Set amidst lush Amish and Mennonite farms, Churchtown is a quiet Pennsylvania Dutch town known for its antique shops, bed & breakfasts and historic homes. Situated in the Conestoga Creek Valley of Caernarvon Township which is known as the Garden Spot of Lancaster County, the town is surrounded by corn, alfalfa, and tobacco fields. Little more than a mile in length, it is the largest village in Caernarvon Township.
Many believe the town obtained its name from the number of churches located within its borders. That is not correct. The name derived from the fact that the town was once owned by the Bangor Episcopal Church. The Bangor Episcopal Church is one of the Church of England's oldest in the American colonies. It dates back to the 1720s. The church received a regular income by creating and leasing parcels of land to early settlers.
As with many of the towns and villages of Lancaster County, Churchtown originated from a series of taverns and inns situated along present-day Route 23 also known as Ridge Road that bisects the county. Hungry and tired travelers would stop at these businesses for a hearty meal and accommodations.
Gradually, other businesses sprung up to sell goods and supplies to the passing travelers. Over time, homes were built and the community grew.
Historically bypassed by the railroad, the town developed more slowly than its neighbors. However, it continued to exist by meeting the needs of the local Amish and Mennonite communities that had settled there.
From "Church Town" to "Iron Town"
The first inhabitants of Churchtown were Welsh immigrants who joined the German settlers drawn to the Conestoga Valley's fertile land and physical similarity to the Palatinate region of Europe.
It is the Welsh who founded the Bangor Episcopal Church which is one of the first Church of England congregations in the American colonies. Today, this Gothic-revival style building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the late 1700's, the village became prosperous thanks to the iron industry. Located on the outskirts of Churchtown on the banks of the Conestoga Creek were the Windsor, Poole, and Spring Grove Forges which processed pig iron brought in from nearby iron furnaces.
During this time period, wrought iron was very popular. It was commonly used in tools and wares common in the households and workplaces of the day.
However, the iron forges began to close in the 1860's. This impacted the village greatly.
Fortunately, local businesses continued to thrive thanks to the trade with the nearby Amish and Mennonites who came to purchase hardware supplies, harnesses, carriages, and other goods.
Other businesses such as shoemakers, potters, cabinet makers, and hat makers also continued to do well and contributed to the longevity of the village. Many of these small businesses operated out of the homes of the owners.
Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the village also benefited from an influx of visitors from cities such as New York and Philadelphia who found the bucolic surroundings a great relief from the hustle of city life.
Some famous residents of Churchtown include the late 19th Century artist, poetess, and sculptress, Blanch Nevin (1843-1925). Nevin came from a prominent family. Her father, Rev, John Williamson, was the president of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster County. Her mother, Martha (Jenkins) Nevin, was the daughter of Robert Jenkins, the owner and ironmaster of Windsor Forge. He was also a congressman.
One of Blanche Nevin's most famous sculptures is her sculpture of Revolutionary War officer, General John Muhlenberg. This statue currently resides at the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. and is one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Two other well-known statues of hers can be seen in Lancaster. There is the bronze lion water fountain at Reservoir Park, Lancaster City as well as the horse fountain sculpture at the intersection of West Orange Street and Columbia Avenue in Lancaster.
Another famous 19th century resident of Churchtown is Edward Davies who was the village's first postmaster and a member of the 25th U.S. Congress. Davies lived in what was known as the Davies Mansion located across the street from the Bangor Episcopal Church. Built in 1797, Davies Mansion is a sandstone Georgian and Federal style building.
Over time, Davies Mansion served as the Churchtown Academy and home of the ministers of the Bangor Church. Currently, it is operated as the Churchtown Inn and is open to the public for accommodations. Today, the inn features antique laden double Victorian parlors and a glass-enclosed garden breakfast room overlooking the lush farmland and rolling hills of the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. Twilight carriage rides are offered by the Amish neighbors.
Return to the Towns & Villages of Lancaster County
Return to the Welcome to Lancaster County Home Page from exploring