It is September and school has started again. With this in mind, let us reflect on the founder of Elizabethtown College (1899), the Rev. Dr. George N. Falkenstein (1859-1949) who lived at 39 S. Market St.
Leaders from the Church of the Brethren (1708), representing congregations throughout central Pennsylvania, met on April 5, 1899 in the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren at 61 E. Washington St., where Falkenstein made the following motion: “We establish a school of such character, that compares favorably with any of our schools, including Bible, academic, and collegiate departments, a school to be at the same time a home and a church.”
George Wealand, proprietor of the Sign of the Bear Tavern (1745) on the corner of North Market and West Hummelstown streets, owned 238 acres of land in Elizabethtown, which he purchased from local butcher Alexander and Ann Boggs in February 1809. In the same year Wealand, a member of the Elizabethtown Burgess Council, sold lot No. 2 to Samuel Bailie a local shoemaker. As early as 1810 Bailie built this Federal Style (1780-1840) house still standing at 39 S. Market St. In 1812 Conrad Smith bought the house before selling it to John Lynch.
A member of Elizabethtown’s Saint Peter’s Church (1752/1799), Lynch donated the altar furnishings for the St. Peter’s centennial celebration in 1899. Lynch was elected as secretary of the Union Fire Company and Friendship Fire Company. From 1848-1852 Lynch, who owned a brick yard and general store at 18-20 South Market Street, served as U.S. Postmaster. In 1840 Lynch was a delegate to the National William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) and John Tyler (1790-1862) Whig (1834-1854) Convention in Baltimore. In 1851 Lynch established The Farmers and Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of Elizabethtown with his brother-in-law James Wilson. In 1862 Lynch served in Elizabethtown’s Company I of the 16th Pennsylvania State Militia during the Civil War (1861-1865).
In 1842 Joseph Clinton, a member of the Elizabethtown Burgess Council, bought the property. John D. Clinton, a local school teacher, inherited this house from his father. In 1888 John D. Clinton and wife Sara W. left the property to Permelia Youtz, the daughter of Matilda Youtz, and granddaughter of Joseph Clinton. In 1888 Samuel Ebersole, owner of a feed store on the town Square, bought the property from Youtz. In 1896 Ebersole’s daughter, Annie Ebersole, inherited the house.
In 1900 Jacob M. Galebach bought the house from Annie E. Ebersole. In 1904 Jacob M. Galebach sold the house to George Falkenstein. In 1915 Irvin A. and Hester G. Shiffer bought the home from Falkenstein. From this house Shiffer published the Elizabethtown Herald newspaper. Before he sold the property to James J. Doyle, a local cigar manufacturer, in April of 1926, Shiffer rented the rear space of the house with the printing press to Earl Kuhn.
In November of 1975, the property was granted to Shearers Furniture Store Inc. by the Commonwealth National Bank, from the W. G. Mumma estate. The house was a furniture store until 1977, when Robert R. Melhorn and his wife Virginia purchased the property. In 1982 David L. Hawthorne and Paul E. Fick bought the property from the Melhorns.
In 1967 a community social organization was created and called the Elizabethtown Senior Citizens. This organization was the inspiration for the establishment of the Elizabethtown Area Recreation Commission. In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) signed the Economic Opportunity Act which established local private and public non-profit organizations known as Community Action Agencies to carry out Community Action Programs. In 1975 Paul E. Fick was the leading advocate in the Elizabethtown Borough leadership for joining with the Lancaster County Community Action Program to establish a community center for senior citizens and general public recreation programming. Elizabethtown was the only borough outside of Lancaster City to participate in President Johnson’s Community Action Program.
In 2005 Robert L. Gruber, Louis J. Ulrich III, Robert English, and Leslie E. Brosius Partnership purchased the house. In 2010 Lance Zou, bought this property where he operates E Yaun a Chinese restaurant.
The Rev. Dr. George Ness Falkenstein was born in 1859 on the farm of his grandparents, Jacob Falkenstein (1877-1854) and Barbara Keeney (1878-1863), in York County. His grandfather was a minister in the Church of the Brethren (formerly known as the German Baptist Brethren). As a boy he attended the Falkenstein School which met at the Bupp’s Union Schoolhouse and served as a Brethren Church.
When Falkenstein was 7 years old his father, David Falkenstein (1817-1866), a minister in the Church of the Brethren, died, and his mother, Mary Ness (1835-1874) moved the family to the farm’s tenant house. His mother married, a second time, to William Adam Ness (1824-1905). Falkenstein worked in his stepfather’s mill until his mother died and he was sent to work as a farm hand for his uncle George Ness (1802-1878).
Falkenstein attended the York County Academy (1787) now York College of Pennsylvania. In his sophomore year he transferred to the Church of the Brethren school Juniata College (1876). In 1882 he transferred to Oberlin College (1833) in Ohio to study Greek, Latin, and literature. In 1883 he and his brother Jacob N. Falkenstein (1855-1947) transferred to the Church of the Brethren school Mount Morris College (1839-1932) in Illinois. The Falkenstein brothers lived in Oregon and British Columbia teaching school and assisting Church of the Brethren missionaries.
