St. John Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was founded and organized on May 24, 1871, under the German name of "Evangelisch Lutherisch St. Johannis Gemeinde." St. John is a daughter congregation of Trinity Lutheran, whose church was located near the state capital.
St. John's first church building was located at 8th and Locust Streets, and was dedicated on November 3, 1872. Prior to its dedication, the congregation resolved to call a teacher and begin the Christian Day School. Classroom space was prepared for the school in the church basement. The school opened later that year with approximately 40 pupils enrolled under the first instructor, Teacher M. H. Quehl. A problem within two years and a decision was made which closed the school for 3 and one-half years. Teacher C. A. Schroeder began the school again with 70 pupils in September 1878, and since that time the school has continued without interruption to the present day.
Only 15 years after it had been founded, the congregation began to discuss a new location. Many members began to move eastward to Dayton's Bluff. Already in 1885, the area at Margaret and Hope Streets had become the approximate center of the congregation. Three lots were purchased at the corner of Margaret and Hope Streets in 1886 at a cost of $3,600. In September of that year the decision was reached to erect a two-story school building on those lots. Classes were taught in the new building and the church basement until June 1888, when the entire school was conducted at the same location.
In June of 1889, the congregation accepted the offer made by Trinity Congregation of an undivided one-half interest in the church cemetery. The joint ownership of Elmhurst Cemetery would now involve sharing in whatever expenses would be connected with the cemetery.
The congregation was fast outgrowing its church in lower town. In April of 1889, the congregation decided to build a church on the Bluff. The new church was dedicated November 8, 1891. It had a seating capacity of about 1,400 people and it cost about $43,000. This church was erected during the booming days of St. Paul.
Between 1927 and 1947 additional lots were purchased or donated by members. The congregation then owned the equivalent of slightly over 17 city lots on Margaret and Hope Streets.
In 1946 the congregation observed the 75th anniversary, and the special anniversary offering together with the Reformation offering were designated for the school building fund. On May 16, 1950, the decision was made to proceed with the construction of a separate school building on Hope Street. The new school had four classrooms, one smaller room which now serves as the library, and a school office.
On February 25, 1964, a representative from the city architect's office declared the church building unsafe for occupancy and ordered the church closed until substantial repairs would be made to make it safe. The structural problems were too costly to repair, so the decision was made by the congregation in 1964 "that the present structure be demolished and a new structure be built." In June of 1964 the old church was demolished.
The long-awaited day of dedication of the new church came on February 25, 1968, exactly four years to the date after the old church was ordered to be closed for repairs. When all was said and done, the building program involved a total of about $640,000, which included demolition, purchase of additional property, vacation of Hope Street and other miscellaneous costs, besides new pews, chancel furnishings, carpeting, stained glass windows, and installation of the old organ. The school addition was dedicated the same day, and included four classrooms, a gymnasium, a Pioneer room, and an office.
During the history of St. John Ev. Lutheran Congregation, thirteen pastors have been installed as the shepherd of the flock, and +100 teachers are listed which includes several pastors who filled in as regular classroom teachers.
There are four cornerstones enshrined in the foundation of our church. These cornerstones reveal in outline form our history for the past 145 years. Surely the richness of God's grace is apparent in this history as He founded and kept the congregation solidly on the Chief Cornerstone, our Savior Jesus Christ.