Borough of East Berlin

History of East Berlin, Pennsylvania

Early Days:   

1764     Our founder, John Frankenberger, purchased 200 acres from William Penn’s sons, Thomas and Richard. On May 8th, 1764, he officially laid out 85 lots, one main street, 4 cross streets and 5 alleys. He named it Berlin for his hometown in Prussia (Germany).

1797     John Hildebrand, Sr. became primary landowner and added 100 lots north of town. Generations of his family were town leaders.

1800     Adams County was carved out of York County with Berlin on its northeast boundary.

1827     When our official post office was established, we became East Berlin to distinguish us from another town named Berlin in Somerset County.

1840   East Berlin had 410 inhabitants, 84 dwellings, 2 gristmills, a fulling mill (wool scouring and thickening), 3 taverns, 3 stores, 3 apothecaries, 2 schools, one church, and one library.

1863     During the Civil War, as Confederate troops led by General Jubal A. Early made their way toward York, they reportedly forced East Berlin women to bake bread for them. After the Wrightsville Bridge fire stopped his march to Harrisburg, General Early concentrated his troops in York and headed west, staying overnight in Big Mount, then marched through East Berlin on June 30, 1863. Enroute, they plundered nearby farms and Eisenhart Mill. They made camp near Hampton, and advanced to the fierce, bloody Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863.

1879     On November 10, 1879, East Berlin was incorporated as a Borough. The first Borough election was held February 17th, 1880. At the time, there were 510 inhabitants.

Historic Crossroads:

East Berlin sits at the crossroads of Pennsylvania State Routes 234 and 194, known to us as King Street, Abbottstown Road and Harrisburg Street. Route 234 follows the route of the “Old Menallen Road” opened around 1750 to connect York with the Menallan Meeting House area, known as “Quaker Valley” in the 18th century.

The first major north-south route in Adams County was approved in 1753, connecting the region to Baltimore markets. In 1811, it was extended to create the Hanover & Berlin Turnpike, along today’s Route 194.

Conewago Creek and Beaver Creek form our natural boundaries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they provided waterpower for gristmills and sawmills. They surround us today with their picturesque beauty and connect us to the Susquehanna River watershed.

Kuhn’s Fording Covered Bridge crossed Conewago Creek southwest of East Berlin. Built in 1897, it was a prime example of a Pratt truss bridge with wooden Burr arch. Despite efforts to restore it after 1975 hurricane damage, its timbers were given to Lancaster County for their bridge repair program.

Notable Residents:

  • David Studebaker, carpenter, farmer and minister, was related to the family that formed the Studebaker Company in South Bend, Indiana, which became the world’s largest maker of horse-drawn vehicles and a pioneer in the automobile industry. His house at 200 West King Street was built ca. 1790 and has been beautifully restored. In 2018, Studebaker Drivers Club members displayed their vehicles at East Berlin Area Community Center’s Fall Festival, a new event held the second Saturday in September.
  • George Kennan (1904-2005), diplomat and historian, owned a farm outside East Berlin. His policy of “containment” served to blunt Soviet expansion during the Cold War. He was a member of East Berlin Volunteer Fire Company, East Berlin Historical Preservation Society, and served on the committee that preserved records of the Berlin Improvement Society. In 1982, remembering East Berlin, Kennan said,

“If not uniquely those of small town and rural America, as I knew it in my childhood and still know it today: a certain kindness and helpfulness, a certain shrewdness tempered with modesty and a lively sense of humor and above all, a certain inner dignity.”

