A new St. Paul's is built in 1916

By the turn of the century, the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, commonly called the Swedish Lutheran Church, had been enlarged and renovated. A growing congregation, feeling that the 1876 church needed changes, wanted to modernize and make the church more comfortable. The movement began when Rev. T. O. Linell was the pastor, and continued for a number of years.

The Expansion

In 1897, under the guidance of Rev. K. N. Rabenius, the church was expanded to include a room on each side of the altar. At that time, steam heat, electric lights, and new windows were added to provide the church with modern improvements and comforts. The one item that aroused the most interest was the acquisition of a new bell. The 1951 church history informs us that the old bell was sent to Upsala College in New Jersey. The old bell was precious to many and had its own story to tell of the dedication of the early church members. The story of its history relates, "It is said that Claes Ahlstrom sold his cow in order to buy this old bell for the church."

Bearing the cost

The cost of improvements amounted to $5000. Donations by some of the leading politicians and wealthy citizens helped, but it was the society and members of the church organizations that raised the money to pay off the debt. The names of donors and the amounts given included: Governor Aram Pothier ($15.00), Senator Nelson W. Aldrich ($25.00), Senator George Peabody Wetmore ($50.00), and Mr. Robert Knight ($200). The politicians involved, all very wealthy men, were made aware of the plight of the church by Robert Knight, a large contributor to political campaigns and one of the most influential mill owners of the day.

The Reverend Rabenius

The pastor during this period of expansion, K. N. Rabenius, was a very energetic and dynamic leader. In addition to his pastoral duties, he found time to serve as a representative in the Rhode Island General Assembly. His twelve-year tenure as pastor of the Pontiac church ended abruptly in 1909 when the forty seven year old clergyman was stricken and died. The church history tells us that his funeral was well attended by members of the legislature, friends in the community, and nearly the entire four hundred and seventy six members of the congregation. His last words were, "Tell the congregation that I have always believed what I have preached to them. Ask them if my sermons are to bear any fruit among them for eternity."

The Fire of 1914

Five years after Rev. Rabenius' death, a fire, probably caused by faulty wiring, set the church ablaze. The Reverend Abel Ahlquist had become the pastor in March 1914, and the church seemed destined for peace and tranquility. Nine months later Rev. Ahlquist led his congregation in prayer as they gathered near the smoking ruins that once was their church.

The Reverend Ahlquist made an eloquent plea for rebuilding the church and almost at once work was begun. By September 1916, the new church was completed and ready. Dr. Ahlquist commented in 1917, "The will to sacrifice in the congregation during the past year has been especially commendable. ...All have worked for the welfare of the church."

Paying for the new church---10 cents a week

The congregation received $5,370 in insurance for the loss, B. B. &R. Knight Co. donated $1,000 and a loan of $8000 was secured from a bank. The church history notes, "Large sums were gathered through a plan by which each member over eighteen years of age gave ten cents per week." Besides this, we are told, "church organizations contributed substantial sums...." The simple, semi Gothic type church was built by the Kingston Building Firm of Providence. When this frame structure was built, it had a seating capacity of about three hundred and fifty. The white building features a belfry with a large bell and a spire "crowned with a gilded Celtic cross." This new church was formally dedicated on May 20, 1917 and interested observers came from many areas of Rhode Island.

For many miles around, St. Paul’s tall spire and gilded Celtic cross have been a recognizable landmark reminding us of the time the church was built in 1917. Photo Don D’Amato 2006

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