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New life for 121-year-old church

Pastor Betty Starkey and Jerry Hiltner attend the Blessing of the Church ceremony for the newly restored Immanuel Lutheran Church. (Contributed) 1 / 5
This photo was taken last December when the old Immanuel Lutheran Church was moved to its new location at the Vintage Village Antiques north of West Union. (Contributed) 2 / 5
The interior of the restored village church is furnished with salvaged fixtures, including the altar, podium, altar rail, Baptismal font, and pews saved from other area demolished churches. (Roberta Olson / Osakis Review) 3 / 5
The restored Immanuel Lutheran Church now proudly stands in Vintage Village, located three miles north of West Union, on the Jerry Hiltner farm. Down the road to the east stand the relocated West Union General Store, Blacksmith Shop and Livery Stable. To the west are the farm home, the barn and farm buildings where a menagerie of animals is kept. (Roberta Olson / Osakis Review) 4 / 5
A working pump organ, with its stack of hymnals on top, sits next to the Baptismal font in the restored church at Vintage Village. (Roberta Olson / Osakis Review) 5 / 5

There is something "new" at Jerry Hiltner's Vintage Village Antiques, three miles north of West Union.

The village now includes the restored Immanuel Lutheran Church, which was built in 1897 in Reynolds Township, Todd County, near Gutches Grove, and used as a house of worship into the 1950s.

The church restoration was completed this past summer, and re-blessed by Pastor Patricia Adams of Willow River in August. A gathering of 29 people met for a Sunday Service at the village, as well as a tour of the village and a brunch. Hiltner baked the communion bread used in the service.

The church was opened again on Saturday, Nov. 10, when a couple from Parkers Prairie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a family gathering of about 30 people.

Immanuel Lutheran Church was closed in about 1959, but remained at its original location. At one time, a man used it for a workshop and storage. It was vacant for 15-18 years before it became the property of the man's niece, along with the three acres of land it stood on.

Hiltner tracked down the owner's niece, who had never seen the building, and made an offer to buy it in 2016, after the man died. By then sunlight was streaming in through gaps where the roof had been, causing the floor to rot from standing rain water.

Always up for a challenge, Hiltner made plans to have the structure moved to Vintage Village in December 2017. Anderson Moving moved the church 11 miles, and across Hiltner's frozen cornfield, in order to get it properly in place, next to the Hardware Store, and two doors east of the original West Union General Store.

The move resulted in breakage to a couple of the original windows, and the floor dropping out when it got to its permanent location.

Hiltner spent the winter of 2016-17 restoring the building, first replacing the roof, and then the floor.

Interestingly enough, few of the materials used in the restoration were brand new. They were salvaged materials, some from other former church buildings.

Wainscoting in the church proper came from the old Meire Grove School. Windows were salvaged from two different churches, and added to the original windows now located in the entryway. The inside doors were recovered from the Meire Grove Convent building.

Fixtures, including the altar, baptismal font, and podium were from a Lutheran church in Alexandria that closed 40 years ago. The original half-round communion rail was too large for this church, but is still in storage. These fixtures had been stored at Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria until Hiltner acquired them.

Pews had been reclaimed from an old area church and more recently used at Anderson Funeral Home. These Hiltner shortened to fit the small church's space. There is seating for 35 people.

Wooden folding chairs original to Little Sauk-Long Bridge Church, are kept in the entryway, and can be used for additional seating. They stand folded next to one of the original Immanuel Lutheran pews in the entryway.

The artwork above the altar is a reclaimed piece from another long-ago demolished church.

Original plaster on the two end walls of the church was saved, but the side walls crumbled in the move.

"The west side was open from window to window," Hiltner recalls.

Once the walls were restored and windows replaced, Hiltner resided the church's exterior with 100-year-old barn siding which he first scraped and painted.

Electricity was added, and six antique sconces were added to the side walls, along with two large hanging lights located above the center aisle.

Once the interior was painted, Hiltner stenciled a pale green and gold design above the wainscoting, as well as around the ceiling. The stencils were original to the restored School House.

Hiltner says the church is now non-denominational, and features items from several denominations. He has a tabernacle that was used in an old Catholic church, which can be used for Catholic Mass.

The pump organ is operable, but will be replaced with the organ that presently sits in Hiltner's home.

Vintage Village

Hiltner's Vintage Village Antiques is a step back in time. Buildings are located on both sides of the dirt driveway. On one side stand the 1918 School House, the outhouses that were moved from the West Union Gas Station to the village, the Millinery shop, which was Hiltner's grandparents' original home, and the Gypsy Wagon.

The General Store, which stood for generations on the corner in West Union, is located across the road from the school, along with the Livery Stable, Blacksmith Shop, Hardware Store, and church.

The two-story 1914 home is restored, as well. It is located across the farmyard from the barn, corn crib, woodshed and field where the cows and horses, chickens, ducks and geese, a pig, and various dogs and kittens live.

Behind the restored 1914 house is the wash house, where rain water for the laundry is heated on a wood cook stove.

The village evolved beginning in the years when the Hiltner family lived on the farm during the summer months, moving back to town in Sauk Centre for the start of school at first. Starting in 1998, they lived on the farm year-round.

Tours began to the farm when Hiltner's' children were attending Holy Family School in Sauk Centre.

They were studying pioneer life when the children told their teacher that they were living in a real pioneer house — with no indoor plumbing, and a well used for fresh water.

"It took 52 pumps on the pump to fill a five-gallon pail, and it took nine pails, morning and night for barn use," Hiltner says. Since that original beginning, a water tank in the hay mow, filled by a hose from the rainwater cistern, is used for the animals.

Since that time, Hiltner says, the village grew, and has been the destination for more than 3,900 school children over the years.

In addition to school field trips, Hiltner books group tours, including use of the house, a horse and buggy ride, visits to the shops, and a candle-lit dinner prepared on the wood cookstove in the kitchen.

Hiltner can be contacted at Vintage Village Antiques, 320-305-3672 (cell).