By Steve Ellingboe
Editor Emeritus, Community Spirit
The historic South New Hope Lutheran Church in the Town of New Hope is now officially on the State and Federal Register of Historic Places. The milestone was celebrated by friends and neighbors of the church at a gathering and open house on Sunday, July 10. The designation recognizes the church for its historical and architectural significance and its cultural importance to the New Hope area.
Achieving the distinction was “a lengthy and arduous process,” according to South New Hope Church and Cemetery Association President Ardie Stoltenberg, who addressed the group on the lawn of the church. The application process began in 2018 and included much documentation and a formal hearing before the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Official approval came in late 2019, but the formal celebration was delayed until this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The July 10 open house included refreshments, tours of the church, and music by New Hope entertainer Jim Hotvedt, but the centerpiece of the program was a presentation of the plaque from the Historical Registry by State Representative Katrina Shankland. Following the formal presentation, author and historian Michael Cooney concluded the program with a talk about the “Pioneer Churches of Wisconsin,” a category that includes the South New Hope Church.
Built in 1889 at a cost of $1,375, the church was originally chartered as the New Hope Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. According to the State Historical Society, Wisconsin was a popular destination for Norwegian immigrants throughout the 1840s and 1850s, and by the late 1860s, more than half of all Norwegians in America were living in Wisconsin. In fact, six townships in Portage County, including the Town of New Hope, were composed entirely of Norwegian immigrants, according to the historical society, and the church served as the area’s religious and community center,
Acknowledging the church’s historical architectural significance, the society said the building is “an excellent representative of traditional rural church design with modest Gothic Revival styling as seen in its steeply pitched roof and pointed arch windows with stained-glass detailing.” The society also noted the church’s “well-preserved interior, which features delicate spindlework detailing, a full-width balcony, and pointed arch transoms with hand-painted, Norwegian Bible verses.”
The South New Hope Lutheran Church property, which is located at the southwest corner of County T and Trout Creek Road, also includes two adjacent cemeteries, one of which dates back to the 1850s, 30 years before the church was built.
Although the church has not served an active congregation since 1967, the historic site is now maintained by the South New Hope Church and Cemetery Association, a group of dedicated volunteers whose stated mission is “to maintain, restore, and improve the church and cemetery with plans to become a social gathering center in our community.”
The group holds regular work days and hosts pie socials, open houses, and other events throughout the year. The historic building is also available for weddings, family reunions, and similar events. For more information about renting the church, please contact association member Marshall Lysne at (715) 824-2347.
The Jensen Community Spirit is mailed at no charge to property owners and residents within the Tomorrow River (TR) School District. Residents outside of the school district that have students attending the TR Schools will also receive issues at no charge. Gift and other subscriptions to the Jensen Community Spirit are welcome and can be mailed to addresses in the continental United States for $30 for a one-year subscription. Subscriptions are not refundable but may be transferred.
Subscriptions delivered outside of the continental USA will need to be quoted for additional shipping costs.