Welcome to Palmyra PA

History of Palmyra

The land on which Palmyra now stands was originally inhabited by the Lenni Lenape Indians to whom the white man gave the name Delawares, who were members of the Algonquin family. This Indian tribe once enjoyed great dignity and power. Other Algonquin tribes settling in Pennsylvania were the Shawnees, the Nanticokes and Conoys. Tribes of the Iroquoian family of Indians living in Pennsylvania were the Susquehannocks, the Conestogas, and the Tuscaroras.

The first white men came into this area about 1650, or before, and were explorers or traders. The explorers were mainly concerned with scouting the new territory and gathering first-hand information for the future purchase of tracts of land. The traders were concerned mainly with trade with the Indians. They carried with them the usual stock of trading goods such as blankets, beads, kettles, iron axes, guns, etc. to trade for the pelts of fur bearing animals.

It has been said that a trading post with a stockade built by Indian traders was located several hundred yards north of the 300 block of West Main Street. Early citizens tell of a pond, and the outlines of a stockade could be seen years ago. A study of the cultural remains of the Indian campsites with their arrow points, axes and tools gives proof of the various tribes who used this valley as a hunting ground.

The only remaining thing to remind us of the Indian inhabitation of the area is the names they gave to the streams and mountains - Swatara Creek, the Indian name Swahadowry, corrupted from Schada-dawa, means in Susquehanna Indian "where we feed on eels" - Quitapahilla Creek, corrupted from Cuitpehelle, meaning "a spring that flows from the ground among pines" - Kittatiny hills, corrupted from Kittochtiny, a Delaware word meaning "the endless hills." There were several reasons why the early settlers were drawn to this area to build their homes and raise their families. The first was the traders who went back to the established settlements with glowing accounts of the good rich land and pure streams with fish and game in abundance. Another reason was the desire of William Penn to found a colony of small independent farmers. In his advertisements of his promise in the Eastern European countries, he stressed the opportunity for a poor man to own land. In addition, Penn's charter of civil rights and freedom of religion appealed to those people who desired these rights and were living in virtual serfdom.


BUILT A.D. 1720
In the beginning, a large portion of the land in Pennsylvania, perhaps most of it, was occupied by the settlers without legal rights, as squatters. Squatter rights were favored because of the abundance of good land, loose business methods of the proprietaries, long distance to the land office, overwhelming number of settlers, and slow method of settling the titles of the Indians. Most of the early settlers who settled in this area known as the "back country" during 1717-1740, especially the German and Scotch-Irish immigrants, did not take the trouble to acquire title by legal rights but simply squatted on unoccupied land. Because of this squatter method of settlement it is difficult and sometimes impossible to trace family migrations and/or land record titles, however, an investigation of early land records indicates clearly that Palmyra and the surrounding area was settled by two different European nationalities - namely, the Scotch-Irish and the German Palatinates.


The Scotch-Irish were Scotchmen who had migrated to Ireland under Elizabeth and James 1, but as time passed they became dissatisfied with the rule of the English authorities and the native Irish. They came to America in large numbers because of political, religious, and economic reasons, although the economic reason was the most compelling. They were a hardy, self-reliant and courageous people who adapted to the wilderness and the frontier, and they preferred that way of life. They led the westward advance of settlements and therefore were the first line of defense against the Indians. Being of a restless nature, and not mixing well with the German element, they moved westward into Cumberland County. They were political minded and took an active interest in government once they were established. They were Presbyterians, and you can trace their movements from Philadelphia westward by the churches they built on the way, Donegal in Lancaster County, Paxtang near Harrisburg, Derry at Hershey, and Silver Spring near Carlisle.

Over the passing years most all of the Scotch-Irish have died away or moved to another part of the state. There are few indeed today in the Palmyra area who can trace their ancestry to the Scotch-Irish who settled here. Many of these early settlers are buried at Old Derry Church and on the "Old English" cemetery near Grantville.

