Blooming Grove
Brief Historical Sketch -of- The Blooming Grove Colony -and- Meeting House Located in Hepburn Township Lycoming County, Pennsylvania -by- DAVID C. ULMER 1928
Blooming Grove Dunkard Meeting House
The Blooming Grove Dunkard Meeting House, erected 1828, takes its name from the small valley, (about 2 1/2 miles long and 3/4 of a mile wide) in which it is located. This area was named Blooming Grove by the early German settlers when, upon their arrival in May, 1805, they first looked upon the setting of their future homes. The sight they saw (it seemed an almost impossible one to some) was a valley turned almost white by the dogwood and rhododendron blossoms in full bloom. The almost spontaneous exclamation: a Blooming Grove! has remained the name of the community ever since.
The story of how these people, leaving Germany in 1804 and after a trip of 68 days on the sea and a winter spent in Germantown, finally buying land and settling in Central Pa, then on the frontier, is one of exeeding interest.
The people came from Wurtemburg. They possessed the powers of endurance, strong determination, and patient, plodding perseverance which any settler must posess for the life he leads.
The German Baptist Brethren denomination was organized in 1708 near Schwarzenau, Germany. Its members refused to go to war, would take no oath, were noted for their modesty of clothing, plain speech and distinguished hospitality.
Because of this belief John and Gottlieb Heim were imprisoned in 1803 for refusing to bear arms in the levies being made for Napoleon at that time. After a year in prison they were released upon the promise to emigrate to America.
They immediately joined a large company which, leaving Germany on June 9th 1804, set sail on the ship "Margaret" from Arnheim, Holland, July 12 and landed in Philadelphia September 18. The travelers paid their own passage and say of the journey that "the food was poor, the water bad and the beer sour." (Taken from McMinn.) One may see the hardships of an ocean voyage to people of even such hardy character.
They were a deeply religious group and spent much of the time at sea in religious discussion. The result of this was a splitting into two groups with two distinct lines of thought. The division was over the adoption of celibacy as soon as it should become practical.
The party separated upon landing. The group favoring celibacy selected a leader and went to Butler County and after considerable moving about founded what is the present town of Ambridge.
The second party spent the winter in Germantown while deciding upon the location of their colony. Their pastor and leader was Doctor Fredrick Conrad Haller.
During the winter Dr. Haller, Wendle Harmon and a number of the unmarried men began to look about for land to purchase. Wendle Harmon was the financier in the group and although eight other men contributed money for the first purchase the deed was made out i n his name. (This original deed is now in the possession of L. J. Ulmer).
These men got in with Quaker land speculators, who abounded around Philadelphia at that time, and one, Jesse Willits, persuaded Harmon to buy a tract of about 422 acres called "Hopewell." This was located in what was then Loyalsock township, Lycoming County.
Willits had bought the tract in 1794, paying 4 dollars. He deeded it to Harmon January 31, 1805 for abojut $1500 ($3.65 an acre). Later a fair price for land in this same vicinity was $1.50 an acre.
Harmon resold the land in smaller sections. Parts or all of the farms now belonging to P. F. Hyde, Walter Young, R. D. Ulmer and N. W. Ulmer were from the original. Harmon kept a small section for himself (directly adjoining the church, now owned by L. J. Ulmer).
Harmon remained in the community until 1840. By this time he was in disrepute with several of his neighbors because of financial matters and was forced to leave.
It is interesting to note that these people had their choice of either river bottom or hill land, such as they chose. The river land was not heavily timbered while the other was covered with dense stands of white pine towering from 100-150 feet. (The last of these may still be seen just over the hill to the right of the cemetery.) They were used to the hills in Germany and the lowlands did not seem as healthful to them. As a result they chose the hill lands and with them much hard work in clearing and farming.
The route taken by the settlers from Germantown lead thru Reading and what is now Pottsville, Mt. Carmel and Bear Gap, to Danville. After crossing the Susquehanna at Danville, the Indian trail was followed up to Mahoning Creek thru the Muncy Hills to the Loyalsock Creek. From here they followed the Sheshequin path to the end of their journey (some 12 or 15 miles). May 20, 1805 the colonists reached the summit of Quaker Hill whence they could look down into the valley where they were to make their home. These families built a long log hut where they lived together while the men cleared their own land and built cabins. This was very hard and slow work, with nothing but oxen and the axe to work with. First the trees were girdled and then cut. However, they found that their work was easier if the trees were cut green. The trunks were cut into lengths that could be handled by an ox team, put on piles and burned. Had these logs been sawed boards 3 feet wide and 12-16 feet long would not have been uncommon. Picking stone, clearing of underbrush and preparation for planting, all took many days before the ground was finally ready for seed. The crops they raised were rye and barley. Sometimes they suffered extensive damage from the deer and other wild animals. For religious reasons the people were reluctant to kill the wild life and as a result sometimes suffered. After the first winter the men found their way to Williamsport where they bought supplies. This relieved their condition somewhat. They found out that the river made an excellent fishing ground. From then on it became the custom to go to Jaysburg (Newberry) occasionally and secure fish. These were smoked and dried for use in the winter
The spinning wheel and loom became fixtures in each cabin. The women raised flax which eventually came from the wheel or loom as yarn or "fine twined linen." The wool from sheep was fashioned into home-spun garments.
