Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church
In 1759 a German-speaking farmer named Martin Boehm (1725-1812) was chosen by lot to be a minister among the Society of Mennonites. Boehm was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to German Mennonite immigrants. He married Eve Steiner in 1753; together they had eight children.
Boehm felt unqualified to preach. After struggling with feelings of inadequacy, he had a vivid personal experience of God's love, which empowered him not only to preach at his church, but all over eastern Pennsylvania. Among his listeners were such leading Methodists as Francis Asbury and Robert Strawbridge.
In 1767 a "great meeting" was held in a barn owned by Isaac Long in Lancaster County. There Boehm preached to a large crowd that included Philip William Otterbein. Otterbein was so affected by Boehm's words that he came forward after the service and greeted Boehm with the words "Wir sind Bruder" ("We are brothers").
Together the two men preached to German-speaking settlers all over eastern Pennsylvania. In 1800, their followers organized themselves as the United Brethren in Christ, so named in recollection of Otterbein's words. Boehm and Otterbein were the first bishops of this new church.
From the 1780s on, Boehm's calling took him from his farm most of the time. He eventually sold most of his property to his sons. In 1791, Boehm deeded a plot of family land to the Methodists of the area (the United Brethren Church had not yet been formed).
The deed stated that the land was given "in trust to and for the use of the Religious Society of Protestants... called Methodists, for the purpose of erecting churches, meeting Houses and Houses of Religious Worship and School Houses and burying grounds for the said religious Society called Methodists."
A church was built in 1791 and named Boehm's Chapel; Martin Boehm's son Jacob was an influential leader, and several branches of the family were active members. Son Henry (1775-1875) was a longtime traveling companion of Bishop Asbury. Boehm's Chapel is the oldest existing structure built for Methodist use in Pennsylvania.
Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: The chapel has recently been reconstructed to its 1791 condition. The building is 32 x 40 feet with thick limestone walls. It has a balcony on three sides, a high pulpit, and broad-board floors.
The chapel sits on a small hill overlooking the Boehm homestead, and Martin Boehm and his wife Eve Steiner are buried in the adjacent cemetery.
The chapel's preservation and interpretation is supported by the Boehm's Chapel Society, P.O. Box 272, Willow Street, PA 17584-0272.
Parking and restroom facilities are available at nearby Boehm's United Methodist Church.
Special events: The Boehm's Chapel Heritage Celebration is held annually on the fourth Sunday in June. This includes the annual meeting of the Boehm's Chapel Society and a special worship service, followed by a light supper with time for fellowship. The annual Apple Festival is held in October on the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Enjoy apple treats of all kinds, especially the "Chapel (apple) Butter" cooked on festival day.
Area attractions: Boehm's Chapel is in the heart of "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" with its many tourist attractions. Lancaster is just to the north and Philadelphia is a short drive to the east. Other Heritage Landmarks in the annual conference are Albright Chapel, St. George's United Methodist Church, and Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church.
To visit: Regular tours are given on Saturdays in June, July, and August from noon to 2:00 pm. To arrange a visit then or at another time, contact the Boehm's Chapel Society, P.O. Box 272, Willow Street, PA 17584-0272, 717-872-4133.
Location: Within the boundaries of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, in Lancaster County. The community of Willow Street is just southeast of Lancaster; the Chapel is one mile south of the village of Willow Street, behind Boehm's United Methodist Church.
Food and lodging: There are restaurants and motels in Lancaster and at Willow Valley, Willow Street.
Directions: From Route 272 southbound turn right onto Baumgardner Road. Go one block and turn left onto Boehm Road. Go about 1/4 mile to Boehm UM CHurch. The Chapel is behind Boehm's UM Church.
For further information, contact: Executive Director, P. O. Box 272, Willow Street, PA 17584; 717-872-4133; E-mail: email@example.com.
To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:
St. George's Church, 235 N. 4th St., Philadelpia, PA 19106; 215-925-7788; Brian McCloskey, Archivist.
Abram W. Sangrey, Martin Boehm: Pioneer Preacher in the Christian Faith and Practice... (Ephrata, PA: Science Press, 1976).
Abram W. Sangrey, The Temple of Limestone: A History of Boehm's Chapel, 1791-1991 (Lancaster, PA: by the author, 1991).