The following were early settlers - David Mitchell, John Campbell, Henry Walker, George Aspey, James Caruthers, Thomas Ewing, Widow McCallen, William Sawyer, James Wilson, James Galbraith, John McCord, Robert McClure, and many others.

The Pennsylvania Germans, or German Palatinates, came from Germany, and have been commonly called the Pennsylvania Dutch. These Germans came to Pennsylvania for religious, Political, and economic reasons. Politically they were oppressed, they were economically poor, and they were severely persecuted for their religious beliefs. Like the ScotchIrish the Germans were clannish, and from the beginning tried to keep to themselves. Throughout Pennsylvania land the prevailing language was German, that, and the differences of religion kept the Germans from mixing either with the English or Scotch-Irish. Most of the German immigrants were farmers, and as a class they flourished best in rural sections. They were not politically minded and let the Quakers run the government. To them farming was a way of life, not merely a means of livelihood. The contributions of the Germans was the promotion of agriculture, in which they excelled all other groups. They were conservative, religious, frugal, and hard working people who lived close to the soil and added an element of strength to the state and nation.

Unlike the Scotch-Irish, the Pennsylvania Germans stayed on the land they loved, and it is not uncommon even today to find farms that have been handed down from father to son for several generations. It is also true that many of the present citizens of this area can claim these original German immigrants as their ancestors.

The following were early settlers - John Deininger, John Ober, John Bindnagle, John Early, Joseph Carmany, Michael Killinger, Johannes Bowman, Jacob Naftzger, Jacob Ricker, Joseph Forney, Anthony Hemperly, John Nye, Hans Kettering, John Gingerich, John Zimmerman, and many others.

From the time of Braddock's defeat at the hands of the French and Indians in 1755 - up until 1783, one of the hazards of the early pioneer farmer was fear o an Indian attack. Every rod of ground had to be cleared with an ax and held with the rifle. Fear of a Indian attack tried the stoutest hearts. Although the settlers in the foothills of the Blue Mountains marked the limit of actual settlement on the part of the white man, the early settlers of Palmyra were close to the mountains and had reason to fear an Indian attack.

These Indian raiding parties, of from 5 to 20 indians usually in the dead of night fell upon a homestead, scalped the older members of the family, took the children captive, and burned the buildings, retreating back into the mountains. Even men working in the fields in the daytime had armed guards to protect them while at work.

Rupp and Egle in their histories of Lebanon Count list many outrages in the area between Manada and Indiantown Gap along the mountain. It was necessary to build defenses for these Indian raids, and in 1756 the Provincial government built a chain of forts along the Blue Mountains from the Susquehanna at Harrisburg to the Delaware at Easton at distances of from 10-15 miles apart, especially at the gaps in the mountain. These forts usually consisted of a stockade of heavy planks enclosing several block houses which served as quarters for the troops and refuge for the settlers.

It was the duty of the garrison of these forts to patrol the distances between the forts; always on the alert for Indians. There was one such fort erected in what is now Lebanon County. The site is near Inwood named Fort Swatara. Captain Frederick Smith was given orders on January 16, 1756 to build a fort at this place, and any additional works as he might think necessary to make it strong and easy to defend.

The French and Indian War came to an end, and with it came an end to the Indian raids and the soldiers and settlers could return to the more peaceful pursuits of clearing more land and building larger houses and barns.


To Dr. John Palm (1713-1799) is given the credit for the founding of Palmyra. He has been called, and rightly so, Palmyra's First Citizen, because of his prominence as a frontier doctor, a soldier, and as a citizen of long standing in the early community.


A brief story of the life of Dr. John Palm is worthy of our attention. He was the eldest son of Matthias and Sybylla Palm, born in Heilbronn, in the Electorate of Brandenburg, in the Kingdom of Bavaria, July 15, 1713 (according to Bindnagle Church Record) not in 1718 according to his pass in 1742. About the year 1739 he took up residence at Backnag, near Stuttgard, in Wurtemberg, where he married Christiana Dorothea Kern, August 2, 1740. His parents being poor, he worked in a stocking factory for several years.


