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You can learn a lot about the history of a community from its name.
For Lebanon County’s townships and boroughs, their etymylogies reflect immigrant origins, founders, religious belief, transportation routes, and much more. Here’s the story behind the name of every incorporated municipality in the county.
Annville, South & North Annville Townships
Annville got its name in second half of the 18th century. Sources differ on who the Ann is. The wife of Abraham Miller, who laid out what was initially known as Millerstown in 1762, was named Anna, and so the town was eventually renamed in her honor — at least, according to one version of the story.
The alternative namesake is none other than Queen Anne of Great Britain, and the explanation requires a bit of a detour into European history. At the time of Annville’s founding, the area had a sizable population of immigrants native to the Palatinate, a region in southwestern Germany. Palatinate immigrants, fleeing war and persecution at home, had begun arriving in London in the early 1700s. Queen Anne, wishing to extend support to Protestant refugees, sponsored the first ship of Palatinate settlers to America in 1708. Her government’s support of these immigrants (thousands of which eventually made it to the colonies) is alleged to be the reason why Annville is named in her honor. Far-fetched? Maybe, it’s worth noting that one of the town’s first roads was Queen Street.
North and South Annville Townships were both created in 1845, while Annville Township was formed in 1912.
The area that became Bethel Township, formed as part of Lancaster County in 1739, was home to many Moravian immigrants. One of their meetinghouses on the Swatara was named after Bethel, the name of the “house of God” that appears in the Old Testament. The township in turn was named after the meetinghouse.
The original Bethel Township was split in 1752 when Berks County formed and took the western half of the municipality with it.
City of Lebanon, West, South, & North Lebanon Townships
The Lebanon name in the area dates back to at least 1727, when Lebanon Township, then part of Lancaster County, was officially organized. A Lebanon Daily News article published on the 1940 bicentennial of Lebanon’s founding speculates that the name Lebanon was chosen due to the cedar trees in the area — a way for the pious German settlers to bring some old time religion to their new home. Of course, the tie between Lebanon and cedars hasn’t been forgotten, with Cedar Haven, Cedar Crest, and the Lebanon Cedars all evidence of the numerous ways the connection has survived.
The Lebanon of the Middle East and its cedars are mentioned often in ancient literature, including the Old Testament. The word “Lebanon” itself is derived from a Semitic root meaning “white,” referring to the region’s snowy mountain range.
West, South, and North Lebanon Townships were formed in 1901, 1840, and 1840, respectively, and the City of Lebanon in 1885.
Cleona’s name dates back to 1890, when a train station was built on the future site of the borough. At the time, the area was known as May View. This was a problem for the post office, as there was a separate May View in the state at the time, and so officials sought a new name for the then-small village.
The line that ran by the station was operated by the Lebanon Valley Railroad, and its supervisor William G. Lehnstein chose to name the station after his wife, Cleona. The surrounding town adopted the name, and the borough was formed in 1929.
The name itself is Greek and is believed to be a variation of the name Cleopatra, which translates to “glory of the father.”
Cold Spring Township
Cold Spring was a small resort in the mountains at the northern end of the county, originally established around 1850. The township was formed three years later. The main feature of the grounds was the spring itself and the bathhouse that was built over it. The popularity of the settlement grew and shrank over time, before eventually falling into ruin following a devastating fire in 1900.
The ruins of the resort, which included hotels, bowling alleys, and other buildings, can still be found on the site, which became part of State Game Lands 211 in 1956. The icy water of the spring itself still runs through the foundation of the ruined bathhouse.
Cornwall Borough, West & North Cornwall Townships
Peter Grubb, the man who purchased the land that would become the Cornwall Iron Banks and the founder of the Cornwall Iron Furnace, was the seventh son of John Grubb. John Grubb was a native of Stoke Climsland, a village in Cornwall, part of Great Britain. The elder Grubb was born into a Quaker family and arrived in what was still colonial America in 1677 onboard the Kent, a ship of settlers organized by William Penn.
When deciding on a name for the area and furnace in the 1740s, Peter Grubb chose to honor his father’s homeland and named the area Cornwall. West Cornwall Township was formed in 1892, and both Cornwall Borough and North Cornwall Township were formed in 1926.
East Hanover Township
The township was created in 1813, split off from the original East Hanover Township in Dauphin County, but it can trace its name back much earlier to 1735, when the Hanover Presbyterian Church was formed close to modern-day Harrisburg. The Hanover name likely ultimately derives from the German city of Hanover and means “on the higher ridge.”
Heidelberg is a university town in southwestern Germany. The name was brought to the Lebanon Valley in the mid-1700s by Alexander Schaeffer, a native of Baden, Germany (Heidelberg is located in the modern state of Baden-Württemberg). Schaeffer had immigrated to Philadelphia twenty years prior. The name change of Schaeffer’s settlement from Heidelberg to Schaefferstown happened after Schaeffer’s 1786 death.
