April 27, 2017
Heritage Committee Member
Can you imagine what the land around Hershey must have looked like in the early 1700s? At that time this area was the frontier of Penn’s Woodlands, so it must have been densely populated with many trees and forest vegetation. Imagine the largest of those trees being mighty oaks. In this area there were many old Indian paths leading to meeting places where the local tribes gathered. Most gathering places were either high grounds or lower areas near running water where Indians could refresh themselves. Legend has it that the Indians named the surrounding area Seven Springs because their footpath from the west led through the dense forest and followed a line of springs that flowed to the east towards the area now known as Campbelltown.
One of those springs, later known as Derry Springs, appeared at the foot of a hill about 100 yards south of where the Old Derry Presbyterian Church was located. This valley was probably very rocky and the spring water would seep out of the rocks, forming ponds or pools and small creeks. It is thought that many of these spring pools were a breeding ground for fish. These springs formed Spring Creek, which eventually emptied into the Swatara Creek. Long before the Scots-Irish immigrants from Northern Ireland came to the American colonies, the Indians were traveling in and around this area, setting up camp on ground that was later to become the Highpoint home of Milton Hershey.
The hardy Scots-Irish frontiersmen were also looking for a place to settle and build their homes as they migrated from the northern colonial cities of Philadelphia, New York and Boston. It is believed that these early pioneers settled here around 1724 and chose this spot to worship because of that spring in the valley behind our present church. The settlers built a small log building to use for services during the cold winter months. At one time there was an old spring house that covered the spring, but that was torn down as was Old Derry. Itinerant ministers would conduct services when they passed through the area. These meetings were a time of fellowship as well as worship, much as we do today at Derry Church. Much later when Milton Hershey was developing his industrial town with a chocolate factory, that spring provided the main source of drinking water for families and cool clean water for the manufacturing of chocolate.
This Sunday when you come to worship God in our modern yet historic church, look down the hill from our rear parking lot into that narrow valley. You do not see a spring, nor do you see a pond. What you do see along the golf course is a small building that houses the spring which provided a meeting place and a source of water for those early worshippers of Derry Church.