Old Lutheran Church

Old Lutheran Church 2017
Old Lutheran Church 2017

Restoring the Old Lutheran Church will create an anchor that will strengthen the residential neighborhood in which it resides and the Franklin Historic District as a whole.   Franklin Preservation has thus far raised $37,000.00 of the $97,950.00 needed for Phase 1 of the restoration and has recently applied for a $30,000.00 matching grant from the Pennsylvania  Historical and Museum Commission.   You can help us restore this architectural and historical treasure and return it to community use.   



Should you find yourself standing at the intersection of Buffalo and Eleventh Streets, you’ll notice a forlorn looking building that has seen better days.  But take a good look.  The Grace Lutheran Church, known today as the Old Lutheran Church, it is considered the last and best remaining example of nonresidential Stick Victorian architecture in the city of Franklin, PA.

The church has a long rich history.  But after the last congregation dropped to a handful of people, the church fell into disuse and eventually the last remaining trustees began to seek a group to purchase the church.  When a purchaser was not found, rumors surfaced of imminent demolition.   Concerned about the potential demolition and determined to save this beautiful historic building, Franklin Preservation purchased the building on September 11, 2015 with funding from two board members and a generous citizen with ties to the founding of Historic Franklin Preservation Association and to the development and establishment of Franklin’s Historic District.

Our preservation plan for the Church calls for restoring the building in three phases.   Phase 1 Restoration Now  addresses the most pressing issues to secure the building and prevent further deterioration.   This phase includes

  • new electrical service and lighting
  • foundation repairs
  • replacing damaged structural wall framing, sill plates and damaged siding
  • Replacing broken glass in windows and securing all access doors
  • Major roof repairs and new gutters and downspouts

The estimated cost for the Restoration Now plan is $97,950.


In July of 1851, the Rev. Henry Weicksel visited Franklin while on a missionary tour.  His preaching resulted in the organization of a congregation, which was formally effected on October 25, 1851, under the title of the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In 1852 construction of a small church was begun on Buffalo Street by a group of German settlers and the church was dedicated on December 8, 1861.    Services were held in German and continued in German for many years.   During the ensuing years, services were irregular but soon enough, a growing congregation was established.  In 1885, funds for a larger church and a parsonage were collected and it was deemed wise to seek out a new and larger site  The Rev. J.A. Kunkleman laid the cornerstone  for the new church and parsonage at the corner of Eleventh and Buffalo Streets on July 25, 1886.    Incredibly, over a century and a half later, despite ownership of several denominations and an unsuccessful conversion to a single family home, the building still retains its original ‘Stick Victorian’ architecture.


Grace Lutheran Church undated postcard showing original tower
Grace Lutheran Church undated postcard

Architectural Description

 The Stick style is a transitional style which links the preceding Gothic Revival with the subsequent Queen Anne: all three styles are free adaptations of Medieval English building traditions.  Stick style came about in the 1860’s through the 1890’s in tandem with the new, light weight construction method called balloon framing. This innovative building method used thinner, lighter wood pieces that were easy to lift, carry and join with nails. Because the building materials were so light and easy to handle, balloon framing allowed for irregular and imaginative designs. Now there were window bays, towers and porches built with various angles.

The Stick style emphasized the wall surface itself as decorative ornament. Wall planes were enhanced by horizontal, vertical and diagonal ‘stickwork’ filled with various siding materials from shakes, clapboard and bead-board in horizontal, vertical and diagonal patterns. The visible stick work, similar to, but unlike true half-timbering, was merely applied decoration, having no structural relation to the underlying frame construction.

The Old Lutheran Church not only exemplifies Stick Victorian through its composition of trim and siding materials, the massing is also typical of the style. The building is dominated by steeply a pitched cross-gabled roofs and a glorious three story bell tower. The tower currently has a low pyramidal roof that replaced a steeply pitched multi-sloped pyramidal roof reaching fifteen feet in height. The top story of the tower is open and once housed the bell.

The upper portions of the cross-gabled ends are detailed with vertical, horizontal and diagonal sticks that divide into smaller triangular surfaces. A large round stained glass window surrounded again with vertical, horizontal and diagonal trim sits above three tall stained glass windows that dominates the main facade. A broad band of horizontal and diagonal siding rings the lower portions of the building and tower.  Although the building is currently painted primarily in white with gray accents, the original building would have been painted in several colors to highlight the profusion of trim and the various siding materials.

 A Church Evolves

 When historical records fall short of painting the entire picture of what happened and when, an ‘archeological’ dig will often reveal how a building evolved through the years. The Old Lutheran Church is no exception; in fact, there is enough evidence to determine the original footprint of the church and to compose a moving picture of the subsequent additions through the years. History is revealed by foundations layered like growth rings of a tree trunk.   Following are some examples that provide clues to the changes made to the church that was erected in 1886.

  • Floor beams that appear to have no apparent reason once supported exterior load bearing w
  • Clapboard siding can be found on interior wa
  • Sconces flanking a chalk board on a forgotten wall in the basement perhaps witnessed many Sunday school classes.
  • Corner boards appear mid-wall
  • Outlines of windows span between floor

The illustrations below show the evolution of the Old Lutheran Church from a true Greek Cross plan to the ramble of interloping structures of today. With the exception of the 1886 parsonage, the later additions occurred without documented dates.



floor plan showing original footprint of the church
A true Greek Cross plan.

Foundations exist outlining the original apse. A floor beam along the left wall mirrors the right wall and the adjacent foundation walls are notched indicating corners. Structural roof members retain the original roof layout. Note the two porches. The upper right hand porch is evident from the foundation. Additionally, the awkward roof seen today and the two floating corner boards at both the front and side facades indicated an open porch once that was later enclosed. The lower left hand porch is assumed, no evidence survives to document this, the assumption is made because a porch existed there through the later additions and a small entrance exists today giving access to Eleventh Street.

floor plan showing parsonage addition to church
1886 Parsonage and Social Hall

This addition fits snugly into the left ‘cross’ of the church.  The social hall doubles as a classroom and an extension of the sanctuary.  The parsonage resembles a modest two story home.  What was gained is lost by the obvious amputation of the left cross from the church floor plan.   The three large pocket doors that slide up into the wall mitigate this somewhat.   At this point the sanctuary floor is raised at the back and sloped toward the altar and the upper right hand porch is enclosed.   Again, foundations exist outlining the original manse and social hall.  Decorative roof brackets buried in the roof line along Eleventh Street indicate locations of porch columns. Buried clapboard on interior walls also defines the addition.  This rendition is documented on several postcards.   Although the sanctuary floor plan was compromised, great care was taken to blend the new harmoniously with the old.     The result was a beautiful composition which was  lost with later additions.