449 Monroe Valley Drive Jonestown, Pennsylvania
Early settlers of the Monroe Valley, three miles northeast of Lickdale, now Swatara Township, Lebanon County, erected a small one story, field stone structure 22 feet by 33 feet, to serve as their place of worship. The best information available would indicate the Chapel was built between 1760 and 1800. It is most likely that the Moravians were the first to worship in this Chapel. The building served a dual purpose” first it was used as a church; later a partition was placed halfway between the front and rear, and the rear section was then used as a school room. Around the mid 1800’s two local school houses were built, one in the east end and the other in the west end of the Valley. After this, the partition was removed and the building was used solely as a Chapel.
The pulpit was located inside the door to the right of the center aisle. It was said that after the Lutherans took over, the pulpit was moved to the other end of the room. A large wood burning stove stood in the center to provide heat.
The 1869 Business Directory of Lebanon County lists this church as the Monroe Valley Meeting House. The last known minister was a Reverent Owen Reber and/or a Reverend Giesz of the Lutheran Faith. He was there from 1911 to 1917.
A large community burial ground exists on the west, north and east sides of the church building. As of now, 20 graves have been identified by names and dates. It is possible that up to 150 graves may be on these grounds, including several persons that may have been killed by the Indians. Some of the old, German script tombstones remain. Many were destroyed by squatters who occupied the building and grounds from 1940 through the 1970’s. A local resident, who attended church services in the Chapel, told us that the last three squatters who occupied the Chapel and parked their trailers on the grounds, committed suicide. All three within the same year.
The plot of ground, about an acre, was originally donated by a Mr. Fisher, a local farmer. Eventually the property was overgrown with briars, ivy poison and underbrush. Trees were growing inside the building and had fallen all around the property. It was difficult to recognize this Historic Chapel and Cemetery. The roof and most of the 24 inch thick stone walls had collapsed. It was our sincere desire to clean up the grounds, preserve the remaining grave markers and restore and preserve whatever portion of the Chapel that we could, within available resources.
Historical research is ongoing to determine further details of the Monroe Valley Chapel. This valley was settled by German Immigrants in the early 1700’s. Many local residents were killed by the fierce Indians that came through the “hole”, better known today as Swatara Gap. Dr. Eyle, author of History of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties, 1882, relates to these atrocities. This Chapel was the only place of worship in this four mile long valley.