Chester County (Pennsylvania, USA)
Chester County, located in southeastern Pennsylvania, (pop. 136,000 in 1950; 433,000 in 2000), was the site of a number of early Mennonite and Amish Mennonite settlements. The first settlers, Mennonites from Switzerland and the Palatinate, settled in the region of Pottstown, Coventry, Phoenixville, Royersford, and Spring City about 1718-1720 and in the following years. The first Amish settled near Malvern and Frazer about 1750-1760. The two oldest settlements of Mennonites in Chester County built the Vincent and Coventry meetinghouses about the middle of the 18th century (Coventry possibly as early as 1735); Coventry became extinct as a congregation about 1914 but Vincent had 150 members in 1952. The Charlestown Mennonite meetinghouse was built about 1789 and was in use about fifty years when the congregation became extinct; its founder and first bishop was Matthias Pannebecker, great-grandfather of Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker of Pennsylvania. The fourth location in Chester County where the Mennonites built a meetinghouse was Phoenixville: the first building was started in 1772 and was later known as Buckwalters' and Morgans' School House; the second was built at Main and Church streets in 1794 and rebuilt in 1873, but the property was taken over by the Lutherans in 1875. Preacher Jacob Beidler was instrumental in erecting the Diamond Rock Mennonite meetinghouse in 1835, but it was not used much after his death (1864). All of these congregations belonged or still belong to the Franconia Mennonite Conference. The other Mennonite congregations in Chester County are of more recent origin, since 1917: Frazer, Coatesville, Parkesburg, and Homeville, and belonged to the Lancaster Mennonite Conference.
The oldest Amish Mennonite meetinghouse in America was erected near Malvern in Chester County in 1795, and was called Goshen or Chester Valley. The bishop oversight was in charge of Jacob Mast (1738-1808), who had become a bishop in 1788. The congregation became extinct some time after his death, and the building was accidentally burned in 1895; the walls, however, were still standing in 1950. The Amish had settled in Chester County in 1760, led by Jacob Mast, coming to Chester from Bern Township, Berks County. Although the Goshen group died out, the Amish flourished in both the Conestoga and Pequea valleys; most of their members now resided in Lancaster County, however. From 1869 until 1877 there was some dissension among the Amish of the area which resulted in the formation of two separate groups: the Amish Mennonites who built the Conestoga Amish Mennonite Church in Berks County in 1882, and the Old Order Amish who clung more tenaciously to the discipline and piety of their elders. The Maple Grove Amish Mennonite Church in Chester County near Atglen was built in 1909, and was originally an outpost of the Millwood A.M. congregation of Lancaster County. The Conestoga and Maple Grove congregations belonged to the Ohio and Eastern A.M. Conference, whereas Millwood, which formerly belonged to the same conference joined the Lancaster Conference. A considerable number of the members of all three congregations lived in Chester County.
There were two Christian day schools in the county in 1950: West Fallowfield Mennonite School, and Parkesburg Mennonite School, with a total enrollment (1948-49) of 73 pupils.
Wenger, J. C. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Pub. House, 1938. Reprinted Lititz, PA?: Publication Board of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church], 1985.
Mast, C. Z. Annals of the Conestoga Valley in Lancaster, Berks and Chester Counties. Scottdale, PA, 1942.
|Author(s)||George B. Stoltzfus|
|John C. Wenger|
Cite This Article
Stoltzfus, George B. and John C. Wenger. "Chester County (Pennsylvania, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 22 Oct 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chester_County_(Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=170469.
Stoltzfus, George B. and John C. Wenger. (1953). Chester County (Pennsylvania, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 October 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chester_County_(Pennsylvania,_USA)&oldid=170469.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 553. All rights reserved.
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