History of Lower Swatara Township
Around 1630, even before the early settlers, Pennsylvania’s forests cover stood at 90% over 45,000 square miles of untouched forests.
In 1681, King Charles II of England granted land in the new world to William Penn, in lieu of a debt he had owed Penn’s father, a British Admiral. Penn called this new land, “Sylvania” (meaning woods or forest in Latin), which later became known as “Penns Woods” or Pennsylvania.
In this new territory, the Susquehannock Nation lived in areas adjacent to the Susquehanna River. Today, the Indian heritage of this area survives only in the names of towns, creeks, and rivers. The Susquehannocks, who spoke Iroquoian, established a network of pathways all through this land. They taught the early settlers of local remedies, native foods, and farming methods. Sadly, these early Indians left no written history.
As early as 1682, there were three counties named: Bucks, Philadelphia, and Chester. On May 10, 1729, Lancaster County was established and later on March 4, 1785, Dauphin County was created from parts of Lancaster County. This new county was named for the “Dauphin” which was the title of nobility given to the oldest sons of the Kings of France. Harrisburg, became the county seat and was named for its founder, John Harris.
In the early to mid-1700’s, the first Irish and Scottish settlers were erecting their log homes on the banks of the Susquehanna River and Swatara Creek, James Burd, who was born at Ormiston, Near Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1726 came to settle in Philadelphia in 1747. He married Sarah Shippen. In 1765, after participating in the French and Indian War, Colonel Burd resigned his military duties and sought land to build a home for his ever-increasing family. He chose ground two miles from Middletown, along the Susquehanna River in what is now known as Lower Swatara Township. He bought 500 acres in 1766 and began construction of a fine stone house, which he named, “Tinian”.
On June 10, 1774, a group of approximately one hundred and ninety-six men, in and around what is now Lower Swatara Township, met at Tinian and drew up a document voicing their grievances against King George and the British Parliament, in what is known as the “Middletown Resolves”. This would have been considered treason and therefore each and every one of these men put their lives on the line for self -rule, two years before the Declaration of Independence was written. In fact, it is believed that Thomas Jefferson asked for a copy of the Resolves and other documents from small towns in Pennsylvania and surrounding territories before finalizing the Declaration of Independence.
The early Presbyterian settlers were followed by German settlers from the Palatinate. The land that is now Lower Swatara Township was then part of the township of Peshtank or Paxtang. The word “Peshtank” means, “place where water stands”, since Lower Swatara Township is bordered by the Susquehanna River on the south and the Swatara Creek to the east.
The township name of “Swatara” is thought to be from an Iroquois word meaning “Where we fed on eels.” The Susquehanna River was full of eels at one time.
In 1812, the state’s capital was moved from Lancaster to Harrisburg.
In 1840, Lower Swatara Township was formed by an act of the Assembly passed March 14, 1840 which directed:
That part of Swatara township, in the country of Dauphin, south of a straight line forthwith to be run by the Supervisors of said township, commencing at the west end of the bridge over Swatara creek at Nissley’s Mill; thence to the residence of Daniel Smith; these to Christian Roops; thence to Samuel Neidigs; thence to the river Susquehanna t the line dividing the farms of Christion Mumma of John Heagy; and thence immediately by the lower end of Shreiners Island to the York county line, shall hereafter form separate election district and township to be called “Lower Swatara”.
On June 13, 1840, by Act of the Assembly, the boundary changed to read:
“That part of Lower Swatara Township in the county of Dauphin, north of straight lines to be run by the supervisors of the township of Swatara and Lower Swatara, commencing at the residence of Daniel Smith; thence to Peter Roops; thence to Christian Goods, fulling mill; and thence to the residence of Samuel Neidigs, shall hereafter form apart of Swatara Township and that so much of the resolution passed March 18, 1840, as is hereby altered is repealed.”
Hence the bounds of Lower Swatara Township were fixed in 1840 as on the east by Derry and Londonderry Townships, from which it is separated by Swatara Creek; on the south by the Susquehanna River to the York County line and on the west and north by the township known as Swatara.
Lower Swatara Township’s citizens have served their country well. First by daring to draw up “The Resolves” and later by participating in every major conflict dealing with internal or foreign affairs of the United States of America. Men and women from the township fought or assisted in the American Revolution (1775-1783); the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794), the Indian Wars and War of 1812 (1812-1815), the Mexican War (1846-1848), and the Civil War (1861-1865). They served in the Spanish American War of 1898; in a second Mexican War (1916-1917), in World War I (1917-1918) and World War II (1941-1945); the Korean (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1965-1973) conflicts; the Gulf War (1990-1991); as well as the continuing conflicts in Iran, Bosnia, Haiti, Serbia, and the Sudan.
Residents have endured famines, illness, fires, floods, and ice storms and have still grown and prospered.
On land where Indians once lived, forests grew, and soldiers prepared for numerous wars, businesses, small and large, have sprung up. Huge tracts of farmland has given way to industries and large hubs to deliver goods and services. Penn State University and Harrisburg International Airport has brought more jobs and prosperity to the area.
As of the 2010 Census, there are approximately 472 businesses and over 8,200 people living in Lower Swatara Township. The landscape still provides for an easy walk or short drive to rolling land, recreational areas, and parks to be enjoyed by the residents, along with churches, schools, community organizations, and other public services.
A Journey Through Time, History of Chamber Hill, by Ronald V. Dinnini, Mary I. Dinnini, Ethel L. Seibert.
The Early Days of “Penns Woods”, local history archives, Monroe County Historical Association.
History of Highspire, www.highspire.org
The Heritage of Lancaster by John Ward Wilson. Loose Windsor Publications, Incl. Woodland Hills, CA.
History of Dauphin County, PA. Luther Kelker, Chapter III, Lewis Publishing Co, 1907.
Wikipedia – Lower Swatara Township, PA and US wars/conflicts.