Before Mt. Gretna, there was Stoverdale.
This summer marked the 122nd consecutive year of the Mt. Gretna Campmeeting. Last fall, according to this 2013 article in the Lebanon Daily News, Mt. Gretna’s campmeeting district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stoverdale, off Middletown Road in Derry Township, is just history.
I only know Stoverdale in its present, disused, dilapidated state. Once a summer church destination and later a year-round residential community, Stoverdale today is obscured by the Deer Run neighborhood, where I live.
What’s left of Stoverdale is so close but so far away, just enough off the beaten path that you really have to look for it. On a gorgeous morning walk in May, iPhone in hand, I explored the vacant properties and took the photos you see above and below.
Click here to see seven great postcards featuring Stoverdale in its campmeeting heyday.
More from the Daily News article:
“Campmeetings began as a Protestant religious service in Britain and became popular in the United States in the 1880s. People traveled to a designated place to camp out, pray, listen to itinerant preachers and participate in church services.
“The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Brethren Church began holding its 10-day religious campmeetings in 1866 in Stoverdale, along the banks of the Swatara Creek between Middletown and Hummelstown in Dauphin County. As the camp grew in popularity, it attracted vendors who sold what some ministers considered ‘unnecessary’ items — books, magazines, candy, soda or tickets for excursion trains — to the camp goers on the Sabbath. In those days, such things were considered luxuries that desecrated the Lord’s Day.”
The Stoverdale Memorial Campmeeting Association’s board accepted an offer to relocate to Mt. Gretna, on land owned by iron magnate Robert Coleman. The Mt. Gretna Campmeeting charter became effective on March 17, 1892.
Still, Stoverdale continued to host church meetings for many decades to come. Around the time I took the photos, I spoke with Hummelstown Mayor Brad Miller. His great-grandfather Edward Stover built Stoverdale United Methodist Church (dedicated in 1872) and Stoverdale campmeeting. Between them was the 22-acre Stover farm, where area families would purchase their Thanksgiving turkeys.
Prior to World War II, Miller said, church was in session all summer at Stoverdale. Miller, 64, said it was a weeklong activity, just before Labor Day, when he was growing up. He remembered mowing weeds and fixing pews in the church.
“We got ready for campmeeting,” he said.
A housing shortage during World War II led to people living in Stoverdale year-round. At one time, there were 75 “land rents,” Miller said.
In other words, residents owned their homes but leased the land from the Stovers. Pennlive had this 2008 take on how those residents were trying to “save Stoverdale.”
It couldn’t be saved. As of May, Miller told me only two residents remained.
The latest plans, as described in Hummelstown’s Sun newspaper on Oct. 16, call for replacing the rubble that is Stoverdale with 19 single-family homes and 58 townhouse units, between Swatara Creek and Deer Run.
Except this incarnation won’t be called Stoverdale. It will be known as “The Point.”