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The Union Canal and the Cornwall Iron Furnace are well-known historical sites — but what about the places marked by the rest of the 32 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission plaques in Lebanon County?
LebTown’s taking a look at some of the stories behind the lesser-known markers that the county claims. All quoted text and addresses are from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Historical Marker Database.
Grubb’s First Forge
Location: Boyd Street & Gold Road, Minersvillage, Cornwall
Text (1967): “Peter Grubb (c.1700-54) carried on his initial efforts at iron-making in 1735 just slightly to the north. He used the Catalan-type forge which had originated in Spain sometime during the tenth century.”
Peter Grubb was the first to capitalize on the iron ore found in the Cornwall foothills, the site that would later become the Cornwall Iron Banks (a marker for the flooded open quarry can be found further up Boyd Street). A native of Delaware and a second-generation immigrant to the American colonies (the area namesake is the family’s home of Cornwall in England), Grubb discovered that there was iron, and likely a lot of it, in the area’s foothills in the early 1730s.
Over the next several years he began acquiring property in the area, eventually coming to own several hundred acres of iron-rich hillside.
“Mr. Grubb’s first iron enterprise,” according to “The Grubb family of Pennsylvania and Delaware” written by Gilbert Cope, was built about five-eighths of a mile from the later location of the Cornwall Iron Furnace. This first setup was “undoubtedly a bloomery.”
Catalan-type forges, also known as bloomeries, were relatively simple setups that consisted of a low, wide, heat-resistant chimney in which a conglomerated mixture of ore, charcoal, and slag was heated, worked, and re-heated until wrought iron could be produced. Catalan forges were brought to the U.S. by European settlers like Grubb in the 18th century, and forge ruins can be found across the country, including in California towns settled by Spanish missionaries.
Tulpehocken Evangelical and Reformed Church
Location: On church at 963 Tulpehocken Road, near Reilly Road (T409) and Berks County line, just east of Myerstown
Text (1930): “Organized in 1727 by Tulpehocken settlers. Since 1745, one red rose has been paid annually by the Church to the heirs of Caspar Wistar as rental for the land granted by him for erection of the second place of worship. Since 1902, a white rose, a token of appreciation, has been given to Wistar’s descendants.”
Casper Wistar was a German immigrant and glassmaker who became one of Pennsylvania’s first real-estate moguls, second only to William Penn himself in total land owned in the region. He was born in the Palatinate and grew up close to Heidelberg (incidentally, the namesake of a Lebanon township). In 1717, he arrived in Philadelphia with pennies to his name. From there, he worked in various trades, establishing himself as a businessman and coming to acquire some 22,000 acres of Pennsylvania land, which he managed, subdivided, and resold to massive profit.
Though he grew up in a Lutheran household, Wistar became a Quaker in the 1720s, understanding that churches played a vital role in colonial communities. In 1738, he gave a young Reformed congregation 100 acres of land in Richland, a portion of his much larger holdings around the Tulpehocken Creek. The congregation constructed a church, a cemetery, and a schoolhouse on the land, and in return paid Wistar one red rose annually.
The poetic arrangement, often termed “red rose rent,” is not the only one of its kind in the region. Similar deals were made in Manheim, on farmland in Berks County, and even elsewhere in Lebanon County; the Tabor Church in Lebanon was founded on such an arrangement with Lebanon founder George Steitz and his descendants.
According to Steven Atkinson, Wistar and the Tulpehocken congregation were the first to utilize this “payment” method, which has its roots in Wistar’s home territory of the Palatinate, from which many other Pennsylvania settlers hailed.
Location: PA 72, about a mile north of Lickdale
Text (1999): “Originally built by Peter Hedrick, 1755. The stockaded blockhouse was improved in early 1756 by Capt. Frederick Smith to guard Swatara Gap and protect the frontier settlements. The site is on Bohn Lane about a half mile from the intersection.”
Fort Swatara was one of several houses transformed into small military outposts on the edge of the Blue Mountains during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). These forts were the colonial military’s line of defense against attacks from native tribes and their French military allies. According to the PHMC, chains of these forts of existed in two eras, one from 1756 to 1757 and another from 1763 to 1764. The latter line was composed of six log houses.
Fort Swatara itself was one of the five earlier stations; it was a blockhouse, a fortified construction with a wooden stockade surrounding it. Peter Hedrick constructed the original building in 1755. In that same year, reports of killings and scalpings in the vicinity of the Swatara Gap made their way to colonial officials, and it was clear that the area was in need of defense.
On Jan. 6, 1756, Captain Frederick Smith, with a company from Chester County, was ordered to draft 50 men and head to Reading to be mustered into the service of the government. Before the end of the month, Smith was sent west to the Blue Mountains, taking over the building at Swatara and stationing several of his men at another post, Manada Fort, miles to the west. The forts are believed to have been used for about two years.
