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Snow Hill Cloister

Collection Information


This is a collection of photographs related to the Snow Hill Cloister near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. A finding aid to Snow Hill Cloister manuscripts in the Communal Societies Collection is also available.

Background Information

The Snow Hill Cloister (Nunnery) was established in 1829 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on the farm of Andreas Schneeberger (Andrew Snowberger) and housed a celibate brotherhood and sisterhood in a large community house (nunnery). Married members of the congregation were permitted to worship with the celibates, as had been the custom at the more well-known Ephrata Cloister, a communal settlement of German immigrants established in 1732 by Conrad Beissel in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Members of the Snow Hill community continued composing and singing hymns in the Ephrata tradition until 1872, when the society dwindled to eight sisters and eight brothers. The society itself came to an end in 1889, and the last celibate brother at Snow Hill, Obed Snowberger, died in 1895.


The physical property had been maintained by an elected board of trustees; however, despite extreme controversy, the contents of the buildings were sold at auction on August 11, 1997. Publicity for the auction induced keen interest in one of America’s little-known communal societies, and in fewer than nine hours a segment of America’s history was dispersed before a crowd of fifteen hundred. The sale generated a sum of $837,860. A small congregation of five members continued to meet weekly for worship services at the site for a few years into the first decade of the twentieth century. In late 2013, thirteen acres housing the buildings and the cemetery were sold to a private buyer.

Materials Digitized

This collection currently consists of 1120 photographs. The majority of the images in the Snow Hill Collection supported at Hamilton College were taken by Denise Seachrist during the spring and summer of 1991 as she conducted fieldwork for her doctoral degree in musicology-ethnomusicology, which was granted by Kent State University in 1993. Other images in the collection include the Moravian sites in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1992), a Mennonite Hymn Sing at the Mauck Meeting House in Luray, Virginia (1992), the Ephrata Cloister Conference on Music, Fraktur, and Architecture (1995), a performance by the Ephrata Cloister Chorus at Snow Hill (1996), the Snow Hill Display at Renfrew Museum in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania (1996), a baptism at Snow Hill (1996), and the Snow Hill Auction at Horst Auction House (1997).


Snow Hill: In the Shadows of the Ephrata Cloister (The Kent State University Press, 2010) is a first-person account of Denise A. Seachrist’s fieldwork and research conducted at this site. It is a story of people, then and “now,” as well as of place, then and “now”. Seachrist’s approach is primarily ethnographic, in keeping with, and important to, a study of community.


Christian Goodwillie, Director and Curator of Special Collections and Archives
E-mail: cgoodwil (at) hamilton (dot) edu
Telephone: (315) 859-4447

Special Collections
Burke Library
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323

(Reviewed: March 21, 2014)


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