CHURCHES BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
A HISTORY OF THE
LUTHERAN CONGREGATIONS IN
PERRY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
REV. D. H. FOCHT, A.M.
CHRIST'S (LUTHERAN) CHURCH
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A number of Lutheran families settled at
Petersburg and it's vicinity soon after the town was located. These had no
church of their own nearer than New Buffalo or Fishing Creek, both some five or
eight miles off. It was chiefly through the exertions of Dr. Philip Ebert that
they secured a pastor. When the West Pennsylvania Synod held its sessions
at Bloomfield in September, 1842, he prevailed on Rev. Berg, who at that time
received license to preach, to visit Petersburg and the members scattered along
the west bank of the Susquehanna as far up as Liverpool. This was the
beginning of the forming of the congregation at Petersburg. In November, 1842,
Rev. Andrew Berg
commenced his pastoral labors here. The
use of the Methodist Episcopal Church was kindly granted. Here he preached
once every four weeks. The use of the German language in preaching was
never required by this congregation. Rev. Berg's labors were blessed by
the Lord, the scattered members were collected and all took courage. At
the close of December, 1842, the congregation was regularly organized, when the
following brethren were elected and installed as its first officers:
George Keim, Elder.
Jonathan Michener, Sen., and Dr. Philip Ebert, Deacons.
The first communion was held on the 1st of January, 1843, when the following
names were recorded as members of the congregation:
John Hiltner; Jacob Sidel; Andrew Hantz; Amos A. Jones; Dr. Philip Ebert;
Abraham Leady; Eleazer Michener; Sarah Hiltner; Sophia Fie; Mary Michener;
Rebecca Kulp; Mary Hantz; Letitia Ebert; Mary A. Grove; Mary A. Remirk.
The congregation, though small, was now regularly constituted and assumed a more
encouraging position. The want of a suitable house of worship was however
seriously felt. Rev. Mr. Berg succeeded in collecting a class of
catechumens. These he diligently instructed for some time, and on the 4th
of June, 1843, the following persons were confirmed and admitted to communion:
Aaron Keim; Jon. Michener; Philip Michener; Eliza A. Keiser; Susan Clandenin;
Susan Jones; Cath. Michener; Moriah Keim; Eliza Stevenson; Mary Eddy; Mary
Sellers; Cath. Hiltner; Edward Miller*; Michael Koup*; George Keim*; Samuel
Garman*; Jane Jones*; Mary Shannon*
*These united at this time with the congregation.
Though the congregation was prospering and increasing in numbers under
the faithful labors of Rev. Berg, and it was hoped that by patient perseverance
much would be accomplished for the cause of Christ, but to the sincere regret of
all, Rev. Berg thought it to be his duty to change his pastoral relation.
Near the close of June, 1843, he resigned and accepted a call from the
Shrewsbury charge, York County, Pa. he was much beloved by this people,
and to him belongs the honor of establishing this congregation on a firm basis
amid numerous difficulties.
The congregation was then vacant about four months. Dr. Ebert again put
forth efforts to secure a pastor. He addressed a letter to Synod, urging
the necessity of a speedy supply. This letter was read before Synod in
September, 1843, and, on motion, that body took the following action:
"Resolved, That in view of Dr. Ebert's letter, the attention of
applicants for licensure be called to the congregation at Petersburg, and the
congregations united therewith, in Perry County."
Rev. Levi T. Williams,
then a licentiate, accordingly accepted a
call from Petersburg and the other congregations, and entered on the discharge
of this pastoral duties in October, 1843. He preached here once every four
weeks, and extended his labors to New Buffalo, Mount Pisgah, Newport,
Bloomfield, and perhaps to some other points. He performed Home Missionary
labor and for some time received some aid from the Home Missionary Treasury of
Synod. As the congregations were small and only in a formative state, much
hard labor and self-denial were required, but these were not bestowed in vain,
as the result clearly evinced.
