In the late 1800s, there were approximately thirty Lutherans living in Neffsville. They were members of Kissel Hill Lutheran Church. Today, that church is known as Salem Lutheran Church. Those Lutherans had a dream of starting their own church in the small but bustling village of Neffsville. The year was 1871 when a parcel of land was first acquired.
We don’t know what motivated those Neffsville residents. It may have been a “road” problem. Travelling 4 ½ miles on a dirt road to and from Salem Church in Kissel Hill, especially in winter, could have been one reason. People were still using horse and buggies and some folks may have walked that distance. It wasn’t until later, in 1895, that the trolley from Lancaster to Lititz was completed. Traveling by trolley was not without problems either. Stories have been documented of trolley cars derailing due to snow drifts, especially in the Kissel Hill area. Everyday life brought many challenges.
Whatever the motivation, those church members withdrew amicably from Salem, our mother congregation, and began plans to erect a new church in Neffsville. It would not be the first church in Neffsville, but actually the second. The Dunkards had already erected a small church on Buch Avenue, which is still standing today.
In 1880, Neffsville was known as Fiddler’s Green. There are several stories about the origin of this name. One story involves a Mr. Fiddler who owned the Fiddler’s Hotel in Neffsville. Unfortunately, none of the stories have been substantiated. Eventually the name was officially changed to Neffsville in honor of Dr. John Henry Neff, Lancaster County’s first medical practitioner, who had laid out the town in 1805.
Business in Neffsville was flourishing. There was Fiddler’s Hotel, which is now the Neffsville Flower Shop. Also in the 1870s a large building was built at the square called Brubaker’s Hotel. Today there is a Turkey Hill Minit Market on that site. This building served as a hotel and a gathering place, and eventually a general store. In the late 1800s, the hotel became the town’s social hub where dances were held each week, mostly square dancing which often attracted hundreds of people! There was also a restaurant in the village and the owner was frequently prosecuted for doing business on Sundays because of the Blue Laws which had been in effect in the American colonies since the 17th century.
In Neffsville, there were several blacksmiths who had thriving businesses, notably John Kratzert and Lester Nissley, who later converted their skills to the upkeep of “horseless carriages.” Both men eventually joined the new St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Neffsville’s first physician was Edward J. Bowman who practiced from 1853 until his death in 1882. He built the large yellow house near the square in Neffsville, now a bed and breakfast called “Bowman House.” His successor, Dr. Elias Witmer who lived in the same house, was very influential in the development of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and its first Sunday School.
Breaking Ground in Neffsville
It was in this atmosphere of steady growth in Neffsville that thirty determined Lutherans, under the leadership of John Wechter, postmaster, worked toward the fulfillment of their dream. Ground for a church and cemetery was purchased from Jacob Dornbaugh for $1.00 with a yearly rent of $25.00 for 25 years. The land was located in Neffsville, off Valley Road. The deed was dated April 1, 1871. The original deed is framed and displayed at our main entrance.
On July 11, 1880, the cornerstone for the first St. Peter’s church was laid with our first pastor, Rev. Jacob Peter, officiating at the ceremony. This first church structure was a modest frame building constructed at a cost of $1,500. Based on today’s inflationary rates, it would cost about $140,000 – still a very modest structure by any standards. In the year 1883, twenty members had purchased cemetery lots and the first communicants were recorded.
On June 26, 1881, the completed church was dedicated and the Sunday School was organized with Dr. Elias Witmer as its first superintendent. This was a turbulent time in our nation’s history. President Garfield was shot and later died on September 19, 1881, also the first permanent national labor movement was started and thirteen more states joined the union. This was a time that “tried men’s souls” but amid this background, our founding fathers were not deterred.
The first constitution was adopted in 1884. The following stipulations appear: regular services on each or every other Sunday, weekly prayer meetings, Sunday School, and catechetical lectures. In 1889 St. Peter’s joined with St. Paul’s in Lititz and Salem in Kissel Hill. Our church records indicate that during the first ten years of St. Peter’s history there were seven pastors serving this congregation (1880-1890). Most of them stayed for a little over one year, but the council meeting minutes are often incomplete and provide very little information about the frequent turnover. There were a few years when no minutes of council meetings were recorded at all.
The first pastor to stay more than two years was the Rev. Isaac Walton Bobst. A book about his life is called “A Soldier’s Story” and was written by his great grandson, Rev. Dan Biles, a Lutheran pastor, in York County. Isaac W. Bobst was raised by a poor family in Berks County. He went to work at an early age to help his family. He was a cigar maker. His father died in 1861 following a long illness. Isaac was just 14 years old helping to support his family. In August 1862 he eventually enlisted in the Union Army at age 16. The monthly pay would enable him to support his family. He was captured twice and held as a prisoner in Chancellorsville and Andersonville. He was released in a prisoner exchange just before the end of the war. Following the war, young Isaac worked his way through college and by 1879, he emerged from Gettysburg Seminary as a Lutheran minister at age 32.
