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  • Ephrata Cloister

    Virtual Tour

Click on the links below to learn more about the Ephrata Cloister.


1. Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is the place to begin your exploration of Ephrata Cloister. View the introductory exhibit and video, purchase tickets, and learn about special events. In this modern building you will also find restrooms, a water fountain, and help with information about the Lancaster County region.

2. Conrad Beissel's House

Conrad Beissel’s House could be among several of the surviving buildings at the site. Between his arrival here in 1732 and his death in 1768 he moved about six times. In the late 1740s the Brotherhood built Conrad Beissel a home located between Bethania (Brothers’ House) and Saron (Sisters’ House). Here he could study and write in private, hold gatherings, and welcome guests.

3. Saron

Saron, the Sisters’ House, was constructed in 1743 for Householder couples who left their homes to live as celibate Brothers and Sisters. It was a brief experiment and when the husbands and wives returned to their farms, the building was remodeled to accommodate the Sisterhood who called themselves the Roses of Sharon. Each of the building’s three main floors contains a kitchen, a room for eating, two common workrooms, and about 12 sleeping chambers, one chamber for each sister. For nearly 15 years Mother Maria Eicher directed the Sisters’ daily duties and maintained their independence from the Brotherhood. After the death of the last Sister in 1813, the building was divided into apartments and rented to church members.

4. Saal

The Saal, the Meetinghouse, is a Fachwerk or half-timbered building constructed in 1741 as a worship hall for Householders. When the Sisterhood moved into the adjoining building, they took control of this Meetinghouse. Here, Sisters worshiped each midnight while the Brothers gathered in their own Saal. The entire congregation used the Meetinghouse on Mount Zion for Saturday worship. The services in each of the Meetinghouses included scripture reading, lessons, and music. Special fellowship gatherings, called Love Feasts, celebrated the coming of Christ with feet washing, a meal, and the Eucharist with bread and wine. As the Solitary population shrank in the 1770s, the Householders took a more active part in daily work. They probably added the stone kitchen to the rear of the building as a place to prepare their Love Feast meals.

5. Weaver's House

A Weaver’s House contained work for all members of the Ephrata community. Flax, source of linen, was planted by the Brothers, and everyone helped to harvest and clean the fiber. Both Brothers and Sisters spun linen thread, while the weaving of cloth was a male occupation. Seamstresses and tailors among the community sewed the white monastic robes.

6. The Academy

The Academy was opened by the Householders in 1837 as a private school for their children and others from the area. The tradition of teaching school at Ephrata dates back to the mid-1700s when Brother Obed (Ludwig Höcker) conducted lessons for neighborhood children. Most of the teaching focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic. At first, the Academy was a subscription school where students paid for each subject they studied to support the teacher’s salary. In the early 1840s, the enterprising teacher, Joseph Wiggins, also offered chemistry, measuring, surveying, and astronomy. In the mid-1800s, the building became a public school serving several generations of students until it closed in 1926.

7. God's Acre

God’s Acre is the burial ground for Conrad Beissel, other Solitary members, and Householders, although not every grave retains its marker. The earliest marked grave is 1767 and the last burial took place here in 1961, after which the graveyard has not been used. The surrounding stone wall is a 1950s reconstruction of the original.

8. Bake House

The Bake House and kitchen was likely a busy place when in operation. In 18th-century Ephrata, each person ate about a pound of bread a day, and loaves of bread weighed about four pounds each. After mixing the ingredients in large wooden boxes, dough was left to rise for several hours, then divided into loaves and set to rise in rye straw baskets. Meanwhile, a fire burned inside the dome shaped oven, heating the brick. When the oven temperature was correct, the coal and ash from the fire were scraped out, and the bread placed inside using long handled peels. Brother Amos (Jan Mayle) served as the community’s baker for many years, and visitors reported that he made a delicious bread.
Above the bakery is an area that served several purposes during the 18th-century. It may have been a work space or even a storage area. It could have also been a place to distribute food or clothing to individuals in need of charity. Among those cared for by the community, were several widows such as Christina Hohn, who moved into the community after the death of her husband. Other non-celibate residents of the site included poor individuals, and, for brief periods, newly arrived Householders who had not yet established their own homes. By the late 1790s, this area may have been used as a residence by the few remaining Solitary.

9. Saron Bake House

The Saron Bake Oven was constructed in the early 1820s, likely to serve the needs of the few residents renting space in Saron during the later years of the community.

10. Physician's House

The Physician’s House probably contained a cupboard holding a few books and homemade herbal remedies, along with a bed for the comfort of the sick. Brother Gideon (Christian Eckstein) and later Samuel Eckerlin both called themselves “practitioners in physic,” or doctors. Their training was minimal, and their cures may or may not have helped those in distress. Visitors to the community in the 18th-century said the members were thin and pale, but also seemed healthy. Like most early settlers in America, the residents of the Cloister had poor sanitation and did not bathe often. Many more necessaries or outhouses would have stood throughout the community.

11. The Small Bake House

The Small Bake House undoubtedly served as a place for seasonal chores such as candle making, soap making, besides the regular routine of laundry.

