Note: Although this is a part of a series, each article can be read individually and in any order. Stops on this journey include: Neff’s Mill Covered Bridge, Lime Valley Covered Bridge, Byerland Mennonite Meetinghouse, Baumgardner’s Mill Covered Bridge, Colemanville Covered Bridge, Forry’s Mill Covered Bridge, Siegrist’s Mill Covered Bridge, Kauffman’s Distillery Covered Bridge, and Shearer’s Covered Bridge.
Leaving Lime Valley Covered Bridge in the rearview mirror, I made my way to the next covered bridge on my journey: Baumgardner’s Mill Covered Bridge. Turning off Route 272, also known as Willow Street Pike, onto Byerland Church Road, I immediately crossed again over Pequea Creek. Following the road through the foggy farmlands of Lancaster County, I arrived at the intersection of Byerland Church Road and Mt. Hope School Road. On my right was the modern Byerland Mennonite Church and while the cemetery around it made me curious, what caught my attention was on the opposite corner. An old log structure and a historical marker had appeared out of the fog.
My next bridge was going to have to wait as the structure and the marker took priority at the moment.
Crossing Mt. Hope School Road, I pulled carefully onto the grass and walked over to read the sign, which gives a brief history of the structure: “Original Byerland / Mennonite Meetinghouse / Built by Charles Christopher and / Jacob Beam, elders, cir 1755 on Samuel / Boyer’s land, one third mile west of this / site. Used as a meetinghouse until 1848. / Moved to this location, November 10, 1949. / The Lancaster Mennonite Conference / Historical Society, 1959.”
The small meeting house appears to have been able to hold between twenty and thirty people and is listed as being the among oldest buildings in Lancaster County. Note: While the Byerland Mennonite Meetinghouse is listed in most places as being the oldest building in the county, it isn’t the oldest although it is close. The oldest building in Lancaster County is the Hans Herr House. Also known as the Christopher Herr House, this building was built in Willow Street in 1719.
Also, the dates when it was erected differ. The Byerland Mennonite Church website states the church was founded in 1724, but the historical sign has the meetinghouse was erected circa 1755. Either 1) the date in one of the two sources is wrong or 2) the congregation was founded in 1724 and the physical building was erected around 1755.
The history of Lancaster County could never be complete without the Mennonite and Amish who dwell within the borders. Often confused by outsiders, the two movements come out of the Anabaptist movement during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
This movement was led by Ulrich Zwingli who, with a group called the Swiss Brethren, wanted to do away with the Catholic mass, baptize adults only, start a free church of voluntary believers, and promote pacifism. Zwingli appeared before the Zurich city council in 1525 to debate reform to the church and when their requests fell on deaf ears, the group formed their own church.
The believers were persecuted and moved from region to region within Europe to seek religious freedom. When they arrived in the Netherlands, they would meet Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who, while was not immediately interested in joining the movement, was interested in their doctrine of adult baptism. It would take the death of Menno’s brother and another man who were put to death for being rebaptized as an adult for him to leave the Catholic church to join the Anabaptist movement. Menno would become a great leader in the church, which would eventually be known as the Mennonites. In 1693, the Amish church would form after a split from the Mennonite church with a slightly differing doctrine – this new group would be known as Amish after their leader.
Persecuted across Europe, both groups accepted the invitation of William Penn to settle in his American colony. The first Mennonites settled the Lancaster countryside around 1710 and soon after their arrival, a small log building was erected for services. Most places state the church was founded in 1724 on land owned by Samuel Boyer. Note: It is a corruption of Samuel Boyer’s name that Byerland is derived – Boyer Land.
By 1848, the congregation was large enough that a new building was needed. According to the Byerland Mennonite Church website, this new brick building was erected using the stones from the original church for its foundation. This is the building which still stands to this day.
I finished investigating the historic building before I climbed back into my vehicle and continued along Byerland Church Road to my next stop, roughly a mile away.