At Petersburg, for want of a church, the congregation labored under great
disadvantage. Hence, soon after Rev. Williams had taken charge, the
subject of erecting a house of worship was agitated, and measures were taken to
effect this needful end. Having land as a suitable location on the edge of
the town, Dr. Ebert generously offered one acre of it to the congregation, and
executed a deed of conveyance, from which we submit the following extract:
"This Indenture, made the 7th day of May, A.D./, 1844, between Dr. Philip
Ebert of Penn Township, Perry County, State of Pennsylvania, and Letitia his
wife, of the one part, and the Council of the Lutheran congregation at
Petersburg, &c., . . . of the other part, Witnesseth that the said Dr.
Philip Ebert and Letitia his wife for and in consideration of the sum of one
hundred dollars, . . . to them in hand paid by the said Church-Council of the
Lutheran congregation of Petersburg &c., . . . all that lot or piece of
land, situate, &c., . . . containing one acre to said Council and their
successors in office to and for the only proper use, benefit, and behoof of said
Church-Council of the Lutheran Church of Petersburg, &c."
This lot of ground lies on the west edge of the borough of Petersburg, on a high
and dry bluff, commanding a fine view of the town, the river and the mountains
all around for a considerable distance, and is in every way a desirable locality
for a church and graveyard. The foundation was run up, and on the 19th of
May, 1844, the corner-stone was laid. A number of documents and a copy of
the following declaration were deposited in the corner-stone:
"DECLARATION AT THE LAYING OF THE
"In the name of the Triune God. Amen.
"Whereas the Evangelical Lutheran
congregation, now worshipping in the Methodist Episcopal Church in this place,
believes it necessary to build a house of worship of their own, and that its
location in this vicinity would best subserve the interests of the congregation
and religion generally; and Whereas we are desirous of perpetuating
Christianity by the faithful preaching of God's word and the administration of
the ordinances of religion, for our mutual benefit and improvement as well as
that of our posterity,--We, therefore, the members of this congregation,
in reliance on the Great Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, the same today,
yesterday, and forever, have resolved to build upon this ground a house of
worship, and do now publish to the world the object and society
for which it is to be erected: Wherefore, be it known to the
present and future generations, that we here, on this 19th day of May, A.D.,
1844 (John Tyler being President of the United States, and D. R. Porter Governor
of the State of Pennsylvania), do lay the corner-stone of this Evangelical
Lutheran church; and should God prosper the work of our hands and the edifice be
completed, it shall be dedicated forever to the service of the Triune God,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and shall be known and called by the name of Christ's
Church; moreover, it shall be and remain forever an Evangelical Lutheran
church, in which the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as they are
substantially set forth in the Augsburg Confession of Faith, shall be preached,
and the sacraments shall be administered in conformity with the usages of the
Church, that thus it may appear to posterity what is our religious faith.
Should there, however, a generation of men arise and obtain possession of this
church, -- men who deny the Lord that bough them and despise God's word and
ordinances, and will not submit to the wholesome doctrines and discipline of the
Church, we call heaven and earth to witness that we are free from their
blood,---moreover, we call heaven and earth to witness that we love vital
godliness and ardently desire its perpetuity, that we expect it from our
children and children's children that they faithfully and perseveringly adhere
tot he doctrines of the Cross, and that it is our prayer that the young and old
may be awakened, converted, comforted, edified and prepared for the
enjoyment of the sanctuary above. Prompted by such desires and having
in view such objects, we trust we can confidently adopt the language of the
Patriarch Jacob, and exclaim: 'This stone which we have set for a pillar
shall be God's house.' Given at Petersburg, this 19th day of May, A.D.,
1844, the sixty-seventh year of the Independence of the United States of
America, and subscribed by the Elders, Deacons, Building-Committee and the
George Keim, Elder.
Jon. Michener, Sr., Deacon
Dr. Philip Ebert, Deacon
Andrew Hantz, Building Committee
Dr. Philip Ebert, Building Committee
Edward Miller, Building Committee
Rev. Levi T. Williams, Pastor loci.
