Zimmerman Graveyard

The Old Zimmerman Graveyard In East Earl

Many people prominent in the East End years ago now rest in this Sacred Acre—some sidelights on early history of East Earl and Caernarvon townships.

One of the places of interest in East Earl Township, Lancaster County, to the local historian is Zimmermans graveyard, near the Caernarvon Township line, on the farm now owned by J. M. Martin. This was however in the ownership of the Zimmermans since 1748, when Hans Zimmerman came from his father’s home in Cocalico township, in this county, and bought 151 acres from John and Richard Penn, in Earl and Caernarvon Townships. Three years later he added to this tract 668 acres of land bought at sheriff’s sale, which had been seized and sold as the property of Edward Edwards, who was no doubt a son of Judge Thomas Edwards, who owned the Spring Grove farm at that time. It must have been during the ownership of the Edwards family that this graveyard was first used as a burying ground for their dead; as tradition has it that the Welsh inhabitants of the vicinity of Spring Grove, and those of Caernarvon, were for a while undecided whether to build their church on the elevated spot near the cemetery, which at that time bordered on a public road, or to the present site of Churchtown. The majority of the settlers voted for the place where Bangor Church now stands in the beautiful village of Churchtown. The foundation of the capital of Caernarvon was laid, while this cemetery and its adjoining lands passed into the hands of the Swiss and Germans, who at an unguarded time allowed the public road to be moved further north and thereby, unthinkingly robbed the burying ground of their sainted dead of the possibility of being overshadowed by a meeting house or church. Twice thereafter, once in 1839, and again fifty years later in 1889, there was a move made to erect a Mennonite Meeting House at this place, and each time lost for want of a public entrance. In 1839 the first Smoketown, or Lichty Meeting House was built of stone in a beautiful natural woods, on land now owned by Martin M. Lichty, in Caernarvon township and in 1889. The present substantial stone meeting house was erected on land bought from Peter Weaver, one-half mile east from the old grave yard.

The farm surrounding this sacred spot was owned by five Christian Zimmermans, every one representing a generation, as it was handed down from father to son. Starting in 1752, when Hans Zimmerman, who was born in Europe, and was buried in this cemetery in 1786, deeded it to his son Christian, and ended in 1907, when Christian F. Zimmerman now residing near Petersburg, this county, sold it, now containing about one hundred acres, to his mother, Mary Zimmerman, now deceased.

Before 1839 the Mennonites in this section held their services in the farm house of Peter Shirk, and in the same house when the farm passed into the hands of his son, Samuel Shirk. Until the above year when Mr. Shirk built the large mansion house on his farm which is now owned and occupied by Joseph Martin, and the log house which had for many years served a double purpose was removed and services were transferred to the new place of worship where they continued for fifty years.

Among the many notable persons reposing in this “Gods Acre” we find Jacob Newswanger, on whose tomb stone is wisely inscribed, “Ein Prediger des Evongeleum” he was for many years a minister in the Mennonite Church in Weaverland district and died in 1835, aged 53 years, when his youngest son, Emanuel who was ordained to the same office as his father held, thirty four years later, was but three years old. Emanuel Newswanger died in 1905, aged 72 years. Preacher Jacob Newswanger lived upon the farm now owned by John M. Weaver in Caernarvon township; Mrs. Weaver being a granddaughter.

At the head of another mound is found the name of Jacob Zimmerman, who was ordained a minister of the Gospel in 1813, in the old meeting house at Weaverland, and two years later he was chosen bishop of the Weaverland district, he being the third person to fill that office in the Mennonite Church at this place. He died at the age of 72 years in 1856, after serving his people forty three years in the pulpit.

Eleven years before he died, he as a trustee of the church received a good title to the graveyard with legal rights and all necessary privileges to the entrance. He lived on the farm now owned by Frank W. Horst, about a half mile east of Spring Grove. Jacob Zimmerman who resides with his two daughters at Cedar Lane station, is the only one of the old Bishop’s children who is still living, and anyone who is fond of hearing incidents as they happened three-quarters of a century ago, in church and community will be well paid by listening to the flow of information as it comes from the store-house, kept clear by the Creator, in this venerable man of more than four score years.

On another marble slab is the name of Christian Shirk, who was ordained to the ministry in 1837, and served this same district until 1870, when he died at the age of 73 years, having preached for a period of thirty three years. His residence was the present home of Christian Shirk, the tanner in Caernarvon township who is one of his surviving sons. Peter Shirk, of Waterloo County, Ontario, a prominent miller; Mrs. Peter Shirk of Harvey County, Kansas, and a Mrs. Schrock, of Elkhart County, Indiana, are all surviving children of this once well known preacher of Weaverland.

Emanuel Newswanger took this man’s place in the pulpit, and in 1883 John M. Zimmerman filled the place of Newswanger and continued in his duties 1903, when his death ended a most commendable service of twenty years as pastor and leader of his people and he sleeps with his ancestors in the old grave yard. Two years after he began his ministry he had his left arm amputated and was known as the one armed preacher of Weaverland.

Thus we might go on and call to the minds of the present generation facts and incidents of the departed sleepers in this sacred spot. As we read many inscriptions of interest to us; among them is the one of the grave of Joseph Shirk, mathematician and mechanic; he who was the originator of many inventions which now are among the great achievements of the world. An other tells of doctor Lichty, who had his office at the home of his father, Christian Lichty, on the farm now owned by Reuben Weaver in Caernarvon township, where he died in 1849. One soldier of the rebellion, Christian Shirk, who fell from a moving train of cars in 1871 at Harrisburg is buried there.

What builders and what master minds are here at rest? Where are the boundaries of their influence for good? We walk down the beautiful lane and imagine we hear a voice saying “Sleep on, your lives have not been in vain; you have given us fertile acres, a peaceful community, and a firm faith in God.”

(Martin G. Weaver) M. G. W.

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Last update: 2016-01-06