IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.
updated 06/03/2021

Church Index

Pioneer Rock Church

originally known as
St. Peter's German United Evangelical Lutheran

Garnavillo twp. section 34

Pioneer Rock church, ca late 1890's/early 1900's
Pioneer Rock church, ca late 1890's/early 1900's
~contributed by Nathan Lingwall

Important! Because the church in Ceres shares much of it's history, also see the page for St. Peter's Garnavillo.

Pioneer Rock church, ca late 1890's/early 1900's
Pioneer Rock church, ca late 1890's/early 1900's
~contributed by Nathan Lingwall


Pioneer Rock Church at Ceres
by Mrs. Louis Niemann

The Pioneer Rock church at Ceres was formerly known as St. Peter's German United Evangelical Lutheran church. Its history dates as far back as 1858, when the congregation was organized. Before 1858, the people of Ceres, which was formerly known as Independence, went to church at Garnavillo, where the Rev. Paul Stockfeld was pastor. Finally they decided to build a church at Independence, organize and have the Rev. Stockfeld, who was also a teacher and doctor, as their pastor.

First Members

The first members included G.H. Bierbaum; Chris Bierbaum; Casper, Henry and Carl Backhaus; H. Wiegman, J.H. Abker and Gerhard Walke. These men, with the Rev. Stockfeld, held a special meeting in February, 1858, and elected Rev. Stockfeld, secretary, and J.H. Abker, president.

The land of the church was purchased from Eli Carlan for $30 an acre. Later another acre of ground was deeded to the church by Gerhard Bierbaum, so that the total acreage was six and one-sixth acres.

All members helped in getting the rock for the church from the Bierbaum rock quarry. The ground on which the church was built was free from trees, but the rest, including the cemetery lot, had to be grubbed.

Cornerstone Laid

October 25, 1858, the cornerstone was laid. The church is 55X30 feet and cost less than $1,100. Twelve feet of the length was used for the residence of the pastor. There is now one large room downstairs which is used for the preservation of relics.

Sebastian Walsh submitted the cheapest bid for digging a well. His offer, as accepted, was $1 a foot until rock appeared, then $1.15 a foot. All necessary tools and powder were to be furnished by church members. This well is about 35 feet deep and five feet in diameter. It is all cemented and has good drinking water. A pump is used now, but at that time the water could only be drawn with a pail and rope.

Designed Altar

Various meetings were held to decide the style of pulpit and seats wanted. Finally Mr. Prior of Guttenberg designed the altar for $68 and the benches were made by Casper, Henry and Carl Backhaus for $2.50 each. The altar and benches are painted white, with walnut wood color trimming. Deep red, plush adorned the altar and pulpit.

In 1868, the Rev. Stockfeld, after 12 years of hard work without compensation, gave up his duties at Ceres and went to Michigan. The Rev. Israel, the Rev. Stark, the Rev. Hincken and the Rev. Ziemer occupied the pulpit successively after the Rev. Stockfeld left.

It was trough the efforts of the Rev. Ziemer in 1889 that a $300 tower was placed on the church by Louis Schroeder. In the same year an exceptionally sweet-toned bell was installed for $111.

Purchased Organ

In 1874, a church organ was purchased for $102. This organ was played by Mrs. G. Blech, who also played the new organ when it was purchased in 1890.

In 1894, the Rev. Gamelin became pastor of the Pioneer Rock church, but he was also pastor of the church at Garnavillo, so that services were held only every two weeks. During his stay, the name "Independence" was changed to "Ceres" in 1896.

The Rev. John Bunge was the last resident pastor. Though his efforts a new floor replaced the old rough boards. He stayed from 1901 until 1907. The last pastors, the Rev. Mall and the Rev. Bosholm, resided in Garnavillo.

An association was formed in 1927 for the purpose of restoring the old rock church and to beautify the cemetery grounds and the grounds around the church. Its aim is also to preserve the church as a memorial to those who built it.

~Clayton County Register; July 1, 1936 ~transcribed by S. Ferrall for Clayton Co. IAGenWeb



Following are those confirmed at Ceres St. Peter's church, April 23rd:
Emilie Schuette
Melinda Schuette
Louis Lewin
Hildegard Lewin
Albert Overbeck
Rudolph Overbeck
Willie Tuecke
Amanda Kregel
Louisa Kahle
Hilda Hagen
Dora Volquardt
Lizzie Clefisch
~Elkader Register, Thur., 04 May 1905. Garnavillo News column ~contributed by Reid R. Johnson

Marriages, Baptisms, Confirmations & Funerals in the Garnavillo & Ceres Parishes

In the Garnavillo and Ceres parishes, Rev. Bunge officiated during the past year at six marriages, viz:
W. G. Hornish - Marie A. Nieman
Chas. H. Timmerman - Caroline M. Lewin
Otto Neubauer - Margaretta Rodenberg
Levi C. Kleckner - Mabel Clair
Theodore Siege - Alma Herchert
Fred Fischer - Florence Havill

He also had twelve baptisms, viz:
Heinrich Clefish, Florence Helberg, Lulu Dettmer, Laura Duede, William Scherf, Viola Stickfort, Violet Stickfort, Francis Kaiser, Viola Mueller, Wilhelm Kaiser, Ramona Kaiser and Elfrieda Hagen

And twelve funerals, viz:
Johann Wehrkamp and wife Anna, nee Schlake
Mrs. Anna Schuette
Mrs. Christine Putzier
Alma Kregel
Heinrich Tuecke
Mrs. Dorris Wiemann
Hienrich Clefish
Mrs. Johanna Roeben
Gerhard Kaiser and wife, nee Wiegman
Mrs. Marie Bahde.

