The Ephrata Cloister

The Ephrata Cloister or Ephrata Community was a religious community, established in 1732 by Johann Conrad Beissel at Ephrata, Lancaster County. The grounds of the community are now owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Cloister’s website can be found at https://ephratacloister.org and provides the following information:

Conrad Beissel, Ephrata’s founder, came to the site in 1732 seeking to live as a hermit following his own religious ideas. He believed earthly life should be spent preparing to achieve a spiritual union with God at the Second Coming he felt would soon occur. By the early 1750s, nearly 80 celibate Brothers and Sisters were housed in impressive Germanic log, stone, and half-timbered buildings. At the same time, nearly 200 family members known as Householders, occupied nearby homes and farms.

Celibate members followed a life of work balanced with hours of private prayer. Wearing white robes, they adopted sparse diets, and slept little, all in an effort to provide discipline as they prepared for an anticipated heavenly existence. Labors included farming, papermaking, carpentry, milling, and textile production. The Cloister was known for the German calligraphic art of Frakturschriften, created in a distinctive style considered the first of this folk art produced in America, self-composed a cappella music written using Beissel’s rules for four-part harmony (with over one-thousand original compositions), and an ambitious printing establishment creating works for the use of the community and neighbors, including the translation and publication of the 1500 page Martyrs Mirror for the Mennonites, the largest book printed in colonial America.

The Society declined after the death of the charismatic Beissel in 1768. The last celibate member died in 1813 and the next year the remaining Householders incorporated into the German Seventh Day Baptist Church. Members continued to live and worship in the Cloister buildings until the close of the Church in 1934. Marie Kachel Bucher, the last surviving resident of the Ephrata Cloister, died on July 27, 2008, at the age of 98.

Here is a look at the exterior of the buildings. There was an event going on that Day called “Charter Day” which was wrapping up as I was arriving in late afternoon.

A Little French Flair

French Azilum is Located on a horseshoe bend in the Susquehanna River near present-day town of Wysox. It provided a refuge for a group of French exiles in the autumn of 1793 and spring of 1794. Some of the refugees left France to escape persecution during the French Revolution. Others fled the colony of Santo Domingo (Haiti) to escape the slave uprising there. The French refugees, mostly nobility and gentry, even believed that it might be possible for the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, and her two children to come to Azilum if they got out of France alive. In the plans of the settlement there was a house built for the queen, called La Grand Maison.

A consortium of investors in Philadelphia purchased sixteen hundred acres of land from the English and German settlers to establish Azilum. They also purchased several thousand additional acres in subsequent years, extending south into Sullivan County and north nearly to the border of New York. Eventually 50 houses would be built. Although not grand, these houses had chimneys, wallpaper, window glass, shutters and porches. La Grand Maison, the most imposing structure, was the setting of many of the social gatherings, and housed Talleyrand and Louis Phillippe (future King of France) as guests.

The duration of the sophisticated French town in the wilderness was brief. Economic factors, including the bankruptcy of its investors, led to the settlement’s decline. By the late 1790’s many of the French had moved to southern cities or returned to Santo Domingo. In 1803 Napoleon made it possible for the exiles to return to France. A few families, including the LaPortes, remained. These families and their descendants helped to settle nearby communities. None of the almost 100 buildings from Azilum, including houses, a chapel, a theatre and several shops, remain.

Today, the historic site contains over twenty acres that were part of the original settlement. Although no structures from the original settlement survive, an original foundation has been left exposed for public viewing . A reconstructed and relocated log cabin, circa 1790, serves as a small museum with artifacts pertaining to the settlement and a video about the establishment of Azilum. The LaPorte house, the summer home of the son of one of the original settlers, still stands. Visitors can see several outbuildings, part of the de Siebert and LaPorte Farms, and outdoor exhibits. The site is only open during the summer. One should check opening times before visiting.

The LaPorte House

The house was built in 1836 by John LaPorte, son of Bartholomew LaPorte, who was one of the principal settlers at Azilum.

Structures adjacent to the LaPorte House
The Museum Cabin

A Sugartown Christmas

Historic Sugartown in Chester County has been featured on my blog before if you would like more information about this location. They usually do seasonal decorations. This Christmas did not disappoint.

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The William Garrett House of 1805.
The Book Bindery.
Behind the Sharpless Worrell House …
along with a close up of these wreaths.
A reflection on the Carriage Museum.
Nearby Sugartown Farm
This lovely display was in front of the General Store.

