The history of Cannon Hill

By on March 20, 2019

There are several historical yet “forgotten” areas all around the county.

One of them is The Furnace Hills, just outside Lititz, and a short distance from Brickerville. Many gorgeous acres of land are spread across this area, and it all makes for a memorable Sunday drive any time of the year.

Although much wildlife inhabit these woods such as deer and an assortment of birds; many decades ago, these forests were also populated with black bear. According to the late Lancaster County historian Herbert H. Beck, the gray fox was also a common critter which could be seen throughout the Furnace Hills many years ago. Local lore also mentions the sighting of buffalo in the region at one time.

Many readers travel Furnace Hills Pike every day, or perhaps they have spent time in their youth nearby attending Camp Furnace Hills or J. Edward Mack Scout Reservation.

“Cannon Hill” is also part of this region, and has a very unique story behind it.

This hill, or mountain, is situated north of the intersection of routes 501 and 322 in Brickerville and can be easily seen from the road or while traveling the turnpike in that area. Heading north towards Scheafferstown, one will no doubt notice a large mountain to the right once Coleman Memorial Chapel is passed. There yonder lies Cannon Hill.

The bottom photo shown here is Herbert H. Beck’s circa 1940 view of Cannon Hill which can be seen on the right. A 2019 view taken of the same landscape from the same location is seen at the top and was taken by the author.

But our tale really begins with the local larger than life character himself, “Baron” Henry William Stiegel. The full history of this storied local ironmaster and schoolteacher who founded Manheim has been told many times, so an in-depth narrative will not be repeated here. We do know that at one part of his life, he operated Elizabeth Furnace Plantation near Brickerville.

At the height of his career, he ordered (demanded?) that a 75-foot high tower be constructed at the top of a hill near what is now Fox Road. This location would become known as Cannon Hill. The tower was positioned on level ground near the southwest top of Cannon Hill. The cannon, with its thunderous roar, would emit a loud sound each and every time Steigel made his was back to the neighborhood. A stone foundation, located at the base, helped support the weight of the heavy cannon. Of course, these were the days before noise pollution, tall buildings, and the sound of cars; and one can only imagine how loud the cannon’s charge was as it echoed and rumbled through the valley, carrying the sound for many miles.

Some records indicate that there was even a “watcher” which was positioned at the very top of the tower. Many historians also mention another hill, aka “Tower Hill” where a similar structure made of wood also greeted Steigel as he entered the town of Scheafferstown. Most likely, the cannon on the Brickerville side was cast locally, and erected about 1768. Situated at the southwest base of Cannon Hill was Stiegel’s Elizabeth Furnace. Originally, Jacob Huber would build this very lucrative operation. Then, during the 1750s, Steigel would marry

Huber’s daughter Elizabeth, and would eventually acquire the operation (along with his business partners) about 1756. By the 1760’s, he prospered greatly, and was able to introduce a store, employee housing, several barns, a grist mill, and bakery, all for his employees.

Located off of Fox Road, this road sign is one of the few subtle reminders left of a cannon which was once situated in that vicinity and used to signal Henry William Steigel’s arrival to the area during the 1700s.

For many years, the stone ruins of many of these structures could be seen while traveling north along Route 501 as you near Elizabeth Furnace. However, as the years go on, less and less evidence can be seen unless you know where to look.

The same is true with Cannon Hill. While the cannon is long gone, a few subtle reminders remain, including a private road located at the top of Fox Road which bears the name of this once “booming” area.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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