Ephrata, PA is largest borough in Lancaster in terms of population. The beautiful countryside meets a historic downtown to create a unique blend of rural land and old town feel. It is 38 miles southeast of Harrisburg. The borough is historically significant for a number of reasons and is a great stop for any history buffs traveling through the area. Its history is largely religious and it remains an interesting area of diversity and integration of several cultures and religious beliefs.
Ephrata’s history is due, in part, to it being a site of great religious importance to The Mystic Order of the Solitary, an order of the Seventh-Day-Dunkers. These worshipers believed that the seventh day was the truth sabbath and developed many practices that are interesting to people to this day. The settlement became known as the Ephrata Cloister.
In 1732, Johann Conrad Beissel founded the community which was structured as a celibate order of both men and women who lived and worked together following strict religious practices. There were some married couples who also cooperated with the sect, helping them to be sustainable.
Life in the cloister was simple: members were nearly entirely vegetarian, eating meat only during the celebration of communion when lamb was consumed, and members slept on wooden benches, waking during the night to watch for the coming of Christ. They dressed simply in robes and most often went barefoot. The cloister was positive and interested in cooperation with their neighbors and preserving the environment. Part of the way they worshiped was through assisting others to live more pure lives.
Education was a part of the community and they became known for their charity work educating children. Perhaps most notably, the second prior of the community, Peter Miller, was commissioned by Congress to translate the Declaration of Independence into seven languages. The order was also famous for writing and publishing hymns which included harmonies in four voices. Visiting the cloister and learning about its history is one of several activities for visitors to Ephrata. In 1814, the sect was absorbed by the German Seventh Day Baptist Church. At it’s height, the cloister was comprised of about 300 individuals and contained a water powered mill, orchard, and medieval german style structures many of which still stand.
The area was also historically known as a pleasure resort because of the spring waters there. Today, the Mountain Springs Hampton Inn and Suites stands at the site.
Ephrata is the home of the Green Dragon Farmer’s Market, a large market with a variety of wares from candy to food to quilts, all of the items you would expect to find in Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch country. In Ephrata, one can also find the Ten Thousand Villages Home Decor, Cafe and Oriental Rugs. This is a non profit marketplace of hand crafted goods by artisans from over 35 Third World Countries. Ten Thousand Villages takes pride in letting visitors know all of the craftspeople were paid fair wages for their creations. You can shop and make a difference simultaneously.