Rev. Nicholas J. Stroh, Minister present."
Heaven smiling on the good work thus begun in the name and fear of God, the
edifice was speedily erected, and in November following it was completed.
In September, 1844, Dr. Ebert, as lay delegate of the charge, attended Synod at
Hanover, York County, Pa.
On Saturday, the 9th of November, 1844, the following persons were confirmed:
Mary Ann Leppert; Christiana L. Keim; Susan Keim; Mary A. Miller
and on Sunday, the 10th, the church was solemnly dedicated to the service of the
Triune God. In the Lutheran Observer of November 29th, 1844, is
given the following account of the consecration of this church:
"A new House of Worship.---We learn that on the 10th instant a new
Evangelical Lutheran church, at Petersburg, Perry County, Pa., was dedicated to
the service of the Triune God under the name of Christ's Church.
The Rev. Mr. Stroh performed the dedicatory ceremony, after which the Rev. Mr.
Berg delivered an appropriate sermon from 1 Peter 2:5, 'Ye also as living
stones, are built together a spiritual house.' The edifice is of stone,
forty feet square, with a gallery at one end, a neat pulpit, and well furnished
with lights. This building has been erected by a few Lutherans in a place where
two years ago the existence of the Lutheran church was barely known. The
Rev. Levi T. Williams is the pastor. Dr. Ebert, who is a warm-hearted and
whole-souled member, gave an acre of ground for the site of the church and for a
graveyard, and also contributed very liberally towards the building; in short,
by his unwearied exertion the church has been built, and he deserves well of the
neighborhood and of the Church in general for his zeal and liberality in the
good cause. We rejoice that that heretofore neglected and destitute region
is at length favored with a house of worship, in which the pure Gospel will be
preached with power and in simplicity, and the Gospel ordinances be regularly
dispensed. May the blessing of God follow this good work, and our brother
Ebert be richly rewarded in his person and family with all spiritual gifts and
During the beginning of 1845, the Lord poured out his Spirit graciously upon
this congregation, and a number embraced a hope through Jesus Christ. The
subjects of this revival were then for a time carefully instructed in the
doctrines of religion, and on the 22d of July, 1845, the following persons were
Michael Koup, Jr.; Susanna Keiser; Mary A. Wade; Doan Michener
The following names appear also now for the first time on the list of members:
Henry Bressler; David Ensminger; Peter Smith; Jacob
Long; John Price; Letitia Branyan; Martha Bressler;
Elizabeth Goodman; Barbara Ensminger; Elizabeth Long; Margaret
In September, 1845, Rev. Williams resigned, having served the charge in the
Gospel about two years. Mr. V. Jones of Petersburg, as delegate, attended
Synod at Carlisle in September, 1845. At this session of Synod Rev.
Williams reported four congregations, viz: Petersburg, Bloomfield,
Newport, and Mount Pisgah, 42 infant and 5 adult baptisms, 42 confirmation, and
196 communicants. The Lord owned and blessed his labors and many still
remain among us who own him as their spiritual father.
Rev. Lloyd Knight
took charge of this congregation on the 1st
of October, 1845, and served it in connection with Bloomfield, where he
resided. His field of labor was large. He preached at Bloomfield,
Petersburg, Newport, New Buffalo, Mount Pisgah, St. David's (Billow's), and
after June, 1847, at Buffalo above Ickesburg.
In the fall of 1845, at the first communion Rev. Knight held at Petersburg,
there were twenty-nine communicants.
During the early part of 1846, a number of persons attended the catechetical
lectures of the pastor, and on the 24th of May, 1846, the following were
received as members by confirmation, baptism, and certificate:
Sylvanus H. Green; Franklin Garman; Margaret J. Black; Rebecca
Milliken; Eliza A. Hiltner; Elizabeth Wilkinson; Susan Souder;
Elizabeth Custer*; Eliza Majer*; Ann C. Ashton*; Susan
Ashton*; Philip Bierbower, by certificate; William B. Irvine, by
certificate; Catharine Harper, by certificate.
