Somerset County (Pennsylvania, USA)

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Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia IV: 573
Somerset County, Pennsylvania U.S. Census TIGER/Line map

Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the third county from the west in the southern tier of counties, and Garrett County, Maryland, at the extreme western end of the state, lie side by side, with the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line running due east and west between the two.

Allegheny Mountain, of the Appalachian mountain range, runs through the two counties, leaving the terrain mountainous and rough with limited areas of arable and productive land. Before the coming of the white man the region was covered with choice timber. Underlying large areas were coal, limestone, fire clay, and other minerals. Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania (3,213), is located on Negro Mountain near the southern boundary of Somerset County and the northern edge of the Amish-Mennonite community on the Casselman River. Nearly all of Somerset County lies between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level. The summers are moderate and pleasant, the winters cold with frequent heavy snowfalls. Precipitation is consistently adequate for good crops. Agriculture is probably the backbone of the region's economy, together with a variety of industries springing from natural resources. Somerset County was formed from Bedford in 1795. Garrett County was formed from Allegheny in 1872. The provincial authorities of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia had secured the land from the Indians as far west as the Allegheny Mountains by the treaties of 1754-1758. However, nearly all of this territory lies west of that boundary. Settlement west of the Allegheny was discouraged and at times strictly forbidden, until the land could be legally secured from the Indians. But daring pioneers crossed the mountains and settled here in spite of all protests and dangers. In April 1768 a committee appointed by Governor John Penn found in the region of Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny an estimated 150 illegal white settlers. The Tunkers or Brethren had crossed the mountains and established a small congregation in the "Glades" near Berlin, Brothersvalley Township, in 1762. It is well known that because of similarity in faith and manner of life, the Amish, Mennonites, and Tunkers were companions in pioneer life in many communities in the westward movement. Thus it is probable that the earliest Amish and Mennonite settlers lived in the territory before the land was acquired from the Indians by the treaty of Fort Stanwick in New York in 1768. Local and family traditions support this view.

In 1769 the public land west of Allegheny Mountain was thrown open for settlement. Immediately Somerset and Garrett counties became an important steppingstone in the Amish and Mennonite emigration westward. The Braddock Road, built in 1754 by George Washington's forces, and rebuilt and extended to the Ohio River in 1755 by General Braddock's forces, was the one artery of travel westward from Fort Cumberland, passing through Garrett County and the southwestern part of Somerset County, following the general course of the National Highway, U.S. Rt. 40. The Forbes Road, built in 1758 by General Forbes, passed through Somerset County, somewhat north of the present Lincoln Highway, U.S. Rt. 30. Thus nearly all traffic moving west from Virginia, Maryland, and eastern Pennsylvania passed through this region. Many of the early Amish and Mennonite settlements in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and elsewhere were either founded or largely reinforced by emigrants from these two counties. Nearly all of the Beachy, Peachey, Bontrager, Eash, Gnagey, Schrock, as well as many of the Bender, Yoder, Miller, Keim, and Swartzendruber families in the Amish and Mennonite communities throughout the United States trace their ancestry to this locality.

By 1772 land was being bought in the territory by the Amish, and in 1773 a number of land warrants were issued to them by Pennsylvania. It is almost certain that "Tomahawk Rights" were established before this without any legal recording in the public land office. By 1783 more than thirty Amish and Mennonite names were listed as taxpayers in Brothersvalley Township, which at that time included both the Glades and the Casselman River settlements. By the close of the century the Amish were well established in the two counties, with two distinct settlements: the Glades congregation near the town of Berlin, Somerset County; and the congregation at the "River" (Casselman), located along the Casselman from near Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, to beyond Grantsville, Maryland. Later, about 1800, another settlement was founded in Conemaugh Township, near the northern border of Somerset County, extending north into Cambria County. Still later, about 1849-1850, a settlement was effected in the southwestern part of Garrett County, several miles southwest of the town of Oakland, extending west to the village of Aurora, West Virginia, in Preston County. This settlement at present surrounds the village of Gortner, Maryland.

