Some of the first families in the area were the Stephan Family (which came in 1836), Mahr Family (1839), Jacky Family (1840), and Noe Family (1842). Some years later, Germans known as the 48ers, started arriving. These inlcuded the Fink (1846), Franke, Rodel (1847), Griese (1848), Berg, Baum (1849), Honadel (1849), Meyer, Knoell (1850), Kling (1851), Immisch, Dittmar (1852), and Rohr (1853) Families among others.
The following the history of Painesville as researched by Beulah Meyer of the Meyer family and Meyer Apple Orchards. This is posted here with Beulah Meyer's permission.
Many people are curious about the quaint, little meeting hall that is nestled in the grove of spruce trees. We have done a lot of research on it.
This area was settled by predominately German families. Since churches were far apart, many went to whatever church was near them. St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation on Oakwood was just such a church. It was officially organized on October 2, 1843, but members had been meeting in homes before that time. The church records go back to 1849. In 1849 St. John's joined two other congregations to form the Wisconsin Synod, which is the most conservative of the many branches of the Lutheran church. One of the early pastors what was sent to them from Germany was Paster Gustav Rausch. It soon became evident that Pastor Rausch was too radical for the congregation.
After two years the congregation split on doctrinal matters and half the congregation followed pastor Rausch to for the first Christian Free Church of the town of Franklin and Oak Creek on January 1, 1851, leaving only 16 members at their families at Oakwood. The "Frei Gemeinde" as it was called met at the log school one-half mile south of Ryan Road until they could build a meeting hall.
It was easy to understand this move. Many people of the time had come to escape religious and political persecution. They brought along principles of the independence of the congregation and freedom of through for the individual. The Free Thinkers of Painesville formed the first established Frei Gemeinde in the United States.
There was no specific creed or beliefs that everyone must accept. The group stressed the independence of the congregation. At one time, Wisconsin had 30 congregations but the one in Sauk City is the only one left. No one book was used as authority of beliefs. Individuals could interpret God as they desired and could develop their own concepts of immortality. Atheists, Christians, and Agnostics were members. Nature was appreciated. A walk in the forest was as good as going to church.
On February 7, 1851, the First Free Christian Congregation bought 1 1/8 acres of land from Michael and Margaretha Jacky for $60.00. They started the cemetery that same year (1851) and began to build the meeting hall which was completed in 1852. The Jacky's who both died in 1876, are buried in this cemetery.
Trustees at the time the congregation was formed were: Johann Gottfried Franke, George Will or Wild, George Baum, Wilhelm Wetteroth, George Honadel, Zacharias Baier, Johann Hess.
The congregation hired Henry Roethe, a carpenter formerly of New York, to build a meeting hall. With the help of the group, he built a one story Greek revival style meeting hall, with a gable roof. It was 24' by 36'. The building originally rested on four large field stones.
It was decided to name the meeting hall after Thomas Paine as they admired his teachings. He was a patriot who believed in God but disagreed with many of the accepted church teachings. Through an error by the sign painter, Painesville was spelled with a "y" on the first building. This caused some confusion.
Although Pastor Rausch led this group to break away from the Lutheran church, it soon became apparent to them that he was a man of narrow vision, characteristic of the German religionists, and he was dismissed.
The first speaker was Dr. Robert Glatz, a former Catholic priest from Hanau, Germany. He served until his death in 1856. In 1856, Christian Schroeter was elected as spiritual guide. He served until 1890. He was a Lutheran pastor's son and left an important pastorate in Germany in 1854 because he could not conform to the religious trends of the day. He bought a farm in the old town of Lake which is now part of Mitchell airport.
He farmed week days and served as spiritual guide on Sundays. Though his home was only 7 ½ miles from the meeting hall, it was a long way in the days of horse and buggy when roads were often muddy. Fred Meyer and Selma Franke were married by him in a Free religious ceremony.
The inside of the meeting hall was much as it is today. The quaint hand made pews, oil lamps, 1848 cordwood stove with pipe meandering toward the chimney, hand made panes of glass. Old time photographs and steel engravings of Thomas Paine, Dr. Glatz, Benjamin Franklin, and others still grace the walls. A typical New England picket fence surrounded it at first. The meeting hall, platform and pews were built for $370.00. It seated 100 at the most.
The meeting hall was important to this area in Civil War days. Unfortunately all early records and the organization's library burned when there was a fire at the home of the secretary, Karl (Charles) A. Franke. It is rumored that Civil War soldiers or "Boys of '61" from this part of Milwaukee County used the Painesville meeting hall for their mailing address. Painesville post office was not established until 1868. Because of their feelings on freedom, it is said that this meeting hall was a station on the underground railroad helping slaves escape to Canada and freedom from the South. It is even said to have been a first aid station and mail distribution center for wounded soldiers.
The group entertained many well-known speakers and patrons. Carl Schurz was said to be a speaker on several occasions. They had talks and discussions on many subjects. A book belonging to Charles August Franke contains sermons for each week of the year as members often conducted meetings.
Music was a very important part of their life. Though we couldn't photograph them because they were in a vault, the song books were hand-written. The small cemetery on Howell just north of Drexel (about 7700 block) was called the German Reading and Education Burial Grounds and was part of this group and set up a trust for maintenance of the meeting hall.
Over the years that the group was active it only got to a membership of 37 families, but one must take into account that 8 or 10 families left to settle in Minnesota.
The first officers were:
President - George Wild; Secretary - Henry Tupehorn; Treasurer - Johann Gottfried Franke.
The constitution of the 1901 (50th anniversary) allows the hall to be rented for any kind of meeting, political, or social but not religious. Every member has a right to be buried in the cemetery.
Officers in 1901 were:
President - Henry Zimmer; Secretary - Leo Goetsch; Treasurer - Fred Meyer; Speaker - Michael Biron.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary in 1901, a special celebration was held on August 18, 1901. A special train on the St. Paul Railroad came from the Milwaukee Union Station leaving at 9 a.m.
The people were met at the Oakwood station by 20 horse drawn wagons to be taken the last two miles to the meeting hall. Afterwards all went to the Adam Hauerwas picnic grove Â¼ mile south of Highway 100 on County V (13th street). There was a small lake that was filled in when 41 was built. They even had a 12 piece band. This group had many parties and social events.
Painesville withdrew from the Bund of the Free Thinkers in 1899 saying they would prefer to be alone. Occasional meetings were held until 1905.
In November of 1935 it was decided to raze the meeting hall, but an architect, Alexander Guth, who was making a survey of historical buildings in Wisconsin for the government, thought it was worthy of preservation.
After his report to the descendants of the original owners, the Painesville Memorial Association was formed to restore the meeting hall. The restoration began in the spring of 1937 and the meeting hall was rededicated July 19, 1942. It only cost $370.00 to build the bill for restoring was $1,200.00 which included building a basement under it.
Though we do not have an official list of the members, the cemetery provides names because all had a right to be buried there. Programs and bulletins from the society are mounted in our exhibit and one gives the constitution of the Painesville Memorial Society and the members as of 1942.
In 1977, the meeting hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through a trust fund started by Ella Louise Fink, and administered by her nephew in California, the building and grounds are taken care of. As with any historic buildings, there is always much work to be done.
Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809) was one of America's early Freethinkers along with Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) and Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826). He used Freethinker values to accentuate the oppression the American Colonists were experiencing from the English Monarchy. His first book, Common Sense, earned him considerable esteem and respect through-out the Colonies. His last book, The Age of Reason, was to become the bible of Freethinkers and Rationalists.
This page was last updated October 10, 2017