In the early 1700s great numbers of Scots-Irish people left their homes in Northern Ireland to emigrate to the American colonies. They were a hardy, persevering breed of people who brought their religious beliefs and love of liberty with them. It was such a group of people who settled in the area around our present church. Early record indicate that they began worshiping here as early as 1724.
Derry Church was officially recognized in 1729. In 1732, the congregation called its first pastor, the Reverend William Bertram. Bertram was born in Scotland and educated at Edinburgh University. He is one of three former pastors buried in our cemetery.
In addition to the church cemetery, the oldest church building still standing is the little Session House, or Pastor’s Study, built in 1732. While not used for worship, the structure was used by the pastor as an office and as a Sunday School classroom. The Session, the ruling body of the church, also held its meetings there.
After Milton Hershey returned to the area in 1903 to build a chocolate factory and establish a new town, the Session House was recognized as the oldest structure in Derry Township. In 1929, to preserve the building, Milton Hershey had it enclosed in a glass structure.
In 1741 John, Thomas and William Penn, sons of William Penn, deeded the land surrounding the Session House and Cemetery to the church. In 1769, Old Derry Meeting House was built. This large, barn-like structure stood on the site of the present Chapel for over one hundred years.
Throughout the 1700s Derry Church was located in Pennsylvania’s frontier. At least 40 men who fought in the American Revolution are buried in Derry’s cemetery. Following the war and the early part of the 19th century, Derry’s congregation began to decline as members moved westward seeking new opportunities.
By the year 1883, Old Derry Church was in a dilapidated state and the congregation had dwindled to a handful of people. The old church was torn down and the official records were stored in the attic of the manse at Paxton Presbyterian Church. A fire on August 24, 1894 partially destroyed the manse and most of the church’s records.
In 1884, a group of people, many of them descendants of the early church members and former pastors, came together to support the construction of the Presbyterian Memorial Church of Hershey (our current Chapel).
Milton Hershey’s decision to build his chocolate factory and a model industrial town, Hershey, had a profound impact on the growth and development of Derry Church. An influx of people, and economic prosperity opened opportunities for Derry to grow as a congregation and in service to the community and broader world.
The John Elder Memorial Chapel, an extension of the 1884 church, was erected in 1935. A second addition, the Christian Education Building was dedicated in November 1951. A new Sanctuary, offices, lounge, board room and classrooms were built in 1965. Additional renovations, enlarging the building and making it more ADA compliant were completed and dedicated January 29, 1995.
Derry Church began with a solid foundation and, over the decades, the people and their leaders have built upon that foundation with their faith, their commitment, their stewardship, and their love of God.Derry Presbyterian Church Cemetery Records Session House