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Waldeck. Reistville. Goosetown.
Lebanon County is littered with dozens of tiny, out-of-the-way former settlements that are now homes to mere handfuls of local residents. But at their cores, they make up the fabric of, and have helped to define what Lebanon County is all about.
Their peoples. Their heritages. Their stories. They have similarity in their uniqueness.
They’re way too small to be considered ‘villages’ — or Heaven forbid, large enough to support a post office. Technically speaking, they’re considered ‘minor civil divisions’ or ‘populated places.’
When it comes to local populated places, Shirksville might not be the smallest of the small, but one would be hard-pressed to come up with a teensier town.
“Mount Zion isn’t large, but it’s bigger than Shirksville,” said local resident Leroy Sherk. “Ono is smaller in size, but it’s larger than Shirksville. Hamlin’s another little town, and it’s about the same size as Shirksville.”
Surrounded by fertile farm land, Shirksville is situated in Bethel Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. But there are very few markers that acknowledge its existence, except for Shirksville Mennonite Church and the remnants of an old mill, and Shirksville Road, which intersects Route 343.
Shirksville is located a country mile south of downtown Fredericksburg, three miles east of Jonestown and six miles north of the roaring metropolis of Lebanon.
“There are probably 15 to 20 homes there,” said Sherk. “It’s a small community of modest homes. I don’t know if there’s anything special about it. Most of the Shirks who lived there are probably all deceased now.”
Personally, Sherk has a vested interest in Shirksville. Although the original spelling of his surname has fluctuated over the years, many of his descendants resided in and around Shirksville, and he grew up just south of Shirksville proper.
Originally, the ‘Shirks’ or ‘Sherks’ who migrated to the area that is now Shirksville were Mennonites from Switzerland. Founder Casper Shirk (Sherrick or Schirch) settled in the area in 1738 – presumably because of the area’s rich soil required for farming – after receiving a deed to the land from Thomas Penn, son of William Penn.
“When Casper came across in a boat, it was supposed to take several weeks, and it took six months,” said the 76-year-old Sherk, who now resides in North Lebanon Township. “The sailing was rough and a lot of people died. They finally got to Massachusetts, but then they took another boat to Philadelphia.
“Then from Philadelphia, he came to Shirksville, and he built a house there,” continued Sherk. “When most people came to this country they couldn’t speak English, so there were many different spellings of ‘Shirk’.”
Over the years, not much has changed in Shirksville. Generations have come and gone, dwellings have become a bit more modern, but the ways of life and the pace of it aren’t all that much different than they were back then.
In that way, time has been kind to Shirksville.
“Actually, even way back when I was going to school, it was the same. It hasn’t changed,” said Sherk. “I think that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of farm land around there. At one time, I knew all the people who lived there.
“I really don’t think it’ll change all that much in the future,” added Sherk. “For all those years, it’s been all of the same homes. There really haven’t been many businesses or stores there. You either have to go to Fredericksburg or Lebanon if you want to shop.”
So why not ‘Shirkstown’ or ‘Shirksburg’?
There’s probably more unknown about Shirksivlle than there is known. But that makes it even more important to document what is known about it.
“Why did they name it Shirksville? I really don’t know,” said Sherk. “I would think it was because of Casper Shirk. But I don’t think there are any Shirks who live there now.”
Not unlike Buffalo Springs or Lickdale or Bunker Hill.
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