Worship Before Construction of Church Buildings
Like the first century church, the early pioneers used their homes as places of worship until the first church building was erected in 1868. Joseph Dvorak’s home was the first to host such a gathering. There they read from their prayer book and scripture from the Bible. Having no pastor to deliver sermons they relied upon readings from the Postilla, a compilation of published sermons. The farmers wanted a Czech pastor, but Czech ministers were scarce. Moreover, the depressed economic conditions that followed on the heels of the Civil War increased the difficulties in supporting a resident pastor.
Although the community lacked a pastor, they were able to rely on the visits of itinerant ministers. During the early years sympathetic Czech ministers from throughout the Midwest came to serve the small transplanted piece of Bohemia. They came from Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cedar Rapids.
A service with a minister was not a weekly event, but it was indeed a major event. With poor roads and often oxen-drawn vehicles, many spent nearly an entire Sunday going to and from the homes hosting the worship services. Despite the lack of local pastors, both the northern and southern valley communities decided to undertake the construction of church buildings
The Reformed Church
The first was the “Reformed Church” building built in 1868 by the southern group on Joseph Dvorak’s land near the site of the old Kolman flour and feed mill. The mill was located on the Six Mile Branch of the Blue River just south of the present intersection of County Highway “Q” and Stanek Road. The church building was a log structure twenty-four feet long by sixteen feet wide by ten feet high. Although no photographs or drawings of the log church have been preserved, an earlier history described it as being built in the style typical of Bohemian log buildings with a whitewashed exterior and widely extended roof overhangs at the gables. It had rough hewn board benches for pews and a plain board altar.
Building the “New” Brick Church Building
Since by 1913 the church membership had outgrown the capacity of the old frame building, the present brick structure was erected. The new building was made possible through the generous contributions of the members of the church and its friends in the area with a total of $4,000 given.
Many members of the church gave numerous days of labor in excavation or construction of the building. Their hard work and planning held the entire cost of the construction to $4,000. When the new building was dedicated in November of 1913, the Bohemian heritage of the church was obvious with the program for the event printed in both the Czech and English languages.
Change of Name
Some time during the twenty-six years of ministry of Rev. Joseph Misicka (1909-1935), the name of the church was changed from the “Ceska Evangelicka Cirkev” to the “Blue River Valley Church.” The new name was chosen to be more symbolic of the community it serves.
Annual Homecoming Instituted
On the last Sunday in June 1930, the custom of the Annual Blue River Valley Church Homecoming and Reunion was established. Not only is the event a time of reunion, but also a time to reach out to new friends. Homecoming has for decades featured guest speakers and special music during services in both the morning and afternoon. A huge midday potluck picnic has become an institution for the time between the services. The most important culinary duty assigned to anyone at the picnic has become that of the “Official Homecoming Lemonade Master.” To partake of homecoming lemonade has been characterized by some as one of the greatest “blessings” of homecoming, so its concoction has been traditionally entrusted to only the eldest male members of the congregation.
The Sixty-Fifth Anniversary
By the time the sixty-fifth anniversary of the church was celebrated on 30 June 1935, a number of milestones had been reached. Despite trying social changes and a debilitating economic depression, the church saw steady growth in membership and a developing spirituality. Gradually the older Czech people had been passing on and their descendants inter-marrying with the non-Czech Americans to whom the Czech language was foreign. Slowly the order of service changed from Czech to English.
The Little Church in the Valley
At the One Hundredth Anniversary, held in June of 1970, there were still a lot of the older members of the church who spoke and understood the Bohemian language of their parents and grandparents. They continued to make the old Czech foods and bring them to the church dinners. Most of the names on the church membership lists were of Czech origin.
In the years since then, much of what was Bohemian has faded. New limbs and branches have sprouted from these old Bohemian roots and different “American” shoots with dissimilar origins and traditions also have been grafted onto the old trunk. This tree bears a rich diversity of fruit for the Lord and will continue to thrive and be bountiful as it is fed with the Word, watered with Love, warmed by the light of the Spirit, protected from the weeds and vines of ungodly influence and given room to grow.
Blue River Valley
"The Little Church in the Valley"
1526 Church Road
Muscoda, WI 53573
The Lutheran Church
In the following year, 1869, the northern group erected a white frame structure approximately a mile and a half to the north. The site is on the grounds where the current Blue River Valley Church building stands. This frame building was known as the “Lutheran Church ” and was situated approximately two hundred feet to the northeast of the main entry of the current building.
The Lutheran congregation purchased forty acres of land from Joseph Novak (a founder of the Reformed Church) with the intent of reserving a sizable portion of it for a cemetery. The cemetery was fenced off immediately to the southeast of the frame church. In this church yard are buried the earliest Czech pioneers of this region, with the first burial that of Jan Kolman in1870. As the years passed, many of the Czech community came to find their resting place there. There are few families of Czech heritage in the area that cannot trace at least a distant relative to the Blue River Valley Church Cemetery.
A Pastor Arrives
In 1870, Dr. John Zvolanek from Texas was invited to be the pastor of the new Lutheran Church. One his most attractive attributes to the community was that he was willing to serve at a meager salary. Besides being a trained and experienced minister, he was also a physician. He was described as having “a strong and courageous character,” and was “a good organizer and efficient leader.”
According to Joseph Frank Machotka in his history of 1935, “He quickly realized that these two little church groups should make one congregation because they represented one faith, spoke one and the same language, and in truth had been neighbors in old Bohemia and were neighbors here.”
Creation of the Bohemian Evangelical Church
After discussing it with the members of the Boards of Trustees of both churches, Rev. Zvolanek proposed on Sunday, May 22, 1870, immediately following a joint service of both congregations in the Lutheran Church, that the Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church should unite as a single church and congregation. After a short discussion, an agreement was drawn up creating the “Ceska
Evangelicha Cirkev” (The Bohemian Evangelical Church). This document became the first and most important document in the history of the church. The agreement was written in the Czech language and many of the signatures were made in the old Slavic and German script.
Rev. Zvolanek served the church for ten years after the consolidation. For forty-four years the frame church, built in 1869 served the congregation and the descendants of the signatories.