The History of
Washington, Missouri

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St. Francis Borgia Church

Lucile Mauntel

The history of the St. Francis Borgia Church is interwoven with the history of Washington.  The names of the first Catholic settlers  appear again in the story of the building of this city.

In wandering through the old churchyard, just east of the present cemetery, one can read the names of these pioneers engraved on the tombstones, -- old inscriptions -- German names.All the hardships and tears and hopes and fears of the struggling colonists can be pieced together from the reading of these weather-worn annals.   It is here, "Beneath those rugged elms -- The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep."

What a great deal of Catholic history was made in the vicinity of the Catholic cemetery!  Here the first small church and school was located, and it was here the log houses of the first settlers were erected.  Here, too, they gathered together socially.  Truly it can be called the birthplace of Catholicism in Washington.

It was on July 25, 1833, that twelve Catholic families left their homes at Osterkappeln and Belm, in Hanover,, Germany, and resolved to form a German settlement in Illinois.  When they reached St. Louis, they waited many days for the boat that was to take them up the Illinois river.  Finally, impatient at the delay, they boarded a boat that was ready to sail up the Missouri river.

One of the group who had read a book on Gottfried Duden's American travels remembered a place called Marthasville, so they asked the captain to put them ashore there.

When they came near the spot, the Captain said, "Here is the landing place.  But Marthasville is quite a distance to the north from the river bank.   Night is coming on, I'd rather land you on the opposite shore.  There you will find a house where you can stay overnight.  And you can be taken across to Marthasville tomorrow."  So on the 28th day of October, 1833, they landed at the little town of Washington.

They spent the winter in a smoke house near the tavern of Bernard Fricke, and cooked their meals in the open air.  They acquired land for five miles around, and built little log houses.  The twelve families were those of Gerhard Trentmann, Frederick Bleckmann, Frederick Riegel, John Koenig, Adolph Schmertmann, Gerhard Uhlenbrock, Rudolph Uhlenbrock, John Henry Buhr, Herman Schwegmann, Wilhelm Weber, John Edelbrock, and John Hustermann.

In the spring of 1834, the Rev. Father Verreydt came and celebrated Holy Mass in the little tavern, and administered to the spiritual needs of the Catholic families.  For the next four years, Washington was just a mission, visited at intervals by priests from St. Charles.  The records of the parish for these years are at St. Charles.  The first records at Washington are of the baptism of Maria Elizabeth Menkhaus on June 11, 1838, and the marriage on August 30, 1838, of Dietrich Baare and Christina Albrecht.

In 1838, a little log church was build about a mile south of Washington.   The settlement continued to grow.  The little church was enlarged, but was still too small.  It was then, in 1840, that Lucinda Owens offered four lots to the Catholics in "New Washington."

Some wanted to leave the old site and build the church in New Washington, and others wanted to remain.  To settle the quarrel, the Rev. Father Provincial Van de Velde came in August, 1845, and decided the issue by permitting the building of two churches, one in Washington, and one in Krakow.  The foundation of the church at Washington was altered, and made 120 feet shorter, a regrettable mistake, since the parish was never separated, and it soon became necessary to build a larger church.

When the new church was completed in 1846, the old log church was taken down and rebuilt at Main and elm streets, where it was used for a school.  The Rev. Father Eisvogels, who lived with the Eckelkamp family until the parsonage was built in 1848, was the first teacher.  In 1852, a small brick school house was built.

The Sisters of Notre Dame came to Washington in 1859, to teach in the school.  They lived in the little log building at first, but in 1860 a convent was erected at Main and Elm streets.  Part of this building was used for school rooms, and the little log school was moved to the rear of the new one, and was later used as a stable.

The present large church was built in 1866.  Two years later, the old church was torn down, and the bricks were used for a new school, built across the street.   It had two class rooms below, and a large hall on the second floor.  In this hall in 1873, the Dramatic Club of the parish began to hold their plays.  For a number of years only men participated in the plays.

In 1884, a large brick school house was built at Main and Cedar streets, and the hall on the top floor was used by the Dramatic Club until the auditorium of the New High School was completed, many years later.  Henry J. Bleckmann has directed the players since 1900.

In 1891, a large convent and school was erected at Second and Cedar streets.  This old building was enlarged and extended when the Hibbeler house was purchased and made into a new convent in 1917.  The school on Main street was abandoned at that time, but continued to serve for social gatherings until the fine modern high school and auditorium were completed in 1834.

In 1894, the Parish of Washington was given over to the Franciscan Fathers.  A farewell celebration was held in honor of the Jesuit Fathers, who had worked so faithfully in Washington.  Since that time, the parish has been served devotedly by the Franciscan Fathers.  The present Pastor is the Very Rev. Sabastian Krempel, O. F. M.

The days of the little log church seem very remote to us now as we view the fine big church of our present day, and the surrounding school buildings and convent.   But not only should we comment on this material progress, but also on the marked advancement made in religion and education through the untiring efforts of the Catholic Church in Washington.


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