The History of Rehoboth Welsh Chapel

The earliest European settlers in the York County area of Pennsylvania arrived around 1734 and were of Scots-Irish origin. Rich deposits of slate also attracted early Welsh settlers.

Slate deposits were discovered in the 1730's. John J. Roberts was a slate prospector from Wales. It was through his funding that the West Bangor Quarry started operations. Once the word was out about the discovery of slate, Welsh people began migrating to the Delta area and settling in a town they called West Bangor, after the well-known city in North Wales. Families began arriving in 1832 to set up basic slate mining operations. The first Peach Bottom quarry opened in 1835. Many laborers came to Delta in the 1840's, including John J. Humphreys, a successful plant operator and slate producer. With John J. Roberts financial backing and John Humphreys' experience, West Bangor became a leading industrial town and trading center along the Susquehanna River, second only to Peach Bottom (Delta).

Although the Welsh found more opportunities for a better life in York County, they still longed for the language of their homeland. This prompted the community of West Bangor to form their own church in which they could worship in their language. Early church records indicate that Welsh religious services were conducted as early as 1845. Since there were no buildings available for their meetings, services were in the homes of quarrymen in Stonetown, a small settlement near Slateville Presbyterian Church. (There are no remains of Stonetown today, other than a few relics preserved by local townspeople.)

A small, narrow building was soon erected and was known as "Capel Main" (Narrow Chapel), the first Welsh chapel in West Bangor.

In 1852, the Calvinistic Methodists of "Capel Main" separated from the Congregationalists (Annibynwyr) because of a difference of doctrine and worshipped with the Slateville Presbyterian Church. Two years later, the Calvinistic Methodists established their own church with services conducted entirely in Welsh.

With a congregation of 84 members (and growing), the group of believers set out to build a chapel of their own. In the earliest church records, the following is found:

"Resolutions of the church committee: the gable end of the church to face the road and the pulpit at the other end away from the road, that is if space allows it. Its measurements: 54 ft. by 30 ft., height to the ceiling - 16 ft.; eight windows, each 7 ft. high. The building to be built of bricks unless the cost will be greater than 100 dollars more than of wood. It is to be painted whichever material will be used. Its floors to rise gradually from the pulpit end - in the cheapest possible way." July 10, 1854.

The chapel, built to these specifications, was named REHOBOTH. (This name comes from the Biblical book of Genesis, where it refers to a place of peace in the Promised Land.)

Thirty-six years later, a larger and more modern brick church was built on the corner of Hill Road and Main Street in Delta. The land was acquired from Major Thomas S. Williamson in 1890. The building was modelled after the smaller chapel in West Bangor, with its best features preserved.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on August 18, 1891 amid much celebration. The event was noted in a newspaper article:

"On Tuesday afternoon, August 18th, the cornerstone of the new Rehoboth (Welsh) Presbyterian church on East Main Street, extended, was laid with impressive ceremonies. In the stone was placed by Mr. John Humphreys, a deacon in the church, the following articles: a Bible, Hymnbook, the 3 Catechisms of the Church, Confessions of Faith, History of Rehoboth church, and a copy of the Cambrian, Delta Herald, Delta times."

The next twenty-five years were prosperous not only for Rehoboth, but the community as well. The quarry was operating at full capacity employing hundreds of laborers. In 1850, the London Crystal Exhibition chose Peach Bottom slate as "the best in the world."

Rehoboth's highest attendance was reached in 1913 with 193 congregational members. This was achieved under the leadership of Reverend W. C. Rowlands, a full-time minister from 1905 to 1916. At the time when all children were attending schools taught in English, Rehoboth clung to their own language by teaching Sunday School in Welsh and English. Pupils memorized verses in both languages. It was through Sunday School that the children of Welsh families were exposed to their heritage and language.

After 1916, slate production began to subside. Because of the unstable conditions of the world-wide slate industry, families began to leave the area for better jobs. Church memberships declined and congregations began to consolidate. Bethesda Congregational Church (Annibynwyr) disbanded in 1916 and joined with Rehoboth. The building was sold to Federal authorities and was used as the site of the Delta Post Office for many years.

Rehoboth celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1929. Through donations of local families, the building was modernized, the interior re-decorated and the outside grounds were improved. During the celebration, the oil painting of "Christ at Gesthemane" was presented to the church.

All through their association with the Presbyterian Church, Rehoboth and other Welsh congregations were granted special privileges to continue services in their own language. A Welsh Presbytery was formed by churches in Philadelphia, Bangor, Slatington, Wind Gap and Delta. In 1973 Rehoboth reached an agreement with the presbytery to become an independent Welsh chapel.

The Rev. Richard Price Baskwill of Lutherville, Maryland became the Pastor of Rehoboth in 1982.

In the early part of 1993, just prior to a St. David's Day service, a furnace malfunction left the inside of the chapel coated with soot and dust. The congregation decided to invest the church's funds into restoring the interior to the appearance, as it was, in the late 1920's. With the generous help of many friends, a Moeller pipe organ was also installed in the church sanctuary in 1996.

In 1995, Rehoboth distinguished itself by sponsoring the 64th Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu, held in Harrisburg, PA.

Through the faithfulness and generosity of its friends and members, Rehoboth continues the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Welsh people in America.