One of American Lutheranism’s most historic sites was honored Saturday by the Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic.
The “Linwood House” at Washington and High streets in Gettysburg was built in 1810 with a $2,000 grant from the Pennsylvania legislature to house the Adams County Academy founded by Thaddeus Stevens and other prominent citizens.
After the Academy fizzled and the building came up for sale, the imposing mansion became the birthplace of both the Lutheran Theological Seminary and Gettysburg College, originally known as Pennsylvania College.
The institutions founded by famous Lutheran minister Samuel Simon Schmucker are the oldest Lutheran-affiliated seminary and college in the Americas.
In 1826, the 27-year-old Schmucker founded the seminary on behalf of the Lutheran church’s General Synod and became its first professor. Six years later, the fledgling school for ministers relocated to its current site atop Seminary Ridge and the college was chartered as successor to the preparatory Gettysburg Gymnasium.
After the college moved to its present site, Linwood housed the Gettysburg Female Seminary “for the education of female youth” until 1870.
During the Civil War battle, the structure was hit by an artillery shell that is still lodged in its northern wall. Like churches and buildings at the seminary and college, it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Converted to a private home, the property gradually fell into disrepair. When Carl Reuning bought it in 1932, his wife Isabel expressed her dismay that he spent $5,000 for “that old place.”
Lovingly restored initially by the Reunings, and then their daughter Jane and her husband David English, the home today is among Gettysburg’s most pristine properties.
The Englishes raised four sons in the home, all of whom were present for the ceremony on Saturday during which Jane English received a commemorative plaque from Lutheran Historical Society’s president, Rev. Stephen Herr.
Throughout their ownership of the historic property, the English family has frequently welcomed guests from both the college and seminary.
The entire seminary community held a lawn party at Linwood during 175th anniversary celebrations in 2001. When Gettysburg joined with its Philadelphia counterpart to form United Lutheran Seminary in 2017, the last regularly scheduled class as Gettysburg Seminary was held in the Linwood living room.
Society another Schmucker Legacy
The current historical society was formed in 1989 after the national merger of three Lutheran bodies created the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Its predecessor historic preservation societies date back to 1843 when the Historical Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of North America was founded by none other than Schmucker.
Through its Historical Site Recognition Program, the Society honors locales of distinction in American Lutheran history.
The ten sites previously bestowed commemorative plaques include historic east coast congregations such as Luther Place in Washington, D.C., Christ Lutheran in York, and Holy Trinity in Lancaster. The chapel at the University of Maryland was recognized as the site of the 1970 ordination for Gettysburg Seminary graduate Elizabeth Platz, the first American female Lutheran pastor.
In its tribute Saturday, the Society declared it was “delighted to recognize, honor, and commemorate this place.”
As he presented the plaque, Herr, who is Jane English’s pastor at Christ Lutheran Church of Gettysburg, noted that she had previously served on its board.
Herr thanked Jane and her late husband David for their dedication and careful stewardship of the historic property, described in a commemorative brochure as “the cradle of higher learning in Adams County and for the Lutheran church in America.”
New Seminary president speaks
On hand also for the commemorative ceremony, which would have been a much larger gathering were it not for COVID-19 crowd limitations, was United Lutheran Seminary’s new president, Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin.
A noted Lutheran church historian himself, Erwin came to head the two-campus school last month after serving the past seven years as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Southwest California Synod.
In his remarks, Erwin expressed gratitude “for this wonderful legacy of Lutheran education.” Careful preservation of the historic site, he said, “is a gift to the seminary, the college, the Lutheran church, this community and the nation.”
Erwin noted Schmucker and others were engaged in a risky venture as they founded the seminary and college. Drawing parallels to our own era, he described the early 19th century as a time of “political, economic and social challenges in which the nation was in a tumultuous era.”
“While 1826 wasn’t a good time to start a school,” he said, “at least they didn’t have a pandemic!” But now, as then, the president concluded, “We can remember with wonder what God has wrought.”