Returning from a trip to Amsterdam, Holland in 1742, John Palm began the study of medicine in Wurtemberg. Doubtless he was aided by friends and relatives. A number of the members of the Palm family clan were physicians and druggists in Wurtemberg at that time.


He left his native country for America and arrived at the port of Philadelphia August 11, 1750, as a passenger of the "Ship Patience" under Captain Hugh Steel, from Rotterdam, late from Cowes in England. Bindnagle Church record has his arrival in 1749.

He first settled in the upper part of New Jersey, in the vicinity of Elizabeth and Springfield. His first wife having died, he married Catharine Salome Fenger about the year 1754. She died in 1764.

On June 17, 1766 he secured his 100 acre tract of land from Conrad Raisch, it being the third transfer of title since the time it was surveyed to Johannes Deininger in 1751. This tract can be located today roughly by the boundaries of North Railroad Street on the east, West Maple Street on the south, and the Dauphin County line on the west. The house stood about the center of the 100 block on West Main Street.

When the Revolutionary War broke out he was too old to take an active part in the battle, although he was at the Battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777. He was probably attached to General Green's Division, which was posted as a reserve, between Sullivan and Wayne, to reinforce either division as circumstances might require. He used to relate how Washington, on a white horse, came riding up, encouraging his men. On the 27th of September, 1777 he took the Oath of Allegiance and Fidelity, under the Act of Legislature of 1777 before Justice of-the-Peace John Thome.

About the year 1785 or 1790, Dr. Palm was married a third time, to Elizabeth Williams, a widow. She was born in Germany, probably about the year 1733. Her life was quite an eventful one, as will appear from the following, taken from the History of Berks and Lebanon Counties, page 72. "Hanover, Lancaster Co., Pa., August 11th, 1757 ... Monday, 8th. On Wednesday we intended to rest, but at about 12 o'clock had another alarm. Near Benhamin Clarke house, four miles from the mill, two indians surprised Isaac Williams's wife and the WIDOW WILLIAMS. They killed and scalped the former, in sight of the house. She having run a little way, after three balls had been shot through her body. The latter they carried away as a captive."

In the Colonial Records for 1762, at page 750, Vol. VIII, the following account is given of her restoration. "At a conference with the Northern Indians, held at Lancaster, on Thursday, the 19th of, August, 1762.... the Conference then broke up, and the Governor, his Council, and the Commissioners, went with some Indian Chiefs, to the Court House, to receive the prisoners. Whence having come, the Governor, acquainted Thomas King, that he was ready to receive the prisoners from him, and that they need not be under apprehensions of being used ill, for that he should be kind to them, and treat them like children and restore them to their parents and relatives. Then they delivered to Lt. Governor Hamilton, Esq., (under Hon. Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, Proprietors of the Province of Pennsylvania) at the hands of King Beaver, ELIZABETH WILLIAMS, a young woman, delivered up by Mussause, a Muncy Indian; also Henry Williams about 18 years, a half brother (?) to Elizabeth Williams, delivered by Canyhocheratoquin, a Munch." She had, therefore, been a captive amongst the Delaware or Lenni Lenape tribe, for five years. An account of her restoration to her friends, is also given in the History of Berks and Lebanon Counties, on page 345. After her marriage to Dr. Palm, he, often in a playful way, called her his "Indian Squaw." She died at the house of William Early, near Palmyra, November 25 or 26, 1815.

Dr. John Palm's three marriages resulted in these children: John George Palm, Jr., a son of the first marriage; William, Peter, Jacob, Nicholas, Andrew, and Mary, children of his second marriage; and Tobias, only child of the third marriage. Several other children born to the family died in infancy.

