First Lutheran Church (North Branch)
In October of 1866, Rev Eli Huber arrived in Nebraska City to serve as a pioneer Lutheran missionary in this area. He began serving rural settlements of Lutherans by 1869 while serving First Lutheran of Nebraska City. A group of people in the Paap Settlement, east of the present town of Otoe, had been gathering for devotions as early as 1865. When Pastor Huber began conducting services, the worshipers met in the District #4 stone schoolhouse (Highway 67). By 1870, they moved further west to the Main Schoolhouse, just east of the Otoe Cemetery.
Pastor Huber helped establish St. Luke’s Lutheran church, which was situated at the site of the Otoe Cemetery until it disbanded. Huber left Nebraska City in 1876. St. Luke’s was served by a Mr. Adolph Dietrich by 1878. Between 1878 and 1880 some of the members of St. Luke’s and other settlers from farther west began to meet in the Hillman schoolhouse. Mr. Dietrich also served them as pastor. This western group passed a resolution on February 29, 1880, to build a church on the present site of First Lutheran.
The church was built and dedication services were held on October 10, 1880. On November 5, 1880, First Lutheran Church of North Branch, Nebraska was constituted, with approximately 35 families. The first trustees were Martin Benneke, Heinrich Hagemann, and Hermann Hillmann. And by 1920 the congregation introduced the use of English in the worship service, along with the German language. The present church was built in 1923.
In 1930, First Lutheran became part of the former American Lutheran Church, as a result of the merger of synods. The highest peak of membership was in 1959 with 787 baptized members (570 confirmed). On December 17, 1961, the present Parish Hall building was dedicated, at a cost of $88,000.
On May 15, 1983, the congregation voted to ratify the changes in the Constitution of The American Lutheran Church to allow the ALC to be able to proceed towards a merger with the American Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church of America. The merger was completed in 1987 with the official name of the synod being the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
As we enter our 13th decade, we continue to grow with new generations of Lutheran families who trace their lineage back to the founders of our church along with new families who are establishing their own roots within this congregation. Together we face new challenges in a new age, with programs to meet the needs of this generation that previous generations could never have imagined.
– Cindy S. Drake, Church Historian, November 7, 2010