On June 1, 1890 Pastor Bobst was called by St. Peter’s at an annual salary of $500. In 1891, the council raised his salary to $700 serving Neffsville, Lititz and Kissel Hill. In 1893 Pastor Bobst was voted a yearly raise of $25, bringing his total to $725. In 1895, the council deemed it necessary to reduce Pastor Bobst’s salary to $700. Sometime during the next three years, Pastor Bobst’s salary was reduced again to $675. The minutes are incomplete but do state that four council members supported an increase for Pastor Bobst and eight members were opposed. Sometime between April 25, 1902 and February 1, 1903, at a council session, Pastor Bobst submitted his resignation effective February 1, 1903.
His letter follows:
Twelve years and six months ago, I received a call from your body to this pastorate. I reluctantly accepted it. Your field was then in a demoralized condition. It is now well organized and in a greatly improved condition, your membership having nearly doubled and debts to the amounts of $4,000 paid and improvements to the amount of $1,500. Having received a unanimous call to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Trenton, New Jersey, I now respectfully hand my resignation to your body praying God that you soon secure a worthy successor. To those of you have treated me in a respectful, honorable, and brotherly way, I return my hearty thanks.
Isaac Walton Bobst
Pastor Bobst’s only son, Elmer, was just six years old when they moved to Lititz.
He spent the next 13 years there. He and his mother would often walk through the fields gathering herbs and flowers to make medicine and ointments. This early interest served him well as he later became the President of Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. He chose Lititz as the headquarters because of his many fond childhood memories of that area. Warner-Lambert is well known as the maker of Listerine mouth wash. The company grew and Elmer became a multi-millionaire based in New York. He was a generous benefactor, financial supporter and friend of Richard Nixon. Elmer Bobst was instrumental in putting Richard Nixon in the White House. He also donated $11.5 million to New York University for a new library. In 1959, when St. Peter’s was planning to build a “third” church, at the corner of Lititz Pike and Delp Road, Elmer Bobst sent the church a check for $2,500 in honor of his father.
In 1903 Pastor Bobst’s resignation was accepted and an immediate motion was made to raise the next pastor’s salary to $750 (Lititz $400 – Neffsville $250 – Kissel Hill $100).
A New Cornerstone is Laid
By 1904 the Council recommended that a new church be built instead of repairing the original wooden structure. On September 10, 1904 a lot facing Lititz Pike in Neffsville was purchased from Jacob Swarr at a cost of $25 per annum for 20 years. The original “church on the hill” was demolished. Many pieces of memorabilia from the first church were distributed among the members. A few items have found their way back to us. Among those items are the original bulletin board (now hanging in the vestibule near the outside ramp entrance), the old pulpit bible, and a wooden communion card rack.
On October 15, 1905, the cornerstone of the new church was laid with St. Peter’s pastor, Jacob Maurer officiating. It was dedicated on July 15, 1906. The “second” St. Peter’s Church is still standing at 2653 Lititz Pike.
On January 12, 1909, Rev. Jacob Maurer resigned. On June 29, 1909, the Rev. George Clarke was elected pastor. He was installed at St. Paul’s, Lititz. The division of the three congregations continued to be a popular topic of discussion. Pastor Clarke resigned in 1917. During the year 1918, St. Paul’s Lititz and Salem, Kissel Hill retained their union and St. Peter’s Neffsville united with Zion Church, East Petersburg, an amicable relationship that lasted until 1955, when both congregations felt that they could support full-time pastors. This same year, St. Peter’s called the Rev. Clay E. Rice as pastor. He and his family moved into the new parsonage in 1919. Pastor Rice has been our longest serving pastor until his untimely death on November 9, 1954.
In the early 1900’s there were many changes…
- The Neffsville church converted to electric lighting in 1911.
- In 1914 the council ordered repairs of the horse-shed roofs with galvanized roofing.
- A parsonage was purchased at 2422 Lititz Pike at a cost of $5,400 in 1919.
- Also in 1919, a joint church newsletter was published weekly by St. Peter’s and Zion.
- In 1920, the Women’s Missionary Society and the Brotherhood were organized.
- The first pipe organ was installed June 18, 1922.
- The Light Brigade organized in May, 1924 and became known as the Children of the Church.
