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
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
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
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 cemetery was started in 1828, the same year the meeting house
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.