Augustus Lutheran Church

The Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, Pennsylvania is the oldest unchanged, continuously-used church in the United States.  Prior to 1717, when the township of Trappe was founded, area settlers affectionately named their western frontier trail head "Providence".  As Trappe's population grew, the Lutheran citizens decided to form their own local congregation rather than travel the 12 miles west to the next nearest Lutheran church.

In 1729 the congregation's first pastor, the self-ordained John Caspar Stoever Jr. began holding services in one deacon's barn.  He stayed until about 1735 before moving west to Lancaster.  The congregation united with the Falkner Swamp and Philadelphia congregations to petition Europe for actual ordained ministers, and in 1742 Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787) was persuaded by his mentor Augustus Herman Francke to answer the congregation's call.  In early 1743 they began building their church in Trappe.  The building was completed and dedicated in 1745 and named in honor of Francke.


Original church built in 1745

In about 1751, a public schoolhouse was erected on the expanse in front of the church and its first schoolmaster, Gottlieb Mittelburger, acquired the church's first pipe organ.  None of the three schoolhouses that were periodically built on the same site have survived to the present.  Nearly all of the furnishings in the church were made by local carpenters using native woods except for the pulpit, which was crafted from imported European red walnut.

During the American Revolution, Pastor Muhlenberg cautioned the congregation to stay neutral, but a number of members joined the Colonists under General George Washington anyway.  During the 1777 campaigns in Germantown and Brandywine, the old church was utilized as a barracks for the Continental Army.  The pastor's eldest son, John Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807), took command as a colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment at the personal request of General Washington.  Brother & fellow reverend Frederick Muhlenberg opposed John's enlistment until the British burned Frederick's church to the ground in front of him, and then he enlisted himself.  John was later promoted to brigadier general, serving the remainder of the war under General Nathaniel Greene.  After a brief stint as a US Senator in 1801, John Peter died in 1807. He is buried in Augustus Lutheran Church's cemetery.


Augustus Lutheran Church cemetery

Pastor Muhlenberg and his wife Ann Marie lived with their children in a house situated a few hundred yards from the church.  A permanent parsonage was built in 1836, and after many periods of modernization, it is in current use today.


Original parsonage & stable, built c. 1836.

The congregation grew steadily in the years following Pastor Muhlenberg's death, and eventually the confines of the old church became too cramped. In 1852 a new, larger church was erected out of red brick next to the old one.  In 1860 a severe storm destroyed half of the old church's roof and the congregation toyed with the idea of demolishing it altogether.  Instead, the current pastor, Rev. Dr. William Muhlenberg (another son of Henry) raised sufficient funds for repair. Unfortunately, the Mittelberger organ was so damaged by vandalism that only the case and a few pieces have survived.

During the Civil War, social unrest split the congregation politically.  The Lutheran Church's "New Measures" movement of intensely religious experience almost caused an irreconcilable rift.  A number of congregation males enlisted in the Union Army and served with distinction.  The hype of the New Measures movement ebbed as the war ended and the church regained enough of its prosperity that they were able to make some necessary renovations in 1872 to the new church.  A new tradition was decided to hold an annual commemorative service in the old church in memory of Pastor Henry.

Once again during the First World War, the son of the church's Rev. Dr. William Fegley enlisted and was killed in action in France, where he is buried.  His death prompted the addition of a veterans' memorial in the cemetery behind the church and the restoration of the old church's interior to its original colonial appearance.

In 1961 the parish house was added onto the new church for the Sunday & Vacation Bible Schools, the confirmation classes, and public organization meetings.  Starting in 1956, summer services are held annually in the old church. 


New church & parish house