Time again for architectural pilgrimage

By on April 6, 2017

Cocalico Corner Donna ReedElaine Bowman and her friends at the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley are busy these days putting the final touches on the second Cocalico Valley Church Tour.

As Bowman and the committee of volunteers organizers work to publicize the event set for Saturday, April 22, they extend an open invitation to everyone. Well, almost everyone, that is.

The first tour, so lovingly organized was held Oct. 3, 2015. A stormy visitor who swept through Lancaster County and much of the region that day did more than bring dark clouds: the remnants of what was Joaquin, a category 4 hurricane, morphed into a nor’easter bringing lots of rain, flooding, cool temperatures, wind, downed trees, and power outages. Not exactly the best conditions for a church tour and the attendance reflected that.

So, Joaquin and any nor’easter wanna-bes are advised to find some other place or parade to rain on April 22. Bowman is counting on the sunny skies and warmth of a perfect Pennsylvania mid-spring day.

“We are praying for better weather!” she said.

The committee, said Bowman, has edited the tour, reducing both the number of churches opening their doors as well as tour hours.

“There are nine churches this year so that is more workable for the tourgoers,” she said. And meals will be available at two of the churches so hungry visitors won’t have to veer off course over the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. time frame.

Bergstrasse Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9 Hahnstown Road, Ephrata, is serving breakfast from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1331 W. Main St., Ephrata, is serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The modestly priced meals are not a part of the tour ticket price of $15 for those ages 18 and older. Youth under age 18 may tour free of charge, Bowman said.

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The churches on this tour were selected because of the wide range of exterior and interior architecture styles they boast.

“Each has its own characteristics — from ultramodern to going back to the 1800s,” she said.

Here, from the tour guide, is a quick snapshot of what visitors can expect to see on the tour —

Our Mother of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church, Ephrata — With a history that goes back to 1914, the configuration of the church has changed from worship in the dining room of the original mansion purchased for its use to the first 1940 church building to the current church that was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1995. Four stained glass windows from the 1940 church are incorporated into the modern style of the 1995 edifice.

First United Methodist Church, Ephrata — the church dates back to 1872 with the founding of First United Brethren Church at the current Church and Locust streets site. Twenty years later another structure was constructed and in 1955 an education building was added. A dozen stained glass windows and a Mohler organ provide special ambiance to the worship experience.

Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lincoln — Founded in 1853 in New Ephrata, the Lutheran congregation broke off from the union church in 1902 when more space was needed and the current sanctuary constructed. Major additions date to 1958, 1973, and 1993. There is a dedicated history room filled with artifacts and documents in the church.

Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ, Lincoln — The church dates to 1852 when a wooden union church (shared with the Lutheran congregation) was erected in Apple Street. The current church was built in 1901 and has undergone several renovations over the past century-plus.

Springville Old Order Mennonite, Ephrata — Founded in 1923, the congregation built its first structure in 1938. The current congregation is composed of members who belong to the Mennonite-Weaverland Conference. There is a cemetery to the rear of the property and a horse-and-buggy shed remains standing on the north side. The stark interior is very different from the interior of other churches on the tour.

Wiest Memorial Church, Schoeneck — The church, built in 1904, is named for Dr. Samuel S. Wiest whose widow funded construction in his memory. Wiest himself requested the Gothic Revival style. Much of the original style and accoutrements of the church remain intact despite a major 1952 interior and exterior renovation. The sandstone used in construction was extracted from the hills north of Schoeneck. The Sunday school annex was added in 1961.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Denver — In the late 19th Century, Reformed services were held in Bucher’s Union Meetinghouse, North Sixth and Locust streets). By 1890, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations built a union church on Walnut Street and 22 years later, the Lutherans left to build their own church on adjacent land. In 1966, the Reformed, then UCC, congregation built what has become known as the “round church” at High School Road and Lancaster Avenue. The modern post-mid-century church was enlarged when expanded daycare facilities, Christian education classrooms, the front entrance, and a new daycare entrance were added in 2016.

Mohler Church of the Brethren, Ephrata — This church traces it roots back to the Conestoga Church of the Brethren (circa 1724-1864) in the Bareville area. The first Ephrata area Mohler meeting house, a wooden structure built in 1872, was destroyed in a fire in 1898. A rebuild occurred the same year with additions occurring in 1923, 1949, 1950, and 1985. All Mohlers in the US descended from immigrant Ludwig Mohler (died 1754) who is buried in the adjoining cemetery with 100 other family members and descendants.

Bergstrasse Evangelical Lutheran Church, Ephrata —Founded in May 1752, a first log-cabin structure was built on the Downingtown-Harrisburg Turnpike. The founding members, German immigrants, remarked that the landscape was much like Bergstrasse Mountain Road that runs from Darmstadt to Heidelberg. The original building was replaced with a stone and brick structure in 1848 which was then replaced with the current building in 1896. Of note: Dick Winters, Ephrata native and World War II “Band of Brothers” veteran, is buried in the adjoining cemetery.

Bowman hopes that touring the churches will evoke some happy memories.

She recalls growing up in the Wiest congregation and notes the building looks the same save the new pews.

“I went to Sunday school there as a little kid,” she said, with a smile. “Every Christmas, we’d each get a piece of glassware, a box of chocolate candy, and an orange. I’ll never forget that.”

And, weather willing, Bowman and her fellow committee members hope that participants will feel the same about this year’s Cocalico Valley Church Tour.

Bowman said that tickets for the tour can be purchased in advance at the Historical Society, 237-249 W. Main St., Ephrata, or from any society board member. For more information, call 717-733-1616.


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