Lebanon County: Small in Size – Rich in Heritage

County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

Lebanon County is located in the southeastern portion of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the center of the beautiful Lebanon Valley, which is formed by the Blue Ridge of the Kittatinny range of mountains to the north and the South Mountains, or Furnace Hills, to the south. Covering an area of 363 square miles, the county is inhabited by ap­proximately 100,000 people. Between the shale contour of the Blue Moun­tains and the red sandstone formations along the county’s southern edge lies the highly fertile limestone soil which is among the most productive in the nation. Beneath that soil, in the Corn­wall area, could at one time be found one of the richest deposits of iron ore in the country.

 

Early History

At the time of European settlement, there no longer seemed to be any large or permanent Indian villages in the area which would become Lebanon County. The area was used, however, as a hunting ground, primarily by the Delaware Indians. They fished the many streams – the Big and Little Swatara in the north, the Tulpehocken in the east and the Quittapahilla in the center – and found fruits, berries and nuts to be plentiful in the fertile valley. Original warrants for land, however, do refer to villages such as Indiantown on Indian Town Creek, Indian Bottoms on Swatara Creek and Tulpehocken near present-day Myerstown. Tradition also says that the Indian village of Quittapahilla was at the headwaters of the creek by that same name.

When the first explorer or first white settler set foot in the valley is not definitely known, but among the first were the Scotch-Irish who in­habited the banks of the Swatara Creek about 1723. Originally a part of the Donegal colony, they later settled chiefly in the town of Lebanon and along the southern and western borders of the county where they remained for several generations. It is well to note that during their stay they contributed much to the growth of the county, being among the foremost to establish churches and schools. At the same time, they acted as border defenders enabling their German neighbors to follow more successfully their agri­cultural pursuits.

Another group of early immigrants, from southwest Germany along the Rhine River valley, were the Palatines, who migrated from New York State and settled in the eastern portion of the county. They had heard of William Penn’s colony to the south where there was reputed to be freedom and tolerance. The first group of fifteen families arrived under the leadership of Hartman Vinedecker in 1723. The second group of families reached the region in 1728 led by Conrad Weiser. They traveled partly on land and part­ly on water journeying down the Sus­quehanna River until they reached the mouth of the Swatara Creek. Turning up this stream, they followed its course until at last they found the object of their journey – the hills, vales and fertile meadow-lands where the Swatara and Tulpehocken creeks find their sources.

These early settlers were religious people. Almost all were German Prot­estants – Lutheran, Reformed, Mora­vian, Dunkers and Mennonites – and more than a dozen churches were established in the area before the Rev­olution. The oldest of these is Hill Church, located about two miles north­east of Annville and three miles west of Lebanon. The congregation was organized in 1733 by Rev. John Cas­par Stoever, who played an important role in the county’s early church his­tory. Another prominent religious leader, Jacob Albright, helped in the early 1800s to establish the Evangeli­cal Association and rose to become a bishop in the Methodist Church.

Religious groups were also active in the development of settlements. The village of Hebron, now a part of Lebanon, for example, was founded by Moravian missionaries. Members of this congregation were also instrumen­tal in having the name of Steitztown, named for its founder George Steitz, changed to the Biblical name of Lebanon. Although the commonly accepted date for the laying out of the village of Lebanon is 1750, the county of Lebanon was formed years later. Lebanon’s yesterday was marked by the slow, conservative, substantial growth that has characterized so many older cities, due mainly to the cautious and thrifty but persevering influence of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Lebanon township was organized in 1729 with the creation of Lancaster County of which it was initially a part. Originally, the township included not only all of what now constitutes Leba­non County but extended into what are today the adjoining counties of Berks and Dauphin. In fact, in 1785 with the creation of Dauphin County, the area of present-day Lebanon Coun­ty then fell within its jurisdiction. It was not until 1813 that Gov. Simon Snyder approved an act of the assem­bly creating Lebanon County and ap­pointed the first county officials. John Andrew Shulze accepted the appoint­ments for five of these offices – Re­corder, Register, Prothonotary. Clerk of Orphan’s Court and of Sessions Court. He held these posts for eight years, and two years later was elected governor of Pennsylvania.