Historic Highlights:

  • Our first fire engine was purchased in 1892. Liberty #1 Fire House, on 4th St and South Avenue, was built the same year. On January 1, 2019, Liberty Fire Company No. 1 of East Berlin officially merged with Lake Meade Fire and Rescue Inc. to become Northeast Adams Fire & EMS, Adams County Company 32.
  • The Borough’s water system was begun in 1898. A municipal authority was organized in 1945 to construct a sewer system, in full operation by 1957. A storm water system was begun in 1958. The East Berlin Joint Area Authority, which maintains today’s water and sewer system for the Borough and Hamilton Township, became a separate entity in 2007.
  • York Telephone and Telegraph first installed telephone lines in 1912. An electric light company was organized in conjunction with Abbottstown and installation completed by 1921. Natural gas pipelines were installed beginning in 1933 by the Gettysburg Gas Company.
  • The Church Schoolhouse, built ca. 1770, still located on the grounds of East Berlin Union Cemetery, was our first school.

The Borough’s first election and first Borough Council meetings were held at the schoolhouse. It was also the meeting place for the Berlin Beneficial Society, that provided comfort and aid to many, and the Berlin Improvement Society (1836-1910) that amassed a 600-book lending library. Thaddeus Stevens (1859-1868), U.S. Representative, advocate for universal education and abolition of slavery, was an honorary member. For a time, he owned the sandstone house located at 426 West King Street.

  • The two-story brick East Berlin School was built in 1878. It housed primary and upper grades. Their first principal was J. Curtis Hildebrand (1845-1887). Expanded in 1930, 1936, and 1959, it was closed in 1990 and students were moved to the Bermudian Springs School District campus on Route 94.
  • In 1990, the Borough purchased East Berlin School from the school district. East Berlin, Abbottstown, Reading and Hamilton Townships in Adams County and Paradise and Washington Townships in York County joined together to form the East Berlin Area Community Center.
  • Jean Barnett Trone Memorial Library of East Berlin is housed in a former church building built in 1899 on Locust Street. It is a branch of the Adams County Library System. An award-winning renovation and expansion was completed in 2016.
  • Trinity Lutheran Church and Zwingli United Church of Christ have served the community from its early days. Their original German Lutheran and German Reformed congregations shared a building next to the cemetery. Finished in 1822, it was later demolished when the congregations moved to their own buildings, both still located on King Street.
  • East Berlin Railroad was completed in 1877. It ran between East Berlin and Berlin Junction, east of New Oxford, and remained in operation until 1940. An effort is underway to build a rail-trail along the abandoned right-of-way, starting at East Berlin.
  • Sitting near the confluence of Conewago Creek and Beaver Creek is the landmark Swigart’s Mill. Built in 1794, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
  • Every year, the East Berlin Lions Club installs beautiful period copper lanterns to celebrate the winter holidays. They were handcrafted by the late master coppersmith James R. Eisenhart whose family has deep roots in East Berlin as wheelwrights, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, and tinsmiths.
  • The East Berlin Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Our borough, one of the oldest municipalities in Adams County, has maintained a healthy, stable economy over the years while retaining much of its early architecture.
  • The Richard J. Gross VFW Post 8896 was chartered in 1947. With over 450 members, and nearly 500 in its Ladies Auxiliary, it is a very active veterans service organization. Come see their restored Navy 3 Inch Deck Gun, M60 Battle Tank, and F14 Tomcat Fighter Jet!
  • Lake Meade, started in 1965, just north of East Berlin, is a large lakeside community whose residents (over 2,500) share our schools, churches, businesses, library, community center and post office.
  • On the east side of town, bordered by Beaver Creek, is the newer single-family subdivision of Beaver Colony, built on former farmland.

The East Berlin Historical Preservation Society owns or maintains several of East Berlin’s historic buildings. From 1975 to 2017, the Society hosted East Berlin’s iconic Colonial Day, an outdoor festival of historic handcrafts, demonstrations and entertainment. They still hold a biennial Christmas House Tour and annual Christmas Craft Sale.

Wheels of Time II, a book that commemorates the first 250 years of East Berlin, was published for our 2014 Founder’s Day celebration. It is available for loan from Jean Barnett Trone Memorial Public Library or for purchase at the East Berlin Borough Hall office.

Borough Office

128 Water St
East Berlin, PA 17316

Borough Office: 717-259-9224

Hours: By Appointment

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