(1) The Glades, near Berlin, Pennsylvania—The first land warrants to Amish settlers here were issued in 1773. But some of their names appear on the tax lists prior to the time when they received legal title to their land. The following are some of the earliest dates on the public land records: Christian Zook, warrant 1773; Christian Spiker, taxable 1773; Benedict Leman, war. 1773; John Zook, war. 1773; Christian Yoder, war. 1773; John Yoder, deed 1775; Michael Troyer, tax 1775; John Troyer, tax 1775; Joseph Johns, tax 1775; David Yoder, war. 1777; Jacob Schrock, tax 1779; Peter Leman, tax 1779; John Leman, war. 1785. Christian Blough, who secured his warrant in 1773, had arrived here in 1767. Casper Schrock, warrant dated 1773, had settled on his land in 1772 according to reliable family tradition. Among the ministers who served the congregation were Christian Yoder, the first resident Amish bishop in the Glades who served as bishop 1785-d. 1838. His son Christian Yoder, Jr. (1790-1846), who served first as minister and later as bishop, assisted his father in his old age and continued in his bishop duties until his death. His grandson Abner Yoder also served as minister and then as bishop until he moved with his family to Johnson County, Iowa, in 1866. Abner was the last resident bishop in the Glades congregation. Jacob Schwartzendruber, ordained a minister in the Amish church at Mengeringhausen, Waldeck, Germany, in 1826, emigrated to America in 1833, and served the Glade congregation until 1840, when he moved about six miles southeast of Grantsville, Maryland (New Germany). He served the Casselman River congregation until 1851, when he migrated with his family to Johnson County, Iowa, being the first Amish minister there and the first Amish bishop ordained in Iowa in 1854. Abraham Miller and David Yoder were also ministers here, for they signed their names as such at a ministers' meeting (Dienerversammlung) of the three churches in Somerset County on 18 March 1837, along with those already noted above. According to tradition there was also a minister Schrock in later years. Almost certainly other ministers have served the congregation. This congregation figured prominently in Amish history. At least one of the church-wide Amish conferences (Dienerversammlung) was held here, 3 October 1830. Some of the ministers were influential throughout the Amish churches. But the congregation is now extinct. The last services were probably held during the 1870's. Jacob B. Schrock, a jurist of Berlin, Pennsylvania, recalled in a personal interview in 1950, that as a boy he accompanied his parents on a visit to his grandparents, the Michael Schrocks, about 1879, and saw the old benches stacked on the back porch, left there after the last preaching service of the Amish in that community. The congregation had no meetinghouses. There are practically no church records extant. In the old Amish cemeteries not a single grave bears a legible marker to the writer's knowledge. Fragmentary information must be laboriously secured from family records, local history, and tradition, and from general church history.

A small cemetery 12 x 15 ft. on the old Yoder farmstead marks the resting place of Christian Yoder, Sr., and Christian Yoder, Jr. Another cemetery with about 20 graves is supposed to contain the remains of Yoders and others. Some Lehmans are buried in a small plot containing six or seven graves, on the old Leman farmstead. Another cemetery has been farmed over for some years and all marks obliterated. These are a few of the burial plots of the now extinct settlement.

Why did the Amish leave the Glades? Many emigrated to other communities. Among the early Amish settlers of Holmes and Tuscarawas counties, Ohio; Elkhart County, Indiana; Johnson County, Iowa; Moultrie and Douglas counties, Illinois, there were numerous large families who left this congregation in 1830-1860. This had a weakening effect. But it appears that unworthy conditions within the church also had their effect. It was said of the congregation, "The people became too ungodly and the church could not stand." Coupled with this is the evident fact that the church lost many members to other denominations, notably to the Church of the Brethren. A few who remained in the community and the Amish Church joined the Casselman River congregation. The last survivor was Benedict Yoder (died 20May 1910), grandson of Bishop Christian Yoder, Sr. The Mennonite Church had no congregation here. Many of the young men accepted military service in the Civil War, and this contributed to the breakup of the Amish community.

(2) Casselman River—A few years after the founding of the Glades settlement, the Amish moved on to establish another settlement on the Casselman River. Michael Buechley, Barn Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, bought two tracts of land some 4 miles south west of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1772. In 1773 he bought a third tract and presumably settled here. Peter Livengood, the first family to bring a covered wagon west over the Allegheny Mountain, came in 1775. These two families, along with the John Olinger and Christian Hochstetler families, left the Amish Church and joined the Tunkers or Brethren soon after 1783.

Here, as in the Glades, the Tunkers were very active and gained many members from the Amish. In the town of Meyersdale, the Tunkers or Brethren had at one time more members per square mile than in any other territory in the United States. In 1775 part of the Buechley land passed to Yost Yoder by deed. Public land records show other early dates as follows: John Miller, deed 1775; John Hershberger, taxable 1775; Christian Gnagey, tax. 1775; John Saylor, tax. 1775; Yost Zook, tax. 1773; John Hochstetler, tax. 1779; Andrew Borntreger, tax. 1783; John Borntreger, tax. 1783; Christian Mast, tax. 1783; Jacob Mast, tax. 1783; Jacob Saylor, tax. 1783; Peter Beachey, warrant 1785; Jacob Miller, war. 1793; Joseph Mast, war. 1795. All this land is between Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, and the Maryland state line in the northern part of the present Amish-Mennonite community. By the close of the century, the settlement extended south into Garrett County, Maryland, beyond the town of Grantsville, Maryland.