When Lebanon County was formed in 1813, two rooms of the beautiful Georgian mansion of Dr. Henry Stoy were used to house the county courts. It was in that building that James Buchanan, later to become the coun­try’s fifteenth president, practiced law as a young man. Dr. Stoy had moved to Lebanon in 1773 after being trained in medicine in Germany. He later became active in introducing smallpox inoculations to the area, but is better known by far for his cure of hydrophobia. Included as one of his many customers was President George Washington who, in his account book for October 18, 1797, noted giving his servant $25 to obtain medicine from the doctor.

Lebanon County was visited by President Washington three times. His initial trip came in 1792 to inspect the progress or the first attempts to build the Union Canal. During his second stop, made for recreational purposes, he stayed at the home of Capt. Michael Ley. The Ley residence, located two miles west of Myerstown and open to the public, is now the beautiful Tul­pehocken Manor. Washington’s third visit was an overnight stay enroute to the scene or the Whiskey Rebellion.

or the many small towns found in Lebanon County, Schaefferstown is blessed with the distinction of having the first gravitational water convey­ance system by underground pipes in all the British colonies. This first public water system was started sometime before 1750, bringing water from the spring in Fountain Park through 1,300 feet of wooden pipe to the King George Hotel (built in 1746, now the Franklin Inn) and to two large troughs in town. Amazingly, this water system is still operational today. In contrast, the city of Lebanon did not have a municipal water system with underground pipes until more than one hundred years after the Schaeffers­town system was in place.

 

The Revolution and the Military

Conrad Weiser, known as a peace­maker and friend of the Indians, made his home in the Tulpehocken area. In spite of his friendly relations with the Indians, however, at the start of the French and Indian War in 1755, Weiser rallied 300 men throughout the Tulpe­hocken and Lebanon Valley areas to protect the region, marching the men to Squire Adam Reed’s home near Indiantown Gap. Between 1755 and 1763, the area witnessed the death of 123 people at the hands of the Indians. During this time, forts and private homes were reinforced for protection – Fort Swatara, Fort Manada, the Gloninger house, Harper’s Tavern, John Light’s Fort, the Meier mansion and Heinrich Zeller’s house. The latter four buildings are still standing, in­dicative of the protection they offered to the early settlers.

A few years later, when discontent with the mother country became ap­parent, it is not likely that many people in the region were eager to rebel against England. This agricultural community did not have the same grievances as the areas which depended upon commerce to survive. The farmers and tradesmen seldom saw much hard money, for they had products and services to exchange for what they needed. Furthermore, many residents belonged to religious sects with scruples against war.

News of the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, therefore, produced mixed feelings. Some felt it to be a foolish act. The retaliation by England of closing Boston harbor in 1774, however, outraged the local residents. At a meeting on June 25, 1774, they drew up resolutions stating their views, later known as “The Lebanon Resolves.” In part, they declared “that the late act of the British parliament is an act oppressive to the people of that city [Bos­ton], that we shall not submit to unjust and iniquitous laws, that we will unite with inhabitants of other portions of our County in such measures as will preserve to us our rights and our liberties, that our Countrymen of the City of Boston have our sincerest sympathy, that their cause is the common cause of America.”

Within a month after the first shot was fired at Concord in April 1775, John Phillip DeHaas raised a company of militiamen, totaling 115 volunteers by August. In January 1776, DeHaas was ordered to take his First Penn­sylvania Battalion from Lebanon to join General Gates in the invasion of Canada. The leadership shown by DeHaas earned him the rank of Brigadier General on February 21, 1777.

