John Pritiskutch Reproductions

History of Lebanon County - Bethel

The following is reproduced from the 1875 Atlas of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania

Bethel is the extreme north-eastern part of the county, and not only covers a large area of rich agricultural territory, but is destined to eventually figure largely as a manufacturing town. It is situated south of the Blue Mountains, and has a somewhat diversified surface. It is watered by several streams, the largest of which are the Little Swatara, Elizabeth Run, Beach Run, Deep Run, and Earlakill Run, while others are streams of considerable size. This township was, until 1739, a portion of Lebanon township, and when it was cut off, included much more territory than at present. It has since been reduced in 1733, by the taking off of Bethel, Berks County, and again in 1813 by the taking off of what now forms a part of Jackson and Swatara. Of the first settlement of the township no authentic record is preserved, but it is generally conceded that the first settlement was made on the Little Swatara, at a very early period not long after, if not before 1700, by a small body of Moravians. They are supposed to have given the name to their settlement which the township now bears Bethel which, being interpreted, means " House of God." They erected a church as early as 1740, in which during 1744, the Rev. Johannes Brand Mueller was officiating. The nationality of the early settlers was mostly German, although a few French Huguenots were among them. Franz Albert, a native of Duex-ponts in France, was murdered by the Indians June 26, 1756. In 1751 there were 95 taxables in town. Among the names recorded at that time, appear the Grove's, Oberholtzer's, Sherrick's, Weaver's, Schneberly's, and many others whose descendants still live in the township. This township was the bulwark of defence for the interior settlements during the Indian wars of the years between 1750 and 1760; many fierce and sanguinary skirmishes took place within its borders. It is said that the Indians, many of them, inhabited the vicinity of the Blue Mountains, and the settlements in Bethel were in easy reach. In the Swatara Gap, tradition locates one of their forts, and here after an incursion, they retreated to escape pursuit. The early settlers of Bethel, however, were not the men to unresistingly submit to be butchered in cold blood, or be led away to captivity, and they courageously defended their property and the lives of their families. Many tales of heroic devotion and unquailing courage could be told, had the recollections of the early settlers been gathered and recorded ere the memory of them passed away. But enough remains to show that the tide of battle was varying; that while many early settlers met with an untimely fate, in the midst of his family, and in the adopted land where he had hoped to make himself a competence, not every war party that marched in full paint and war dress, through the Swatara Gap, on their way to exterminate some exposed and unprotected family of their hated enemy, the pale faces, returned as hopeful and numerous as they came; and sometimes in the place of reeking scalps in their belts, and captives and spoils, while burning cabins, and mangled bodies of slaughtered victims marked where they had been, the dead bodies of their own warriors lay on their backward trail, and the rifle crack of their would be victims hurried them on their way far into their mountain strongholds. In November, 1775, during the pleasant days of Indian Summer, while the settlers were resting, in fancied security, imagining it too late in the season for the Indians to dare the rigors of the climate, the savages, depending on the favorable weather which usually occurs at that season of the year, came suddenly on the settlement, and ere any force could be rallied to oppose them, killed 20 persons, and captured several children, whom they carried away. The Secretary of the Province, in his report, says: "Shocking are the descriptions given by those who escaped, of the horrid cruelties and indecencies committed by the merciless savages, on the bodies of those unhappy wretches who fell into their hands, especially the women." On June 8th, 1756, about 4 p.m., four or five Indians came down through the Big Swatara Gap, then called "The Hole," and shot Felix Wuench through the breast. He ran, but was overtaken, and after defending himself for a time with the butt of his whip, he was tomahawked and scalped; while his wife, with one of her children and two of a sisters, were carried away captives. Through the courageous behavior of Mr. George Meirs, a neighbor, the Indians were driven away from the settlement ere more damage was done. About this time, a child of four years was killed and scalped and another carried into captivity. On the 26th of June, 1756, four men were killed and scalped. The Indians also shot two horses. An affecting story is told of it family who came from Reutlinge in Wirtemberg, and settled on the extreme frontier, near the mountain. It consisted of man, wife, two sons and two daughters. While the wife, with one son, was absent, the Indians made an incursion, and she returned, only to find the mangled and bloody corpses of her husband and other son, while a heap of ashes marked where the house had stood. The daughters were carried into captivity. Filled with anguish and despair, she fled to Tulpehocken. In 1764, she had the great happiness to recover the youngest, who had been a captive for ten years, and become, its manner and dress, almost an Indian; but the oldest was never heard from. In 1834, while some workman were removing an old house, for the purpose of building another on the same site, they discovered n subterranean cave, which had evidently been constructed as a last refuge, when all else should fail. Much more could be told, but space does not allow.

The sketch of the Grove family, obtained through the kindness of Mr. J. W. Grove, will add somewhat more to the early knowledge of the town.

Could the records of the Oberholtzer's, Schneberley's, and many others be obtained, a great mass of intensely interesting information might be gathered.

The township of Bethel has great prospects fur the future. With its diversified surface and numerous streams, it has some of the finest water power in the country, and plenty of it. The geological position demonstrates that it must contain valuable deposits of iron ore, which, sooner or later, will be discovered, and add a mining industry to the upper valley. The Blue Mountain will, in the course of time, be rendered valuable for many purposes. Now 'that the South Mountain Railroad is soon to be opened, its timber lands will no longer go begging for a market. Bethel has men of means who have the future prosperity of their township near at heart, and who will neglect no method to secure it. Fredricksburg is the principal centre of the township, and is destined to be second only to Lebanon in political or commercial importance. The Oberholtzers, Grove, Licks, and many other able families, reside near here, and watch closely the interests of the town, which even now is steadily growing, and will probably, ere long, have a branch road to Lebanon. In visiting many towns in Lebanon county, the writer has seen none with the future prospects of which he is more impressed. Some very old buildings are here; one on the road to Jonestown, still shows the loop-holes through which the settlers fired at the Indians more than 120 years ago. It is owned by the J. Groh estate. The farm of Henry Oberholtzer is said to have been in the family over 100 years, although the original buildings have given way to Mr. Oberholtzer's present substantial and beautiful hone.

Far different looks the present magnificent barn from the one his ancestors were able to build, in the early days of Bethel. Could they see the smooth and fertile farm of the present, with its many conveniences, would they not wonder at the change ! As at Mr. Oberholtzer's, so is it on many other farms; and Bethel ranks high as an agricultural town, and for the beauty and excellence of its improvements, as well as for the enterprising and public-spirited character of its people.

Population in, 1870 was 2272.