanuel German Congregational Church can be traced back to Abstract of Title #11425. Originally the land upon which the Church was built was part of the land granted to the Northern Pacific for the construction of the railroad. On July 2, 1864, Congress chartered the Northern Pacific Railway with the goal of connecting the Great Lakes with Puget Sound on the Pacific, opening vast new lands for farming. To accomplish this the railroad was given 10 sections of land for each mile of rail-line built. Abstract of Title #11425 was issued for a 220-acre plot of that land.
On February 26, 1898, the Northern Pacific Railway sold the 220 acres of land to Mr. Johannes (John) Kammerzell and his wife, Maria Dorothea. On November 19, 1898 John Kammerzell and his wife granted one acre (for $1) to Mr. & Mrs. Conrad Kiehn, who together were listed as trustees for a planned German Lutheran Church. The contract for sale included the stipulation that if for any reason, a suitable building for church purposes would not be possible, said land would revert to the original owner.
By June 16, 1899, no construction had been undertaken by the Lutherans, leading Conrad Kiehn and Kammerzell, both trustees of the German Lutheran Church, to re-grant the one acre of land back to Kammerzell and his wife for $1. On June 26, 1899, Kammerzell and his wife, again for $1, granted this acre to the German Evangelische Congregational Immanuel Church of Griffith.
It was shortly thereafter that the George Amen family purchased the remaining 219 acres of farmland surrounding the acre sold to the Church from the Kammerzells, including a farm home the Kammerzells had built.
This farmstead was located approximately a quarter mile east on East Davis Road from the intersection of the Paha-Packard Road with East Davis Road. The one-acre Church plot was located adjacent to the Amen farmstead. The Amen farmstead and the Church plot were both located on the south side of East Davis Road, hence lying in Adams County, as East Davis Road in this area formed the boundary between Adams and Lincoln Counties.
On February 20, 1900, the German Evangelische Congregational Immanuel Church of Griffith granted a mortgage on the acre to the Congregational Church Building Society for a mortgage loan of $350. These funds were borrowed for the purpose of constructing a permanent church building on the acre plot.
The congregation itself was formed in 1897 and had a pastor from that date onward, but no church building. The first pastor for the church was Pastor G. Graedel, who led the congregation from 1897 to 1899. Prior to having their own church building, the congregation likely met in area school buildings or in people’s homes until around 1903 when construction of the church building was completed.
Although the exact date of completion of construction is not known, a search of the ledger book for the church reveals that the first funeral held in the church was performed on November 1, 1903, and the first baptism was held in the church on January 24, 1904, which supports the 1903 date for completion of construction.
Note: The above history reflects a compilation of facts, reflections and historical work researched and/or contributed by Dennis and Nona (Keison) Thompson, Marge Womach, Otto Amen and Barry Heimbigner.
Continuing next week.