Others from the region were active in the war. Col. Curtis Grubb, for ex­ample, was responsible for bringing more than 200 Hessian prisoners to Lebanon in 1777. Most of them were held prisoner in the Hebron Moravian Church, despite the objections of the congregation, while others were taken to the Reformed Church in Lebanon. Col. Philip Greenawalt accompanied George Washington to Trenton and Princeton. In addition, he assisted with the collection of provisions, under the direction of Col. Philip Marstellar, for the Continental Army at Valley Forge. Marstellar, for his services during the Revolutionary War, received the per­sonal thanks of George Washington and served as one of seven honorary pallbearers at Washington’s funeral in 1799. He also represented the area at the Constitutional Convention.

Lebanon played various roles in the American Revolution. Besides furnish­ing men to fight on the battlefields, the area supplied farm products to feed the soldiers, shoes and tanned leather for clothing, feed for horses and other essentials. Cannon and ammunition, as well, were cast at the Cornwall furnace. Many churches were also used as pow­der storehouses and hospitals. The Hebron Moravian Church, again des­pite frequent objections from the con­gregation, was used in this way. At one time the doors were broken down and several wagonloads of powder were dumped into the church over their objections.

Throughout times of military need since the Revolution – in the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish Amer­ican War and the world wars – Leba­non County has contributed to the war effort over and beyond the send­ing of men. In 1885, the Pennsylvania National Guard developed over 120 acres of land near Mt. Gretna Park for a summer encampment. They con­tinued to use this camp through two wars until moving to the other end of the county in 1934. To accommodate the number of servicemen being trained and sent overseas during World War II, the federal government leased the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. Covering over 18,000 acres in northern Lebanon County, the camp was used by the U.S. Army as a training center for draftees and as an embarkation center for troops going overseas. To­day it remains a major field training site for the U.S. Army Reserve.

 

Transportation

As the region developed, so did the need for a transportation system. The first major road, built in 1733 shortly after settlement began, connected the area with the then county seat of Lan­caster. By the early 1800s, turnpikes crisscrossed the county. In 1817, the Berks and Dauphin Turnpike, the first toll road, was completed and contin­ued in use for over one hundred years. In fact, many of the routes of these old roads are the same ones followed today by major highways.

Plank roads, an interesting pheno­menon, were used in Lebanon County to help carry iron ore and pig iron transported from the Cornwall ore mines. The wheels of the heavily laden horse-drawn wagons cut ruts into dirt roads, making tJ1em impassable after any amount of rain. To alleviate this problem, planks or trees caulked with clay were placed crosswise on the roadways.

The fulfillment of a dream, which reached as far back as William Penn, came in I 827 when the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers were joined by a canal using the Tulpehocken and Quit­tapahilla creeks. September 29, 1791 marked the first step or the canal project, for that is when the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company was created by an act of the legislature. The Union Canal, as it was later called, was 82 miles long and, with the aid of 95 locks, joined Reading and Middle­town. At Reading, the Union Canal met the Delaware and Schuylkill Canal which went on to Philadelphia. To­gether, these two canals enabled travel­ers to travel from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River in 5 days. A branch canal from the main waterway to Pine Grove, covering an additional 22 miles, was later connected in 1829.

One of the engineering feats of the day was the tunnel constructed northwest of Lebanon to take the canal through the rocky ridge just north of the town. It was blasted out of solid rock forming a passageway 729 feet long, 18 feet wide and 15 feet high. Today, this tunnel is the oldest exist­ing tunnel in the United States and one of the county’s outstanding tour­ist attractions. The last boat passed through the channel in 1886, however, when it became apparent that the Lebanon Valley Railroad spelled the doom of the waterway.

The railroad age came in 1850 with the completion of the Dauphin and Susquehanna Railroad built across the northern part of the county. Shortly afterward, the North Lebanon Rail­road (later the Cornwall & Lebanon) built in 1853 by Robert W. Coleman became the first railroad which ran into Lebanon city. This line was initially established to transfer coal to the Cornwall furnaces from the Union Canal. Later the line was continued to Lancaster and passenger service was added.