A Two-fer in South Central Pennsylvania

If you head west on Route 30 past Gettysburg, you will come across two state parks. The larger of the two is Caledonia State Park. The 1,125-acre park is in Adams and Franklin counties, between Chambersburg and Gettysburg along the Lincoln Highway (US 30). It is situated within South Mountain, the northern terminus of the well-known Blue Ridge Mountain of Maryland and Virginia. The soils on either side of South Mountain are ideal for fruit production, proven by the abundance of orchards in the surrounding area.

Some unique features at Caledonia are a golf course and the Totem Pole Playhouse. It also provides hiking, camping, and hunting and hosts the Pennsylvania Forest Heritage and Discovery Center.

Forest Heritage and Discovery Center
A spartan camp setup,
Let’s enjoy some fall color …
… in the nearby Michaux State Forest as well.

Nearby Mont Alto State Park is a quiet, 24-acre park which features a pavilion, picnicking, and trout fishing. Mont Alto is the oldest park still in the Pennsylvania state park system.

State Parks in Autumn

This post is a beginning of a series on some central Pennsylvania state parks that I visited in October. The first up is Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, Perry County, PA. The visitor to Little Buffalo can partake of campgrounds, a swimming pool, a lake, hunting, fishing, picnicking and hiking. The park is 923 acres and was opened in 1972. It also features some historical sites which we’ll take a look at below.

Little Buffalo State Park is named for Little Buffalo Creek which runs through the park. The creek and the nearby Buffalo Ridge are named for the bison that are believed to have once roamed the ridge and valley region of Pennsylvania. Humans have lived in what is now Pennsylvania since at least 10,000 BC. The first settlers were Paleo-Indian nomadic hunters known from their stone tools. The hunter-gatherers of the Archaic period, which lasted locally from 7000 to 1000 BC, used a greater variety of more sophisticated stone artifacts. The Woodland period marked the gradual transition to semi-permanent villages and horticulture, between 1000 BC and 1500 AD. Archeological evidence found in the state from this time includes a range of pottery types and styles, burial mounds, pipes, bows and arrow, and ornaments. Perry County was part of the Albany Purchase of 1754 when the colonists purchased a large tract of land from the Iroquois League of Six Nations.

The lake reflecting the fall colors.
A quiet moment under a blaze of orange.
Canoe season is almost over.

European settlers arrived in the area in force after the Revolutionary War. John Koch, one of the first to farm the area in the 1790s, opened the Blue Ball Tavern in 1811. The tavern offered food, drink, and a sleeping loft. The Blue Ball Tavern served as a rest stop for messengers who travelled between Carlisle and Sunbury during the War of 1812. It is rumored that the tavern was where the plans for the creation of Perry County were made in 1821. The tavern was closed in 1841. A farmhouse was built in 1865 on the foundation of the tavern. Some recycled boards and hardware from the tavern were used in the construction of the farmhouse which currently houses the Blue Ball Tavern Museum and a library that are operated by the Perry County Historical Society.

The Blue Ball Tavern Museum.

William Shoaff bought 63 acres of land in the area and a gristmill from the Juniata Iron Works in 1849 after it had been shut down. The local farmers brought their crops to Shoaff’s Mill until the 1940s. The mill has since been restored and is back in operation. Visitors to the park can observe the milling of cornmeal, cracked corn and the grinding of apples for apple cider.

The mill. Sadly, the wheel was not running when I visited.

For me, not surprisingly, a covered bridge was one of the highlights. This is Clay’s Covered Bridge. It is a short walk from a parking area on your way to the mill.

Gettysburg on Memorial Day

Memorial Day brought me to Gettysburg National Military Park on my way home from the Cumberland Valley. I had been here a few times when I was young, but it’s been a while since I was there. In additional to being educational and preserving this country’s history, the park is a lovely place for a walk or bike ride. As I am not an expert on military history, I will share some of the views and monuments that I particularly liked, with particular emphasis on farms.