As related by Clarence Busch in 1896, the arrangements for Smith’s men were as follows: “Eight men of Capt. Smith’s company were to assist the people in “the hole” (the place where twice murder was committed) to gather in their harvest, and stay over night in the Moravian House [the Bethel meeting house for which Bethel Township is named]; eight of his men to range westward of his fort under the hill, and if occasion require to be stationed in two parties to guard the reapers; 16 men to be in and about the fort to help and protect the neighbors, but constantly 10 out of the 16 are to stay in the fort; nine men to remain constantly in Manada Fort, and 12 men to range east and west of that place.”
Jacob Albright & John Walter
Jacob Albright Location: PA 897 near Main & Shad streets, Kleinfeltersville
Jacob Albright Text (1967): “The son of German immigrants, Jacob Albright (1759-1808) founded the Evangelical Association, preached to poor farmers, and rose to become Bishop in the Methodist Church. His grave is nearby at Albright Memorial Church.”
John Walter Location: Old US 22 west of Ono at cemetery
John Walter Text (1947): “Co-laborer of Jacob Albright in founding of Evangelical Church, born 1791, died 1818, is buried in this cemetery. An effective preacher and hymn writer, he published the first songbook for his church.”
These two individuals each claim a marker of their own. Together, they founded Evangelical Association, later Evangelical Church.
Albright, born Johannes Jacob Albrecht near Pottstown in 1759, was born into a Lutheran family of German immigrants originally from the Palatinate. As a young adult, he served in the Revolutionary War, and afterwards married Catherine Cope, moving together to a farm near Ephrata.
Jacob and Catherine had numerous children — but only three survived to adulthood. After witnessing the deaths of his other children (dysentery reportedly being the cause), Jacob had a crisis of faith. According to Kenneth Good, Albright described his spirituality at the time as “a walk frivolously in the path of a carnal life with little thought about the object of human life.”
It was this crisis that prompted Albright to convert to Methodism in 1791, at the age of 33. He was so moved by the experience of the conversion that he decided that he would find a way to share his new understanding with as many as he could. He is the namesake of Albright College, which, until its 1928 merger with the Schuylkill Seminary, was located in Myerstown.
In the spring of 1808, while traveling with his colleagues, a tuberculosis-addled Albright fell gravely ill. Knowing he was unable to make it back to his home, Albright nevertheless traveled some 30 miles away from his original goal of Linglestown, finally stopping near Kleinfeltersville, in the home of George Becker, where he died at the age of 49.
John Walter, the closest of Albright’s colleagues and younger than him by several decades, was crucial in the founding of the Evangelical Association. According to “Early Hymn Writers of the Evangelical Association,” written by Milton Loyer, Walter was a native of Quakertown (Bucks County) and began his ministry in 1802. Walter’s wife, Christiana, was in fact the sister of George Becker, and Walter delivered his friend’s funeral sermon.
Despite being uneducated, Walter’s knowledge and skill in preaching developed quickly and he became known for his moving sermons. Walter and Albright organized the “first wave” of what would become the Evangelical Association with three classes in 1800, sending out preachers to proselytize at various communities around the region. This first period of organization was followed by two others in the subsequent decades.
Walter was a hymn writer and a privately published book of his hymns served as the Association’s unofficial book for several of its early years. One hymn in particular, “Kommt, Brüder, Kommt” (“Come, Brother, Come, We’ll Journey On” in English), was immensely popular with the Pennsylvania Dutch community.
Transportation Corps Unit Training Center
Location: Intersection of Fisher Avenue (PA 934) and Lackawanna Street
Text (2008): “A stevedore training program was established in 1942 at Fort Indiantown Gap. Soldiers were trained to load and unload cargo using three wood and concrete dry land ships. Many recruits were African Americans whose companies were segregated from their parent port battalions during instruction but not in WWII combat locales such as Italy and Normandy Beach on D-Day. Training provided here enabled efficient operations instrumental in Allied victory.”
In August 1942, U.S. Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson announced that the Gap would be the home of a center training Americans to efficiently load and unload cargo at ports for the Allied cause. The center, which had actually been established in July, got up and running quickly, with new recruits coming in each week for a 13-week training session, after which they were sent to ports on the East Coast.
Exact numbers are hard to gauge, but it seems like a safe bet to say that thousands were part of the program until it was redesigned as the Army Service Forces Training Center in 1944.
In 1943, the center held its first anniversary celebration with a theater production of “Port Arms,” which the Lebanon Daily News described as “satire on the trials and tribulations of the early days of the transportation corps.” The center had also acquired its own band, which played appropriate “martial” music on occasion for military-related events held in the area.
The T. C. U. T. C. Band, comprised of some 50 musicians, was a big draw for Lebanon’s Fourth War Loan parade, held in frigid weather in January 1944. The event was meant to rally locals into purchasing over $4.5 million in war bonds.
The program was composed primarily of African-American troops, according to Frank Smoker Jr., who were housed in separate barracks that relied on pot-bellied stoves for heating. Training occurred in eight-hour shifts covering all 24 hours of the day, and three mock ships — the SS Manada, SS Swatara, and SS Indiantown — were used in the program.
Notably, the famous crime boss Albert Anastasia received his U.S. citizenship in 1943 while attached to the training center. Anastasia, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, was famous for controlling New York City’s waterfront.
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