A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

Formally nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation as the Derry Session House and Enclosure, the unusual property in southern Dauphin County, consists of an eighteenth-century log building encased, in the early twentieth century, by a structure resembling a greenhouse or a conservatory.

The one-story Derry Session House, constructed of hewn logs about 1732, and measuring thirteen by eighteen feet, served as a meeting place for Derry Presbyterian Church’s residing minister and ruling elders to address church business. In keeping with British Isles building tradition, the building has eave side entrances, two on the south side and one on the north. One of the doors on the south elevation features a small slanted rectangular opening used as a mail slot when the Session House served, beginning in 1858, as the post office for Derry Church, the village that eventually became Hershey. In addition, early church leaders used the log building as a pastor’s study, a Sunday School for the congregation, and an academy to teach children in the community during the week.

Although the Derry Session House is significant for the role it played in the area’s early history, it is the enclosure that merited its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places on November 21, 2006.

Confectioner Milton S. Hershey (1857–1945) had the historic log house completely encased in glass in 1929 as a means to preserve it. Reasons for Hershey’s gesture remain unclear—he was a poor keeper of records—but several historians believe that when he returned to his childhood home of Derry Church in the early twentieth century to build a substantial and modern community, he intended to preserve the tangible links to his early years in the village. He built his stately residence, “High Point,” in 1908 on land he had purchased directly from Derry Presbyterian Church. He could plainly see the Derry Session House from the porch of his house, and he enjoyed hearing stories about the founding of the church and the building of the house. Hershey especially enjoyed a romanticized story about an early preacher who kept a rifle in hand while conducting services to stave off Indian attacks.

Hershey engaged D. Paul Witmer, a self-trained architect and engineer, to build the glass and steel structure enveloping the Derry Session House. Witmer worked on several major projects for Hershey over time, including the Hotel Hershey, and managed the Hershey Lumber Company. He chose an intriguing design for the Session House; it is utilitarian, allowing the historic building within to command the visitor’s attention. The enclosure was restored in 1999 by the replacement of window glazing, the painting of window frames, stucco, and molding, and the installation of lighting to illuminate the historic resource within during evening hours.