He confirmed a class of twelve members at Ceres, viz:
Emilie Schuette, Louise Clefish, Amanda Kregel, Louise Lewin, Anna Volgwardt, Augusta Hagen, Hiloa Lewin, Louise Kahle, Melinda Schuette, Friederich Overbeck, Wilhelm Tuecke & Albert Overbeck.

~Elkader Register, Thur., January 4, 1906. Garnavillo News column. ~contributed to Clayton Co. IAGenWeb by Reid R. Johnson.
Note: services were held every two weeks, alternating between the church at Ceres and the church at Garnavillo


Pioneer Rock Church, undated vintage photo
Pioneer Rock Church, undated vintage photo


Charter Members

John Abker
Peter Backes
Carl Backhaus
C. Backhaus
C.H. Backhaus
E.L. Baumer
H. V. Beal
Chris Bierbaum
Gerhard Bierbaum
John Bonker
John Broker
Jacob Brucker
Wm. Brumm
W. Buchholz
Jacob Buck
Henry Danenbring
W. Freiman
Andrew Fritsche
Fred Haering
E.M. Hagensick
George Jacobs
Henry Kattleman
John Knoren
Adolph Kregel
Fred Krueger
Louis Krueger
Henry Kuhlman
C. Marquard
E. Menke
D.A. Meyer
Ludwig Miller
Theodore Miller
Henry Nieland
H.H. Nieman
L.F. Nieman
  Henry Ohlendorf
Adam Overbeck
Wm. Overbeck
Peter Overmueller
Wm. Pohle
John Pohlman
Joseph Schlake
H.H. Schmidt
John Schmidt
F. Schroeder
Rudolph Schroeder
Conrad Schutte
Chris Severin
John Speiser
Jacob Splies
Wm. Steinkopf
J. Henry Stevens
Gerhard Storck
Charles Stork
Fred Tuecke
Gerhard Walke
Herman Walke
John Walke
Henry Wehler
John H. Wehrkamp
Joe Wehrkamp
H. Wiegman
Clamor Wilke
Henry C. Will
Chris Wirkler
Henry Wunsch
Philip Wunsch

~The "Pioneer Rock Church" Ceres, Iowa; pamphlet ca1927 ~contributed by S. Ferrall


Oldest Standing Church North of Dubuque

Garnavillo, Ia., Oct 24 – “The Little Brown Church in the Vale” near Nashua, Iowa – was the “smallest church in the world” at Festina, Iowa – and now the “Pioneer Rock Church” beside the old Dubuque-St. Paul trail near Garnavillo gives northeastern Iowa a third claim to place on the honor roll of famous churches.

The little old rock church was formally opened to the public Sunday with a thousand people present for the dedication exercises.  In the crowd were many grandsons and granddaughters of the founders of the church.  The farmer families of the vicinity who are sponsoring the movement will maintain it as a wayside shrine where visitors may always enter, and couples on matrimony bent, may be married in a setting of 70 years ago if they so choose.

The church, claimed to be the oldest standing church north of Dubuque in eastern Iowa and Minnesota, was built in 1858 by German Lutherans who had made homes along the Dubuque-St. Paul trail a few miles south of Garnavillo. A store was built later at the cross-roads nearby.  Mail was brought to it, and the name “Ceres” given to the prairie post office, though there were never more than the two buildings, church and store.

The church has been unused for many years, but has been kept in good condition by the affectionate care of the farm people of the neighborhood.  It is of the crudest rock structure.  Inside are the straight, low-backed pews of early days when people thought more of religion than of comfort, the little organ, kerosene lamps and high pulpit with winding enclosed stairway leading to it.  Back of the church in a cemetery are the graves of pioneers.


Pioneer Rock Church and Cemetery Association
formed in the fall of 1927

Association Officers:
President - Edward Tuecke, Guttenberg
Vice president - Vie Hyde, Guttenberg
Secretary - Treasurer - Alfred Pufahl, Guttenberg
Board of Directors - Louis Niemann, Guttenberg; Herman Kregel, Guttenberg; John Rhodas, Guttenberg
Historian - Mrs. Louis Niemann, Guttenberg

~Postville Herald, October 27, 1927 ~transcribed by S. Ferrall for Clayton Co. IAGenWeb
Note: The Pioneer Rock Church Association was formed by a group of the founders' descendants. The purpose was to honor the church's founders. They restored & opened the old church as a museum and site for weddings. They also renamed the building "Pioneer Rock Church"


Pioneer Rock church, ca1950's
photo source: Northeast Iowa Hills, A Picture Guide of Allamakee and Clayton Counties; by Jackson 'Applejack' Turner; undated booklet (ca1950's)
~contributed by S. Ferrall

St. Peter Lutheran Church congregation of Garnavillo, ca1930
St. Peter Lutheran Church congregation of Garnavillo attending church at the Pioneer Rock church ca1930's
The people are not identified.
~photo contributed by Nathan Lingwall



Return to Church Index

Return to Clayton County Index