Harrold Lutheran Church, Hempfield, Westmoreland

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Old Harrold Lutheran Church renovated 1884 (orig. 1772)
The old Harrold Lutheran Church (built c. 1772), nearby to the modern Harrold Zion Lutheran Church, in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, is one of the oldest churches in the United States, being built during the time of the settlement of western Pennsylvania prior to the American Revolution. The Gongaware family (presumably children of Jacob Gangwyer (Gongaware) that settled there in Hempfield Township were of the Lutheran faith and helped build the first church in the area.



According to the church's website, the church's history is summarized as follows[1]:

"Southwestern Pennsylvania was first opened to settlement in 1769. Those who took up land in the area around Harrold Zion were primarily Germans. Most were either Lutheran or German Reformed. One of the first things that the Lutherans did was set aside 158 acres of land to be used solely for schools and churches. The land was named "Good Purpose" and much of it is still used for schools and churches including where our church now stands. The community which grew around this land was known as Herold which later became Harrold. The recorded history of Harrold Zion dates back to August 2, 1772, with the documentation of the first baptisms in this area. These are the oldest Pennsylvania church records west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Around 1772, a log church building was started but construction was only partially completed for 10 years due to difficulty with Indian attacks and other concerns. The building was finished in 1782...
In 1830 a new two story stone church building was dedicated. As with the old log church, the new stone church continued to be used by both the Lutherans and the German Reformed.
All went well until the 1870s when two things occurred that began to cause problems. The first was the introduction of a new hymnal by the Synod to which Harrold belonged. Not everyone in the congregation was happy with the new Hymn Book. A few years later the congregation was chartered and a constitution was adopted. Again, not everyone was pleased with this new concept. Trouble continued to brew and in 1880 the disgruntled members organized into an independent congregation many of whom did not want to be associated with "the tyranny of Synod." Both Lutheran congregations continued to hold services in the stone church. Litigation followed and the church was divided. Those who had broken away were granted ownership of church properties and records by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They built a new brick church less than a mile from the stone church on land donated by Daniel Altman. On July 8, 1884, the new Lutheran church was dedicated.
Old Harrold Lutheran Church renovated 1884 (orig. 1772)
The other portion of the divided congregation purchased property from the Reformed church and built a new brick church which was dedicated July 14, 1885.
The church remained divided until 1955. At that time, the churches were reunited. The congregation voted to call the renewed church Harrold Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. The present day sanctuary was dedicated on September 12, 1965. In the 1960s, the community around the church began to grow with the first major housing development being built. This development was named after a protective structure built by those early German settlers. Fort Allen... More and more homes were built. Many families came to the area. This meant a greater number of worshipers and in early 1981, an addition was completed to the education building to accommodate the influx of new people."
Old Harrold Church cemetery (July 2013)