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A cannon on Confederate Avenue.
The State of Louisiana Monument – one of the most imposing.
Part of the Snyder Farm.
Irish Brigade Monument, 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Infantry 14th New York Independent Battery.
A view of the Slyder farm.
The Codori farm.
The Abraham Trostle Farm.
More of the Trostle farm.
A distant view.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Memorial.
The Jacob Hummelbaugh farm.
… with some adjacent cannon …

A Salute to Memorial Day

This Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to the Cumberland Valley and Michaux State Forest. The Carlisle area is home the U.S. Army War College and the Army Heritage and Educational Center. I was not able to visit the exhibits at the Heritage Center due to it being closed because of “the situation,” but was able to visit some of the outside exhibits. More about the Heritage Center can be found here.

I liked this mural on the side of the building.
An old artillery piece on display.
A great statue memorializing out veterans.
One of the tanks near the main entrance.

The Heritage Center also hosts the Army Heritage Trail, which serves as an outdoor museum. It covers about one mile and highlights nearly every era of Army history with different exhibits and large artifacts. The Trail also serves as a stage for living history presentations by historians serving as interpreters.

Fourteen individual exhibits include full scale reconstructions of a French and Indian War way station, Redoubt Number 10 from the Revolutionary War siege of Yorktown, a section of the Antietam battlefield, a Civil War winter encampment with cabins, a WWI trench system, a WWII company area, a replicated Normandy Bocage scene from World War II, a Current Operations HESCO Bastion barrier checkpoint, and an interpretation of the Vietnam helicopter air assault at Ia Drang that includes a period Fire Support Base. Additionally, there are numerous smaller exhibits featuring armor, aircraft, and artillery from several different eras of U.S. Army history.

A view of the Heritage Trail.

Autumn Visit to Historic Sugartown

I recently took advantage of the guided tours offered to visit historic Sugartown, a preserved 19th century community located in Chester County. Sugartown is an historic crossroads community dating to 1800. It features several interesting structures such as a general store, barn, book bindery, carriage museum and period homes. The website for Historic Sugartown can be found here.

Tours run from May to November on Saturday and Sunday, and there is a fee. You are welcome to browse the grounds for free. The fee is well worth it to see the interior of the general store, the carriage museum and many vintage tools inside the barn.

I’ve included some interior photographs here that are not great but give one a sense of what these historic properties look like. The interior lighting was very dark, and I was shooting handheld without much time to adjust exposure.

The tour begins with arrival to the rear of the Sharpless Worrall house, a mid 19th century home.

Lovely walk to the rear porch of the Sharpless Worrall House and General Store.
Roses blooming in November.
The rear porch decorated for Autumn.
An old well found on the property during renovation. It is 40 feet deep.

Currently attached to the Sharpless Worrall House is the General Store. The store building was first constructed in c. 1805 by Joseph Waterman when he built his home and Saddle Shop next door.  This building also served as a post office for area in the early 1800s.

A view inside the General Store.
I loved this Autumn American Flag display in the window.

We then proceeded outside to check out the Carriage Museum. This building was once in ruins, but was it was built on by the Malvern Fire Company to create a satellite station before becoming a museum. Collection highlights include a c. 1800 Conestoga wagon used to haul freight from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and a hearse used by undertaker George L. Moore of Guthriesville in the 1870s.

Some pieces from the collection.
Yes, sleighs are real and don’t just exist in Christmas carols.
The Hearse. I’ve never seen one of these before.

Tucked into the back of the Carriage Museum is a really cool dollhouse.

Across the street are several more buildings. First up is a Book Bindery, where you can sign up to take classes in the craft. The building was built in 2001 to house a world-class collection of bookbinding tools and equipment once owned by the late master bookbinder Fred Shihadeh. Today, local bookbinder, Ramon Townsend, of ColonialBindery.com, teaches a variety of workshops in the Book Bindery. 

A class in session.
Entering the Book Bindery.

The William Garrett House was constructed on 1805 and relocated to its current position in 2001 to save it from demolition. It is an excellent example of a modified “Quaker Plan” or three-room plan so often used in homes among the Quaker community. 

View of a large, old beech tree through this window.

Nearby is the Bank Barn. Typical for Chester County, this 19th century Pennsylvania barn was constructed so that hay wagons could enter the upper level from a bank. Today, the barn preserves a rich agricultural heritage through an agricultural tool exhibit on its upper floor.

The site also features the Hannah Cheever House, dating from 1835. This property was bought and restored by Historic Sugartown to save it and the surrounding property from development.

The rear of the Cheever House from the porch of the William Garrett House.
The Cheever House and the Book Bindery.

Historic Sugartown is well worth the visit and is especially lovely in the Spring and Fall.