By far the best known and largest railroad to pass through the county was the Lebanon Valley Railroad which connected Harrisburg and Reading. Construction for the 56-mile-long line was begun in 1853 with the first pas­senger train making the run in early 1859. Before it was completed, how­ever, the LVR came under the control of the Philadelphia and Reading Rail­road Company. Today, the original railroad bed is still being used as part of the Conrail system.

One of the lesser known railroads in the county was the Mt. Gretna Narrow Gauge built as a spur to the Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad in 1889. It had a 24-inch wheelbase, much like minia­tures found in some amusement parks, and became quite a tourist attraction because of nearby Mt. Gretna Park and the adjoining military reservation. A tragic accident in 1915, however, marked the end of this specialized rail­road.

 

Education and Communication

William Penn required that all chil­dren in the province be taught reading, writing and some vocation. The first settlers found this difficult to accom­plish until churches were organized, for in many cases the preacher also be­came the teacher until a schoolmaster could be found. The educational values of the settlers were shaped by their religion and ancestry. They believed in a good education for their children but thought that it was the responsibility of the church and not the state.

While the churches in colonial Leba­non County had done a fine job of teaching the children the three R’s, there were some parents who wanted more. To fulfill this need the Lebanon Academy was incorporated in 1816 but did not open its doors to pupils for another ten years. About the same time, a private school for boys was organized and gained a fine reputation when, in 1841, it merged with the Lebanon Academy. The institution re­mained in operation until 1852 at which time the building was leased to the Lebanon School Board to be used as a high school.

Even though the Free School Law was passed by the state legislature in 1834, it encountered staunch opposi­tion from many of the people of Lebanon County who were slow to abide by it. Many were opposed to compul­sory education and thought that free schools would become forced schools. Eleven years after its passage, some Lebanon County districts still failed to comply with the idea. As a result, Lebanon’s public or free school system did not start until sometime after 1840. The strongest reason for opposi­tion was that local residents feared that the German tongue would be lost to their children. With German being the native language of many of the set­tlers, residents naturally wished to re­tain it as the language of the schools. Eventually, however, one-room schools appeared in all townships and English came to be used in the classroom. By 1859 the first Catholic parochial school had also opened.

The county’s first degree granting institution, Lebanon Valley College, was opened in 1866 with forty-nine students enrolled. Its first class, con­sisting of two men and one woman, was graduated in 1870. The college has been co-educational from its founding. making it the oldest constant co-ed college east of the Alleghenies. Today there are thirty-three buildings on its sixty-acre campus, with a yearly en­rollment of over one thousand stu­dents.

Ten years after the creation of Lebanon Valley College, the Palatinate College was started by the Reformed Church in Myerstown. Although this school soon encountered financial troubles and collapsed, another college was waiting to take its place. The United Evangelical Church leased the land and the buildings and re-opened the school as Albright College, named for Jacob Albright, founder of the Evangelical Association. This institu­tion remained in Myerstown until 1928 at which time it merged with Schuylkill College and moved to Read­ing. The old Albright College campus in Myerstown became the Evangelical Congregational School of Theology in 1953.

Lebanon countians, as individuals, have also contributed to the advance­ment of knowledge. One man, born in 1796 in Fredericksburg, Lebanon County. comes to mind. Although his life was not dedicated directly to the field of education, James Lick has had an impact on it to this day. An adven­turous youth, Lick left Fredericksburg in 1817 to find fame and fortune. He travelled first to Baltimore and New York, learning the trade of piano making, then moved on to South America where he met with success. After touring Europe, he finally set­tled in California and soon amassed a considerable fortune in real estate. In 1874, he placed his estate in the hands of trustees and asked that it be de­voted to support public and charitable purposes. This was immediately done and a large endowment was granted to the Academy of Natural Sciences. Another of James Lick’s legacies left to the world is the famous Lick Obser­vatory on Mt. Wilson in California.

