Posted By Norman Gasbarro on February 16, 2011
On the corner of Broad and Bender Streets within the Borough of Elizabethville, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, lies one of the oldest cemeteries in the Lykens Valley area. This cemetery has been known by various names over the years. The cemetery originally belonged to the Salem Lutheran and Reformed Church, which was built on that site in 1835. Some locals called it the “Bender Church,” because it was built on land owned by John Bender, but that name never stuck. The Lutheran and Reformed congregations worshiping here conducted a joint Sunday School so some called it the Salem Union Church. Because it was built with stone from nearby Berry Mountain, it was most often referred to as the Old Stone Church. Confusion over what to call the cemetery could have been the reason that on government topographical maps, it’s simply referred to as “Cem,” the abbreviation for “Cemetery.” The cemetery to the north, is called Maple Grove Cemetery; it is the largest cemetery in the Borough and still active today. In 1911, the Old Stone Church was torn down and the cemetery went into disrepair. After a number of years, the caretakers of Maple Grove Cemetery assumed responsibility for its upkeep, but there were no further burials there.
On the map above, drawn by Warren J. Daniel in 1875, the western part of Elizabethville is shown. The cross streets where the church was located are not marked, but the north-south street is Bender Street and the west-east street is Broad Street. Today, Broad Street continues east, eventually joining up with East Main Street (Route 209) at the “Y” on the other side of town where the Shell Station is located. By clicking on the map, it can be enlarged so that the names of the 1875 property owners can be read.
The picture above shows the church and cemetery about 10 years after it ceased being used on a regular basis. The shutter at the center window on the main floor is broken. Because of its disrepair and non-use, many in the community sought to have it razed. The congregations that owned it did not have the funds to repair it and in 1911, after being sold for $50 to William G. Hoke, it was torn down.
Because of the history of the church and cemetery – it was active during the Civil War era and was the site of the first public school in Elizabethville – one town resident, Harvey M. Miller (1871-1939) wrote a poem which attempted to move the community to preserve its “Christian Cradle”. Some of the verses of the poem are quoted here:
The old stone church is crumbling down
And falling to decay;
The Christian Cradle of the town
Is marked for Ruin’s prey.
The old stone church but a pile of stone?
Forbid, Almighty God!
This was our fathers’ Christian home,
Here saintly mothers trod.
A pile of stone! — and is that all?
Mayhap by worldly rules,
Nay, see within that basement hall
The Mother of our schools.
Alas, how quickly we forget!
How thankless all mankind!
How dumb to every sacred debt,
To grateful service blind.
And when we, too, shall take our flight
And crumble ‘neath the sod,
The Old Stone Church will greet our sight
In the Galleries of God.
Harvey M. Miller was born in Elizabethville – in a round stone house known as “Newton Hall.” He attended schools in Elizabethville but was mainly self-educated, particularly in the Pennsylvania Dutch language and folklore. He is best known for creating the literary character “Solly Hulsbuck” through which he told his stories in the Pennsylvania Dutch language, forever preserving them in print. While some referred to him as the ‘Poet Laureate of Dauphin County,” there was no evidence he was ever officially given that title. Without question, he was the most prolific writer in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect and should surely be given the title, “Poet Laureate of the Pennsylvania Dutch.” Ironically, Harvey Miller died well after the Old Stone Church was torn down. Although he was born in a stone house and tried to save a stone church and cemetery, his burial plot is in the Maple Grove Cemetery where his grave marker is simply inscribed, “Harvey M. Miller – Solly Hulsbuck.”
There are a few Civil War veteran graves in the Old Stone Church Cemetery. Two of them are pictured below:
It could be asked why there are not more Civil War graves in this cemetery. Most probably, since the church was not actively used after 1888, and the cemetery went into disrepair, it would have not have been wise to continue to bury there. Note that the picture above of John Keiper‘s grave marker indicates his death date as 1887, about one year before the church closed. Many Civil War veterans lived many years beyond that. Finding Civil War graves in Maple Grove Cemetery is much easier because there are many more and because after 1888, it became “the place” to be buried in Elizabethville.
Information for this post was taken from the Elizabethville Sesquicentennial Book published in 1967.