Archive ID: 1981-008-27

Bethlehem Lutheran Church fire

Date Created: 1918-03-28

Donor: James Fitzgibbons

Media Type: Photograph


Founded by German-Americans in 1874, Bethlehem Lutheran was the oldest church on the East Side. The original church building was 40 feet by 24 feet and built by Mr. F. Blaser, a member of the congregation. The congregation later rented out that building, seen at the lower right of the photo, as the first home of Gallistel School. A second larger church building opened in 1891. That building was 50 by 90 feet and the taller of its two spires was 160 feet high.

On Holy Thursday, March 28, 1918, disaster struck Bethlehem Lutheran. A crowd watched in horror as the church burned down. Bethlehem Lutheran was one of many Southeast Side churches that would suffer major fires that, in many cases, destroyed the buildings. Other churches that suffered serious fires included Immaculate Conception in 1894, St. Patrick in 1902, Bethesda Lutheran in 1920, Saint Francis De Sales in 1925, and Immanuel Lutheran in 1937. Fires may have been more common in churches because they were often unoccupied outside of services, making quick preventative action more difficult, and given the widespread use of candles. On Easter, a few days after the fire at Bethlehem Lutheran, the congregation resolved to build a new church and school at 103rd & Avenue H. That church opened in 1920. In 2015, over 100 years later, the final worship service was held and Bethlehem Lutheran would close its doors.

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