Safe Harbor Mini-Adventure: St. Mary’s

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Location: The former location of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and graveyard. 39°56’07.4″N 76°22’37.8″W.

History Brief: In 1854, the Irish Iron Puddlers of Safe Harbor Iron Works built the beautiful St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. This 40 x 62 feet stone chapel was located near the eastern end of Safe Harbor Spring Street. Today the church is gone but its graveyard remains.

Clue: Another section of the cemetery contains the unmarked graves of Italian immigrants who helped build the nearby Enola Low-Grade Line. Find the plaque that commemorates the site. How many family names are listed? (two-digit number)

Rest of the Story: On what used to be East Spring Street east of Safe Harbor near the top of a hill the woods opens to a clearing. It was here that St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church once stood.

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The ruins of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in 1955.

This Roman Catholic Church was organized as a part of St. Mary’s Church of Lancaster City, in 1853. The following year the puddlers of Safe Harbor built a stone church to serve the Irish ironworkers and their families. By all accounts, St. Mary’s was a beautiful stone church with a slate roof that measured 40-by-60 feet with a small, vaulted and semi-circular apse built into the southern wall for the altar.

The church was shuttered in 1883 when the parish had shrunk to fewer than a dozen. The building was later sold for salvage in 1917 but remained standing after being gutted. Amid complaints that the structure was crumbling and dangerous, the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese bulldozed it in 1985. Almost nothing exists today except for 28 pew doors that were sold as part of a fundraiser in 2012, as well as the original lithographs of the Stations of the Cross. Those now hang in the chapel of Lancaster Catholic High School.

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From left, Monsignor Richard Youtz, Ken Hoak, and the Rev. Leo Goodman pose with pew doors from the Immaculate Conception of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Graveyard

Today a pedestal of salvaged stones from the church’s walls with a 1955 picture of the abandoned building marks the location.

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The clearing also has several tombstones, a few of which are Civil War veterans, while others are victims of shootings and stabbings.

Another section of the cemetery contains the unmarked graves of at least 50 Italian immigrants (50 is not the answer for the clue listed above) who helped build the Enola Low-Grade Line. A plaque to marks the location. Reports indicate that 200 people died while constructing the ambitious project. Click here for more information about the Enola Low-Grade.

Additional Location Details

From Safe Harbor Dam, head north on River Road to Safe Harbor Park, where the tennis courts and pavilion are located. Walk up the hill following an old road that turns into a trail. The trail will take you to the old graveyard.

Follow the blue and white trail markers on trees.

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