A look back in history The Importance of the historic Keim Homestead in American Folklife Institute’s early years

Shown here is the Keim barn when its forebay was repainted by the Society in the early 70s in anticipation for their Colonial Cherry Fair.
Shown here is the Keim barn when its forebay was repainted by the Society in the early 70s in anticipation for their Colonial Cherry Fair.
The motif of four flat hearts joined together to make two tulip silhouettes (another popular PA Dutch motif) became the symbol of the American Folklife Society/Institute.
The motif of four flat hearts joined together to make two tulip silhouettes (another popular PA Dutch motif) became the symbol of the American Folklife Society/Institute.

When the American Folklife Society in the 1970s was allowed to preserve the historic Jacob Keim farmstead outside of Lobachsville for a museum in the Society’s early days, they very much appreciated Rudy Rhoads’ wisdom and cooperation with Pike Township, as Director Shaner recalled. Rudy Rhoads was from above Pikeville and operated a successful orchard huckstering to the people who lived in the village of Oley and Pike Township. He was just as popular at selling his orchard goods as Will Shade (bailer twine mats) mentioned in last month’s column. At that time in the 70s when our local countryside was becoming suburbanized, Rhoads understood the Society’s goal of preserving American heritage and the rural environment, as one. His wisdom as a PA Dutch farmer had won him a seat on the Pike Township supervisors’ board, where his goals also meant protected our local Dutch heritage and the local environment.

The meeting place was the historic 1753 Keim farmstead and looked very much the same as when frugal Betsy Keim lived there at the turn of early 1900s, eating a bag of candy on the back porch, with the virgin Keim woods as her background view. Most of all, Shaner and company owed the Keimstead’s owners at the time: Mr. and Mrs. Dick Boyer a debt of gratitude for allowing American Folklife to re¬store and preserve this PA Dutch homestead in the 1970s. It was the inclination of Dutch folkways and folklife that had perpetuated the historic Keim buildings to remain in original shape over these many years.

Beginning to set the scene, early American village trade fairs among the PA Dutch were a common occurrence in the springtime when craftsmen after the long winter months wished to market their trade items locally instead of sending them to the distant Philadelphia urban market. Additionally, butchers with smoked meats and housewives with fresh butter saw an opportunity to improve their sales at these local trade gatherings as a sort of spring celebration. Therefore, in recreating these late 18th Century and 19th Century trade fairs, the American Folklife Society had begun their Cherry Fair over the three-day Memorial Day weekend for modern urban Americans. However, not until the second annual Cherry Fair the expanding event moved to the 1753 Keim farmstead, outside of the village of Lobachsville, from the Lobachsville Mill commons, after the Boyers offered the Keim grounds as a more suitable public meeting place.

Mutually beneficial to Dick Boyer, Shaner’s new benefactor, did not use this farmstead and Shaner’s use provided protection from would be vandals since Boyer lived distant Pine Grove. One of the most authentic Colonial farms, dating from the 1750s, the Jacob Keim farm Boyer inherited, just outside Lobachsville, was where proceeds from this and future Cherry Fairs were spent to provide adequate parking, and most importantly, restoration efforts to its historic surviving Colonial structures. Displaying Conestoga wagons and demonstrating Pennsylvania long rifle shoots and other Americana inventions at the Keimstead with its early Rhenish Colonial architecture, the American Folklife Society also debuted struggling American folk singers at each annual event along with PA Dutch folk music.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, this American Cherry Fair had become the Lobachsville Folk Festival now held at the historic Keim farmstead annually still over the three-day Memorial Day Weekend and for the next few years, ending in 1979, along with Shaner’s informative newsletters. After a considerable investment in the Keim farmstead that included the restoration of the early American Hartman lever apple cider press, a downturn in the business cycle forced Dick Boyer and the American Folklife Board to turn the historic Keim property over to the Preservation Trust of Berks County in 1979 to continue to be preserved for further posterity. Under the new guardianship of the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County from the 1980s until recent years, the Keimstead represented the best material architecture of our regional ethnic Dutch culture.