An Overview of the History of Lemasters, PA
By James C. Failor
Note: The following is in large part a speech given by me on March 17, 2016 at a meeting of the Mercersburg Historical Society.
The history of Lemasters is not as old as the histories of Mercersburg, Markes, or Fort Loudon, but nevertheless still quite interesting.
Edward Parnell was an early settler. In October 1730, he was issued a warrant for 200 acres of land. He was to pay ½ penny sterling each year for the warrant. However, he reneged after 12 years and the warrant was vacated in November 1742.
In 1812, a Mr. Wilson built the first stone home and barn at a cost of $4,500 on 223 acres of land. Shortly thereafter, he sold the farm to Jacob Lemaster, Sr. (1775-1861). At his death, Jacob Lemaster, Jr. (1819-1900) inherited the property. In 1922, Mrs. Maude Benedict Zimmerman, wife of village doctor, Guy Zimmerman, became the owner. The home had various uses over the years. For a time it was the waiting room for train passengers and it was also used by itinerant preachers.
In 1861, Adam Glaser, Sr., who farmed for Jacob Lemaster, Sr., purchased 36 ½ acres from his employer and 6 acres from George Etter, Sr. That same year Adam built the second stone house of the village. His son, Adam Glaser, Jr., owned the home from 1890 to 1915, when his daughter, Mrs. Cora Glaser Myers inherited the property. In recent years, Mr. Eugene Myers owned the property and now his son, A. C. Myers.
Now, the big event in Lemasters history dates to 1872 when the Cumberland Valley Railroad, on its way to Mercersburg, came through the area. Following that, homes started to be erected on the two streets of the village.
The largest industry in Lemasters is the grain elevator/warehouse. Samuel Plum, in 1874, built the first grain warehouse and the beautiful adjacent brick home. Mr. Plum operated the business until his death in 1884, when John A. Diehl and Edgar B. Diehl became the new owners. Unfortunately the warehouse buildings, then solely owned by Edgar B. Diehl, burned in 1905 for a loss of $40,000. It is interesting to note that a special train from the Cumberland Valley Railroad in Chambersburg arrived in 23 minutes to fight the fire.
Then in 1912 the business was taken over by John A. Diehl, his son, George E. Diehl, Edward Omwake and Aaron Myers, trading as the Lehmasters Feed and Grain Company.
In 1921 the Messrs. John and George Diehl sold their interests to Edward Omwake, C. P. Omwake and Aaron Myers, using the name, Lehmasters Elevator Company. Afterwards, the business was owned and operated by Mr. Aaron Myers’s two sons, Eugene Myers and J. Richard Myers.
In recent years Snider’s Elevator, Inc. of Williamson, Pa., has operated the business. In addition to being a grain elevator/warehouse, the Sniders operate a store that sells gift items, pet food and supplies, bird seed, and equestrian clothing, as well as food and supplies for horses, goats, poultry, cattle, and sheep.
Building Lots Sold
After the warehouse was completed in 1874, Jacob Lemaster, Jr. and Samuel Plum laid out 50 foot by 200 foot lots. Mr. Lemaster, Jr. then build a stately brick home on the north side of the railroad tracks. For many years this was the home of John Yeager, Sr.
The lots were sold rather rapidly and homes began to be built. Most of the homes were constructed in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.
In 1876, just four years after the railroad came through, Jacob Grove built a home and grocery store next to the brick house adjacent to the warehouse. Following Grove, John Slolhour operated the grocery store and then Daniel Neikirk until 1906. Jacob Martin owned the store from 1906 to 1911.
In 1911 Mr. Percy Smith tore down the larger building and operated the store as well as the post office there. Other storekeepers were Dentler Brothers, Harry Clayville & Son, C. N. Goshorn, Edgar Gift, N. O. Olson, C. J. (Chet) Myers, Orville Williams, and others.
In 1891 Mr. George A. Greenawalt opened a country store on Church Street, now Steele Avenue. Squire Greenawalt was Justice of the Peace from 1894 to the time of his death.