The names of John C. West, Mary Bossler, and Mary Hinkel appear also now for the
first time on the list of members. The Lord was evidently blessing the
labors of his servant, and much good was effected.
In September, 1846, at Synod, Rev. Knight reported 6 congregations, 52 infant
and 8 adult baptisms, 26 confirmations and 241 communicants. Thus the
number of members in the charge was increasing.
On the 18th of October, 1846, the following persons were received to membership
Edward Mager by confirmation, and John Custer by baptism.
During the early part of 1847, others were found willing to attend lectures on
the Catechism, and on the 25th of April, 1847, the following persons were
confirmed, baptized and received by certificate:
Joseph B. Hall (baptized); Lewis Y. Michener (baptized); Amelia Straley
(baptized); Rebecca Leedy (baptized); Lydia A. Black (confirmed); Hannah Torbert
(confirmed); Mary S. Ziegler (confirmed); Amanda Steel, (by application); James
Hoffman (by certificate); Susan Hoffman (by certificate).
On the 21st of November, 1847, Catharine Ashton was confirmed, and Eliza
Rumbaugh baptized; and on the 6th of May, 1848, Catharine Hoffman was received
by certificate, and on the 18th of June following Eliza Werner was confirmed.
In September, 1848, Mr. A. Billow represented the charge as delegate to Synod,
held at East Berlin, Adams County, Pa.
In June, 1849, Rev. Knight resigned, having served this congregation three years
and a half. During this time the membership of the congregation increased
considerably in number; but as the charge was so large, it was utterly
impossible for the pastor to devote to any one congregation that undivided
attention and labor which was necessary to build it up effectually. Still,
much more was accomplished than could be expected.
Rev. Jacob Martin
commenced his pastoral labors here in July,
1849. For one year Rev. Martin preached to the same congregations Rev.
Knight did before him. At a convention held at Bloomfield in February,
1850, the Petersburg charge was first properly formed, and has since consisted
of the following congregations, viz.: Petersburg, Mount Pisgah, Mount Zion
in Fishing Creek Valley, St. David's or Billow's, and New Buffalo on the
Susquehanna River. Rev. Martin continued, however, to preach to these
congregations for some months after the charge was formed, that is, till the
close of the current pastoral year, on the 1st of July, 1850, when he resigned
During the winter and spring of 1850, Rev. Martin instructed a class of
catechumens at Petersburg, and on the 5th of May, 1850, the following persons
James Martin; Thomas Branyan; Daniel Hafer; Maria Martin; Elizabeth Hafer; Sarah
According to the division of the charge above refereed to, after having preached
here one year, Rev. Martin resigned in June, 1850, and thus opened the way for
the Petersburg Charge, as now constituted, to call a pastor. After being
vacant about five months, the charge was supplied in November, 1850, by the
Rev. John P. Hiester,
who preached regularly once every two weeks
at Petersburg, Mount Pisgah, and St. David's or Billow's. At Mount Zion or
Fishing Creek, some of the members were dissatisfied because Rev. Hiester could
not preach for them in the German language; hence he did not preach regularly
there during the first year he was pastor of the charge. At New Buffalo he
preached but seldom, if any at all. He resided at Petersburg. From
all we can learn he did not succeed very well in the charge, though he is said
to have been a good man.
In September, 1851, Mr. Edwin Mager, as delegate of the charge, attended Synod
at Newville, Cumberland County, Pa.
On the 24th of January, 1852, at Petersburg, Nancy Jane Black was confirmed and
Mrs. Susan King was received as a member by certificate, and on the 9th of
August, the same year, Mary Greek was received by baptism.
In September, 1852, Mr. D. Ensminger, Sen., as delegate, represented the charge
in Synod, held at Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, Pa. Synod appropriated
$50 towards the support of the pastor in charge for the ensuing year.
