Stepping back in time—and finding new connections

I traveled into the past this morning.

Figuratively, of course.

We are working on a video to be shown during Diakon’s 150th anniversary celebration next year.

The script I wrote includes scenes of the Rev. Philip Willard—essentially the founder of Lutheran Church operation of what would become the Tressler Orphans Home in Loysville, Pennsylvania—coming to the small Perry County hamlet and meeting with the Tressler family. For ease of filming and availability of horse and carriage, those scenes were shot just outside Gettysburg on two other dates.

Today, we were permitted onto the grounds of the former Tressler home, sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the early 1960s for use as a youth development center, to film exteriors of some of the historic buildings.

Entering the property, now surrounded by high metal fence, is a bit like boarding an airplane. All pocket contents had to be deposited in a locker; hence no cellphone to take photos today. Then a step-through of a metal detector (unfortunately, my shoes had buckles so after activating the scanner twice, I had to step through in socks).

Outside the security building, we were met by the regional director for the youth center, who graciously accompanied us through the gate and onto the campus—for security purposes as well, I am sure—so that we could film exteriors of Old Main (which still looks amazingly like the old photos I have of it) and the Children’s Memorial Chapel, the interior of which is amazingly beautiful.

The story told of the chapel is that a dying child gave her last pennies toward its construction, motivating many other givers to fund the tall cedar-shingled structure. Inside, we filmed the stained-glass window of Christ as a child, as well as viewed a few historical artifacts from the home’s past.

Today’s visit was my third or fourth to the campus over the last 30-some years, although the first in which I experienced the extensive security measures.

In fact, my last visit would have been in 1993, when we filmed scenes for Tressler’s 125th anniversary video, using actors. The high metal fence was just then being installed and we had to stop workers that day because their hammering on fence components interfered with our audio. That day was a stark reminder of the changes that had occurred at the former orphanage.

The visit today, however, was like stepping back in time.

Despite the fence, the older portion of the campus is serene and you feel as if your legs are weighed down by the past that seeps from the nearby buildings.

I have no personal connection to the place, beyond two facts: my great-uncle’s father taught there in the late 1800s and I have written extensively about the home over the years. Yet, walking about, I quickly sensed the spirit of the place, imagining what it must have been like to live here so very long ago.

Perhaps the most amazing scene today occurred when we pulled onto campus and I spied an Alpine climbing tower, constructed more than a decade or so ago, the regional director said, just below the children’s chapel. It looks very much like the climbing tower at the Diakon Wilderness Center, which, like the Loysville Youth Development Center, serves adjudicated youths.

Another connection between past and present.

By William Swanger
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

Because we review comments, they do not appear immediately. Please do not submit each comment more than once. Please review our comment policy


  • (Tongue in cheek) Are you sure you didn’t impose the group of one orphanage into the landscape of the other? If not, we sure had the same barber. Hair cut at the chin with bangs, and bowl cuts for the boys.

  • Thanks, Bill…
    for the walk down “Loysville Lane”. It is wonderful to think that 25 years ago we were getting ready for the 125th. Time passes and yet, so much remains the same – Tresslertown is still there, although serving a different purpose, the agency is ready to celebrate and life goes on. Good wishes and God’s continued blessings which many of us have received over the years.

Comments are closed.