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Chris Bieri, Forum Communications Co., Published May 15 2012

Trinity Lutheran, historic Grand Forks church, razed

GRAND FORKS – Thomas “Marty” Martzall stood by with a digital camera Tuesday morning as the oldest wood-framed church in Grand Forks was reduced to rubble.

Martzall, 75, who lives just a block from what is known by some as the “Old Church on Walnut Street,” retains plenty of good memories of the building.

He served as church treasurer, both his children grew up attending the church and he said in the 1970s, he was baptized in the building, which was originally Trinity Lutheran Church when it went up at 224 Walnut St. around 1905.

Martzall even sang a memorable solo rendition of “Battle of Jericho” during his nearly 25 years as a congregation member the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), which was housed in the building for its last 78 active years.

“The one thing you can count on is change,” he said as he watched the proceedings.

But before the historic building was torn down, members of the University of North Dakota history department teamed with the Grand Forks Community Land Trust to document the history of the church and its congregational communities in a book.

Documenting, rebuilding

“The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals” was written by Chris Price, a UND graduate student.

It was the first volume in the GFCLT Neighborhood History Series.

The building, which hadn’t been a place of worship since before the flood of 1997 was unsalvageable, ravaged by asbestos and lead-based paint, according to GFCLT Executive Director Emily Wright.

She said GFCLT, a nonprofit group that builds affordable homes, plans to put a single-family home on the property.

“Unfortunately, at a certain point, you can’t hold on to things,” she said. “It’s sad whenever you have to tear a building down. Our goal is to bring this neighborhood back as one that’s lived in and thriving and what it used to be. Part of that is to not have vacant, disintegrating properties.”

Wilferd Felchle, 84, who has been a member of the congregation since 1958 and the church’s in-house historian, joined Martzall as a firsthand contributor to Price’s base of research.

Price also harvested a wealth of information with the help of UND’s Chester Fritz Library and the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission, according to his acknowledgements.

History of the church

Trinity Lutheran joined with Zion Lutheran and First Lutheran to form United Lutheran Church, which is now at 324 Chestnut St.

The Grand Forks Church of God bought the building from Trinity Lutheran for $5,000 in 1919, according to Price’s book. The building was severely damaged in a March 10, 1944, fire.

“The fire is really what took away the historic integrity of it,” Wright said. “It’s a pretty building, but it looks more like a re-build than the original.”

The widespread use of lead-based paint has made it difficult to even get a glimpse at remaining historically relevant portions of the church in recent years, she said.

According to Price’s book, the Church of God congregation rebuilt the church, where it stayed for another half a century. That church is now at 2856 N. Washington St.

The architectural description that accompanies Price’s work describes it as being “built in a craftsman style, and the main portion is a cross gable design.”

The Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission removed the spire on Monday and plans to preserve it.


Chris Bieri writes for the Grand Forks Herald