He had an extensive practice, and owing to the country being thinly settled, it was very laborious. Patients frequently came from long distances to consult Dr. Palm. The medicines he used were mostly of vegetable extraction. Having an extensive laboratory he prepared most of his medicines. He distilled his own essential oils, waters, etc. from herbs and flowers. He was a contemporary of Linnaeus, Cullen, DeHaen, Sauwages, and Vn Sweiten. His medical works were mostly by German authors. One of his books, in possession of Dr. 0. R. Palm, (in 1870), a work on Materia Medica, is probably 300 years old. On the inside of the cover is a record of his birth, death, and place of nativity. In his Pass of February 24, @1771 he is described as being "24 years of age, medium size, light hair, and wearing a brown coat, etc." He was baptized and confirmed into the Lutheran Church. He died at Palmyra on April 25, 1799, at the age of 85 years, 9 months, after having practiced medicine in this country for almost 50 years.

In order that the location of the grave of Dr. John Palm would not be lost to posterity, the first plain headstone having long ago crumbled and weathered away, another marker was unveiled at the gravesite at Bindnagle Cemetery on Sunday, July 24, 1932. The program was under the auspices of American Legion Post No. 72 with appropriate ceremonies. Mrs. S. M. Aument of Montoursville, PA, a great-great-great-great granddaughter of Dr. Palm unveiled the new marker, and the Hon. G. H. Moyer delivered the address.

To further assure that the name of Dr. John Palm would be remembered by the citizens of the town he founded, a massive memorial boulder was erected on a triangle on South Railroad Street on Sunday, November 20, 1932, under the combined efforts of the Washington Bi-Centennial Committee, and the Lebanon County Historical Society. Prominent persons from Harrisburg, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey were present, and stirring speeches were made to a crowd of over 1,000 persons. Dr. Cyrus H. Leslie, the town's last surviving Civil War veteran, at the age of 91, unveiled the boulder. Dr. Howard Palm, Camden, New Jersey, a direct descendant of Dr. John Palm, and Mrs. E. S. Nissley of Harrisburg, PA, a descendant of the Palm family on both her father and mother's side, were present at the ceremony.


The growth of any pioneer area or village was of necessity linked to the distance from a main road or navigable waterway. In the Palmyra area all travel was over "dirt roads" up to the 1800's, either by horseback or stagecoach. The only other transportation was by farm wagon or the large Conestoga wagon.


Most of the early settlers built along the Hill Road north of Palmyra, leading from Millerstown (now Annville) to Derry and on to Harris Ferry. The road from the Bindnagle area to the settlement at Campbelltown crossed this east to west road and then passed through Palmyra. Another of the main routes to and from Palmyra was the Downingtown, Ephrata, and Harrisburg Pike, now commonly known as the "Horseshoe Pike." Over this road the farmers took their grain and produce to Philadelphia and brought back merchandise for the shopkeepers.

A direct route through the valley from Reading to Harrisburg, known as the Berks and Dauphin Turnpike, was opened to traffic in 1817. The turnpike went over the only street of the village, now West Main Street. With the opening of this road came more traffic, the stagecoach carrying passengers and U.S. Mail. With the traffic came increased activity, livery stables and blacksmith shops to care for the horses, and taverns to provide food, drink and lodging for the travelers.

During this period Palmyra had five taverns; Casper Dasher Hostelry, Washington House, Lineweaver House, Rodearmel Inn, and the Philip Matter House' All these taverns were located on West Main Street between the 100 and 700 blocks. They were built b y or before the year 1800. Later, several other hotels were opened: the Railroad House on North Railroad Street near the Reading Railroad, the Eagle Hotel where Lee's 5 & 104 Store stood, and the Washington House and the American House, both on West Main Street.

With the passage of time came the demand for more speed and greater tonnage which resulted in the building of the Union Canal several miles north of the community. The Union Canal connected the Schuylkill River at Reading with the Susquehanna River at Middletown. It was completed in 1827 and store houses were built along its banks. An extensive traffic in lumber, grain, coal, iron ore, gypsum, and merchandise were carried, and in a peak year 267,307 tons were transported. The farmers and merchants in the Palmyra area benefited by the cheaper and faster service.

