Francis Borgia Church
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
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
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
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
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.