Milton History

a pictorial history of Milton, PA

St. Josephs Catholic Church

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church 109 Broadway

Picture courtesy of the Milton Historical Society

This is what the church looked like shortly after it was rebuilt following the fire of 1880. Go here to see the old church after it burned. It was behind the parsonage in this picture.

From the book “Chronicles and Legends of Milton” by George Venios: This is the church shortly after it was rebuilt in 1883, on the north side of Broadway, just east of the railroad tracks. It was built on the site of the first Milton Academy. Notice that the original steeple was mounted in the center of the roof. It was rebuilt to the east side in the early 1900s. The parsonage is on the left, facing the tracks. The old church, which was burned in the fire, was directly behind the parsonage, facing Walnut Street.

From Bell’s History of Northumberland County 1891: The earliest religions services in the immediate vicinity of Milton of which there is any well authenticated account were held by a minister of the Reformed church on the west bank of the river. They were attended by the families of Andrew Straub and others, who crossed the river in boats. The clergyman was from Carlisle, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. St. Joseph‘s Catholic Church had its origin immediately after the close of the Revolutionary war, and is the oldest parish in the valley of the West Branch. Although its earlyhistory is largely traditional, it is well authenticated that a rude log building was erected for religious purposes and some interments made on the farm of Martin Kieffer by the Catholics of Turbut township as early as 1787, and before the Indian troubles of the frontier had subsided. A missionary priest would occasionally visit the settlement to celebrate Mass, instruct and baptize the children, and preach the word of God to the little congregation, thus keeping alive the spark of Catholic faith in the hearts of these pioneer families. Among the pioneers of this faith at Milton and in the adjoining country districts were the families of Martin Kieffer and sons, John and Martin, Morris Lawrence, Jacob Spring, and the Buoys, Cauls, McGees, O'Donnells, Riffles, Avels, Fillmans, Gibsons, McBrides, McElarneys, Murphys, Schells, Shadmans, Divels, Walters, Wolfingers, Yoegys, and others. The heads of these families were principally natives of Ireland and Germany, who had left the land of their forefathers to escape both religious and political persecution. Many of them died here and were buried in St. Joseph's cemetery, two miles east of Milton.

Four acres of ground for parochial and burial purposes were finally deeded to Rev. Francis Neale of Georgetown, D.C., by John and Margaret Kieffer, May 13, 1805, adjoining the site of the primitive log church in which the congregation first worshiped, and early in the present century a more pretentious log structure replaced the old building. The timbers were cut and prepared on Montour ridge by Jacob Spring, and hauled to their destination by John, Dennis, Peter, and Daniel Caul, Dennis Buoy, and other members of the congregation. The building was in the form of a square, with the entrance on the northwest, the altar opposite, and a gallery over the entrance. In due time it was dedicated, and placed under the patronage of St. Joseph, by Rev. Francis Neale, who also consecrated the cemetery on the same occasion. A brick parochial residence was afterward erected by Rev. John Fitzpatrick, and many years later an orchard was planted in the northern part of the grounds; of the church and residence scarcely a vestige remains, but the orchard is still in a flourishing condition.

Jacob Spring was the most munificent benefactor of St Joseph's church, and his memory should forever be held in grateful remembrance by the Catholics of the West Branch valley. On the 13th of September, 1836, he deeded to Rt. Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick, bishop of Philadelphia, a farm of two hundred twelve acres in Chillisquaque township, the annual income derived therefrom to be devoted to the maintenance of the pastor of St. Joseph's church. About one half of this farm is under cultivation, and to the wise foresight of its generous donor St. Joseph's largely owes its present prosperity. Mr. Spring also requested at his death sufficient means to build a stone wall around the graveyard, which project was afterward carried out.

The priests who first officiated here were from Philadelphia, and the Jesuit Mission of Conewago, Adams county, Pennsylvania. About the year 1820 Harrisburg became a parish, and included this congregation in its field of labors. Subsequently it was attached to Pottsville, and about 1825 Rev. John Fitzpatrick was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Joseph's church. The following is a list of the successive pastors since Father Fitzpatrick: Reverends Father Curtin, Edward Maginniss, Father McGlorian, John C. Flannigan, Father Fitzsimmons (under whose pastorate the first church at Milton was erected in 1844), Father O'Keefe, John Hannigan, Father Kinney, Basil Shorb, Michael Sheridan, George Gostenschnigg (who died while pastor, May 2, 1860), M. Muhlberger, Emil Stenzel, J. J. Koch, Emil Stenzel, M. A. O'Neill, Thomas J. Fleming, Louis Grotemeyer, W. F. McElhenny, and H. G. Ganss, the present incumbent, who became pastor, November 14, 1881.

For more than half a century the congregation continued to hear Mass and have the Gospel preached to them in the successive log churches on the Kieffer farm. But when a new church finally became a necessity it was decided to erect it at Milton, as a more convenient and desirable location. Father Fitzsimmons was then pastor, and in 1844 a site was purchased and a church erected thereon, at the brow of the hill on the north side of Broadway, a short distance northeast of the old Milton Academy. It was a plain brick structure two stories high, costing twelve hundred dollars, and was the place of worship until its destruction by fire, May 14, 1880. A temporary frame building was then erected and occupied until the completion of the present church. On the 1st of March, 1882, Father Ganss bought the property previously known as the old academy hill, lying south and east of the brick parochial residence built by his predecessor, and upon the exact site of the academy he erected the present handsome church at a total expense of about ten thousand dollars. The corner-stone was laid by Bishop, Shanahan, September 3, 1882, and its dedication took place, September 23, 1883, Bishop Shanahan officiating, assisted by Reverends McBride, Koch, McGovern, O'Neill, and Ganss. Father Ganss subsequently laid out the grounds in lawns and terraces, and the property is now one of the handsomest in Milton. All this was accomplished under the most trying difficulties, but with indomitable zeal and perseverance Father Ganss carried the project to a successful completion. The interior of the church is a perfect gem in design and finish, and the whole building is in thorough harmony with the best and most approved ideas of English Gothic architecture. It is conspicuously located on the old academy hill, one of the most historic spots in Milton, and around which cluster many of the tenderest ties and most sacred memories of pioneer days.