John Gloninger and his lasting legacy in North Cornwall Township

6 min read913 views and 90 shares Posted May 19, 2020

Though it’s been over two centuries since John Gloninger and his family made their first marks on Lebanon County, few residents are familiar with their story. The Gloninger name is part of Lebanon County history, and North Cornwall Township is an area where that history can still be seen, in the form of a historic home, a new park, and even a whole community.

Who was Gloninger?

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John Gloninger was born in 1758, in what was then Lebanon Township in Lancaster County. His parents, Philip and Anna Barbara, were part of a family lineage claimed to be among the first settlers in the area.

Gloninger was primarily educated by the pastor of the Reformed Church (what is today known as the Tabor Church along 10th Street in Lebanon). In 1775, when the Revolutionary War broke out, a young Gloninger became a subaltern officer and eventually Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the Second Battalion of Militia from Lancaster County.

Read More: Tabor Day and the incredible journey of a Lebanon church

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His wartime experience connected him with George Washington himself, who invited the Gloningers to dine with him in March of 1791. Washington is believed to have visited Lebanon Valley on three occasions in the 1790s following this, two of which were inspections on the project that would become the Union Canal.

Read More: This Presidents’ Day, remembering Lebanon’s links to our country’s highest elected office

John Gloninger, Revolutionary War lieutenant colonel, state representative and senator, and associate judge. (Pennsylvania State Senate)
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Gloninger was made county lieutenant of newly-formed Dauphin County in 1785. In this same year, he began construction of the Gloninger Estate in what is now North Cornwall Township. In 1790, he became a state senator, having resigned from a position as a state representative that he had gained earlier that year. The following year, he became an associate judge. The Honorable John Gloninger kept his position as Lebanon County was formed in 1813 and only gave it up shortly before his 1836 death. He was 77 years old and was buried in the cemetery of the Reformed Church—the same church that had been a part of his education as a boy.

John Gloninger is probably the most historically prominent of his family, but the name has been part of Lebanon history for long after his death. Dr. John W. Gloninger, the elder John’s son, was the first of many well-known physicians in the family line, including Dr. Andrew Gloninger, who founded the Lebanon Sanatorium in 1903. The elder John was also married to Catherine Orth, herself part of a political family connected to the state legislature through Catherine’s brother Henry, father Adam, and brother-in-law David Krause, all of whom were representatives from the area.

Old Gloninger property given new life

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“I don’t think he is a well-known figure,” said Tom Long, North Cornwall Township manager, in a phone conversation with LebTown. “People scratch their heads and say, ‘Who’s Gloninger? Where’d you come up with that name?'”

On the perimeter trail of Gloninger Woods Park. At the top of the hill are the woods themselves, and before them stands baseball and soccer fields, a concession stand, a playset, and pavilions. (Groh)

That’s in reference to Gloninger Woods Park, a 20-acre park located at 22nd and Walnut Streets near Pleasant Hill. Long and the township have been steadily developing the park over the past several years and have added a lot to the land, which started out as Gloninger family property.

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“There was actually an old 1900s Gloninger family development,” Long explained. “This whole Pleasant Hill area, from 16th Street west, even incorporating the park’s land, was supposed to be developed with homes.”

An early 1900s map of the Gloninger area with hundreds of lots. High-resolution picture here. (Bob Phillips)

In fact, the Pleasant Hill area itself was known simply as Gloninger earlier in its history, as evidenced by a historical account of the local Neversink Fire Company: “On October 4, 1904 in the little town of Gloninger, the need to protect the village from fire was growing more and more apparent. On that day the Neversink Fire Company No. 1 was born.”

Gloninger Woods, once part of a large property owned by the Gloninger family. (Groh)

The parcel of land that would become the park was bought from the City of Lebanon Authority back in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2015 or so that Phase I of the park’s development began to take shape. Since then, the park’s added soccer and baseball fields, pavilions, trails, a playground, and a concession stand.

The Lebanon Daily News reported on the park’s development in 2017, and some plans outlined then have since been changed. Now, Long says the park is more or less finished: “I would classify the park as 90-95% completed at this point.”

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A plaque detailing John Gloninger’s life was installed at the park on May 8, but the commemoration of the park, originally scheduled for May 16, has been indefinitely delayed as the township has grappled with COVID-19 shutdowns.

The event, which Long hopes will still be put on either later this year or the next, would have included a Revolutionary War Color Guard, a children’s bike rodeo, a display of police and firefighting equipment, and baseball games, among other activities.

The Gloninger Estate, constructed in 1785 and currently in use as a private residence. This photograph was taken in 2011. (Wikimedia)

The Gloninger Estate, also located within the township at today’s 2511 West Oak Street, was started by John Gloninger and his family in 1785. The property includes a small limestone smokehouse near the house and was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, following an application submitted by its then-owners, the Zimmerers. Dr. Stephanie Zimmerer spoke to LebTown about the property in a phone conversation.

According to Zimmerer, the house took 15 years to complete as evidenced by the dates “1785-1800” written in red crayon behind a mantle in the dining room. By the time the Zimmerers bought the property, it was in disrepair, but after a period of heavy refurbishment work the Zimmerers successfully submitted the application to the National Register, which is viewable online.

The house was built in the Swiss-German style popular at the time, and its walls are, in some places, almost three feet thick. The limestone on which the house was built contained a small 200-foot cave that was used for food storage. Today, the house remains a private residence.

The Gloninger Estate with a barn on the property in 1980. The barn was originally built in the 1900s by the Kreider family. (Zimmerer)

The story of John Gloninger may not be well-known, but his family name continues to live on in North Cornwall Township and in the county itself, in the places and parks still here today.

Do you know a piece of Lebanon County history we should share? Give us advice on what to feature next!

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