History of Nickel Mines
The Gap nickel mines, located thirteen miles east of Lancaster, PA, in Bart Township, date back to 1718. William Penn saw the mines as a golden opportunity to repay debts and revise his fortunes through the process and sale of mineral resources. Because of this, the soil of the area was periodically being searched and tested for valuable metallic ores. The land at the Gap Mines was purchased by James Steel and divided equally with five other men. Although much prospecting and digging of pits was being done at this time, the first regular and systematic working of the mine was after James Steel purchased additional land in 1730. Even though these six men discovered copper springs, they were apparently unaware of the value of their discovery. Later the mine was worked for copper by several independent companies, but because of insufficient funds to carry on the operation, it was left idle. The mines were repeatedly opened and closed from 1732 to the 1850's.
During the early 1850's, nickel ore was discovered in great quantities in the waste products from the copper mining. Operations began immediately to mine nickel ore. Between 1850 and 1860, approximately 38 million pounds of nickel ore were mined.
During this profitable increase in the production of nickel, the Protestant Episcopal Church was built for use by the mining families. The cornerstone was laid on September 14, 1857, with 500 people present for the ceremony. The Gap Mining Company donated the site for the church, and the building was financed by voluntary contributions. Even though the building was not yet complete, the first service was held on December 25, 1857.
In 1862 Joseph Wharton took a risk and bought the mine. Times were hard as the Civil War raged. There was little use for nickel. Wharton became aware of the many people hoarding their coins for the value of the gold and silver with which they were made. This was causing a coin shortage. With great entrepreneurial spirit, Wharton proposed to the Federal government that a new coin be made - the nickel, worth five cents. Not only was this idea a great success, but Wharton also went on to discover a process to make nickel malleable. Scientists used this information to make stainless steel, batteries, and numerous other inventions. Wharton became a wealthy man. He wanted to see other businessmen realize great success, so he donated large sums of money to found the Wharton School of Business. It is still a prestigious school today, located at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
From 1862 to 1893, the mines continued to support miners and their families as 4.5 million pounds of nickel were extracted. But in 1893, the Gap Nickel Mines were forced to close down. Nickel ore from Canada, which was lower in price, came on the market. A few years later, the Episcopal Church closed. For forty years no services were held there.
In the early 1930's, David High, a worker at Sunnyside Mission, bought the farm adjoining the church. His burden for the spiritual needs of the community stirred him to action. After praying regularly for this need, he and a few others contacted the Mission Board. Paradise Mennonite Church was contacted by the Mission Board and asked to proceed with the work of opening the church as a Mennonite outreach.
The church doors were once again opened on September 29, 1935. It was named Nickel Mines Mennonite Church. 110 people were present at this first meeting, including 30 residents of the immediate community. Services were held every two weeks, and ministers were sent from other district Mennonite churches to conduct services.
The first Sunday school began the following Sunday, October 6, 1935. It was held every Sunday afternoon for two years until services were held in the morning. Many of the children attending Sunday school would walk several miles to get there. Most of those who came had never before gone to church.
Today Nickel Mines Mennonite Church continues to reach out to those in the community through Boys & Girls Clubs, Summer Bible School, and community services. Our desire is to continue the vision of David High and to introduce those around us to the Lord.