EPHRATA - CLOSER TO GOD
Pennsylvania was innovative among the Colonies in allowing for religious freedom. The Pilgrims might have come to Plymouth originally escaping European religious persecution, but they proved quickly to be as intolerant of religious debate as those they had left behind were. Pennsylvania was different. As such, the colony not only attracted English Quakers, but Protestants of many different streams from many different European lands. Conrad Beissel was born in Eberbach, Germany in 1691 - Eberbach is just upstream along the Nekar from Heidelberg. At the young age of 24, he had a religious awakening which eventually brought him to Pennsylvania in 1720 seeking to join the hermitic community of Johannes Klepius. Klepius had died in 1708, however. Beissel eventually gathered a group of followers togehter in the woods along Cocalico Creek and established the Ephrata Cloister of the Seventh Day Baptists in 1732. In order to return to paradisiacal purity, members lived in a celibate monk-like life of denial - meager vegetable diets, short periods of sleep and long hours of work. About eighty men and women lived at the Cloister in 1750 in separate houses. As celibates, they were known as the Solitaires. Married followers of Beissel living on nearby farms were the Householders and they served to provide vital support to the Solitary. All were preparing for the Final Days and the return of Jesus Christ. The Solitaire lived in large Germanic-styled buildings in simple rooms. A printing press was operated for about fifty years from 1743 with the most ambitious book being produced being the 1500 page Mennonite "Martyr's Mirror" taking fourteen men three years to finish. This was the largest book produced in the American Colonies before the Revolution. Solitary lifestyle began to ebb with the death of the charismatic Beissel - 1768 - and the last Solitaire died in 1813. The Householders formed the German Seventh Day Baptist Church which continued to operate in Ephrata until 1934. The State of Pennsylvania acquired the Cloister in 1941 and the restoration has been an ongoing project ever since.
While the Ephrata Cloister and its success, the German Seventh Day Baptist Church are both gone, two other areas that evolved from Ephrata continue to exist today. Snow creek along Antietam Creek near Quincy, Pennsylvania saw an Ephrata-style commune develop with between 15-30 solitaires who carried on the choral singing and frakturschriften traditions of Ephrata. The solitaires died out near the end of the 19th century. Some efforts have been made to restore their common house building there. Further west at Salemville - north of Bedford - a surviving group of German Seventh Day Baptists continues, as well. It should be noted that there are several other Seventh Day Baptist groups with one such group that had split off from Quakerism near Philadelphia probably having had a profound impression on Beissel's subsequent ideations. The Seventh Day Baptists use a non-creedal belief system which tends to be a bit more flexible than mainstream Christianity.