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Friday, July 15, 2016

The "A Trip To Boehm's Chapel" - Part I: The History" Story

Behind the white fence, off in the distance, is Boehm's Chapel
It was an ordinary day. Standing inside Boehm's Chapel in Willow Street, Pennsyl- vania talking with Dolores Myers, the executive director of the Chapel Society. A few years ago I made a visit to the Chapel and took a few exterior photos for a story, but always wanted to see the inside of this historic chapel that was built in 1791. Well, today is the day and I got the chance to talk with one of the most knowledgeable members of the church. So, with a bit of info from my hostess and a smidgen of info from a few publications, today I will give you some background and history of this really neat Chapel and those responsible for its existence. Seems the ground where the chapel stands was purchased by Swiss Mennonites in 1710 from William Penn. Jacob Boehm was among those who received a part of that land and he and his wife began to farm their property, one of the first farms in Lancaster County.
The Reverend Martin Boehm
Ten years later their youngest son, Martin was born. In 1753 Martin and his wife Eve also began farming on part of this original land from William Penn. Two years prior to that, Martin was chosen by lot to be the minister in his local Mennonite congregation. In 1761 he was advanced to the office of Bishop. Then, in 1767, at a barn in Manheim Township owned by Isaac Long, Martin preached to a large crowd that included Philip William Otterbein, Francis Asbury and Robert Strawbridge.  Mr. Otterbein was so swayed by Mr. Boehm that in 1800 the two founded the United Brethren in Christ Church and both became bishops. The Boehm farm became a stopping place for itinerant ministers of various denominations later known as "circuit riders". One of the most famous of these riders was Francis Asbury, the "Father of American Methodism".
A monument dedicated to the Circuit Riders
Martin's calling took him from his farm most of the time, so he sold his property to his sons as well as deeding land to the Methodists of the area which is where Boehm's Chapel was built in 1791. Martin's son Jacob was an influential leader and son Henry traveled with Bishop Asbury. In 1883 the original chapel was altered by removing the porch roof, balconies and high pulpit.
Inside Boehm's Chapel stands the garb
used by the Circuit Riders of the era
The balcony windows were masoned shut with the exception of the one over the pulpit.  The lower windows were enlarged and the ceiling was lowered. In the 1970s a committee, eventually known as the Boehm's Chapel Society, was created and incorporated in 1982. The original chapel's archaeological configuration was determined and in 1989 work began on the chapel which had been deteriorating for many years. The reconstruction was completed by 1991, in time for the Bicentenial Celebration. That same year the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County presented a plaque and commendation to the Boehm's Chapel Society for the exemplary reconstruction of the Chapel. And today I am getting a personal trip back into the history of this inspiring, historical building. Follow with me tomorrow as I take you with me for a tour of the interior and a few photos of the home of Martin Boehm as well as of the Chapel as it appeared in 1791. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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