On the 11th of June, 1853, the following persons were confirmed at Petersburg:
Susan Michener, Martha A. Michener, Mary Manmiller.
In September, 1853, Mr. David Billow represented the charge at Synod, held at
Having served the charge as pastor about three years, Rev. Hiester resigned in
November, 1853, and removed to the State of Illinois. The charge was then
vacant about six months. A call was extended to the
Rev. George A. Nixdorff,
which he accepted, and he entered on the
discharge of his pastoral labors in the charge in June, 1854. He resided
at Petersburg, and preached there every two weeks, at St. David's, Mount Zion,
Mount Pisgah and also occasionally at New Buffalo. One the 20th of August,
1854, he had communion at Petersburg the first time. What the number of
members was at this time we have no means of knowing.
In September, 1854, Mr. William Messinger, as delegate of the charge, attended
Synod at Shrewsbury, York County, Pa. At this convention of Synod Rev.
Nixdorff reported 4 congregations, 10 infant baptisms, and 129 communicants.
At the organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Central Pennsylvania,
at Aaronsburg, Pa., in February, 1855, Mr. Jacob Ensminger represented the
charge as lay delegate; and at the first Annual Convention of that Synod at
Mifflintown, Pa., in May, 1855, Mr. Philip Michener appeared as delegate of the
charge. At this time Rev. Nixdorff reported 4 congregations, 5 infant and
1 adult baptisms, 13 confirmations, and 160 communicant members.
At the convention of Synod held at Mifflinburg, Union County, Pa., in May, 1856,
Mr. William Messinger appeared as delegate of the charge, and Rev. Nixdorff
reported 4 congregations, 11 infant baptisms, 4 confirmations and 165
In May, 1857, Mr. D. Ensminger appeared as delegate in Synod, held at
Perryville, Juniata County, Pa., and Rev. Nixdorff reported 5 congregations (he
preached now also at New Buffalo), 14 infant and 1 adult baptisms, 5
confirmations, and 165 communicants.
On the 29th of November, 1857, Dr. Andrew J. Werner and Christian Galbach were
confirmed. These, so far as the church record shows anything, were the
only persons admitted by Rev. Nixdorff to membership at Petersburg.
Probably others were admitted, but their names were not recorded.
When Synod convened at New Bloomfield in May, 1858, Mr. J. Souder, as delegate,
represented the Petersburg charge, and Rev. Nixdorff reported 5 congregations,
20 infant and 1 adult baptisms, 12 confirmations and 165 communicants.
Having served the charge as pastor about four years, Rev. Nixdorff resigned it
in May, 1858. During these four years he admitted to full membership 3
persons by baptism and 34 by confirmation. Although he had not the
pleasure of seeing much of the fruit of his labors, and had apparently much
reason to be discouraged, still we have good ground for believing that he sowed
much of the seed of the work now springing up and bearing an ample harvest, and
that the time will surely come when he that sowed sorrowing and he that now
reaps rejoicing shall both rejoice alike together on the great day of
After the charge had been vacant about four months, the present pastor, the
Rev. William H. Diven,
accepted a call, and on the 22d of August,
1858, commenced his labors as pastor of the charge. Much hard labor and
self-denial were required to make the charge self-sustaining. Rev. Diven
entered on the discharge of this pastoral duties with energy and prosecuted them
with untiring zeal, and, God blessing his labors, he succeeded in leading many
precious souls to Christ and in building up the charge on a solid basis, so tha
it does now with ease sustain its pastor well.
The members at Petersburg had become somewhat scattered and discouraged, so that
it was necessary to start anew, --a new life had to be infused into the
congregation and the members aroused from their lethargy. Under the
approving smiles of Heaven, Rev. Diven succeeded to a good degree in the
accomplishment of these ends.
