This old building has gone through many changes over the years, being added to, renovated, and repurposed to suit ever-changing needs. The middle section is the oldest.
1860: Beginnings – the new church manse: In 1860, 25 families broke away from the Immanuel Lutheran church across the road. The newly-formed Strait Gate congregation quickly organised the building of a church and a manse for the Pastor and his family. The manse was built on 4 acres belonging to GJ Rechner. The buildings were dedicated in August 1861.
1860 – 1908: A family home: The original section of the mission house was the home of Pastor GJ Rechner, his wife Bertha and their seven children. The manse was a very hospitable place, with a constant stream of visitors. JJ Stolz, GJ Rechner’s grandson, remembers that in the evenings there may have been up to 40 guests, singing, laughing, telling stories and sharing a glass of wine. GJ Rechner would often come out from his study to join in the convivial gathering.
Around the manse, GJ indulged his passion for farming, creating a small-holding with cows, pigs, ducks, chicken and geese. Productive gardens were established, with fruit trees and many vegetables. This was very useful for not only feeding the family, but also their many guests. In later years, when travelling by train to Adelaide to meet people, GJ would always take a gift of a basket of home grown produce, and sometimes a goose for the pot!
JJ Stolz remembers visiting as a child and enjoying the delights of the “fine orchard and lots of vines”, where the children could “satisfy our hunger for fresh fruit to our heart’s content”. The grandchildren visiting from the city loved the freedom of the country, roaming around the gardens, the manse and church grounds at Light Pass.
When GJ Rechner died in 1900, JJ Stolz became the pastor of Strait Gate congregation, and GJ’s wife Bertha continued to live at the manse with the family. However, in 1908, after Bertha suffered continued ill-health, the doctor warned them that the old manse was no fit place for an invalid. The congregation built a new manse across the road.
1908 – 1922: After Bertha’s death in 1908, the land on which the old manse stood was transferred to her son, FO Gotthold Rechner, who was living at Yorketown. It is unclear what the house was used for between this time and 1922, when Gotthold sold the land, property and furniture to the Lutheran Board of Missions.
1922 – 1929: Becomes the Mission House. The Board of Missions renovated the property to provide a place of respite for missionaries and their families back home on holidays. This is when it became known as ‘The Mission House’. This new use required renovating of the original house, and the purchase of new furniture. (Read about their fundraising efforts here).
1929-1936: Rented Residence. By this time, it was no longer needed to provide a home for missionaries on furlough, and it served as a rented residence for two families.
1936: A School room. The Light Pass Lutheran school had been closed in 1917, when the government ordered the closure of all German schools. By 1936 the Government was leasing the original building for use as a public school. When the Lutheran school reopened in 1936, they used the northern part of the Mission House, converting 2 rooms into one large one.
1939: Schools changed places. The premises (also used as a church hall) were becoming overcrowded as the number of students increased. An arrangement was made whereby the Lutheran School moved back into their former building, and the public school used the Mission House until the new Light Pass Primary School was built.
1939 -1952: Multiple uses. The building was used as a church hall, meeting rooms, Sunday School rooms and storage facility.
1952: The Church Flats. The building was rented out to families as living quarters and renamed the Church Flats.
1961: Almost demolished! The Mission House was due to be demolished in 1961, when the new church was built. It has narrowly escaped demolition several times since then, but has survived, largely due to its heritage value and the voices of people who want to protect this piece of history. For some time it was rented out to tenants, but is now standing empty.
The future: The congregation and the community are now considering how best to preserve and restore this historic building. It could make an amazing museum, with associated tea-rooms – we just need lots of money for the restoration, and someone to run it. Anybody offering?