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A Brief History of the Harleysville Chapel
The Harleysville Chapel was built for the newly formed Harleysville Union Sunday School Association in 1888-89, during the hey-day of the inter-related Sunday School and Community Chapel movements in southeastern Pennsylvania. Like the dozens of village chapels erected across Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester Counties during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the Harleysville Chapel was designed to provide a place for citizens of all ages and religious affiliations (hence the "Union" designation) to gather regularly for Bible study, spiritual admonishment, and worship. Ecumenical sermons were delivered in both English and German by preachers from surrounding churches, as well as those visiting the area. The schedule adopted for the Harleysville Chapel after dedication services were held on Saturday and Sunday, May 18-19, 1889 (see accompanying newspaper article) was as follows: Sunday School every Sunday at 2 p.m.; a worship service with a guest preacher every Sunday evening. The supervisory Harleysville Union Sunday School Association met in the Chapel to conduct business at least one evening every month.
In the mid-twentieth century, as travel and entertainment options increased for village residents, attendance at many community chapels declined. This was the situation in Harleysville, where the struggling Union Sunday School Association decided to open the Chapel to non-Association-sponsored services. In the winter of 1939-40, a number of area residents interested in Biblical instruction began meeting monthly in the Chapel. Three years later, this group expanded their program to include Bible study every Sunday afternoon. Under the name "Community Gospel Fellowship," later changed to "Grace Bible Church," these laymen continued to meet in the Chapel until the summer of 1948, when they moved to a new building in neighboring Souderton. The Harleysville Chapel was used only periodically for interdenominational services over the course of the next three decades. Harleysville residents recall the final public gatherings there in the mid-1970s.
Timeline: Construction and Dedication of the Harleysville Chapel
(From the pages of The [Harleysville] Weekly News)
July 3, 1888
For goodness sake, gentlemen! do not let the last sparks of the chapel project die out. Nearly every town and village has a chapel or some sort of a place for worship, while Harleysville with all its wealthy citizens has nothing but merely an old school house, which is full of dust and hardly fit for persons with their Sunday clothes to enter, saying nothing of the miserable seats which makes one long for the comfortable rocking chair at home, rather than hear the Gospel. Remember, this is not intended as an insult, but merely as a pointer. It is now a year and a half since the last steps were taken which proved to be of no success. But since that time certain objectionable features are no more; therefore let some one call another meeting. We are sure our open-hearted and generous citizens in and around the village will lend a helping hand.
August 21, 1888
As we may again call the attention of our citizens, that it would be a great benefit if we could raise enough money to build a chapel. We have learned that some others have them, who have no more means than we have. Why could we not build one ourselves. Now let us put shoulder in shoulder and build one. Other places have them, why can't we.
September 4, 1888
A meeting will be held on next Thursday evening for the purpose of building a new chapel. We hope all will come and take an interest in the project.
September 11, 1888
A meeting was held on Thursday of last week, in the object of building a chapel. They met again yesterday evening, what they made out of it we do not know.
September 18, 1888
The people of Harleysville are now ready to build a new chapel. They have subscribed nearly $1200. They will commence work on the structure this week.
October 23, 1888
Workmen are presently engaged in digging the foundation for the new chapel. Contractor [Jonas] Wolfe, of Telford, has received the contract for the wood-work on the new chapel to be built in the village.
November 13, 1888
A large force of bricklayers will commence work on the new chapel on Wednesday and the building will be rapidly pushed to completion.
November 27, 1888
On Wednesday Abraham Kindig, one of the masons at work on the new chapel, fell from a scaffold a distance of fourteen feet. A fellow-workman accidentally slipped and fell against Mr. Kindig, causing the latter to fall from the scaffold. One foot was badly sprained, but fortunately he was not injured otherwise to any extent. The sprain is of such a nature that will compel him to abandon work for some time.
December 4, 1888
A chapel meeting was held last evening. The new chapel is ready for the roof.
December 18, 1888
The chapel is now under roof. The plasterers will commence work shortly.
December 25, 1888
Work on the chapel has been abandoned until spring.
April 2, 1889
Work on the new chapel is rapidly pushed to completion.
April 9, 1889
Mr. Joseph Logue is busy painting the new chapel.
April 23, 1889
The chapel will be dedicated in about four weeks. Another chapel meeting was held last Monday evening. The attendance was fair. The reports are all in.
April 30, 1889
It has been officially announced by the trustees of the chapel association that the building will be dedicated on Sunday, May 19th. Full particulars and the order of exercised will be published in the News next week.
May 7, 1889
The chapel association held another meeting last Thursday evening. The bell for the chapel was placed in position last Friday afternoon. The weight of it is 160 pounds and has a most excellent sound.
May 14, 1889
As previously announced, the dedication of the new village chapel will take place next Sunday, the 19th. Rev. Henry Johnson, of Skippack, will preach in the English language on Saturday evening at 7:30. Rev. S.M.K. Huber, Sunday at 2 p.m.; Rev. S.T. Myers, of Green Tree, in the evening at 8 o'clock, both of whom will preach in the German language. No Sunday School will be held next Sabbath. All are invited.
The bell in the dome of the chapel weighs nearly 260 pounds instead of 160 as stated last week.
Wednesday, May 22, 1889
DEDICATION OF THE NEW CHAPEL
A MODEL PLACE OF WORSHIP
THE SERVICES LAST SUNDAY
Saturday evening and Sunday last were important periods in the history of Harleysville. The opening exercises and dedication of the new chapel took place at that time, and the celebration of the completion of the labors was very fitting. The people of the village have for years felt the need of an appropriate place to hold Sunday school and other services, and some months ago the project to build a chapel was brought to light. The citizens subscribed very liberally in a financial way, and early last fall work was begun upon the new building. Last week the structure was completed and it is a model of beauty. The walls are of brick, The windows are large and finely shaped, and the outside appearance is real neat. It is surmounted with a tower in which a clear toned bell has been placed, and no pains have been spared to make the job a first-class one. The interior is well designed. The ceiling is high and finely arched. The seating capacity is 300, and the pews are made of cedar wood finished in walnut. A beautiful desk adorns the pulpit, and it is also supplied with a good organ. The building committee were Mssrs. M.C. Clemens, H.D. Wolford and J.M. Price, and they deserve great credit in managing the erection of the chapel in a satisfactory manner.
As had been previously announced, the first service was held in the new building last Saturday evening, when Rev. Henry H. Johnson, of the Skippack Mennonite church, preached in the German language from the words of the text in Isaiah; 52nd chapter and 12th verse. The congregation was very large and all present enjoyed friend Johnson's remarks. No service was held on Sunday morning, but the opening exercises were resumed again in the afternoon at 2 o'clock, when Rev. S.M.K. Huber, of Skippack, pastor of Wentz's Reformed church, preached from St. John, 21st chapter and 15th verse. The sermon was one of great interest and was delivered to a crowded house.
The rain which set in toward evening interfered somewhat with the last service of the day, but still a fair audience had assembled at 8 o'clock, the hour for service. Rev. J.T. Myers, pastor of the Green Tree Dunkard church, preached a very acceptable sermon from Hebrews, 2nd chapter and 3rd verse. This ended the opening services of the chapel. Hereafter, Sunday school will be held every Sabbath afternoon at 2 o'clock. It is hoped that the good people of Harleysville will continue to take a great interest in the future in the enterprise they have founded, for it is a work that speaks well for the citizens. It is a work for the benefit of the rising generation, and one which we cannot afford to neglect.