On the 26th of March, 1859, the following persons were confirmed:
John Fie; Sarah A. Keel; Susan Philips; Rebecca Keiser (baptized),
and on Sunday, the 27th, being the first communion Rev. Diven held here, forty
persons communed, which was at this time the entire or nearly the entire
membership of the congregation. Of these forty members, thirty-two were
females, who are, if pious, generally first in every good cause, and without
whose active cooperation this congregation could not have sustained itself much
longer. They deserve much praise for their attachment to the Church, and
their aid and influence in advancing the glorious cause of the Redeemer.
In May, 1859, Rev. Diven reported at Synod, held at Mifflinburg, Union County,
Pa., 4 congregations and New Buffalo as a preaching-station, 7 infant and 2
adult baptisms, 9 confirmations, and 151 communicants.
During the latter part of 1859 and the beginning of 1860, the congregation was
blessed with an extensive revival of religion. Never before did this
congregation enjoy such a precious season of grace from on high. The word
was daily and faithfully preached by the pastor, and meetings for anxious
inquirers were continued for some weeks. Many, both old and young,
asked, "What must we do to be saved?" They were pointed to
Jesus as their only Savior. Among these were old members, and many
belonged to no church. Parents and children were often at the same time
seeking peace through Jesus Christ. These converts were carefully
instructed by the pastor, and on the 5th of February, 1860, the following
persons were confirmed and baptized:
Lawrence Gross; Thomas Black; Charles F. Green; Andrew J. Jones; Jacob Keel;
David L. McKenzie; Alexander Mahaffey; John T. Mahaffey; George Parson; John
Spahr; Jenny E. Branyan; Leah Gross; Rachel A. Hess; Susan Collier; Malinda Noss;
Margaret Ziegler; [the remaining names noted as being baptized] Eli Branyan;
William Pressly; James McLaughlin; Sarah E. Collier; Mary McCannah; Delilah
Roth; Catharine Roth; Sarah A. Stouffer; Mary Wait; Eleanor Roth, by
On the 11th of March, 1860, Abram Hess and Miss Catharine McKenzie were
By this accession of members the congregation was very much encouraged and
strengthened, and may now be said to be in a prosperous condition. May the
Lord have all the praise! and may all prove faithful!
In May, 1860, the sixth annual Convention of the Synod of Central
Pennsylvania was held at Petersburg, when Mr. Samuel Noss represented the
charge as delegate, and when Rev. Diven reported 4 congregations and New Buffalo
as a preaching-station, 22 infant and 15 adult baptisms, 38 confirmations and
187 communicant members.
On the 10th of February, 1861, the following persons were confirmed:
Alexander Manning; Mrs. Rebecca Shatto; Sarah Moser; Mary Pressley; Rebecca Shry
Mr. John Adams, as delegate of the charge, attended Synod in May, 1861, at
Belleville, Mifflin County, Pa., when Rev. Diven reported 5 congregations, 10
infant and 3 adult baptisms, 12 confirmations and 196 communicants.
On the 10th of March, 1862, Mrs. McCannah was received by baptism. In May,
1862, Mr. William Messinger represented the charge in Synod, at Selinsgrove, Pa.
The weekly prayer-meeting and Sunday-school of the congregation at Petersburg
are generally well attended, and the benevolent operations of the Church meet a
hearty response on the part of the members.
By request we will conclude this sketch by adding a list of the members of
Christ's Church at Petersburg at this time, June 1st, 1862:
Philip F. Michener
Mary A. Moses
Catharine Michener Anna M. Gross
Sarah A. Keel
Dr. Andrew J. Werner Rachel A. Hess
Charles F. Green
Sarah A. Stouffer
Owing to the peculiar circumstances and surrounding of the place, the membership
of this congregation is constantly changing more or less. Some come to the
place every year and others remove.
"Near to each other and to
Lord, bring us all in unity;
O pour thy Spirit from on high,
And all our num'rous wants supply.
"O show that in our low estate
No blessing for us is too great;
We plead thy Son, we plead thy word,
O Founder, Patron, bounteous Lord!"
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