With the coming of the steam age came another change in travel and transportation. On November 30, 1857 a crowd of curious townspeople lined the railroad tracks as the great "Iron Horse" . . "with whistle tooting, bell ringing, and belch-clouds of black smoke" . . . thundered through Palmyra on the newly built Lebanon Valley Railroad. Two years later it merged with the Philadelphia and Reading Company and was later renamed the Reading Railroad.

The coming of the railroad sounded the death knell for the Union Canal and the Berks and Dauphin Turnpike as a toll road. The railroad brought cheaper and faster methods of transporting people and goods.

As the town grew, stores and small business establishments were opened. Joseph Horstick, son of Conrad, kept a store on what was known as the Witmer property on West Main Street. The building has since been torn down and dismantled. The account books of the store from 1813-1825 show the price and type of goods sold at a typical country store. The books are now in the Library of the Lebanon County Historical Society, through the courtesy of the Horstick family.

Other stores and business establishments were opened: Brunner Carriage Shop, John Henry Plow Factory, Stahle Wooden Farm Implements, Snoddy Wheelwright Shop, Forney-Troxell Furniture and Cabinet Shop (later known as Wm. A. Henry, Furnutre and Undertaking), saddle and harness shops, tailor shops, and the Hemperly Organ Factory.

It is quite evident that most of these small business establishments were necessary to the life of a small rural farming community. However, after the Civil War period, a change is noted in the types of business being established. A large grain warehouse was built on North Railroad Street (now Curry's Mill). The first newspaper was printed in 1878 by John M. Hoffa called "The Londonderry Gazette." A lumber and planing mill was opened to satisfy the need for new buildings. To take care of the financial affairs of the community, the Palmyra Bank opened its doors for business in 1887. A large abbatoir was built and it furnished meats to Palmyra and the surrounding area. In 1888 the first shoe factory, the Palmyra Boot & Shoe Co., was formed. Several years later the W. L. Kreider Sons, the J. Landis Shoe Co. and the A. S. Kreider Shoe Co., were also making shoes. There was a knitting mill, a paper box factory, the Annville & Palmyra Gas & Fuel Co., the Eagle Bakery, a bottling works, a dray line, flour and feed mill, and a Market House.

The first chore of the early settler, after the primary tasks of building a home, clearing the land, and insuring a food supply, was the building of a church. After the church was built, a school house followed. The Pennsylvania Germans,'Iike the Scotch-Irish, respected and encouraged education, although they believed that education was related to the church, not the state.


Bindnagle's gift of land to the congregation specified that it was to be used "for a church, school house, and burying ground." The first school building stood about 50 feet east of the first church, a log building. The teachers were employed by the church and paid for by the church treasury. Most union churches (Lutheran and Reformed) in the colonial period in Pennsylvania had their own schools.


At Derry the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians established a church and school as early as 1732. The Old Sessions House in which the school is said to have been held is still standing and is now enclosed in glass.

In 1805 the Honorable John Kean erected a stone school building, about 34 by 36 feet, which stood 200 feet south of West Main Street and 100 feet west of South Locust Street. This building remained in use for about 40 years. The names of two teachers have been preserved for us: Abraham Philip, Esq., and Alexander Dasher.

During the same period a log school house was used which was located on the Derry Road about 400 feet beyond the point where it branches off the highway. Adam Grittinger was a teacher in this school.

About the year 1840 two buildings were erected: one a stone structure, the other brick, on the rear of a lot on the north side of West Main Street in the 400 block. These schools were a part of the State system of free public schools. In 1874 a larger brick four room school house was built on West Main Street.

