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Cabbage Hill


Cabbage Hill was the neighborhood of German immigrants in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was settled after the 1840's by people who left Europe for religious and economic reasons. First known derisively as Sauerkraut Hill, the name was later softened to Cabbage Hill. It referred to the neighborhood vegetable gardens with row on row of cabbage to be pickled into sauerkraut in wooden kegs and served as a staple in the German diet.

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 Cabbage Hill is actually a series of hills, with steep and sometimes narrow streets that run at southwest angles to the rest of the city. The Hill extends from the area of the present Manor Shopping Center to Water Street and includes Saint Joseph Street and Fairview Avenue, formerly Love Lane.

Some of the land, which is located directly southwest of downtown Lancaster, was originally owned by a well-to-do Quaker family named Bethel, and even as late as 1840, most of the area was still open fields. But immigrant Germans, attracted by the location of Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church, then the only Catholic parish in the city, had begun to settle there. By 1849, with increased immigration, the area population rose to about 25 families.

Immigration from Germany to Lancaster continued from mid-19th century into the first decades of the 20th, with most newcomers making their homes on the Hill. Some were evading military service, others came through a sense of adventure. But most arrived in the wake of earlier relatives who wrote of opportunity and work. The earliest came from places in western Germany, including Baden, Wurtemburg, and the Palatinate. Later arrivals emigrated from Lower Bavaria.

Saint Joseph Parish

In 1850, a group of German families petitioned the Diocese of Philadelphia to establish of a German-speaking parish. Saint Joseph parish was established, and by 1850 construction of a church was begun at the crown of the hill at what is now Saint Joseph Street, almost within calling distance of old Saint Mary's. The new church eventually became a worship and recreation center for the succeeding generations. From that day on, Saint Joseph's was known locally as the German church, while Saint Mary's became the "Irish" church.

The history of Saint Joseph parish is intertwined with the history of the Hill. By 1882 the parish numbered about 1,200 members in more than 300 families, and maintained a school in which 320 pupils spoke both German and English. The original church was constructed in 1850 on a lot purchased for $260. The growing congregation soon outgrew the building even after several additions had been made.

In 1884, construction was begun on a new church at the Hill site and a novel approach was used to make use of the old structure. The new building (the present church) was constructed surrounding the old church. When the new building was under roof, the basement was furnished for services, and the old church was taken from inside the protective shell of the new one. The parishioners had built a new church on the old site without depriving themselves of a house of worship for even one Sunday.

The German community in Lancaster had burst the bonds of Cabbage Hill by 1871, with many later arrivals settling in the eastern part of the city and traveling a long distance to Saint Joseph's. In that year Saint Anthony parish was established for the German-speaking residents of the eastern part of the city.

The Rev. Henry Christ came to Saint Joseph's as pastor in 1899, and served 40 years until his death. He was often referred to as "mayor of Cabbage Hill," and many a family dispute, neighborhood spat, and mischief case which would ordinarily have ended up in the courts ended up, instead, over his desk in the rectory. Monsignor Joseph Schweich performed the same function on Cabbage Hill from Father Christ's death in 1939 until his own passing in 1961.

While the Hill's population was predominantly Catholic, there was also a group of German Lutherans, many attending Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church, a German-speaking congregation formed in 1874 with 17 families at Duke, German (now Pershing Avenue) and Church Streets. This church counted more than 300 members at its peak in 1883.

The houses in thıs section of town were scattered, but by 1886 about 60 percent of the building lots had been occupied. By 1930 the entire area was built up and beginning to spill over to the southwest. Typical of houses built in the period 1890-1900, they cost between $2,000 and $3,000 and were either single, two family, or row structures, two stories in height. One-third of the houses were wood frame and two-thirds were brick.

The brewery was also a part of the local German communıty. Lancaster had several breweries before the repeal of prohibition, and one of the largest was the Reiker Star Brewing Company, located at First and Old Dorwart Streets, convenient to all of Cabbage Hill. Reiker's stood on the site now occupied by Crystal Park. It turned out 50,000 barrels of beer a year, much of it finding its way into the Hill homes via the "growler" (a small tin container) which was taken home to tap.

In 1901, young Christian Kunzler arrived from Germany, sank his entire fortune into a defunct butcher shop and using secret family recipes, created a successful neighborhood butcher with markets extending beyond Cabbage Hill. Kunzler helped to preserve the tradition of German food, and also brought German butchers to Lancaster to work in his factory.

Most people worked either in the Conestoga Cotton mills or the tobacco company, both across the street from the Liederkranz Society at the edge of Cabbage Hill on Prince Street.  (The Liederkranz scheduled  activities to coincide with paydays.) Others worked at the many cigar makers or at the Armstrong plant. The cotton mill, established in the 1840's and the biggest employer in Lancaster, made Cabbage Hill a veritable company town, with entire families working as weavers, spinners, dyers, and spoolers, going home covered white with lint from the looms. Many worked in breweries, or as teamsters, butchers, and artisans practicing trades brought from the old country. In some families children worked at home, stripping tobacco or pressing snaps for clothes on cards.

Copyright © 2014

Sources:
Numerous sources
Article, Lancaster New Era, 1979