Byerland Mennonite Meetinghouse at the corner of Byerland Church Road and Mt Hope School Road is one of Lancaster County’s oldest structures. But before going into its history, let’s provide some context concerning Lancaster County’s first Mennonites.
Mennonites in Lancaster County
The first Mennonites arrived in Lancaster County in 1710 when a group of ten families from the Palatinate of Switzerland and southern Germany settled on 10,000 acres that now includes Strasburg, Lampeter, Willow Street, and eastern corner of Pequea Township. Their leader was Bishop Hans Herr, and in 1719 the Hans Herr House was built among the early Mennonite farmlands.
In 1717, as more Mennonites arrived, 5,000 additional acres were surveyed between the Conestoga and Pequea Creeks. The exact boundaries are now lost. The land grant describes a willow tree located at the bend in the creek and the stone in the middle of the road as property makers. Neither exists today.
The Mennonites came to Pennsylvania at the invitation of William Penn, who had himself been imprisoned in England for his Quaker beliefs. On a preaching tour in 1671, and again in 1677, Penn invited the Mennonites of Europe to come to Pennsylvania, where he offered land and freedom of religion.
During the 16th century, the Mennonites were relentlessly persecuted. Thousands were martyred over the next two centuries. Some were even sold for galley slaves. It is no wonder that the invitation to come to Pennsylvania was accepted by so many despite the hazards of ocean travel.
H. Frank Eshleman estimates that up to the Revolutionary War, 50,000 Mennonites sailed for America, 30,000 arrived, and 20,000 perished at sea. Very few children could withstand the diseases on the ships and the rigors of traveling on sailing vessels.
Many of those who did survive joined the Mennonites near Byerland, and soon Mennonite farms spread across the fertile limestone valleys of the Pequea and Conestoga regions.
Byerland Mennonite Church
The Byerland Mennonite Church began in this small log building built in the early 1700s. According to the church’s website, the date “most often referred to for the founding of this church is the year 1724.
A historical plaque in front of the building says the meetinghouse was built by Charles Christopher and Jacob Beam around 1755 on the land formerly owned by Samuel Boyer, from which the name Byerland (Boyer land) received its name.
This building was used as a meetinghouse until 1848 when a church was built to replace the log cabin church.
Then, in 1879, a brick church was built using the stones from the original church for the foundation of the current brick church. Further remodeling of the first brick building gave the structure it’s current look.
On November 10, 1949, the log cabin meetinghouse was moved to its current location on the corner of Byerland Church Road and Mt Hope School Road.
Planning Your Visit
You can find the original Byerland Mennonite Meetinghouse at 931 Byerland Church Rd, Willow Street, PA 17584.