Deep in the forest on private property, just outside of Lancaster Conservancy’s Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve, is the Benedict Eshleman Cemetery. Also known as the Eshleman Family graveyard, Find a Grave indicates that 27 people are buried there; however, a 1979 LNP article puts that number at 40.
Colonial Settler Benedict Eshleman
Benedict Eshleman, whom the graveyard is named for, was likely one of the first Europeans to settle in an area that would later become known as Shenks Ferry. Born in Bern, Switzerland, in 1709, Benedict immigrated to Lancaster in the 1720s. On June 5, 1727, at around the age of 18, Benedict purchased 600 acres inside what would later become Conestoga Township.
He married Anna Stehman in 1739, and they had eight children—Benedict Benjamin II, David, John, Veronica (sometimes spelled Boronica or Feronica), Anna, Elizabeth, Barbara, and Maria.
Benedict was a farmer, but he also built houses. One in 1759 for Christian Miller. In 1764, he built the Eshleman homestead at Shenks Ferry, and later, records state, another house in an area three-quarters of a mile southeast. According to an LNP news article, two houses are still standing (or at least they were in 1979).
Benedict also founded River Corner Mennonite Church on June 7, 1743, using donated land that he had purchased from Joseph Stehman, his father-in-law. The present church dates from 1777.
In succeeding years he acquired additional tracts of land and, by all accounts, became quite prosperous. Benedict’s family grew to include Benedict Benjamin the fifth. One of his namesakes died in the Revolutionary War, and one fought in the War of 1812.
Benedict died on August 5, 1780, when he was 70 or 71 years old. He willed the family farm to his youngest son, John. David and Benjamin the second each received 200 acres.
Benedict also has one of the oldest headstones (although it is completely illegible today) in the family graveyard. He is joined by his wife, Anna, who died seven years later on March 26, 1787. Her grave is also illegible.
Records are scattered, but apparently, the land was passed on to Benjamin the third, the fourth, and the fifth because on December 8. 1891, Jacob Bausman, a prominent Lancaster County banker, bought this property, consisting of “155 acres, more or less” for the sum of $14.275 from Catherine Harnish Eshleman, at a sheriff’s sale. Bausman later sold this land to John W. B. Bausman, who sold it to H. S. and M. Anna Kerbaugh.
Kerbaugh was the contractor who was helping to build the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad (commonly referred to as the Enola Low Grade). It was his nearby dynamite factory that accidentally exploded on June 9, 1906. Eleven men were instantly vaporized and nine more injured as 2,500 pounds of TNT devasted the site. To this day, it is still the worse accident in Lancaster County history. Click here to read more about the dreadful disaster.
Later the property was sold to Allen and Annie M. Herr, who sold it to the present owner, Forrest Hawkins. It is here, situated high on the crest of a hill, that the Eshleman family cemetery lies.
Benedict Eshleman Cemetery
There are 27 marked graves from the Steman, Eshleman, Lingerfelter, Schenck, and Warfel families. Many of the tombstones are written in German. It is easy to forget that many of Lancaster County’s earliest settlers spoke this language. In fact, when the first newspaper, The Lancaster Gazette, was published in 1752, articles were written in both English and German.
It is challenging to know exactly how many people are buried in this graveyard. Many of the tombstones are so degraded they are impossible to read. Still, others are smaller unmarked slate or field stones. The 1979 LNP article wondered if were simple footstones or belonged to slaves or Native Americans.
Please note that this cemetery is on private property.
Graveyard vs. Cemetery. What’s the difference? It’s subtle, but there is one. Click here to find out.
Death by Dynamite: The 1906 Shenks Ferry TNT factory explosion obliterates 11 men
Here’s a tale of the macabre detailing the worst accident in Lancaster County history. On June 9, 1906, deep in the heart of Shenks Ferry, more than a ton of dynamite accidentally detonated. The explosion obliterated buildings and vaporized 11 men into pieces so small that ten were utterly unidentifiable. Click the link to read this haunting Death by Death tale.
Brief History of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad
Cutting through the southern end like a demarcation line is one of the most remarkable feats of engineering marvels in Lancaster County—the Atglen & Susquehanna (A&S) Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) commonly referred to today as the Enola Low Grade. The goal of this ambitious project? Create a low grade railroad line with no slope steeper than one percent and no curve sharper than two degrees. Easy on paper. Difficult in reality. Click here for a brief history of the Enola Low Grade.
Dark Culverts. Decimated dynamite factory. Explore the forgotten mysteries of Bausman’s Hollow
Explore the forgotten mysteries of Bausman’s Hollow rife with the ruins of various long-abandoned stone foundations, dark tunnels, long culverts, and the grounds of an exploded dynamite factory that claimed the lives of 11 men. Click here to learn more.