The Big Tent and the Goschenhoppen Region

Presented by Bob Gerhart


Long before Ringling Brothers or the Barnum and Baileys made the “Big Top” an attraction, residents of the Goschenhoppen region in 1857 contributed to the development of a spectacular tent with room for 3,000 persons. The story of this huge canvas structure known as the Union Tabernacle or “the traveling church,” will be told by Robert Gerhart at the February meeting of the Goschenhoppen Historians.

The story of “the big tent” and its impact on eastern Pennsylvania in the troubled years just prior to the Civil War, is also the story of Jonas Yeakel Schultz, a young man born in 1829 at Clayton in Hereford Township. An unusual man of his time, trained in medicine by Dr. Hahnemann, Jonas Schultz’s story will take us from Hazelton to Hosensack, and Philadelphia to Quakertown. Born into a Schwenkfelder family, Schultz became a traveling preacher, licensed by Lutherans in Reading, a co-laborer with a Presbyterian from Norristown, serving with Mennonites, ministering to Quakers and helping the original YMCA during the days of America’s Second Great Awakening.

Bob Gerhart's illustrated program on the Big Tent is based on a rare 1859 book, long out of print, that describes the first years of the big tent’s events. During that first year of 1858, 105 clergymen from twenty different denominations preached under its soaring canvas in nearly 500 meetings. One of those preachers, Rev. J. H. A. Bomberger, eleven years later founded and became first President of Ursinus College.

Obtaining a copy of the book, “The Union Tabernacle,” Rev. Bob Gerhart realized he had grown up within a mile of Jonas Schultz’s birthplace, and Schultz’s life and ministry had had a direct impact and continuing influence more than a century later on the communities of both Bally and Quakertown where Bob has served as Pastor of Mennonite Churches. Researching the life and times of the Big Tent has expanded his understanding of the changes taking place in our region in 1858, the year that Buchanan was elected President of the United States and Douglas was debating Abraham Lincoln.

You are invited to the Big Tent’s return to the Goschenhoppen region after 159 years. The meeting will be held Thursday evening, February 16 at 7:30 pm. at Red Men’s Hall, the Historian’s headquarters located at 116 Gravel Pike (Route 29) in Green Lane. As always, the program is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served during an informal get-together at the close of the meeting. More information at 215-234-4119.  

Below is a rendering of what the Tent may have looked like:

Big Tent

© 2017 Goschenhoppen Historians, Inc.
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