While a student in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I often attended Derry Presbyterian Church. Off to the side between the church and the cemetery was this glass-paned structure housing a log cabin, the oldest building in central Pennsylvania.
Built in 1732, the year George Washington was born and Benjamin Franklin first published “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” “the Old Session House” still stands on its original site.
Settlers from miles around started gathering in a grove of trees here in 1724 to hear a long sermon by the Presbyterian minister, have a picnic lunch and return for another long service. 1729 records show they were served by a travelling minister.
William Bertram was installed as pastor in 1732. He began the first frontier school in the region in this old cabin. Reading was the principal subject because it was important to be able to read the Bible.
The land was deeded to the Derry Presbyterian Congregation by the first Roal Governor William Penn’s sons, John, Thomas and Richard in 1741.
From 1746 to 1791, the church was served by the famous “Fighting Parson,” the Reverend John Elder, a prominent landowner active in both the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. Feeling the Quaker governors of the area were not providing adequate protection against Indians, Elder recruited two companies of Rangers called the “Paxton Boys” from the congregations of the Derry and Paxton churches to defend the area. 27 Rangers and at least 40 Revolutionary War veterans are buried in the cemetery.
Milton Hershey, creator of the Hershey chocolate bar and founder of the town of Hershey, donated the glass enclosure to protect the building in 1929.
In November 2006, the building was added to the National Historic Registry of the United States Department of the Interior.
I knew almost nothing of this background when I lived in Hershey. But I would suggest when you visit Hershey for its many recreational activities, take a brief pause in your day, come to this old building and contemplate the history it has seen.
Click on photos to enlarge.