HBC History


Written by Betty Confer, Church Historian, circa 1993


The Hepburn Baptist Church first began as a mission station organized in 1840 The work was started by Brother Michaels, a .missionary. Because of the amount of work he called upon Brother Fleishmann to help; Fleishmann traveled to and from Reading, Pennsylvania on horseback Four Mission Stations were established at this time, Hepburn, Fairfield, Anthony and Calvary Mission which was located in Williamsport

In the year 1841 there was a great revival among the stations. The first baptism was held in winter when the ice had to be cut to allow people to step into the water for total immersion Some people traveled a distance of ten miles. "It is historically proven that the cradle of the German Baptist Church of the United States was founded through baptism in the hills and valleys of Lycoming County in the year 1841." (John S. Blenner Account 1872).  The Hepburn Mission held services in the school house when it was first established. The Sunday School was also held in the school when it began in 1853. The school building at this time was located about one mile east of a later building, now a private home. That early location was near "Dangles Corner".

Brother Michaels departed to accept a position in the West; while Brother Fleischmann continued to return for several years, preaching in the area Missions Brother Michaels eventually returned to cause much dissension in the Mission. Brother Roos then worked with Fleischmann as he travelled about During this time, Gottlieb Waltz was ordained as a fellow laborer and other gifted members conducted services, continuing until 1850.  Under the direction of the German Baptist Conference in New York City in 1853, church organization was urged.

Some of the early worshippers were members of families and descendents of those who came from Germany in 1804. Traveling on foot from Philadelphia and arriving when the mountain laurel was in bloom.  Thus they established a small colony calling it "Blooming Grove" A meeting house was built in 1828.  The house still stands as a Museum. They believed in total Immersion, three times, and were called "Dunkards".

The Dunkard Church had some dissension because of an unwillingness to change. Some older members had passed on, but some remained staunch to their beliefs. Some young people however, left at some point to join the Hepburn Mission. The Dunkards were very strict and a plain people.

The area from that settlement east to Warrensville and as far west as Lycoming Creek, known in part as "Pleasant Valley" and "Long Run" was settled mostly by German settlers who were arriving about 1840 They too had come to this country for religious freedom and from the forced German Militia All of these German people came together to the Mission, later to  establish the German Baptist Church

In 1862 Hepburn Township was divided and the new township was called Eldred. Until that time Hepburn extended all the way to Warrensville (the town was established with mills, factories, etc. about 1820). That being the nearest settlement where some supplies could be obtained. Other towns and grist mills were later built at Hepburnville and Perryville.


Some of the Dunkards sold land about 1868 for a planned trip to Nebraska. They wanted enough land so their families could enjoy a complete settlement and there was no longer enough land available that could be tilled for farming. Scouts were sent west and returned and in 1874 they took their families by wagon train west and settled in Nebraska. This left more land now available to other German Settlers who were moving in from other areas possibly to with other German Immigrants. This land closely resembled their homeland. All of the people came together from this large area to worship and support each other.

In 1872 the Hepburn Mission organized as a church of believing, baptizing Christians of Hepburn Township.The Lycoming County Courthouse shows a deed for land to build a church that was recorded in 1883 by Leonard and Mary Ulmer, husband and wife, who owned the farm where the present church now stands. The farm buildings still stand below the road. It is believed the church was built in 1876. In those days deeds were not immediately filed. The building was built of virgin timber and still remains a part of the present church complex and serves as the sanctuary.

The first organ was purchased in 1880 and is now among the many interesting items in the Drinkard Museum. Elias Ulmer became the first organist (son of Leonard and Mary Ulmer).

All services at that time were held in German but as young people began to speak only English services were changed to one Sunday a month of English. Eventually all were held in English.

At some point sheds were built in back of the church where horses could be tied out of the weather during services. There was also a small cemetery on the church yard. It is believed this was later moved and the graves taken to the Stoltz Cemetery on the Gehr farm. It is not known at this time whose graves were moved nor how many were moved. There apparently were no grave markers placed at the cemetery, only mountain stones and they were later removed.

In the year 1913-1914 the new addition was added to the original church. The church was moved a short distance (perhaps 100 feet). 

The work was done with teams and by hand labor. A man with a team was paid thirty cents per hour and hand labor was valued at ten cents per hour. Women prepared meals for which they were paid twenty cents for each meal.

Men drove with wagons to Williamsport to haul the pews to the church. The company from which they were purchased then sent workmen to assemble them.

Lumber to be used for the church addition was hauled to a mill on Route 87 along Loyalsock Creek where it was sawed and planed.

Some money for the addition was borrowed from church members and repaid at four and five percent interest. Other money was donated in increments of one dollar to fifty dollars. If money that was pledged came in too late the donors were charged a small interest fee. Families and other groups including the BYPU youth fellowship, donated money for the beautiful stained glass windows that at this point in time, would be impossible to replace.