Newspapers have also helped to edu­cate residents of the area since the be­ginning of the nineteenth century. The first papers, such as The Free Libononer, published in 1807, and Der Lebononer Morgenstern (The Lebanon Morning Star), begun in 1808, were printed in German. Because of the pre­dominance of German-speaking people in the area, the first English paper, the Lebanon Courier, was not printed un­til 1820. Throughout the century. there was a succession of newspapers in the county, frequently aligning themselves with a particular political party as was often the practice at that time. But these papers quickly came and went. In 1872, however, the Leba­non Daily News was first released and has survived all competition, continuing to this day. Only one time in its his­tory, in June 1972 due to the floods caused by Hurricane Agnes, has the paper missed a delivery.

In 1879, shortly after the Daily News began, the paper found itself re­porting on a criminal case which even­tually received nationwide coverage. It was a reporter, in fact, who noticed that all six defendants in the case had blue eyes and dubbed them “the Blue­-Eyed Six,” thus naming the county’s most famous trial. It was claimed that four of those charged had insured the life of an old man, Joseph Raber, and then hired two other men to kill him in order to collect the insurance money. In all, sixty-four witnesses were called (still a county record) be­fore the jury entered a guilty verdict for all six defendants. Although one man was granted a retrial and later re­leased, the other five were hanged. Members of a prominent Lebanon family are said to have met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and told him of the city’s Blue-Eyed Six case. Soon afterward, Doyle published The Red-Headed Four in which he mentioned Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

 

Economic Development

Despite the surge of industrial de­velopment which followed the Revolu­tion, agriculture remained king in Lebanon County. Many of the Ger­mans who arrived in the 1700s were farmers and found land which re­sembled the homes they had left be­hind. As transportation systems im­proved, turnpikes and the Union Canal offered an increased market to the farmer and further solidified agri­culture’s leading role. Today, farm crops such as alfalfa, corn, soy beans and wheat, those same crops which predominated in earlier days, still play a crucial role in the area’s economy.

Early industry, as might be expected, was associated with agriculture. The free-flowing streams of Lebanon County provided a powerful source of energy. In time, the waters of the Quittapahilla turned about fifty mills. Grist mills developed at first and later, saw mills, as the lumbering industry grew. It is hard to overestimate the im­portance of mills to the county’s early economic development.

The iron industry has been a part of Lebanon County almost since the area’s settlement. Peter Grubb brought the enterprise to the region between 1734 and 1737 when he acquired 637􀀆 acres of land, including the ore de­posits, in the Cornwall area. The Corn­wall Charcoal Furnace, named after his father’s birthplace, was built by Grubb in 1742. Demand for iron prod­ucts increased with the Revolutionary War, and Grubb’s two sons responded by supplying the Continental Army with cannon, shot, stoves and salt pans. In 1767, the forge was leased to James Old, who had the distinction of bringing Robert Coleman into the iron business.

A history of Lebanon County would not be complete without mentioning the Coleman family. Robert Coleman, the founder of this dynasty, was an Irish immigrant who came to this country in 1764. He soon became en­amored of the fledgling iron indus­try and by the time of his death in 1825 had amassed an enormous estate, including the ore banks and blast fur­nace which he left his four sons and three daughters. He made his first pur­chase in the Cornwall ore mines in 1785 and by 1798 owned five-sixths of them. The ore banks, mined since 1756, are the oldest continuously operated iron mines in the New World and at one time were the greatest iron ore deposits east of Lake Superior. The mining property was divided into ninety-six shares, and each succeeding generation of the Coleman family ex­panded the furnace operations until they had furnaces operating in Corn­wall, Colebrook and Lebanon.

The Colemans became Lebanon’s royal family. President Grant appointed George Dawson Coleman commissioner to the Vienna World’s Fair and a few times visited the Coleman home in Lebanon. Deborah Coleman Brock was instrumental in the founding of the Good Samaritan Hospital. Robert H. Coleman was responsible for the development of Mount Gretna, a popular resort area. At one time, in what is now Coleman’s Park, the Coleman family had built five mansions, the last of which was torn down in 1961.

