Our Iowa Heritage: Johann F. Doescher – Breaking Down Walls That Divide.

(C-0240) Stamp-less Letter from Germany, addressed to Rev. Josias Ritter, Iowa City, Johnson Co, Iowa, N Amerika and is dated December 20th 1857. Read more here.

In Our Iowa Heritage series, we’ve rarely written multiple stories when pulling together a piece on a specific person. But when it comes to Pastor Josias Ritter (see letter above), the man God used to plant the first German Lutheran church in Iowa City, we simply couldn’t walk away from the intriguing stories of the two men who came after Josias. Earlier, we told you the story of Heinrich W. Wehrs, so now, I’d like to share the moving story of Johann Friederich Doescher, Ritter’s immediate successor.

Johann Friederich Doescher – the second pastor (1859-1862) of the German Lutheran Evangelical Church in Iowa City, which became Zion Lutheran.

Young Johann Comes to Iowa City.

According to family records, Johann was born in Hanover, Germany on July 15, 1840 to Eibe Henning Doescher and Luise Kruse Doescher. We are not sure when Johann came to America, but we do know he settled in Logansport, Indiana, attending seminary in Ft. Wayne. As we mentioned in earlier writings, Pastor Josias Ritter proceeded Johann as pastor in Iowa City, coming here in 1856 to serve as the church planting pastor for the German Lutheran community. After two years of successful ministry, Josias decided to move back to central Illinois (1858), leaving the church without a replacement pastor. Here’s an account of what happened next…

Iowa City in the late 1850’s.

According to Pastor Heinrich Wehrs, in his biographical writings, this is when Johann was invited by the German Lutheran community to come to Iowa City (1859)…

Surprisingly, Johann, when he arrived in Iowa City to oversee the newly organized Zion’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, was only 19 years old! Wehrs tells us how he addressed this age issue on his very first day on the job!

Just as Iowa City was growing in the early 1860’s, so did the church, under Johann’s leadership…

Under the leadership of Pastor Doescher, Zion Lutheran Evangelical Church built a church building (see arrow on this 1868 ‘Birds-Eye” map of Iowa City) at the corner of Bloomington and Johnson Streets.

The Fort Wayne Connection.

Apparently, church planting wasn’t the only thing on young Johann’s mind in 1860. Pastor Wehrs, when writing about the courtship of Johann and his bride-to-be, waxed poetic…

The happy couple married on April 13, 1860 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Like Johann, Adelheid hailed from Hanover, Germany, born there in 1843. Upon their arrival in Iowa City, Johann and his wife quickly went to work, teaming with Jesus to care for as many souls as they could…

It’s at this point of the ministry in Iowa City when Johann started to bring in pastoral assistants, young men who could help him with this expanding work of God’s Kingdom. His first associate was another Ft. Wayne graduate, Hermann Lossner, who helped so effectively with the ministry, Johann assigned him to start up a new church plant in Marshalltown. That move opened the door for yet another Ft. Wayne connection – Heinrich Wehrs, who came to Iowa City to pick up where Lossner left off…

Click here to read more about Heinrich’s Iowa City adventures

Johann’s Vision for a Common Community. In the middle of the 19th century, many religious sects were forming shared common communities, where families and individuals would purchase land in the same area, living and working together while sharing their resources, caring for each other in times of need. While the idea often sounds good on paper, rarely does it work on a practical basis. Here’s how Wehrs describes Johann’s idea of community (colonization plan) as shared with his fellow German Lutherans…

Johann took it upon himself to spread the word far and wide, extending invitations to any and all who might come…

Johann & His Family: Life & Ministry After Iowa City.

With the death of Johann’s vision for a common community, he went back to his first love of itinerant ministry, traveling far and wide to bring the good news of Jesus to whoever might listen. In 1862, the German Lutheran church in Hampton, Illinois called, and off Johann and his family went, leaving the Iowa City ministry in the competent hands of his good friend, Heinrich Wehrs.

Johann Friederich Doescher – on the move (1862-1878) from Iowa City, to Hampton, Illinois, to Mechanicsville, Iowa, to Ft. Dodge, Iowa to Menno, South Dakota.

Johann Friederich and Adelheid Meyer had eleven children between 1861 and 1884: Mary (1861) in Iowa City, Johann F. (1864) in Davenport, Adelheid (1865) in Hampton, IL, Johann (1867) in Mechanicsville, IA, Amelie (1869), Catherine (1871), and Paul (1874) in Ft. Dodge, Helena (1877) in Menno, SD, Martin (1879), Amanda (1882), and Manuel (1884) in New Orleans.

Pastor Wehrs continues…

It’s obvious from Wehrs’ writings that Johann had a true heart for caring for souls, regardless of ethnic or racial heritage. From German-Russians scratching out an existence in the Great Plains to African-Americans living in the racially-divided post-Civil War South, Johann took seriously Jesus’ command to love his neighbor as he loved his own. Even when shunned for crossing racial boundaries and labeled too eccentric or unstable to keep a job, Johann found a way to keep on keepin’ on for the cause of Christ.

According to U.S. Census records, Johann and Adelheid lived in Tacoma, as recorded in Wehrs’ writings, in 1900, but had relocated to Cornelius, Oregon by 1910 where Adelheid died (age 73) in 1916, and Johann, two years later, (age 78) in 1918. Both are buried in the Emanuel Lutheran Cemetery of Cornelius.

Rev. Johann (John) Friedrich (1840-1918) and Adelheid Meyer Doescher (1843-1916).
Hats off to the trio of Ritter, Wehrs, and Doescher: three German-born pastors who all came to Iowa City for a short time, establishing in one decade (1856-1866) the solid foundation of Zion’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which later became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City.
Click here to read more about Josias Ritter
Click here to read more about Heinrich W. Wehrs

Thanks, Johann, for the Iowa City memories and your heart to break down racial and ethnic walls! Godspeed!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Some Early History of the Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa – Notes from one of the Pioneers in the State of Iowa, Pastor Emeritus H.W. Wehrs, Shawano, Wisconsin, August 1926, pp. 123-134

Year Book and Reference Manual of Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1907-1908, Chapter 1: Origin 1856-1859, p 97

Zion Lutheran Church – Iowa City: Our History

John Frederick Doescher Timeline, Geni.com

Johann Friedrich Doescher, FamilySearch.org

Rev. John Friedrich Doescher, Find-A-Grave

Adelheid Meyer Doescher, Find-A-Grave

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