History of the Organization

Early Mennonite Life History

One of the early advocates for a Mennonite historical society in Lancaster County was pastor and farmer Ira D. Landis. According to his children, Landis saved all kinds of Mennonite church documents in drawers and cabinets at home. When Christian E. Charles, a deacon at Landisville Mennonite Church, donated his large theological library to Lancaster Mennonite Conference, Landis became secretary of the committee to find a permanent home for the collection and create an archive for additional historical materials.

The first meeting of this new historical society was in May 1958. In the same year, Lancaster Mennonite Conference founded the Mennonite Information Center as an outreach to tourists visiting Lancaster County. In 1964, the two organizations began sharing space in a new building at Lincoln Highway and Millstream Road. According to historical society accounts, Landis and Charles moved the theological library from storage in Salunga to the new library in Lancaster by pickup truck, with Landis driving and Charles holding onto box lids in the back!

In 1969, the organization purchased the 1719 Hans Herr House in Willow Street. Archaeological excavation and restoration began in 1971, and the house joined the National Register of Historic Places. It opened to the public as a museum in 1974. In 1975, Mennonite Information Center moved into its own building beside the Historical Society.

The following year, Landis shifted from being a full-time volunteer director of the historical society to become its historian-genealogist, and Carolyn (Charles) Wenger became the organization’s first paid director, a role she held until 2001. Landis passed away in 1977. Wenger passed away in 2020 after 40-plus years of serving the organization in a variety of key roles. Under her leadership, the organization grew to become the largest and most active Mennonite historical society in the world.

As a membership organization that is fully open to public participation, the organization’s members, staff, and large pool of dedicated volunteers have enabled it to impact communities locally and around the world. Thank you!

During 2018 the Mennonite Information Center became part of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. Along with the 1719 Herr House & Museum, these three service centers now operated under the umbrella name of Mennonite Life. Mennonite Information Center is now the Visitors Center, and the 1719 Herr House & Museum is the 1719 Museum.

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