How did ‘Heckel Stettle’ become East Petersburg?

Until well after the Revolutionary War, the area between Lancaster and Manheim was mostly farmland dotted with the occasional grist mill and lime kiln. Around this time in 1789, Peter Gotshall came into possession of 50 acres, which he inherited from his father.

Gotshall, in turn, divided the land into five parcels and, two years later, sold them. One of the buyers was John Wolfe, who, 15 years later, in 1806, sold the property to his brother (or, depending on the source, his nephew. The spelling of Wolfe also varies between sources), Daniel Wolfe.

A 1975 drawing of the Daniel Wolfe House.

Over the next six years, Daniel acquired additional land bringing his total holdings to 30 acres. In 1810, he built what is believed to be the oldest brick building in present-day East Petersburg on the corner of State and Lemon streets. Over the years, the structure served has served as a dry goods store, tavern, school, a hotel called “The Captain Lawrence,” a post office, a butcher business, a residence, and finally, the current home of the East Petersburg Historical Society. 

The oldest brick building in East Petersburg: the Daniel Wolfe House.

In 1812, Wolfe divided 14 acres of his land into 79 building lots. He arranged the lots in a grid-like pattern, with the four streets meeting in the center. This action established a new town. On December 12, 1812, Wolfe sold the lots for $150 each. They sold rapidly despite the ongoing war of 1812.

In honor of the original property owner Peter Gotshall, Wolfe called his new development “Petersburg.” Before this, the area was informally referred to as “Heckel Stettle.” Both are German words. Heckel means hemp or flax processing, while stettle means settlement.

1875 map of “Petersburg.”

Apparently, there wasn’t much money in being a town founder because heavily in debt (and likely to escape creditors). Wolfe moved to Ohio just two years later, in 1814.

Later, when the postal service made efforts to become more efficient, it was discovered that another Petersburg existed in the Commonwealth. Located in central Pennsylvania, Huntingdon County Petersburg was established in 1795, beating Lancaster’s by 17 years. The easiest way to solve the duplication was to add “East” to our Petersburg. Simply put, East Petersburg is east of Petersburg.

Drawing by Charles X. Carlson of Wolfe’s Tavern.


Aerial photo of East Petersburg.

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