Slide 1

Zion Lutheran Church

Zion Lutheran Church

The congregation of Zion Lutheran Church first worshiped with the members of the German Reformed Church (now the Salem United Church of Christ) at S. Third and Chestnut Streets. Zion’s congregation split from the German Reformed in 1814 when its first church was erected on S. Fourth Street, the same site of today’s church. The first Zion church was then constructed in 1815 and was designed by Stephen Hills who also designed the first PA State Capitol Building built in 1822. In 1816, the Zion congregation sold its interest in the Chestnut Street church to the existing German Reformed congregation thereby consummating the split. In 1828, noting that Zion church’s architecture needed to be improved, a central steeple was added. While its services were spoken in both English and German, another congressional split occurred in 1843 when the German members left and founded the German Lutheran St. Michael’s Church, now situated on State Street In 1838, the Zion Church burned to the ground, an event that was not uncommon to mid-19th Century Hamburg buildings. The church was then rebuilt in 1839 just in time for the U.S. Presidential Convention of December 1839.

zion lutheran church

Library of Congress. Zion Lutheran Church in 1855.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was the familiar political slogan of the 1839 U.S. Presidential campaign. The campaign began when William Henry Harrison and John Tyler were nominated as the Whig candidates form President and Vice-President. The event was held at the new Zion Church because it had the largest interior space at the time in Harrisburg for this major accommodation. Thew Whig Convention made Harrisburg the smallest city to ever host a U.S. Presidential convention. Both men won and both eventually became President. The Church was altered in the late 1860’s from its 1839 appearance to that which essentially is seen today.

During the Civil War, Zion played a significant role on the home front. The church served as a rest station for soldiers, and Pastor Charles Hay organized the members to volunteer in the building of fortifications around the city anticipating a potential attack by the Confederates. In 1867, due to wear and tear and an increase in membership, the building was expanded and altered. The steeple was moved from the front and center of the building to its present location, and the front narthex was added along with the choir loft. The windows of Zion’s sanctuary are the third type to be placed there. The original clear panes of 1839 were replaced in 1867 by green stained glass (still present in the narthex). The other stained-glass windows were installed between 1902 and 1927. During the 1990’s, Zion joined other downtown churches in hosting an overnight shelter during the winter months. The congregation also contributed to the building of Susquehanna Harbor Safe Haven, just off of North Cameron Street, where the winter overnight shelter is currently housed. Members and friends of the congregation volunteer in a variety of ways, including singing in the choir, reading Scripture, assisting with communion, ushering, and caring for the altar.

Banner photo courtesy Jeb Stuart.