Session House

The log cabin on the grounds of Derry Presbyterian Church is the oldest building in this part of Pennsylvania. It was constructed of hand-hewn logs in the year in which George Washington was born – 1732. It is a monument to the devotion and loyalty of pioneer Americans to their church.

In this very building met the first school ever to be held in this part of what was then frontier America. The Presbyterian minister who was the spiritual shepherd of the early settlers called the children of the vicinity together for the school which he held in this, his study. “Reading” was the leading subject, for the sturdy Scots-Irish pioneers considered it essential for all people to know how to read the Bible.

In and out of the door of this cabin, two centuries ago, filed boys who later were to serve in the War for Independence. Here were educated young men who were to become leaders in the guidance of American life when “The United States of America” was formed.

Originally, this Session House was heated by a stone fireplace which was located in the entire west end of the building.

In the years since 1732, the log house has been used for many purposes. Church meetings, Sunday School, and other gatherings were held here at intervals. For a time, the building served as the post office of “Derry Church,” the village which later became “Hershey.” You may see the slot which served as a letter drop. It is in the door on the other side of the house.

The land upon which the Session House and the present church stand was deeded to Derry Presbyterian Congregation by John, Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn and proprietaries of the King of England, in the year 1741.

According to well-founded tradition, Presbyterians first met for worship in this grove in 1724. The earliest written record which has been preserved was made in the year 1729 and records that the Rev. James Anderson was appointed to supply the people on the Swatara every fifth Sabbath. The first Pastor, Rev. William Bertram, was installed in 1732. He is buried in the southwest corner of the cemetery.

The Rev. John Elder was Pastor of Derry Church from 1746 to 1791. He was the famous “Fighting Parson” who was active in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars and a prominent landowner in this area.

The glass enclosure, which protects the Session House, was erected for the church by Mr. M. S. Hershey, chocolate manufacturer and founder of the town of Hershey, in 1929.

The earliest grave in the cemetery is 1735. At least forty Revolutionary War soldiers are buried here.

Contributions toward the restoration of this historic glass house can be made by sending your check to: Derry Presbyterian Church (Session House Restoration Fund), 248 East Derry Road, Hershey, PA 17033

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