In 1902, the last of the Coleman furnaces was sold to the Pennsylvania Steel Company and, in 1918, the Bethlehem Steel Company acquired all of their holdings and dismantled the furnaces. The Cornwall Charcoal Furnace remained in the Coleman family until 1932 when the great­-granddaughter of the first Robert Coleman gave it to the state of Penn­sylvania to be used as a museum. To­day the iron furnace is an historic site of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and is the oldest fully preserved example of early Penn­sylvania ironworks, predecessors to the state’s steel industry.

Satellite industries of the iron and steel business flourished in the early 1900s and Lebanon County developed an unusually large number of found­ries, machine works and other related enterprises. Some of these small busi­nesses have disappeared but many have been absorbed by larger companies. Today, the Lebanon Steel Foundry, Quaker Alloy Casting Company and the Bethlehem Steel Corporation are major employers in this area.

The southern half of the Lebanon Valley is underlain with limestone, an element crucial to the steel industry. A geologist once remarked that the towns of Myerstown, Lebanon, Ann­ville and Palmyra, in fact, should never have existed. Instead, he suggested, the area should have been one long stone quarry. To demonstrate the importance of the limestone industry to the valley, as early as 1866 there were as many as forty-three quarries in Lebanon Coun­ty. Today, the limestone industry con­tinues as an important part of the county’s industrial base.

Lebanon County’s economy, how­ever, did not depend upon the iron and limestone industries alone. Other important businesses included carriage factories, hat and shoe manufacturing plants, cigar making shops and lumber related industries. One small busi­ness was known internationally. The Miller Organ Company started pro­duction in 1873 and continued into the 1920s. Approximately one-third of the fine reed parlor organs the com­pany manufactured found their way into foreign markets. Another prod­uct of the area with a world-wide repu­tation is Lebanon Bologna. The flavoring recipe was developed by the early German settlers with the first commercial manufacture of the prod­uct made by Daniel Weaver in 1885. It is still produced by three different companies under the trade names of Weaver, Seltzer and Bomberger – each using their own flavoring secret.

The oldest operating industry in Lebanon is also said to be the oldest distillery in the United States. Michter’s Distillery, originally known as Bom­berger’s Distillery, located south of Schaefferstown, dates back to the eighteenth century. In respect to its fascinating history, the distillery has both been placed on the National Register of Historic Places (1975) and, earlier this year, was named a National Historic Landmark.

 

Conclusion

As in all areas of the country, Leba­non too can claim its right as an ethnic melting pot. The early settlers were mostly German, with some Scotch­-Irish and a few pure Irish to flavor the pot. The early 1800s saw an influx of more Irish, especially during the time of the construction of the Union Canal. Later in that century, and on into the start of the twentieth century, came many Italians to work in the stone quarries and Austria-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, Romanians, Slo­vaks, Croatians and Poles to work in the iron ore mines and steel works.

More recently, Fort Indiantown Gap housed Vietnamese refugees and others from Southeast Asia until per­manent homes could be found for them. Between four and five hundred of these “boat people” were even­tually sponsored in Lebanon County and today remain in the area. In addi­tion to the Vietnamese, Fort Indian­town Gap now provides shelter for Cuban refugees who are temporarily being housed there until permanent residences can be found. Lebanon County has truly been a home to the displaced.

As in its early history, foreign-born people have played an important part in the shaping of the county. Although one of the smallest in the Common­wealth, Lebanon County ranks among the first in natural and developed re­sources and points with pride to its majestic heritage.

 

Special thanks for their assistance in preparing this feature go to Edna Carmean and other volunteers of the Lebanon County Historical Society.

 

John J. Foster has been a member of the Lebanon County Historical Soci­ety since 1941, serving as president from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1976 to 197Z Currently, he is the society’s treasurer. He has written a number of books, his latest, The Circle L Story, having been pub­lished by the society in 1978.