Residents began opening other businesses. Mr. Henry Garns operated a shoe maker shop from 1882 to 1912. No tobacco was permitted in his shop. (Henry was the father of Jacob A. Garns, the village barber, and Gail and Mary Garns.)
Other early businesses in the village were: William Smiley’s tin shop, George Alexander’s slaughter house and meat market (1888-1914), Charles Mowen’s watch and clock shop, Dr. Leiberknight’s drugstore, Noah Ernst’s creamery (1900-1904), Charles Alexander’s bakery (1904-1920), and “Shorty” McLaughlin’s tailor shop. There was also a coach maker, a blacksmith shop, a barrel factory, and two hat shops. Abram Thomas and Moses Hartman employed 12 to 15 men to build homes and barns.
Would you believe that from 1880 to 1890 Lemasters had a town band of eighteen members? In 1886 the band was engaged to play in McConnellsburg for their centennial celebration. The band hired threshing-machine operator, Ira Brindle, who used his tractor coupled with two wagons with hay carriers, to transport the band over the Tuscarora Mountain. The musicians left Lemasters at three o’clock in the morning and arrived in the town of McConnellsburg, a distance of fifteen miles, at 7 o’clock, just in time for breakfast. Later on, in 1905, the band re-organized and played for another fifteen years.
Initially the Post Office at nearby Markes served the area. In 1879, seven years after the railroad came through, Samuel Plum became the first postmaster of the Lemasters Station Post Office, located in Mr. Plum’s warehouse. In 1884 the post office was moved across the street to the storeroom of Thomas Smith (which in more recent years was the residence of F. R. Maun). In addition to Mr. Plum those in charge of the Lemasters Post Office over the years were: Walter Dentler, Elmer Clayville, Percy Smith, Edgar Gift, Josephine Gift, Orville Williams, Ethel Smith, and Bonnie Sixeas.
For a small village, Lemasters had its share of churches. Services of the United Brethren Church were first held in Jacob Lemaster’s stone house. In 1881 the present United Brethren Church (now United Methodist) was built at a cost of $2,200. One-half of the cost was paid by Mr. Lemaster and the other half by his sister, Miss Betty. In 1891 a joint Lutheran and Reformed Church (St. Paul’s) was built. Then in 1893 another Lutheran Church (Trinity) was erected on land purchased from Mr. Henry Etter, Sr. The contractor for this church was James Blattenberger and his son, James. In 1906 the St. Paul’s Lutheran and Reformed Church separated, resulting in only one Lutheran Church in the village. There was also a “Radical” United Brethren Church, which was later converted into a home.
When I gave my talk in Mercersburg in 2016, I got many chuckles from the audience when I referred to Lemasters as THE CAPITAL CITY OF PETERS TOWNSHIP. I said that because the office of the township supervisors is located in the village and the township high school was situated there. Also, the parsonages of three church parishes, the only medical doctors in the township, and the “office” of the Peters Township Telephone Co. were in Lemasters.
My father, Robert S. Failor, was secretary/treasurer of the rather informally operated telephone company. Many residents subscribed to telephone service in the 1920’s, but to save money they had their phones disconnected during the depression of the 1930’s. The cost of telephone service for three months was $5.25 for a residence and $5.50 for a business. Party lines had as many as 15 to 18 subscribers. Mr. J. Linn Huber maintained the phone lines. Needless to say, one was not to socialize by telephone in those days.
In 1881 the first school house was built in Lemasters with Mr. J. Albert Benedict as teacher. This building, directly across from what is now 4894 Steele Avenue, was also used as a Union Sunday School and by the various churches of the village.
In April 1896 the Township Supervisors purchased the school building for $200. A two-story brick school building was then built in 1895 at a cost of $2,150. This building housed the primary, intermediate, and grammar schools. Miss Sue A. McCullough taught there from 1900 to 1922.
A township high school was established on the second floor of the brick building in 1906. Dr. E. Guy Greenawalt was a student in the first high school class. The teacher’s salary was from $60 to $65 for the seven- month term. Later on the term was extended to nine months.
In 1922 a new consolidated school was constructed for $38,000 to accommodate grades three through a four-year high school. Early teachers of the high school were Mr. Hubert D. Strine, Miss Mae Huber, and Miss Mary Creigh McDowell.