Historical family references

"The first Lutherans in Westmoreland county were nearly all Germans, or people of German extraction. Their early records were written in the German language almost exclusively. Fifty or seventy-five years later these records fell into the hands of English speaking people who were not able to translate them, and who therefore unfortunately did not preserve them. The early work of the church is accordingly largely a matter of tradition. That there were many Lutherans here before the county was formed in 1773, is undoubted, for their presence is well proved by our early records. The Detars, the Rughs, the Gongawares, the Millers, the Harrolds, the Altmans, the Longs, all were originally Lutherans and had taken up land in Hempfield township between 1760 and 1770. There were also Lutherans in other sections of the county in that period, so that it can safely be said that the Lutheran church in Westmoreland began with its early settlement shortly after the construction of the Forbes road. Like all other early churches, they met at first in private houses, and, when they were without ministers, such services were performed by the school teacher. The schoolmaster had perhaps no special claim in the performances of these offices except that he could read, and many of the early settlers could not. At these from house-to-house meetings they read the Bible, had prayers and singing, and sometimes the teacher read a sermon or perhaps oftener made some remarks which took the place and partook of the nature of a sermon. The ceremony of baptism was performed by laymen as well as by schoolmasters. This was the case for several years at Harrold's Church, the Lutheran branch of whose worshipers were called "Zion's Church." The records made by Balthazer Meyer indicates that he baptized children of Lutheran as well as of the Reformed Church, from 1772 to 1782, and that the Lutheran Church was also without a pastor for all these years. The same was done at Brush Creek, a congregation organized a few years after the Harrold congregation."[2]
"Hempfield is one of the old original townships, and was organized at Hannastown on the first day of our Westmoreland courts, namely, April 6, 1773. Its boundaries were then much larger than now, for it reached from Crabtree run to the Conemaugh river, and included all the territory lying along the Kiskiminetas river and then down to the Youghiogheny and Jacob's creek. At present it is bounded on the north by Salem ; northeast by Unity ; southeast by Mt. Pleasant ; south by East Huntingdon ; southwest by South Huntingdon; west by Sewickley, and northwest by North Huntingdon and Penn townships..."[3]
"The first settlers in the township of Hempfield were nearly all Germans, and came largely from the southeastern counties of Pennsylvania. Some of them, however, came directly from Germany. Among the original settlers were the Harrolds, Froelichs, Henrys, Rughs, Drums, Ottermans, Marchands (who came from Switzerland), Benders (now called Painters), Kunkles, Longs, Gongweres, Detars, Millers, Snyders, Turneys, Fritchmans, Klingensmiths, Thomases, Barnharts, Mechlings, Trubys, Rohrers, Huffnagles, Hubers, Kemps, Reamers, Kepples, Alwines, Kifers, Whiteheads, Shruins, Byerlys, Eisamans, Clines, Walthours, Baughmans, Grosses, Seanors and others. These pioneer settlers were scattered over a much wider territory than is now included in the limits of Hempfield township. They were, moreover, a substantial and hardy race, and gave character to a large part of the present Westmoreland county. Many of our best people are descended from them. They very early showed their interest in rehgion by establishing churches. Harrold's Church, or St. John's Reformed Church, as it is sometimes called, has been treated of heretofore under Church History. It is situated about four miles southwest of Greensburg. Brush Creek Reformed Church has also been spoken of in the same part of this work."[4]
Gongaware gravestone - Old Harrold Church cemetery (July 2013)
"In 1783, when Rev. John Weber was pastor, Dr. David Marchand took up for church and school purposes near Brush creek one hundred and eighty-two acres of land, part of a large tract which Dr. Marchand had himself taken up. This property was deeded to the German Lutheran and German Reformed churches on July 20, 1797, the consideration being 28 pounds, 12 shillings and 6 pence. Upon this land they erected a log school house, which they used also for a place of worship. It was burned by the Indians while the neighbors were temporarily driven from their homes. , It was rebuilt, the second structure being also of hewn logs. It had one door and one window. Its floors were puncheons, and its seats were hewn logs. There was no pulpit, no gallery, and a common board table served for the altar... In 1816 the corner stone was laid for the present brick church edifice, and it was completed about 1820, at which time it was dedicated by the Lutheran and Reformed pastors, assisted by Rev. Henry Gerhart of Bedford. A debt hung over it for some time, and John Shrum and Adam Baughman. trustees, were authorized by the legislature to sell eighty-two acres for the church debt. In 1864 the legislature authorized the sale of forty-one acres of coal underlying the church lands. In 1870 a pipe organ costing about one thousand dollars was put into this church." [5]

Family references in William Zundel's "History of old Zion Evangelical Lutheran church" [6]:


  1. Harrold Zion Lutheran Church official website
  2. History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Volume 1). Boucher, John Newton. 1906. p. 304
  3. History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Volume 1). Boucher, John Newton. 1906. p. 502
  4. History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Volume 1). Boucher, John Newton. 1906. p. 502-503
  5. History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (Volume 1). Boucher, John Newton. 1906. p. 502-503
  6. History of old Zion Evangelical Lutheran church in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Near Harrold's. Zundel, William Arter, 1878-1949.


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