Ask anyone in the Manchester area about the “big old oak tree” and you’re sure to get directions to Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church. Located on the edge of the cemetery, at the curve of Church Street, the oak is humongous. The tree itself is over 320 years old, and the knurled trunk is close to five feet in diameter. In 1758, King George III of England granted a charter to start a church by the old oak tree. Even then, the old tree was a landmark. The tree’s actual birth predates the church by some 85 years. The date of the dedication of the original church building was February 12, 1760, predating the adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America by 27 years. The dedication of the church building was five years before the 1765 founding of the town of Manchester.
In the beginning, there was no stone or brick edifice; the original building was a rustic log cabin built by the congregation members themselves. Most of the members were farmers traveling long distances to get to church, since at that time the surrounding countryside was wide open territory. At the 1760 dedication service, 36 men signed the church covenant, including the two ministers from the two denominations. Only the men signed the covenant; we are left to wonder how many women and children filled that log cabin on the eventful Sunday. The members were the founders of what is now northern Carroll County, and some of their family names are still evident in the county today.
Originally, the church was formed by two separate congregations by the Lutheran and Reformed denominations. The two denominations had existed side by side in Germany, home to most of the settlers in the area. Two of the factors causing the union of the congregations were the intermarriages within the two groups and the scarcity of money for the early citizens of the area. By having both churches under the same roof, the two ministers could more effectively visit and services could be held more often. The old log cabin served as a meeting place until 1798, when a new larger building was erected to take its place.
Later, the Civil War intervened and in 1862, the old church was torn down. At this time, it was decided that both congregations could be better served if they had their own separate places to worship. The Lutherans laid their cornerstone on June 17, 1862 and, on October 4, 1863, there was a dedication of the entire new structure. (The Reformed church, what is now Trinity United Church of Christ, laid their cornerstone not a few hundred feet from the Lutheran structure.) This newer building served the Lutherans well for over half a century. The cornerstone of the current building bears the date 1914 and the adjacent Church School Building was erected in 1958. If you descend into the church basement and peer into an obscure alcove between the church building and the newer educational building, you can see the original cornerstones. The first bears the dates 1760 and 1798, and the second stone sits atop, inscribed with the 1862 date.