The Beginnings: 1792-1854:
Immanuel was founded on April 4, 1792, at which time, according to a Philadelphia County Deed still on file in City Hall, Joseph J. Miller, a Philadelphia merchant, and his wife Elizabeth transferred 96 perches of land in Frankford, Oxford Township (later to become part of the city of Philadelphia) to a group of German farmers "for and in consideration of promoting purity and Christian religion and of the sum of five shillings lawful money...as a site for a house of religious worship and a schoolhouse for the use of the German Lutheran Congregation of the township of Oxford..." This parcel of land was located on the southwest side of what is today Church Street (previously known as Pine Street) and Adams Avenue in Frankford, Philadelphia. Additional land adjoining the first property was acquired in 1796 for burial purposes. Immanuel was located at this site until 1868. We do not know what the congregation's first building looked like, although a historical sketch written in 1912 speaks of a "small stone structure." We do possess the original cornerstone, however, which is on display in the parlor of our present building.
In 1805, a new two-story building was erected on the property. It is interesting to note that the first floor was used for worship, while the rooms on the second floor were rented to the sexton for $5 per month. This structure was apparently sold and used for other purposes after Immanuel moved to Tackawana Street, and was finally torn down some time during the early part of the twentieth century. It is also noteworthy that the name "Immanuel" does not occur on either of the above-mentioned deeds, nor anywhere else until 1854.
The Pastor responsible for helping to organize our congregation is Dr. Friedrich D. Schaefer, who was at that time Pastor of St. Michaels Lutheran Church in Germantown. In 1801 the congregation in Frankford is mentioned for the first time in the minutes of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania as part of a district including Philadelphia and Germantown. In the 1809 minutes Dr. Schaefer mentions Frankford as a filial of Germantown along with Barren Hill, Merion, Whitpain, Upper Dublin and Hamilton. It seems that the mother church at Germantown was instrumental in helping groups of German Lutherans get organized at various locations.
Unfortunately, the sources are silent concerning developments at Frankford for the next several decades. However, mention is made of the fact that there was a Lutheran church in Frankford in Thomas Gordon's Gazeteer of Pennsylvania dating from 1832. In 1845 a map of the borough of Frankford surveyed by Isaac Shallcross locates a "German church" at Pine and Adams streets. And in a brief historical sketch of Immanuel written about 1885 Pastor Matthias Schimpf refers to "an interesting collection of old documents entrusted to Lewis Metzger, Esq., of Bridesburg, consisting of loose sheets of annual statements, little account books and a connected list of communicants." These documents were lost sometime since that sketch was written. We would know more about the early history of our congregation if they were still in our possession.
From 1854 on we are much better informed about what was going on at Immanuel, for it is in that year that the earliest written records of council and congregational meetings begin. The minutes of the Ministerium also mention the congregation in Frankford again in 1854, telling us that the pastor was G. F. Gaertner. He reported to the Missionary Society of the Ministeium in that year:
The congregation at Frankford I have served since June, 1853, where I preach every four weeks once, in the afternoon. More frequent preaching, at that place, I found out of my power, owing to the distance, and the very small amount contributed to defray expenses. There being services so seldom, coupled with the dissatisfaction of many members with the management of the congregation's affairs, as was to be expected, have wrought an unhappy effect so that the public worship is but poorly attended. In this congregation, I report: Infant Baptisms, 2; partook of the Lord's Supper on New Year's day, 9.