St. Peter’s celebrated their 70th anniversary on October 23, 1950. At the morning service, Rev. Rice delivered the sermon entitled “The Chosen Few”. A gift of $500 was presented by Elmer H. Bobst, Montclair, NJ in honor of his father, Rev. Isaac Bobst. All those who at some time in the past 70 years had sung in the choir joined to sing the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Rapid Growth and Expansion
With the rapid growth in the area between Neffsville and Lancaster, it became evident that a program of expansion would be necessary. In 1952, discussions were held and studies were made to determine the best course of action. The first thought was to secure additional adjoining property in Neffsville. However, adjoining properties were unavailable at a reasonable cost. In 1954 plans for a building program were forming.
On November 9, 1954, the Neffsville-East Petersburg parish was saddened by the death of Rev. Clay E. Rice. He had served both congregations for more than 35 years. Rev. Rice had never missed a service or a speaking engagement due to ill health during the entire 40 years of his ministry. On December 12, 1954, by unanimous vote, the congregation decided to dissolve the Neffsville-East Petersburg parish.
A Building Fund Committee was appointed in January 1955. On April 17, 1955, the Rev. Ernest W. Huston was called to serve. His salary of $13,900 was unanimously approved.
The 75th Anniversary was celebrated on June 26, 1955. Flowers were presented to Miss Ada G. Wechter, a surviving charter member of the congregation. At our 100th Anniversary she was still remembered with affection by some members whose childhoods were enriched by her inspired teaching. Ada Wechter was still living and participated when St. Peter’s broke ground for the “third” church at Lititz Pike and Delp Road.
On December 16, 1955, the congregation voted to discontinue negotiations with adjoining property owners in Neffsville and relocate. On June 25, 1956 the council authorized a committee to search for a suitable building lot. At a special congregational meeting two resolutions were passed by a two-thirds majority. (1) that the Church Council purchase 3.146 acres at the corner of Lititz Pike and Delp Road for no more than $9,000 plus transfer costs and taxes and (2) that we move toward our building program as rapidly as possible. The deed was recorded March 1, 1957. The architectural firm, J. Alfred Hamme and Associates was contracted for the design.
The Service for the Blessing of Site and Ground Breaking Ceremony was held on April 5, 1959 at 3:00 pm. On June 14th, the Service for the Laying of the Name and Date Stone took place. This included “re-laying” the corner stone from the original 1880 church on the hill in Neffsville. On February 28, 1960 at morning worship in Neffsville “The Order for Taking Leave of a Church Building” took place. At 2:00 pm that same day, the Dedication Service was held at the Lititz Pike and Delp Road location. The sermon was delivered by the Rev. Dwight E. Putnam, President of the Central Pennsylvania Synod.
Since moving to Lititz Pike and Delp Road, St. Peter’s has undergone two additional building expansion programs. The first one took place under the leadership of the Rev. Richard E. Geib. The dedication was on May 17, 1987. It included a chapel, medium size fellowship hall, new office space, small kitchen, and additional restrooms.
St. Peter’s celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2005 with a congregational banquet on April 21, 2005 at the Eden Palm Court. Kim Lemon, TV presenter and member of St. Peter’s was the mistress of ceremonies. Former pastors and vicars were invited to attend. Special anniversary services were held on April 24, 2005 with Bishop Carol Hendrix preaching. An original anthem, composed for the occasion, was performed by vocal and bell choirs.
A special 125th Anniversary Service was held on Sunday, July 10, 2005, the closest date to our actual founding. The guest preacher was the Rev. Dan Biles from St. Paul’s of Spring Grove Lutheran Church, York County. His great grandfather, Rev. Isaac Walton Bobst served St. Peter’s from 1890 to 1903.
The second expansion of St. Peter’s included a new sanctuary, chapel, office space, cry room, nursery, conference room and music room. The dedication was May 7, 2006 under the leadership of Pastor Craig A. Ross.
In 2015, St. Peter’s observed its 135th Anniversary with special services on Sunday, July 12th and Sunday, September 20th. Former pastor, Richard E. Geib, preached at the September service. The Archives Committee re-organized and is working on acquiring additional historical items and assessing those we currently have. A special archival collection was displayed at the special services. The theme was “135 Years – Lifting High the Cross”.
St. Peter’s Today
In the past 97 years St. Peter’s has been served by only four senior pastors. This has created a sense of stability and has encouraged opportunities for growth. The investment of long-term tenured pastors has also fostered deeper relationships and commitment to the church and the community which often extends across generations.
In 1880, could our church founders have imagined a church whose doors would be open almost every day of the week for services, committee meetings, choir rehearsals, concerts, educational opportunities, social ministry and outreach? Our Strawberry Festivals and New Year’s Day Sauerkraut Dinners serve the wider community! We gratefully embrace the initiatives of our founders, humbly celebrate God’s blessings throughout our journey, and look to the future for new opportunities of mission and ministry. No one can predict what the future may hold for St. Peter’s congregation. We pray that St. Peter’s Lutheran Church will continue to be a dynamic force in a busy community while facing the challenges of an ever changing world.