One member donated the bell while another member of that family donated a broken tombstone to be cut for the cornerstone. No gift was considered too small.

The congregation of this era were farmers, woodsmen, blacksmiths and laborers in the sawmill industry.

Some fields were still being cleared and new houses were being built to replace the small original log homes. These new houses were also built of log or plank from the virgin timber that was being cut. Many of these log homes still remain in use in the church area.

Williamsport had become the lumber capital of the world. Many of the mansions from the lumber barons still remain as historical landmarks.

Money for these hardworking people was at a minimum so the church was rebuilt with much sacrifice.     The total cost of labor and furnishings was $5,399.40.

The new church had an unusual architectural design being built in a half octagon shape, with each section of the octagon being a Sunday School room, All sections could be opened to enlarge the sanctuary.

From the organization of this church and for many years later, this church was referred to as 'Hard Shell Baptist', They adhered to a strict set of rules and plain dress. As late as 1934 young girls were criticized publicly for wearing nail polish. Face makeup was not approved of by many nor was dancing allowed. For many years after that, some older members continued to be opposed to any beautification of appearance.

Young men were also expected to work for their fathers, without pay, until age twenty one. Then if they had neither smoked or drank they were to receive a gold watch. Some young men did claim a gold watch but many families could not financially afford that. Some wives and young women also worked the fields and were expected to learn how to cook and sew and preserve food for the winter. Many young men went to work in the woods or on the sawmills at a very early age, because for the most part, families were larger. Many children died! at a young age so couples tried to make up for the loss with more children. Good morals and family duties were always stressed among the church families.

While the present day (1993) congregation has relaxed much of the rigid codes of the past our constitution does not allow money making ventures by the church or any separate part of the church body. The rules are based on Jesus' disgust with money changers in the temple.

After many years a kitchen was built in the basement and the bathrooms installed. The horse sheds were removed and a retaining wall in front was taken out. At this time volunteers landscaped the entire area.

Later chimes were built and installed by Charles Steiger in Memory of Helen Williams, deceased wife of Rev. Fred Williams.  A speaker system was installed so the service could be heard in the downstairs nursery.

In 1988 a Planning, Building and Improvement Committee was activated and a local architect was hired to draw plans for an addition. This had also been done in 1947 but the plan proved to be too costly to construct. After several revised plans it was decided by the membership that this was also too costly. At this time Schon Brothers Builders, all members of the church, designed a plan for a smaller and less expensive expansion.

This plan was approved by the membership and was then advertised for bids. Schon Brothers was among the bidders and their bid was accepted. There was not enough money in the building fund at this time but Schon's were willing to proceed with the project with the understanding that money would be paid as the building progressed and hopefully enough money would be donated to put the building under roof. This later became a reality. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on April 8, 1990.

There were similarities and differences in this endeavor and the one in 1913. The most significant difference being modern technology. Schon Brothers began construction with back hoes, cement mixers, trucks, electric saws and other modern equipment that was unheard of in 1913. While people were paid small amounts of money then a great part of interior work and refinishing in 1991 was volunteered in the evening and the week ends by the trustees and other men of the church. Women also contributed to cleaning and other help.

There now has been added a pastors study, a secretary and equipment office, three more Sunday School rooms and a large multi purpose room. Two upstairs bathrooms and a spacious entrance. There is a full basement under the addition, and the old basement has been completely remodeled.

A ramp is now available for use by anyone. This enters and exits to the parking lot which has been enlarged. Volunteers have landscaped the area.

The total cost paid out was about $140,000.00, and no money was borrowed. The debt free building reflects the affluence of some members, at this point in time.

There are many changes in the church community. The minimum wage in 1993 is $4.35 per hour. Most wages in the factories in the Williamsport area pay well over $10.00 per hour, plus many benefits, especially those factories that employ men. Many drive to the city for employment since small family fanning is no longer very profitable, and we have the convenience of the horseless carriage.

Much farmland is being used for development and the landscape has changed. Some farmers are still farming but most supplement their income with outside employment. Many new homes have been built as the exodus from the city continues.

Some forest land still remains but much has again been lumbered off and another hundred years will need to pass for complete regrowth.

The rolling green hills catch an artist's eye and there are still places where one can see the beautiful mountain laurel. We hope the modern settlers will be environmentally conscious enough to preserve it to be enjoyed forever by our descendents.

A dedication was held on April 26, 1992. It is the beginning of a new era. The building is but an empty space. True believers are Gods Church. Perhaps there will be another great revival someday.


Betty Gehr Confer Church Historian



*Many sources of reference were used to compile this article from the memories of older members, old records, maps and the original manuscript of John S. Blenner written in 1872.