Prompted by reader questions, LebTown has confirmed that the new owners of the Coleman Chapel in West Lebanon Township do still intend to move the 1890-era structure to the Stone Gables Estate.
However, it is likely to be a few years until the planned stone-by-stone move is complete.
Once moved, the chapel will be brought back to its former glory, said Stone Gables Estate co-owner David Abel, who — along with his wife, Tierney Abel — has assembled a stunning collection of historical buildings and artifacts (including the Lincoln funeral car and train) at the Elizabethtown wedding and events complex.
While Stone Gables itself is not a nonprofit, and is operated by Abel-owned DAS Companies, David Abel says that he plans to one day turn over the entities to a family trust, which will continue the tradition of protecting Brittany’s Hope, the nonprofit created in honor of the Abels’ adopted daughter, Brittany Ann O’Connell, who died in 1999, her senior year of college. Stone Gables donates its net proceeds to Brittany’s Hope.
Abel says his plan is similar to that carried out a century ago by Milton S. Hershey.
Abel, who purchased the property in May 2022 for $375,000, said that he came across it one day after pheasant hunting, and thought to himself: “Boy, I wish I could lift that property up and move it to our property, and save it from being in the center of this commercial real estate.”
Abel noted it was hard to appreciate the architecture along the busy Route 422 commercial corridor, and that he aspired to “share its beautiful architecture once more with the people.”
He shared the idea with friends who said, why don’t you move it the way you always do? (In 2014, the Abels acquired the Star Barn property in Middletown, starting a multi-year, piece-by-piece effort to relocate it to Elizabethtown, where it is now one of Central Pennsylvania’s best known wedding venues.)
Abel said he took it to pray – “I always take it to prayer” – and decided to proceed. The chapel will be placed in a “prime spot” on the 285-acre Stone Gables Estate, he said, moved with meticulous care and brought back to its former glory. Already he has an eye on a team of professionals who could carry out this gargantuan task, all vendors Abel has previously worked with – Haldeman Brothers Masonry (“he’s phenomenal”), B&D Builders (the craftsmen behind the restoration of the Star Barn and Covered Bridge), and Period Architecture (for historically-informed design work).
The plan is to segment the Stone Gables property into five different farmsteads that will showcase the barns of Lancaster County, with 28 buildings spread out through the five, evoking a traditional Pennsylvania German, or “Dutch,” farmstead. Abel said he has 16-18 of those up today, or in storage ready to go up.
The next big project is the Barns of Belmont, which will house the National Christmas Center and also have a dinner theatre/restaurant space that can accommodate up to 1,500 people. That building, Abel said, would be three times the size of the Star Barn at 84,000-square-feet.
“All said and done, it should allow people to come to Lancaster County from all over the world, to see the Amish, to see Sight & Sound, to see farm life, to see the Lincoln Funeral Train, and the National Christmas Center,” said Abel.
Also planned is an expansion of the track used by the Lincoln train, realized through a trestle system that will double the track length.
Although the expansion that would bring the Coleman Chapel to the Stone Gables Estates has been discussed with West Donegal Township, the land development plan is still in the works and has not been submitted yet. That, along with picking a site and planning for stormwater management, will take the next 18 to 24 months, said Abel.
“Once it’s complete and approved we think that this will be one of the first projects we do,” he said, noting that from the perspective of moving the chapel out of Lebanon County, any regulatory hurdles for doing that have already been cleared.
Once work begins, he expects the project to take about a year.
“The chapel really fits into it with everything we do, and it’s part of what every community like that would have had,” said Abel. “It’s a piece of history that we want to save.”
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