Four rooms were added to the building in 1929 at a cost of $12,350. Mr. Luther Lauch was school principal from 1936 to 1946, when Dr. E. Guy Greenawalt succeeded him. Even though small, Lemasters High School produced well-educated, loyal, and proud graduates until 1954. To this day, annual reunions are held for all who attended the high school.
The Lemasters National Bank was established in 1906 with Jacob Lemaster, Jr. as president, Edward B. Diehl as first vice president, and Robert B. McDowell and S. L. Brindle as second vice presidents. The bank failed in 1916 because of a loan made, without the Board of Directors approval, to build a railroad from Fort Loudon to McConnellsburg. The railroad across the mountain was never built and the bank suffered a loss of $125,000.
Oddly enough, two months later, in February 1917, the Peoples National Bank of Lemasters was organized with Mr. S. L. Brindle as president and Mr. Aaron Myers as vice president. Mr. Ashway was the first cashier, followed by Mr. A. C. Garland from 1919 to 1930.
My father, Robert S. Failor was cashier of the bank from 1930 until the bank was taken over by the Valley National Bank of Chambersburg in the 1960’s. Miss Sara W. McDowell was assistant cashier of the bank beginning in 1928.
Spring Grove Cemetery
The oldest non-church cemetery of Franklin County is located about ½ mile down Etter Avenue from Lemasters. The earliest tombstones date from 1765; however, there were earlier burials. There are graves without markers which prevented Indians from digging up bodies. A large gravestone honoring Jacob Lemaster, Jr. is located on his gated burial site. The parents of President James Buchanan are buried in the cemetery. First Lady Harriet Lane (Johnston) left funds for maintenance of the Buchanan Family plot.
The cemetery has had a number of different names; however, in 1910 the cemetery was incorporated and Mrs. Edgar Diehl named it “Spring Grove Cemetery.” For the centennial of incorporation in 2010, Amy L. Hendershot Cox published a history of the cemetery.
Dr. William O. Lantz was the village physician from 1891 to 1907, when he was followed by Dr. Guy Zimmerman from Little Cove (1907-1925). Dr. Elmer Hudson’s office was in the stately brick home, just north of the railroad; however, he later moved his practice to Mercersburg.
Dr. E. Lee Reiter built a new home and medical offices, just north of the high school building. He practiced in Lemasters for 33 years—from 1934 to 1967.
The Lemasters Community Improvement Association, in 1955, purchased the old two-story brick school building at a price of $3,825. In 1961, they then purchased adjacent land from Mr. David Myers and Mr. Eugene Etter. A picnic pavilion was built in 1962 and a fully-equipped community center building in 1967. This property was sold to the Lemasters Old River Brethren Church in December 2015.
The Edward Parnell Ruritan Club was chartered in 1959 with 35 members. The club was quite active and provided many services to the community. Unfortunately, the club disbanded in 2015.
The Ruritan Club, Mr. Eugene Etter, and Mr. Aaron Myers were instrumental in founding the Bear Valley Water Authority. The Authority was able to secure a three million dollar loan from the Farmers Home Administration and water service to the community began in 1971.
1972 Centennial Celebration
I also need to mention the Lemasters Centennial Celebration which was scheduled for June 22-25, 1972, but because of Hurricane Agnes had to be postponed for one week. The village was truly alive and displayed great spirit for the occasion. A large parade with local high school bands was held and attracted more spectators than were ever seen in Lemasters. Mr. William Greenawalt and Miss Mary Garns were featured in the parade as the two oldest citizens of the village.
It was great being reared in Lemasters! In 1949 the popular song, “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” was published. It went like this:
“I love those dear hearts and gentle people who live in my hometown,
Because those dear hearts and gentle people will never ever let you down.”
Well—I can say that about the people of Lemasters!
Jim Failor, Hagerstown, Md., firstname.lastname@example.org
“Reminiscence of Lemasters” by Jacob A. Garns, 1940.
“History of Lemasters” by Eugene Etter, author/compiler, June 1972.