Of Abandoned Waterparks and Brethren in Christ Churches

The former Williams Grove Chapel, which housed a Brethren in Christ congregation in the 1960s and 1970s, stands on the grounds of the now-closed Williams Grove Amusement Park. After the congregation left the site in 1979, the chapel was turned into a laser tag facility. (Courtesy of jimvid)

Anyone who’s spent any sigifnicant amount of time in the Mechanicsburg/Grantham area of central Pennsylvania has heard of Williams Grove Amusement Park. Now closed, the historic park was once a popular spot for local families and thrill-seekers. (I remember going there as a kid!)

The online magazine Environmental Graffiti recently named Williams Grove one of the “10 Creepiest Abandoned Water Parks on Earth.” Here’s what they had to say about the site:

This water park might well have the farthest-reaching history out of those featured here. The predecessor of Williams Grove Amusement Park was actually little more than a bunch of picnics that the Williams family began hosting outside of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Soon, the picnic grove grew into a park and then a fairground, with the first rides appearing in 1928. Hurricane Agnes almost destroyed Williams Grove Amusement Park after it changed hands in 1972, and although it was rebuilt, it finally closed its doors in 2005, having provided decades of fun. Now, it is being reclaimed by nature, of course, and by the looks of things, the slides of its water park will soon be buried under vegetation.

What, you might be wondering, does this have to do with The Search for Piety and Obedience? Well, Williams Grove wasn’t just a place for folks who loved roller coasters; its grounds also held a small chapel, the long-time home of a Brethren in Christ congregation.

Here’s some background info, courtesy of the congregation’s website:

In 1968, Danny Keefer and Avery Heisey, from the Grantham Brethren in Christ Church, became actively involved with ministry at Williams Grove Park. They envisioned winterizing the chapel and expanding an informal Bible study meeting there in the summer to a church conducting services year round. This was accomplished with the help of many persons. Mr. and Mrs. Bob Richwine, then owners of Williams Grove Park and Speedway and the chapel, donated all materials used in finishing the inside of the chapel. Many persons from the community and Grantham BIC contributed much time and talent into completing the task. In October of 1968, Danny and Avery asked Ray Bert, who was a junior at Messiah College, to assume responsibilities of pastor at the chapel. During these early years, the church was basically a church planting of the Grantham Brethren in Christ Church. In 1974, Williams Grove Chapel became a new congregation of the Brethren in Christ denomination. A charter membership of 13 persons was established.

In 1977, the congregation at Williams Grove Chapel decided to relocate and build their own building. There were many reasons for taking this big step. Two of the reasons were named “Agnes” and “Eliose”, hurricanes that flooded the chapel with 32 inches of water in 1972 and 16 inches in 1975, respectively. The chapel was in a flood plane, access was limited, and the heating system was noisy and expensive. Even though the current owners at that time, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Hughes, allowed the congregation free use of the building, the congregation felt it unwise to invest funds for expansion and/or improvements when they owned neither the building nor the ground. God was leading in another direction. With financial assistance from the Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church, the congregation at Williams Grove Chapel began a building fund.

In 1979, two acres of land were purchased from Russell Shillito at our present location. On February 22, 1981, a new 190-seat sanctuary and classrooms were dedicated to the Lord. With the move came a new name, “Cumberland Valley Brethren in Christ Church.” Later that year, Pastor Ray moved from part-time pastor to full-time.

Thus, a former Brethren in Christ church building now occupies space in one of the “ten creepiest abandoned parks in the world!”

You can read more about the former Williams Grove Chapel here.

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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2 Responses to Of Abandoned Waterparks and Brethren in Christ Churches

  1. What an interesting connection. In fact, I know the son of those original owners–the son is a now retired Presbyterian minister with whom I work on presbytery projects.

  2. Beth Mark says:

    I remember helping to clean out the muddy muck in the chapel from the ’72 flood. I don’t blame them for moving after the ’75 flood.

    Danny Keefer also had the vision for planting the Dillsburg BIC church in the 70s. He was a remarkable man.

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