Beginning in 1867, businessman Joseph McCoy enticed cowboys to herd Texas longhorn cattle north up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene to be shipped to eastern markets. Thus, the community became a "cowtown" full of rowdy cowboys who gave Abilene the reputation as a "wild and wooly sin city." By the time the town was incorporated in 1869, pioneer families had spread the word that upland prairie farming had proved successful. Witnessing the lawlessness of the cowboys, several local Lutheran families who desired to worship God and raise their children in the faith of their fathers banded together in 1870 to establish a place of worship with a regular pastor. They organized the First English Lutheran Church of Abilene as a mission outreach and met in several locations for the first few years.
Some of the town's early influential people were charter members of the Lutheran church. Conrad Lebold, a successful banker and state senator, partnered with Jacob Augustine in 1869 to purchase the original town site of Abilene. John Johntz came to Abilene in 1870 to open a general merchandise store, became treasurer of Rice-Johntz-Nicolay Lumber Company, was a partner in Johntz and Rice Flour Mills, was associated with two banks, and served as a state senator, city treasurer, and school board president. W.H. Eicholtz was Abilene's first undertaker and a city councilman.
According to the church minutes, on August 20, 1871, members voted to "proceed immediately [with] the erection of a parsonage and also to make an effort to secure the funds for the erection of a church next summer." Lebold, J.M. Shepherd, Eicholtz, W.L. Nixon, and G. Strome served on the building committee. Lebold and Augustine donated land for the Lutheran church and parsonage sometime during the early-1870s.
The cattle drive era was winding down by 1872 with the influx of more farmers to the area. T.C. Henry had introduced in 1871 an experimental winter wheat crop that proved successful and the crop soon spread across Kansas, turning the state into the breadbasket of the world. Businesses located south of trie railroad tracks during the cattle trade began catering to farmers, while other businesses opened in the growing community that expanded north of the railroad tracks. It was in this area north of the railroad tracks that Lebold and Augustine donated land for the church and parsonage. The parsonage was built first on lot 36 of North Fourth Street - immediately west of the present church.
The congregation raised money for a permanent church building. The church membership grew throughout the 1870s and plans were developed for the new building. No information could be found in early newspapers or other sources regarding the building's architect, but Hallock and Presney were the contractors. The foundation was completed by March 15, 1878, masons commenced on the brickwork by April 12, and by August 1 the local newspaper reported it was a "very handsome building and a credit to the city." The church was dedicated on August 18, 1878, with the total cost being $5,500 for the building and furnishings. According to the Abilene Gazette, the congregation collected over $1,200 at the dedication ceremony after sermons by Reverend Grouse of Bucyrus, Ohio, in the morning and Reverend Dr. U. J. Knisely of Newcohierstown, Ohio, in the evening. That same year, the church became known as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, and on February 18, 1879, it was legally named the same, incorporated under the laws of the State of Kansas. In 1883, they sold the parsonage to pay off the remaining loan for the church building.
A booklet promoting Abilene in 1887 lists the Lutheran church with 13 other churches in the community, stating, "most of them have excellent and some of them very fine edifices.. .all have fine brick or stone churches." Early Lutheran church records show the building was a center of community activities, including high school exercises, funerals for dignitaries, land ordinations of pastors of other religious denominations.
The windows throughout the historic sections of the church bear inscriptions in memory of early church members who were prominent business people during Abilene's early days. Louise Mary Gore was proprietress of the Drover Cottage Hotel, where Eastern businessmen purchased Texas longhorns. Elizabeth Faulkner Bearce was the wife of an early Abilene haberdasher who operated a store on Broadway Street. David L. Pisle opened a harness shop on Broadway between 3rd and 4th Streets. Jacob Arthur Young was an early real estate tycoon, Thomas Emmet Dewey was an attorney; David and Sarah Metzger were farmers, and Christian and Alice Wood Johntz were partners in the Johntz and Rice Milling Company.
In 1905, George C. Sterl, a department store owner, donated land to the church for an addition to be built on the south side of the original building. This better accommodated the Sunday School program and the promotion of the social life of the church membership. W.E. Harris of Kansas City, Kansas, served as the architect of the addition and J.L. Kruger of Abilene was hired as the contractor. As the cornerstone indicates, the addition was completed in 1907.
An organ room and pastor's study were added to the west of the original structure in 1932. Interior modifications to the original sanctuary were made in 1937 when the pews, pulpit, and platform railings were replaced. In 1962, a tornado toppled the steeple with damage at $25,000. The steeple was not rebuilt and insurance money was used to repair the church tower as well as repair, paint, and refurbish the interior.
In 1970, members were presented with an option to buy land and build a new church. Plans of a new building were drawn, but voted down by the congregation. Instead, they voted to build a new building next door to accommodate expanding educational needs. It was erected in 1973.
In 1993, the original oak doors, worn after 115 years of use, were removed and replaced with exact reproductions. Realizing the church's historical value, the congregation voted in 2003 to conduct much needed restoration work, with a goal of retaining its historic fabric. The stained glass windows in the sanctuary were repaired and restored to their original beauty. White trim that had weathered over the years and fallen into disrepair was used as a template for the construction of new trim. The bell tower and porches were also repaired and painted. An interior wall was removed, returning the 1907 addition to its original floor plan.
Trinity Lutheran Church is an architectural gem with a rich history located in downtown Abilene. Its tall tower, open arch belfry, pointed arch stained glass windows, and decorative brickwork are the defining architectural elements that give the building a Gothic Revival appearance. This historic building retains its historic integrity and is a good example of a Gothic Revival-style religious building in Abilene, Kansas.