The beginning of the congregation dates to 1847 when a group of Lutherans began meeting in private homes in downtown Milwaukee to hear readings of Martin Luther’s sermons. On December 4, 1848 a group of these German Lutheran families led by Pastor Ludwig Dulitz joined forces and started “Evangelishe Lutheran St. Johanneskirche” (St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). In 1850 the congregation purchased the old Trninty Episcopal Church on the corner of 4th and Prairie (Highland) and dedicated the structure along with a school building.
The following years were a time of growth and expansion for St. John’s, assisted by the enormous number of German immigrants. The congregation called Pastor Johannes Bading to serve in 1858. New schools were built in 1871 and 1877, and the congregation grew to over 2500 members. The need for a larger church building now became obvious.
In the spring of 1889 the congregation hired the architects Herman Paul Schnetzky and Eugene R. Liebert to design a new church building. On July 28, 1890 the new Gothic structure, with a seating capacity of 1100, was dedicated.
Christian education was one of the most important aspects of the church. St. John’s operated as many as three grade schools. Eventually two new congregations, St. Marcus and Apostles of Christ, came into existence from these schools.
In 1950 the neighborhood surrounding St. John’s was taken over by the city and replaced with a public housing project called Hillside Terrace. The expansion of the Milwaukee freeway system came to within three blocks of the church on the west and the south, restricting access to the building.
The school program of St Johns sadly came to an end in 1960. The school building next to the church was eventually demolished.
The last repainting of the church interior was done in 1962. At that time the congregation had dwindled to 72 members and struggled to remain in operation. St. John’s continued to exist because of work done by members to maintain the property and sound investments made over the years.
In the fall of 1990 a historical designation study report recommended that the church complex be designated a historic landmark.
In 2013 church services were suspended for a time due to a pastoral vacancy and problems caused by reduced membership. Late in 2014 a revitalization project began with an outreach program to draw in new members while bringing back previous ones. With the help of many volunteers we aim to revive this beautiful church and make it again a place to worship the Lord Jesus Christ.