In the fall of 1717 three ships docked in Philadelphia carrying about 300 immigrants from the Upper Rhine region of what later became Germany. These 300 were the vanguard of a tidal wave of Germanic immigrants who settled this area during the 18th century.
Among the passengers on those ships in 1717 was a Lutheran minister about fifty years old named Reverend Anthony Jacob Henkel. He, his family and son-in-law Valentine Geiger, as well as other passengers on those three ships were the first known permanent settlers in New Hanover. By the spring of 1718 Henkel along with his wife and seven children were established on 250 acres he bought just west of present Hickory Park.
It was Rev. Henkel who in the fall of 1717 or at least early 1718 here in New Hanover organized the first German Lutheran congregation in Pennsylvania.
Following closely behind on August 20, 1720, on the ship Laurel was a German Reformed schoolmaster from the same region named Johannes Philip Boehm who led German Reformed refugees to settle along the Minister Creek. In 1725 it was Boehm, his neighbor Henry Antes, and other Reformed immigrants who established the first German Reformed Congregation in Pennsylvania just across the creek from the Lutherans.
Both of these historic congregations are thriving today.
During the 19th century, New Hanover’s economy was exclusively agriculture along with associated trades such as blacksmiths, tanneries, and grist mills. The population was almost wholly German and from the same region of the Upper Rhine called the Palatinate. They spoke a Germanic dialect from that region called “Pennsylvania Dutch” with which they carried on most all family, social, and business affairs into the 20th century.
Here, as elsewhere, the 20th century brought overwhelming change. Beginning around 1960, New Hanover’s population soared as housing developments replaced farmers’ crops, and fields were transformed to suburbs. Easy proximity to the burgeoning economies of the Philadelphia region spurred the population to double from 1960 to 1990. The Township continues to grow today as people find in New Hanover the ideal mix of proximity to urban centers while living in a peaceful country setting.