York Town Square

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Mining a rich vein of southwestern York County’s religious history – Part I

The United Brethren Church built two-story cabins when it opened the Heidelberg Township (Pa.) campground in 1896 for churchgoers to stay overnight or weekly. Penn Grove Campground later operated as Camp Pamadeva and is known today at Penn Grove Retreat. All but one of the wooden structures, sometimes called tents, have been torn down, and campers to this southwestern York County facility now sleep in newer cinder block cabins. The corner of the tabernacle, an open air pavilion for worship services, is seen at right. The campground was a stop on a recent tour of religious sites in York and Adams counties. Other posts of interest: Abe Lincoln, Gwyneth Paltrow passed through Porters Sideling and Conewago Chapel steeple worker wondered if he’d ever get up there: Now, ‘Here I am’ and Pamadeva. Get it? Pennsylvania. Maryland. Delaware. Virginia..

The 10-mile line between York County’s Spring Grove and Adams County’s Edgegrove bears a rich vein of history.
Spend five hours mining that vein with three knowledgeable students of history, and you come away with a clarity about how much you don’t know about this fascinating region.
Actually, those students are longtime teachers about York County’s history: Jim Rudisill, Luther Sowers and June Lloyd.
On a recent Saturday, Rudisill served as tour guide, equipped with his 14-stop itinerary neatly handwritten on lined notebook paper… .

The tour had a decidedly religious direction, and that theme serves as a lesson in itself: If you want to understand York County history, you’d better bone up on the various religious groups that shaped it. The same goes, of course, if you’re studying American and world history.
Rudisill, Sowers, Lloyd and other local history researchers have a deep understanding of York County’s religious terrain. But the tour revealed another lesson as well.
In driving that southwestern York County/eastern Adams County line, a wide religious diversity is apparent.
Just considering complexity of liturgy, or manner of worship, the spectrum runs from high-church Roman Catholics (Conewago Chapel) to mid-church Lutherans (St. Paul’s and St. Matthew) to low-church Camp Pamaveda and Bair’s Mennonite Meetinghouse.
That might be surprising to cynics who contend York countians are all in one mind on the religious front – closed.
The late Frederick S. Weiser was an expert on York County religious history, and he served as a minister for years in the southwestern part of the county.
In his introduction to Jan A. Bankert’s “Digges’ Choice, 1724-1800,” he wrote:

“We can see the variety of religious confessions of the settlers; and in this respect Digges’ Choice (the Hanover area) is important. Catholics, Reformed, Mennonites and Lutherans dwelt side by side in this area – of the first times in Christendom when religious freedom gave rise to religious pluralism. Moreover, there is not evidence of friction.”

Now, that’s a different looking vein of history.
For more than 100 additional York Town Square posts on York County’s religious history, click here.
First of four posts to be adapted from York Sunday News column (8/23/09).