Universal York

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York County’s St. Jacob’s (Stone) Church 1887 encounter with lightning

Stone Church photo from the St. Jacob's UCC website
Stone Church photo from the St. Jacob’s UCC website

Summer brings thunder and lightning. Here is an account of a quite powerful lightning strike at St. Jacob’s (Stone) Church in Codorus Township. It is from the June 28, 1887 York Gazette.

FEARS OF LIGHTNING—During the storm on Monday, the 20th inst., about noon, the lightning struck the Stone (St. Jacob’s) church in Codorus township and did considerable damage. The fluid entered at the gable-end of the building, knocked down the ceiling, then passed down to the floor, ripped the carpet and splintered the flooring, throwing the fragments into the gallery. The fluid then passed out of the church and struck a tree, glanced to a post, from there it ran over a metallic wash-line and into the ground. Two men and a horse, which happened to be near, were knocked down and stunned by the shock, but not seriously injured.

Note that the reporter used the term “fluid” to describe the lightning. One of the definitions of fluid is “capable of flowing,” and that nasty bit of lighting at Stone Church certainly did that. Benjamin Franklin described the fluidity of lightning in his experiments with lightning and electricity.

According to the St. Jacob’s (Stone) United Church of Christ website, the church building that was struck was the third one on the site and built of brick. The first, about 1756, was log, and the second, about 1789, was stone, hence the name. The fourth, and current, building is a larger brick edifice, with the cornerstone laid in 1889 after the third one was damaged by lightning, perhaps the incident reported above.

The great majority of rural churches in York County and other Pennsylvania German regions were initially “union churches,” with congregations, usually Lutheran and German Reformed (the predecessor of today’s United Church of Christ) sharing a building. St. Jacob’s carried on that practice for more years than most, but now the Lutheran congregation, St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church, has its own newer building at 3444 Sticks Road, Glen Rock, about five miles away. The United Church of Christ congregation retains the original site at 5152 Stone Church Road, Glenville.