The Swedish Lutheran Church traces its origins to 1874
As the Pontiac Mills prospered and expanded in the period following the Civil War mill hands from England, Sweden, French Canada and Italy came to Pontiac Village looking for a new life and wanting to preserve what they felt was necessary for them to exist in the new world. While they, at first, lived in company houses, shopped in the company store, and sent their children to the company school, there were some aspects of life in the Pontiac Village that they sought to change. Relatively soon after these immigrants began to arrive the desire for churches of their own denomination church made itself known. This was true of the Swedish community in 1874.
A Church is Called For
In the early 1870's, workers from Sweden came to Pontiac in large numbers. While they, at first, lived in company houses, shopped in the company store, and sent their children to the company school, there were some aspects of life in the Pontiac Village that they sought to change. Relatively soon after these immigrants began to arrive, the desire for a Swedish church made itself known.
The Early Leaders
A history of the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, prepared for the 75th anniversary of the church, states, "Three leading men of the Swedes, Claes Ahlstrom, E.J. Peterson, and Andrew Johnson, applied to the state of Rhode Island for a charter to form a church corporation. On June 27, 1874...these men and their associates were incorporated." The first services of the newly organized congregation were held in a small Adventist church on Greenwich Avenue, "which, it is said, stood on the same ground as our present church." This church, the history of St. Paul's continues to say, "...was moved to Greenwood, near Gorton's Pond, where it was made into a dwelling. The new congregation held their week-day devotion at the "old boarding house in the village." Andrew Peter Magnuson, a Civil War veteran and the first Swedish immigrant in Pontiac, became a member of the church as did most other workers in Pontiac.
The Reverend T.O. Linell
The first pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church was the Rev. T.O. Linell of Topeka, Kansas. The church was still small and had to share the expenses of the pastor's salary, which was eight hundred dollars a year, with congregations in Providence and Rumford. As a result, the Rev. Linell preached at Pontiac on every other Sunday. The mill owners in Pontiac took an interest and helped support the church. We are told that, "Mr. Webster Knight provided Rev. Linell with a dwelling and gave one hundred dollars yearly toward his salary as long as he stayed with the congregation."
A Larger Church is needed
The number of workers arriving from Sweden grew and soon the small church was no longer able to contain the congregation. Once again, the mill owners stepped in. "Messrs. Benjamin and Webster Knight...were friendly to the Swedes and their church. They donated a tract of land for a church and cemetery and deeded it on March 30, 1876." Soon after, a committee, consisting of Johannes Johnson, John Jacobson, Gustaf Brobeck, Andrew Johnson, Svante Johnson, and Fredrik Svedberg, was appointed to build a church fifty feet long and thirty feet wide. The church was built at a cost of $3,051.25.
Dues & Fees
Some of the funds to support the church came from membership dues. The 1949 history says, "In those days the membership dues were fifty cents per month for each member that lived within twelve miles of the church and twenty-five cents for those who lived farther away." This system continued until 1924, when it was decided that each member should contribute according to his ability rather than pay fixed dues. Pastor Linell, who participated in the dedication of the church and cemetery on August 6, 1876 commented, "The joy that young and old felt on this day cannot be described, but only experienced by truly churchly-minded people."
The Rev. T.O. Linell, the church's first pastor, summed up his tenure of office in 1885 when he said, "The congregation has during its first decade grown quietly and peacefully...During these ten years eighty-five children have been baptized, seventy-five confirmed, thirty-one couples married, and thirty-four persons buried."
In addition, we are told, the Rev. Linell started a choir, a Sunday school, and a Summer school. The first organist was C.A. Johnson, who also owned the store in the village. He, and later his brother Richard, played for the choir for several years. The first Sunday school was held in 1875 at the boarding house on the corner of Reed and Central Streets. The "Summer School" began even earlier when, in 1874, A. Monten, a theological student, began an eight-week instructional program.
The Sewing Society
In 1874, a "Sewing Society" was organized among the women of the church with the idea of getting together to sew various articles, which could be sold to help the organization. The history of the church says, "Large sums of money were taken in at these sales, which often were held in connection with suppers." Two-thirds of the income went to the organization and one-third to missions. By 1884, there were 212 communicants and 109 children, a significant growth from the handful that first organized the congregation.
A Parsonage is built
Shortly after Rev. Linell retired and Rev. Gottfrid Lundberg succeeded as pastor, a parsonage was built. The spirit of the times was reflected in the building of the house in several ways. Dutee Arnold contributed the land, a special committee of parishioners was organized to raise the necessary funds, another committee to supervise construction, and several parishioners worked on the house. The history of the church indicates that those parishioners worked on the house. The history of the church indicates that those parisioners who were willing to help dig out the cellar received ten cents per hour for their labor. Before long, we are told, the building was ready for occupation. This house, which still stands, is located at the corner of King and Central streets.
A Parish House is needed
As the church was on the hill, a formidable distance for walkers, a parish house or hall for church activities was built closer to the village center in 1893. This is the "Memorial Hall" and it served the parish well for over fifty years. In 1923, the building was moved to face its present direction.
By mid-century, it was felt that the residents of Pontiac had automobiles and could easily attend functions at the church. As a result, they no longer felt the need for the community hall. In 1944, when the church basement was renovated and "modernly equipped", the hall was sold.
The Revs. M.U. Norberg & Gustaf Nelsenius
Listed among the early pastors were the Rev. M.U. Norberg and Rev. Gustaf Nelsenius. Rev. Norberg, we are told, "received a salary of eight hundred dollars. That the congregation appreciated his ministry was shown by the elaborate reception given him when he returned from a trip to Sweden...."
The Rev. Nelsenius was remembered by noting that he "preached mightily against external and internal sins...." Both men were highly respected in the community and were a positive force in the village during their tenure as pastors.