Rev. William Oldach, a Lutheran missionary serving in Niagara Falls, found a small pocket of Lutherans while surveying in Hilton, NY a farming community about two hours to the east. He helped this group formalize into a worshipping community and on July 25, 1898 they came together for their first worship service held in the local town hall. There were 36 people, representing 10 families in attendance.
Within one year of that first service, these faithful Germans had purchased, built and dedicated their first church. On the day of the church’s dedication, Rev. George Bornmann was ordained and installed as the first official pastor of the congregation. Pastor Bornmann had a relatively short stay accepting a call to a congregation in Columbia, PA. Pastor Oldach, who originally “found” this group was installed as their pastor on May 4, 1902. This Hilton congregation was known throughout the community as “The German Church.” In 1911 St. Paul joined the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
St. Paul began offering Sunday School in 1929. In the years that followed, the church’s physical plant was enlarged with the addition of a parish hall and a gymnasium. Two homes on either side of the church were bought to be used as parsonages. In 1960 the congregation voted to purchase 91 acres of farmland that surrounded their original lot. The land was farmed by members with all proceeds being given to the church. Most of the land was eventually sold to developers. Today, the campus is 14 acres in the middle of the village. From membership to programming, to the physical plant, growth was the story at St. Paul for the first 80 years.
Stability was also a hallmark of this faithful congregation. In its first 108 years the congregation was served by only five pastors, with Pastor Oldach serving for 40 years and Pastor Albert Zoller retiring in June 2006 after 34 years of leadership. The same stability was evidenced among the membership. Members of the first church Council are names that are still prayed for today. Klafehns, Strussenbergs, Diedrichs and Ophardts are families whose St. Paul roots can be traced to the original congregation.
In 1992 St. Paul’s final service was held in its original church building. The church had structural damage that could no longer easily be repaired. The congregation voted to tear down the original structure and build a sizable addition on to the school that would include several classrooms, a cafeteria and a gymnasium. The congregation worshiped in the school cafeteria for the next 13 years while paying down this project and preparing for a campaign to build a new sanctuary. The dedication of the new sanctuary was done on June 12, 2005.
A historical snapshot of St. Paul Lutheran School
The school was part of St. Paul’s identity within the community from early on. In 1902 the congregation founded a Christian School of which Pastor Oldach was the main teacher. That school existed for 16 years before closing due to anti-German sentiment. The school would not be re-opened until 1956. David Meyer, of Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Ill., was called as the school’s first teacher. There were 14 students in kindergarten and first grade. In three years third grade was added and a second teacher, Isabel Diedrich, was hired. Five years later the congregation would build a 4-room school building to serve the needs of the 51 students enrolled. This was the first in what was a five stage expansion program presented to the congregation. William Bessel was called in 1961 to serve as the school’s first principal and teach grades 3-6. The following year the school expanded through to 8th grade where it is today. By 1968 the school building was doubled in size with the addition of four more classrooms. In 1974 St. Paul added a nursery school, which operated out of the church basement. In 1988 the school began charging for tuition. Prior to this, sacrificial giving covered all school expenses. The height of enrollment for St. Paul Lutheran School came with 229 students enrolled in 1990. In the 2015-2016 academic year the school celebrated 60 years of ministry.
While much has changed within the church and school ministry, a great deal remains the same. St. Paul is still a faithful, vibrant ministry within the Village of Hilton. God continues to shine brightly through many dedicated families both new and longstanding. St. Paul continues to engage the community through its education ministry and acts of service. Today, the Church and School is led by Senior Pastor Mark Ball. St. Paul looks to the future with confidence in God who has been so faithful in these first 125 years.