This settlement continues to the present time. It has the following congregations: an Old Order Amish congregation dating from the beginning of the settlement and numbering at present 180 members worshiping in two meetinghouses; five Mennonite (MC) congregations with several mission stations, with a total membership of 553, Springs, the oldest, having been organized about 1780 with Jacob Seiler (Saylor) as preacher, who settled south of Meyersdale about this time; a Conservative (Amish) Mennonite congregation formed in 1895, with 260 members and worshiping in three meetinghouses; and a Beachy Amish congregation, numbering 159 members and worshiping in one meetinghouse. Articles covering these congregations will appear under separate heads.

(3) Conemaugh—This settlement, located at the northern end of Somerset County, originally included part of the site of the city of Johnstown at its northern end. It appears to have been developed largely by settlers from the Glades settlement near Berlin. Possibly the first land warrant issued to the Amish or Mennonites was to Jacob Blough in 1793. Joseph Johns (Schantz) of the Amish Church moved here from the Glades. He founded the city of Johnstown, beginning to sell city lots from his farm about 1800. Other warrants issued were to David Yoder 1802, Jacob Spiker 1806, Jacob Kime 1806, Tobias Miller 1812, and John Lehman 1835. John Borntreger, whose warrant was issued in 1803, was evidently seated on his land in 1798. The Amish congregation dates from the beginning of the settlement. The first Amish bishop was probably Jacob Eash (1774-1850), of Berks County. Assisting him for many years was Jacob Miller. John Borntreger, born 10 March 1805, was ordained minister and served here until he moved to Lagrange County, Indiana, in April 1844. Joseph Borntreger was ordained deacon in 1839 and moved with his family to Elkhart County, Indiana, 29 June 1841. They with three other families were the first Amish to move into Indiana. Other ministers who served the Amish church were Christian (Schmitt) Miller, who died here in 1845; Moses B. Miller, ordained minister 1844 and bishop 1848, shortly before the death of Jacob Eash; Jonathan Hershberger, ordained minister in 1862; and possibly others. The Amish built a meetinghouse northwest of Davidsville in 1875. In 1884 they numbered about 100 members. The congregation gradually declined in numbers until they were finally absorbed by the Mennonite Church. The last Amish services were held in 1916.

The first minister ordained by the Mennonite Church (MC) in this district was Jacob Blough, Jr., in 1803-1804. His father was the first landholder noted above. Ordained bishop in 1814, he was the lone minister here until 1830, when he ordained Jacob Blough of another family as minister. In 1842 Samuel Blough was ordained minister and after the death of Bishop Jacob Blough in 1849, Samuel was ordained bishop in 1850. By 1884 the Mennonites had three meetinghouses in Somerset County and one in Cambria County in this district with a total membership of 240. Their membership has increased and today this is the strongest area in the Allegheny Mennonite Conference. The area is generally known as the Johnstown District. A membership of 900 meets for worship in seven meeting houses, three of them in Cambria County. (See Kaufman Amish Church and other articles dealing with the Mennonite church in this area.)

(4) Gortner—By 1849-1850 the Amish of the Casselman River region moved on to establish another settlement just beyond the Maryland line in Preston County, West Virginia, along the Northwestern Turnpike, now U.S. Rt. 50. The location gradually shifted eastward and the settlement now centers on the village of Gortner, Maryland, three miles southwest of Oakland in the southwestern tip of Garrett County. This region, often called the "Glades," should not be confused with the now extinct Glades settlement near Berlin in Somerset County. Among the first settlers was the Samuel J. Beachy family who moved here from the Casselman River region, to which locality they returned after several years. In 1853 Daniel Beachy with his family moved in. Later he became the first bishop of the congregation. Other early settlers were Petersheim, Miller, Schrock, and Slabaugh. Because of the settlement's central location between the North and South on an important highway, the people suffered much during the Civil War. Raiding parties from both armies took horses, cattle, and other property with them. There were also periods of internal disturbances. Under these discouragements some of the people moved back to the parent congregation on the Casselman River. The settlement grew slowly at first, but has had a healthy growth in recent years. The Amish Church has continued since the founding of the settlement, having a membership at present of 83 and meeting for worship in the Gortner meetinghouse, two miles east of Gortner. In 1899 the Mennonite Church (MC) began services in a union meetinghouse alternately with other groups. This arrangement continues although the group maintains its identity as an unorganized Mennonite mission church.

The Conservative Amish Mennonite Church has several families living in the region who worship with the Casselman River congregation.

Author(s) Ivan J Miller
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Miller, Ivan J. "Somerset County (Pennsylvania, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 12 Dec 2018.,_USA)&oldid=68230.

APA style

Miller, Ivan J. (1959). Somerset County (Pennsylvania, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 December 2018, from,_USA)&oldid=68230.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 572-575. All rights reserved.

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