The Historic Ephrata Cloister

Ephrata used to be three towns: Lincoln, Ephrata, and Merle. Nestled just north of Ephrata, between Ephrata and Lincoln and near the junction of 322 and 272, sits a historic complex with origins dating back to the early 1700s: The Ephrata Cloister.

When I was a child attending Brownstown Elementary School, my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Shirk took us on a field trip to the Ephrata Cloister.  I did not really care about where we were going; I was just excited to get out of regular classes and to visit a new place.  I think I bought some postcards and even took some photos with a cheap camera my parents had bought me.  But I really do not remember much about the experience.

As an adult, the Ephrata Cloister took on a new meaning for me, especially as I did research for my book “My First 250 Years: The Story of the Hertzog Homestead.”  During my research, I discovered I was actually a descendant of Martin Luther, the reformer. Some of his descendants eventually ended up in America, the Henkles settling in what is now known as Hinkletown, a 5-minute drive from the Hertzog Homestead.  George Henkel’s daughter married Peter Miller, a bricklayer, who happened to be a member of the Ephrata Cloister.

The Ephrata Cloister was established primarily as a religious order, with members practicing both celibacy and marriage. Peter Miller and his wife were a part of the married families called householders, living on the surrounding farms and not on the Ephrata Cloister complex proper. His farm was located north of the Ephrata Cloister, within walking distance, and eventually became the Smithton Inn, a bed and breakfast that still exists till this day.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, and the Battle of Brandywine happened, injured soldiers were brought and tended to at the Ephrata Cloister.  Peter Miller was among those who helped.  Later, a disease ran rampant through the injured soldiers and he, along with many others, contracted the disease and died from it. My great, great grandmother was a Miller, a granddaughter of Peter,  who married a Hackman. They had a daughter who married a Buch; my grandmother was a Buch.

When you visit the Ephrata Cloister, you discover another place, another time, and another way of life. As their website states, “Conrad Beissel, Ephrata’s founder, came to the site in 1732 seeking to live as a hermit following his own religious ideas.  He believed earthly life should be spent preparing to achieve a spiritual union with God at the Second Coming he felt would soon occur. The Ephrata Cloister became experts in farming, papermaking, carpentry, milling, and textile production. They were especially known for their Pennsylvania Folk Art, their songwriting, and their ambitious printing endeavors.

The Ephrata Cloister provides a wonderful place to explore, bring a picnic lunch, and relive a piece of history.

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