CLATONIA -- A historic Gage County church that predates the town it’s located in is celebrating a milestone.
Member of the Salem United Methodist Church in Clatonia are inviting former members, clergy and anyone interested to a special event April 15 marking its 150th anniversary.
Church historian Larry Krauter has been a member of the church for all 78 years of his life, while his wife, Meredith, joined when they were married 53 years ago.
They said the first settlers in the Clatonia area were of German descent and came from Ohio after passage of the Homestead Act.
The settlers initially congregated in an old dugout before June 1868, when a log cabin was constructed to hold evangelistic meetings, according to church documents the Krauters provided.
The cabin was replaced with a new, larger building in 1871, the third church in Gage County and the first in the county north of Beatrice.
“People were here before that and homesteaded the area here, but 1871 is when they originally built a small building,” Larry Krauter said.
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The congregation outgrew the building, and an even larger structure was built in 1879. A parsonage was added in 1903, and two years later a west wing and tower, which still stands today, were hooked on.
By 1915, church officials decided to add a basement to the church. The building was raised and a basement was excavated at a cost of less than $1,000.
Another addition followed in 1936, which is essentially the structure standing today, though there have been numerous changes and upgrades over the decades. Even the landscape around the church, which was originally in the countryside, has evolved as Clatonia grew around it.
Electricity, air conditioning, a new roof and better accessibility are all areas that have been addressed.
The building even has a lift inside to help members who don’t get around easily. The addition was a costly one for the small church, which depends on donations from members, but means a lot to those who need it, including the Krauters.
“You always wonder how you’re going to pay for things like that, but if it weren’t for that right now Larry and I wouldn’t be able to go to church,” Meredith said.
The church has a core group of members dedicated to keeping the doors open, though numbers have been declining, she added.
“I think we’re down to 50-some members, but they’re tried and true," Meredith said. "They’re very much interested in keeping the church up and going.”
A special service will be held Sunday at 10:30 a.m., with a meal to follow at the community center across the street. After lunch, members of the church will gather for an afternoon service where they share stories of the church’s lengthy history.