In addition to the public schools the Palmyra Academy, or Witmer Academy was opened in 1857, and continued until the year 1890. The building stood at the corner of Main and College Streets where the First United Brethren, now the Evangelical Congregational Church stands. This was a private school, founded and supervised by Professor Peter B. Witmer. When the school was at the height of its prosperity, there were usually 100 or more pupils during the spring term, and 60 or more during the fall term. The school had an excellent rating as a preparatory school for those pupils who desired to enter college. Many young men and women of this area received their early training and education at Witmers Academy

There is agreement among the early writers that the town was first named Palmstown, in honor of Dr. John Palm. Martin Early, in his "History of Palmyra", states that when the Post Office was established April 1, 1804, the name of the village was Palmstown. In the autobiography of Honorable John Kean, we find that he called it Palmyra in 1805. just when and why the name was changed has been obscured with the passage of time. Perhaps in the future some evidence will be found that will answer these questions.

For more than 100 years Palmyra depended on springs, wells, and ponds for its supply of water. There were five pumps that might have been called public wells or pumps. All of these had wooden pump stocks and were suction or lift pumps with two boxes or buckets. All of these pumps were located west of the square from Locust Street to Lingle Avenue. As the town began to grow, a serious water problem arose as seen by an act of the legislature to raise money by a lottery, to bring water to Palmyra.


"An act for the Relief of the Inhabitants of the Village of Palmyra, in the Township of Londonderry, Dauphin County.


Section 1. Be it enacted, etc., That John Elder, Matthew Irwin, Daniel Wonderlich, John Ernst, John Downy and Levi G. Hollingsworth be and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to raise, by way of lottery, a sum not exceeding three thousand dollars, for the purpose of procuring and bringing into the said village a sufficient supply of water for the use of the inhabitants thereof, and be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid;

Section 2. That before the said commissioners proceed to sell any tickets in said lottery, they shall lay such scheme therefore before the Governor as shall meet his approbation, and shall enter into bonds to him for the faithful performance of their duty in selling the tickets, drawing the lottery, and paying the prizes, and paying over the net proceeds of the lottery.

And each of them, before entering on the duties of their appointment, shall take and subscribe an oath or affirmation diligently and faithfully to perform the duties hereby instructed to him ' and at least three of the said Commissioners shall attend the drawing of each day. And when the whole is completed shall cause an accurate list of the fortunate numbers to be published in one newspaper at Harrisburg and one at Lebanon, etc.

Section 3. And be it further ... That Levi G. Hollingsworth, Daniel Wonderlich, Henry Longenecker, John Kean and Joseph Carmany be and they are hereby appointed Trustees to receive from the Commissioners aforesaid the net amount of the monies raised by the lottery, and it shall be their duty also to devise and plan and cause to be dug, made and executed such works, machinery and engines as will lead and procure from Derry Meeting House spring, or elsewhere, such supply of water as many be sufficient for the use of said village." THOMAS McKEAN, Governor

The citizens of Palmyra have always responded to the call of their country in time of war. On Bindnagles Cemetery are the marked graves of eleven men who took part in the Revolutionary War. Dr. John Palm, George Frantz, Jacob Lentz, Gottfried Zimmerman, Johannes Zimmerman, Johannes Schnoke (Snoke), Michael Maulvier (Maulfair), John Michael Malvier (Maulfair). Jacob Leyman (Lehman), Benoi Pew, and Frederick Horstick.

Less than 100 years later the citizens of Palmyra were again called upon to serve their country. With the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to preserve the Union. About 78 of Palmyra's citizens laid down their tools and donned the uniform of the Boys in Blue.

As earlier writer of Palmyra's history calls the growth of the village of Palmstown as phenomenal. Estimates by I.D. Rupp and Rev. J.W. Early estimate the population at 150-165 persons and some 20 dwellings in 1845. By 1875 the population had increased to 500 persons and about 100 dwellings. It is interesting to note that most of these people lived on two streets; West Main Street and North Railroad Street. By 1890 the population of Palmyra is listed at 1,768 persons. The growth of Palmyra has truly been amazing.

Excerpted from We Love PALMYRA 225THAnniversary

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