12. Archaeology Site

Archaeology conducted in the 1990s offers only clues to a large structure located at this site between the mid-1730s and about 1800. Previously unknown, the building was built on posts sunk into the ground. One possible interpretation of the finding suggests this was the site of Kedar, the first communal dormitory built at Ephrata Cloister in 1735. Kedar originally housed both Brothers and Sisters. Between 1737 and 1741, a Prayer House was connected to Kedar. By 1746, the building became a residence for widows and widowers.

13. Bethania, the Brothers'House

Bethania, the Brothers’ House, was built in 1746 and stood until 1908. The impressive four story building had kitchens, eating areas, work rooms, and sleeping chambers much like the Saron (Sisters’ House). Archaeological evidence also suggests that the Brotherhood printing operation was carried on inside Bethania. After finishing its construction, the Brotherhood found they had gathered enough materials to construct an adjoining Saal (Meetinghouse), which was demolished about 1855. The front door of this Saal faced the Cocalico Creek. A small structure, perhaps a workshop, stood between the Saal and the creek.

14. The Printing Office

The Printing Office of the Brotherhood was first established in the buildings on Mount Zion, then moved to Bethania (Brothers’ House) next door, but may have looked similar to the exhibit in this building. The west end of this structure, built about 1735, is among the oldest structures on the site. About 1810 an addition to the east offered Householder Able Witwer more space and light to operate a clock making shop.

15. The Cocalico Creek and the Spring

The Cocalico Creek and the Spring offered a constant source of cool fresh water, attracting animals and people alike. A number of Native American tools found at Ephrata suggest this land was a prime hunting spot for the first human inhabitants of the region. When Conrad Beissel arrived in 1732, he chose to live near the spring. Anna and Maria Eicher, the first Sisters, lived in a small house across the creek on land later owned by their father, Householder Daniel Eicher. New members were received into the community with the rite of baptism, performed in the creek. About a mile downstream the Brotherhood ran a water-powered saw mill, grain mill, paper mill, fulling mill, and oil mill. Eventually, the Brothers also built a second paper mill about 500 yards upstream from this spot.

16. The Carpenter's House

The Carpenter’s House is typical of the earliest homes in Ephrata and may be one of the oldest surviving structures on the site. Conrad Beissel originally sought to lead the life of a hermit in a cabin similar to this one. Even after the large dormitories were constructed for the Brothers and Sisters, some Solitary members chose to live by themselves, or in smaller groups, outside the communal houses. Members of the Brotherhood, such as Brother Sealthiel (Sigmund Landert) and Brother Kenan (Jacob Funk), were skilled carpenters who not only built structures but produced furniture for the community’s use.

17. The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater was constructed in the 1970s for outdoor drama and is used today for special programs and wedding rentals.

18. The Maintenance Barn

The Maintenance Barn was constructed in the 1960s to provide work space for the site staff. (Not open to the public).

19. Mount Zion Buildings

The Mount Zion Buildings were constructed by the Brotherhood between 1738 and 1745 and included both a dormitory and a Saal (Meetinghouse). The Brothers lived here only until 1745, when they moved back to the building called Kedar for a year until a new Brothers’ House was built near the creek. The buildings on Mount Zion then served as a refuge for the poor and widows, and a Meetinghouse for the entire Ephrata community. In 1764, a group of dissenting Brothers who had left Ephrata 20 years earlier and returned and took up residence in some of the buildings on Mount Zion, leading to tensions within the community during the latter part of the 18th-century. During the Revolutionary War, some of the Mount Zion buildings served as a hospital for American soldiers. Research is continuing to investigate the structures and people who once lived on Mount Zion.

20. Workshop

The Workshop once stood several miles away and was moved to the historic site in the early 1940s. Its architecture is similar to other buildings constructed by the Pennsylvania Germans in the region. The building is used for special programs and exhibits.

21. Stable

The Stable is a reconstruction of the original building which once stood on this site. Tax records from the mid-18th-century also indicate the community owned one or two horses and a few cattle. Agriculture was an important activity of the Brotherhood, who grew much of the community’s food supply.

22. Shady Nook Farm

Shady Nook Farm was located in the surviving historic area of the Ephrata Cloister and was home to some of the last members of the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church at Ephrata. The farm house stood next to the present Visitor Center.
The Barn, which once housed animals and equipment, is now The Museum Store at Ephrata Cloister. Inside you will find a selection of books, postcards, hand crafted gifts, and other items reflecting the heritage of the Cloister and the area.

23. Mount Zion Cemetery

The Mount Zion Cemetery contains the graves of several early members of the Ephrata community. A large monument marks the traditional location of the mass grave of Revolutionary War soldiers who died in the temporary hospital established at Ephrata during the winter of 1777-1778. When the monument was dedicated in 1902, legend said that hundreds of soldiers died at the Cloister. Official records, however, can only account for about 60 men who did not survive the winter. The land beyond the rail fence adjacent to the cemetery was called Fairview Farm in the late 1880s. The farmhouse, home of some of the last members of the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church at Ephrata, stood just beyond the fence.

Ephrata Cloister

Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission:
Tom Wolf, Governor – Nancy Moses, Chair – Andrea Lowery, Executive Director

Ephrata Cloister is one of 26 historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trail of History. For more information or to request a free 24-page visitor guide, visit www.phmc.pa.gov or phone toll free 1-866-PATRAIL.

The Ephrata Cloister Associates is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, supporting the mission of preservation and education at this National Historic Landmark.