The Heidelberg name lingered on in the area, even after the town was renamed in his honor. Heidelberg Township was formed in 1813, the same year that Lebanon County was formed from parts of Lancaster and Dauphin Counties.
Jackson Township was established in 1820 and takes its name from Andrew Jackson. Jackson, who was then nine years away from becoming America’s seventh president, was nevertheless well known on the national stage as a heroic general in the War of 1812.
Incidentally, Jackson’s Pennsylvania win as the Democratic candidate in the presidential race of 1828 remains the party’s strongest presidential performance in the history of the state.
Jonestown takes its name from William Jones, its founder. Jones was a Welsh immigrant and, besides his founding of the town in 1761, little else is known about him other than family members and some basic biographical details. The town was originally known as Williamsburg, but after Jones’ death in 1771, it was renamed Jonestown, in part due to the number of other Williamsburgs in the American colonies.
The borough was created in 1870.
Containing some of the oldest settlements in the county, Millcreek Township was originally known by the German name Muelhbach (also spelled Mühlbach), which translates directly to its modern English name. Henry Meyer, a Palatinate immigrant, is credited with naming the creek in the 1700s after a place in his home country. The creek in turn lent its name to the community built around it.
When the shift to English happened is unclear, but by the time of the township’s formation in 1844, the modern name was firmly in place.
Mount Gretna Borough
The origin of the “Mount” part of Mount Gretna is fairly obvious (and refers specifically to the mountain now known as Governor Dick), but the Gretna? Like Cleona, the name originated with a local railroad’s station name.
It was 1883 and a new station was to be built between Lancaster and Lebanon for the Cornwall-Lebanon Railroad. According to the Mount Gretna Area Historical Society, “Gretna” was the name suggested by the wife of Hugh Maxwell, a member of a planning committee for the railroad. “Gretna” was meant to evoke the area’s pines, wildflowers, and general natural beauty, and the committee added on the “Mount” to convey the terrain. The borough was established in 1926.
Myerstown is named for its founder, Isaac Meier. Born near the Conestoga Creek in 1730, Meier was a banker and the owner of multiple plantations. He laid out the lots for what was originally Tulpehockentown in 1768. Before that, the community was known as Herclerode, after Meier’s father-in-law, Valentine Herclerode. Herclerode owned a farm that he sold to Meier in 1757, which is today the Isaac Meier Homestead and a site on the National Register of Historic Places.
Meier was shot two years after the town’s founding while sitting in a tavern. His murderer was never found. The borough was created in 1912.
North & South Londonderry Townships
Germans weren’t the only settlers in the Lebanon Valley. The town of Londonderry was the creation of early Scots-Irish immigrants; more specifically, the original town was built on land acquired by the Irish Society of London in the late 1600s. Named for County Londonderry in Ireland, the two Londonderry Townships were established in 1894.
Outside of Lebanon County, Palmyra is known as an ancient city located in modern-day Syria. But, while the name Palmyra was almost certainly chosen in reference to the city, the name also suggests Palmyra’s town founder: Dr. Johannes Palm, a German immigrant who arrived in America in 1750.
By 1776, the 63 year-old Palm was busy erecting a small settlement called Palmstown, while the Revolutionary War raged on elsewhere in the new nation. Palmstown was chosen as the name of the local post office in 1804, but by 1810, the name of Palmyra had become official, for reasons that are now lost to history.
Richland’s name is very literal: it refers to the fertile soil that attracted farmers to the area. According to a 1940 article in the Lebanon Daily News, the name came about in 1856 when an engineer working on the Lebanon Valley Reading Railroad asked a farmer about the condition of the landscape. The farmer is said to have simply replied: “this is a rich land.”
At the time of the railroad’s construction, there were only a few houses in what was known as Landisville (after the surname of one of the local families). By 1906, however, the borough of Richland was officially established.
The word “Swatara” is derived from an Iroquois term meaning “where we fed on eels.” Stephanie Sadowski of PennLive lists Swahadowry or Schaha-dawa as earlier forms of the name, given to the Swatara Creek by the Susquehannocks. The township was named in 1822 after the creek.
It’s worth noting that the historic eel populations of the Swatara have risen and fallen over the years as dams and human activities have altered the river. However, according to the Swatara Watershed Association, the American eel seems to be returning to the creek in greater numbers.
Union Township’s namesake is the Union Canal. The canal was first proposed by William Penn himself in 1690, but construction didn’t begin for another century. In 1792, the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Canal Company began to work on the proposed 80-mile canal, but construction was soon halted as the company lost significant money.
The project was considered a possibility again in 1811 with the formation of the Union Canal Company, who began to work on it a decade later. In seven years, the canal was finished, and in 1842, Union Township was officially created.
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