The History of Menges Mills

The History of Menges Mills and Gerber's Church begins in Appenzell, Switzerland in the 17th century with the family of Franziest Hersche. In 1662, Franziest married Engel Darig and the Lord blessed them with two sons, Christian and Johannes. In 1672, the Cantons of Berne and Zurich formed an alliance for mutual defense against French and German invasions. This move towards Swiss independence required all young men to either perform two years of military service or else leave the country. Tax records show that by 1682, when Christian was perhaps 17 years old, the family had moved to the German Palatinate.

While life in the Palatinate may have brought freedom from mandatory military enlistment, it did not bring freedom from invasions by the armies of King Louis XIV of France. So in 1717, Christian brought two of his three sons with him across the ocean to William Penn's colony. 1717 appears to be the year that began a significant Mennonite migration and Christian has the distinction of being the first Mennonite bishop to come to America. He settled in Lancaster County and took a patent on 1,000 acres of land in partnership with a friend, Jacob Brubaker. President James Buchanan's home, Wheatland, now sits on part of this patent.

In addition to Christian and his two sons' arrival in 1717 and the third son coming twenty-two years later, two sons of Christian's brother Johannes also came. Their names were Andrew and Christian Hershey and they also settled on Lancaster County land patents.

In 1732, it was this Andrew Hershey (1698-1754) of East Petersburg, Lancaster Co., who came to York Co. along with his brother Christian to scout for land suitable to buy and build a mill on. In 1734, he was granted a land patent of 600 acres from Lord Baltimore. His patent was called Golden Grove and surrounded the area of Menges Mills. Sometime after this, Andrew Sr. sent his son Andrew Jr. to clear the land and start a mill on Codorus Creek. Who he lived with or how can only be imagined from our knowledge of life in those times. The area was just beginning to be settled. It was inhabited by Okete and Wiota Indians and access was limited to Indian trails by horseback or small wagon.

The Germans were mostly experienced settlers seeking permanence. A few of outstanding character, intelligence and tenacity helped decide the drawn out border dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The York Co. settlers petitioned for the first public road through the area which was built by Lancaster Court in 1739. It crossed the Susquehanna at Wrightsville, went through York, Menges Mills and Hanover. Then it went onto the Maryland Line. It was called the Monacacy Road or the "Kings Highway". It was surveyed by a team of six men, one of which was an important leader of the settlers, Michael Danner. It was the main road used in traveling from Baltimore and Washington to Philadelphia. It was traveled much by the leaders of early America such as George Washington and Anthony Wayne. It also enabled teamsters to travel through the area with their Conestoga wagons. Supplies, trading and general commerce was improved.

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The early German settlers in the area were Lutherans, Mennonite, and Brethren. In 1738, the first organized group of worshippers was formed near the Maryland line called Little Conewago. It consisted of at least ten Brethren families and perhaps included some Mennonites. It eventually evolved into the Black Rock Church of the Brethren of today. The names of these first families were Danner, Dierdorff, Biegler, Miller, Baugher, Keeney, Meyers, Martin, Jacobs, and others. They worshipped in homes, taking turns in surrounding townships and counties within a fifty mile radius.

Andrew Jr. (1725-1750) had to wait for the Monacacy Road to be completed so that certain supplies for the mill machinery could be shipped. How convenient that it went right through the middle of his father's land! Certainly, it took a few years to complete the mill considering the mill pond, dam and the mill race (which is at least ¾ mile long, four feet deep and fifteen feet wide). It was constructed using lots of ingenuity and mule power. The first mill stones were from France and were called French burr wheels. Perhaps they were special ordered or bought second hand.

Andrew Jr. married Susanna of Manheim in 1747. They may have started married life in a log home near the creek and mill site. Being of distinct Mennonite heritage, we imagine Andrew as the spiritual leader in his home. His uncle was the first Mennonite bishop in America; his father and numerous cousins were early Mennonite ministers. He would have made an effort to worship with the other Mennonites nearby. Some of the Mennonite settlers nearby were: Miller, Moyer/Myer, Trown, Baer, Zimmerman, Byer, Baughman, Cochnauer, Nace, Newcomer, Forney, Danner, Brubaker, Hochstetler, Minich, Groff, Bollinger, Ebersoll, Neithig, Shenk, Keagy, and Weldy. They probably worshipped together in their homes. One of the earliest organized church groups in the area was The Little Conawago Congregation founded in 1738 (Black Rock). About 1733, Pastor Stoever formed a list of Lutherans he ministered to. The Lischeys formed a union church around 1738. Bairs/Hanover did the same around 1740 for Bairs, Codorus, Gerbers, and Hersheys who worshipped and were ministered to together.

About 1748, Andrew Jr. opened the penstock gate to allow water to flow from the mill race to the mill water wheel and started grinding essential meal for the surrounding settlers. In 1750, tragedy struck and Andrew died at age 25, whether in the form of accident or illness, leaving Susanna with two very young children, Christian and Elizabeth. What did Susanna do? We can only surmise that she was a courageous settler's wife and that other settlers were kind. Surely the mill did not sit idle. Perhaps a neighbor ran the mill. Only the old sycamores along the creek by the mill, if they could talk, could tell the sad story. In 1753, her father-in-law, Andrew Sr. bought 252 acres from the Penn's to add to the original 600 acres. The mill and property was bought in 1762 by Andrew Jr.'s brother, John, from another brother who acquired it when Andrew Sr.'s will was executed that same year. We don't know if he had come to run the mill after Andrew's death and before this purchase.

John Hershey (1730-1795) was married to Elizabeth Wanner (1736-1790). He worked the mill and rebuilt it in about 1780. This is how we see it today. It has a ten foot foundation using old millstones along with the native stone. By 1782, there were hemp and saw mills operating. As prosperous as John was, he built a fine house too. John supposedly fought in the Revolutionary War, but most Mennonites held to nonresistance. His cousin, Benjamin Hershey, wrote a declaration to the Assembly of the Province of Penn at Philadelphia asking them "to grant Liberty of Conscience to all inhabitants" and "we find no freedom in doing anything by which men's lives are destroyed or hurt. We beg patience of all those who believe we err in this point." In 1778, the Hersheys of Menges Mills paid nonassociator fines for not going to war.

When John died in 1795, Andrew and Susanna's son Christian was about 49 years old. He had eight children and lived on property beside his Uncle John's. He had been willed this property by his grandfather Andrew, Sr. He relocated at this time to Bedford County. His oldest son Abraham started a mill there. John had a daughter that married the miller Jacob Bollinger, Jr. whose father had a mill about one mile upstream. John's son, John, Jr., ran the mill after his father's death. When John Jr. (1769-1829) died, the mill was willed to his daughter and husband, Susan and Abraham Histand. John, Jr. had another daughter that married a prosperous Lutheran miller's son named Peter Menges in 1824. In 1837, Peter Menges (1802-1883) bought the mill and surrounding farm property. It remained in the Menges family until 1963 when it was sold for a working mill museum. After 15 years of degeneration, the present owner bought the mill. He hopes to restore the mill to a working mill. He must depend on community support and donations to do so.