In 1886 Falkenstein married Mount Morris classmate, Church of the Brethren school teacher, Eva Shellenberger (1864-1958). The couple moved back to Huntingdon where Falkenstein resumed his studies at Huntingdon Brethren Normal School, now known as Juniata College. The couple returned to Illinois where Falkenstein taught science at Mount Morris College and studied at the University of Michigan (1817). In 1892 Falkenstein became an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and was elected superintendent of the Mount Morris College Sunday School.
In 1893 the Church of the Brethren General Mission Board sent the Falkensteins to Philadelphia to be in charge of the Germantown Church of the Brethren, the oldest congregation of this denomination established in 1723. In 1894 Falkenstein located the grave of the founder of the Church of the Brethren Alexander Mack (1679-1735) and had his remains moved to a new grave in the Germantown Church of the Brethren churchyard. While pastoring the Germantown Church, which expanded under his leadership with a new sanctuary dedicated in 1897, Falkenstein studied at the University of Pennsylvania (1740). In 1900 his book “The History of the German Baptist Brethren” was published by the Pennsylvania German Society (1891).
In 1899 Falkenstein was elected secretary to a committee formed by the Church of the Brethren for the establishment of a college in central Pennsylvania. When Elizabethtown College was chartered in 1899 Falkenstein was elected Secretary of the Board of Trustees. He served in this capacity from 1899-1903. He worked with Lebanon based architect Abner Augustus Ritcher and Elizabethtown based contractor Benjamin G. Groff to design Alpha Hall.
Although the Church of the Brethren chose the Rev. I. N. H. Beahm (1859-1950) to be the first president of Elizabethtown College, he suffered a severe neurasthenia and spent a year in a sanitarium. Falkenstein had to serve as acting president from 1899-1900, he hired the faculty, authored the college constitution and catalog while teaching History, Government, literature, Bible, Psychology, pedagogy and the classics. He did all this during the week and returned to Philadelphia on the weekend to assume his pastoral duties at Germantown. In 1900 he moved his family to Elizabethtown when he was elected President of the College for the period 1900-1902. From 1901-1949 Falkenstein was the chancellor of Elizabethtown College’s Annual Bible Institutes.
In 1902 Falkenstein established a book store at 39 S. Market St. Here he sold college textbooks, Bibles, stationery, school supplies, cameras, phonographs, records, pianos, piano rolls, sheet music, wall paper, dress patterns and candy. The book store also functioned as a community lending library and local people came to use his telephone. He purchased the property in 1904 and the printing press located on the premises. Falkenstein photographed various scenes in Elizabethtown which he printed and sold as picture postcards.
In 1911 the Church of the Brethren appointed Falkenstein to the pastorate of the Harrisburg Church of The Brethren (1896) where he served until 1916. In preparation for his missionary work in Montana, Falkenstein sold his book store in Elizabethtown in 1915. From 1916-1918 Falkenstein lived in Kremlin, Montana where he was pastor of the Milk River Valley Church of the Brethren and he taught in the local country schools. He established the Poplar Grove Church of the Brethren and was elected the moderator (similar to bishop) of the district.
With the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918) and questions about President Woodrow Wilson’s (1856-1924) negative position on alternative service for conscientious objectors, Falkenstein advocated for Elizabethtown College to be legally owned by the Church of the Brethren. Through Falkenstein’s leadership, the College was legally acquired by the Church of the Brethren to support the College students’ appeals for conscientious objection with the College’s association among the Historic Peace Churches.
In 1918 Falkenstein was chosen as a delegate from Montana to the Church of the Brethren Annual Meeting held in Hershey. Falkenstein never returned to Montana, he remained in Lancaster and York counties, worked closely with the leadership of Elizabethtown College, and from 1938-1939 was the moderator of the local Eastern District of the Church of the Brethren.
From 1936-1945 Falkenstein authored the genealogies of the Brethren Keeny, Ness, Myers, and Falkenstein families. He wrote the history of the York based Brethren congregations of Codorus (1777) and Bupp’s (1871). His last book was a history of Elizabethtown College.
On Nov. 20, 1948, Elizabethtown College board of trustees conferred on Falkenstein an honorary Doctor of Divinity. In 1971 the College dedicated a wing of Founders Residence Hall to the memory of Falkenstein. In 2014 the Elizabethtown College Mock Trial Team and Pre-Law Faculty established “The President George Ness Falkenstein Outstanding Advocate Award” to recognize the significance and on-going contributions of a Mock Trial competitor. This award honors a student who is a leader, outstanding courtroom advocate, and embodies the ideals of civility, justice, and fair play.
George Falkenstein’s positive contributions to the community of Elizabethtown and Elizabethtown College are still evident today. His photographs and picture postcards of Elizabethtown document the history of our community. An appropriate historical marker should be erected in front of 39 S. Market St. to commemorate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. George N. Falkenstein.
This column about historic structures in Elizabethtown is written by Jean-Paul Benowitz, a historian and Elizabethtown College’s director of student transition programs and prestigious scholarships and fellowships. It is illustrated by Shanise Marshall, a member of Elizabethtown College’s Class of 2015 who was a history major with a fine arts-art history and religious studies minors.