The deprivations of the day were numerous. Sugar was almost unknown. Once a year somebody would come from Blockhouse with maple sugar. Each family would purchase a pound or two. One of their sources of salt was from two wells about 20 feet deep located on Wallis run, west of Lycoming Creek. It was found that brine from these yielded about one tablespoon of salt to eight quarts of water. The people went to the mouth of Lycoming Creek, (about 10 miles) to get their grain ground. Pure white flour was a luxury to be used only when company was present. Other times whole wheat flour and rye flour were used. The problem of footwear was a serious one. There were tanneries in Williamsport, and later at War- rensville (a distance of 4 miles). The settler would take a load of bark and some hides to the tannery. He would leave these to have the hides tanned for the half. The process took one year. During the winter the traveling shoemaker would go around to the different homes and for $.50 a day and board make the family footwear.
With all the hardships and privations the people of Blooming Grove had to endure they never lost their religious zeal. Dr. Haller was the first teacher and preacher, and for some time it was the custom of the people to go to his home especially during harvest and help him with his work. When this was finished a religious service would be held before going home. Early a combined church and schoolhouse was constructed just below the road from this building. Dr. Haller was teacher. He was a severe disciplinarian. One day all the boys in school were soundly flogged because they played during the noon hour when he was absent. He was a highly educated and cultured man who had been banished from Germany for being a Pietist. He spoke French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He administered to the medical needs as well as those of the mind and soul until he died in 1828. He is buried in the cemetery back of the church.
The first school building was heated by an open fireplace. Later another building was put up. This was called "Klump's school" from the name of a black-smith nearby. The pupils sat facing the wall, the boys on one side and the girls on the other. This building was later replaced by the frame building still in use. A number of the men who settled here had the best education available at that time. As a result they required their children to get an education somtimes at a great cost. Many of the children had to walk 4 miles to and from school each day of the three months term, in the bitter winter weather.
These people were opposed to the school law of 1834. They believed that the result would be an inferior school. They were afraid of the taxation that would come and also because it was designated that the English language was to be used. However the law went into effect and an English teacher was put in charge. The Germans did not like this teacher and so started a school of their own at one of the farm houses. This was on the farm now owned by Fernando Heim. The cost of the school was provided for by dividing the expenses among those using it.
Among the teachers following Dr. Haller were Michael Biehl, Joseph Gross, Christley Heim and Gottleib Heim.
The building used as the first school was used for church purposes as well for about 20 years. In 1828 the present building was located just above the road from the old one. It remains today just as it was when built, with the exception of the weather boards. They were replaced about 30 years ago to preserve the building replacing the worn our ones. All the lumber used is hand worked white pine. To this building the people would walk sometimes as far as 6 miles, carrying those children who were not able to walk, to the Sunday afternoon services. The older people would occupy the seats next to the wall, the women would occupy the section to the left of the speaker and the men to the right. After listening to a sermon that lasted over an hour they would retrace their steps back home. If the children went to sleep during the service they were laid on the floor under the benches until the service was over. It was only very rarely that evening services were held. Then the candle holders hanging to the posts contained the candles supplying the light.
After the death of Dr. Haller there was a dispute as to whether Wendle Harmon or David Young should become the leader. Tradition is that at the first service both men appeared, ready to take charge. They argued as to who should be leader until they tore the Bible out of each other's hands. Young was finally the man selected.
"Christley" Heim was the last regular pastor to serve the people. He was a man of unusual talent and intelligence, a highly cultured Christian gentleman, beloved by all who knew him, both as teacher and preacher. He knew higher mathematics and owned several scientific instruments including a barometer. He livede and died on the farm now owned by David Noll. But for nearly twenty years after his death meetings were held, some member reading the sermon.
The younger generation gradually threw their lot with the Baptist and Evangelical churches in the nearby vicinity. So that at the present time only one member of the church survives. (C. D. Heim)
The building has been deeded to the Blooming Grove Cemetery Association. This organization looks after the repairs and care of the building.
The cemetery was started in 1828, the same year the meeting house was erected.
It is hoped that speedy steps may be take to preserve permanently not merely the meeting house but also the large number of interesting relics that may still be found in the community.