History Of Boehm’s Chapel
Heritage Landmark of the United Methodist Church
Boehm’s Chapel was built in 1791. It was the first Methodist Church in Lancaster County, the oldest existing structure built for Methodist worship in Pennsylvania, and the fourth oldest in the nation.
About the Boehm Family
This site and the area surrounding the Chapel were purchased by Swiss Mennonites in 1710 from William Penn. Jacob Boehm was among those receiving land tracts. He and his wife, the former Barbara Kendig, began to clear a patch of land, becoming one of the first farms in Lancaster County. Ten years later their youngest son, Martin, was born in 1725. In 1753 Martin married Eve Steiner and they established their home on a 181 acre farm, part of a tract patented to Jacob Boehm by William Penn. Martin and Eve had eight children. Their youngest child, Henry, was born in 1775.
The Calling of Martin Boehm
In 1756, at the age of 31, Martin Boehm was chosen by lot to be the minister in his local Mennonite congregation. His initial sermons were sadly lacking. Although raised in the Mennonite faith, he discovered he had little or no assurance of the presence and power of the Risen Savior in his life. He felt the need for a heart warming experience, a more expressive religion and a deeper sense of personal salvation. After months of prayerful struggle, he had an encounter with the Lord Jesus while plowing one of his fields. After this, Martin preached with confidence and fervor. In 1761, Martin was advanced to the office of Bishop in the Mennonite tradition.
Martin Boehm's Ministry
In 1767 a “great meeting” was held in a barn owned by Isaac Long in Lancaster County. There Martin Boehm preached to a large crowd that included Philip William Otterbein, formerly a pastor at First Reformed Church, Lancaster. Otterbein was so affected by Boehm’s words that he came forward after the service and greeted Boehm with the words “Wir sind Brüder” (“We are brothers”). In 1800, Boehm and Otterbein helped found the United Brethren in Christ Church and became the first two bishops of the denomination.
The Boehm home was a significant stopping place for itinerant ministers and lay evangelists of various denominations. This group of travelers became known as “circuit riders”. One of the most famous circuit riders was Francis Asbury, “The Father of American Methodism” who was a frequent visitor at the Boehm home over a 35 year period. Robert Strawbridge, early circuit rider and the 1760’s organizer of the first Methodist Society in America, also found both hospitality and a preaching place here.
The Building of Boehm's Chapel
Henry Boehm’s brother, Jacob, provided the land and burying ground and in 1791 Boehm’s Chapel was built. Henry Boehm (1775-1875), the youngest of the eight Boehm children, became a prominent leader of Methodism in Colonial America and was confidant and traveling companion of Bishop Francis Asbury for five years. At age 91, Henry wrote Reminiscences which provided much information about his parents and early church leaders.
In 1883, the Chapel was altered by removing the porch roof, balconies and high pulpit. 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.
The Boehm's Chapel Society
During the 1970’s, a committee was created to work toward the reconstruction and maintenance of Boehm’s Chapel as an important landmark of the faith. This committee became the Boehm’s Chapel Society, which was incorporated in 1982. Archeological investigation and written accounts yielded sufficient information to reconstruct the chapel to its 1791 appearance. This work was completed in time for the Bicentennial Celebration held in 1991.
In 1984, the Chapel was designated a heritage landmark by the United Methodist Church as well as a Pennsylvania historical site by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and a State Historical Marker was placed and dedicated later that year. In 1991, 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.