look back : Our Local Dutch Country opens up during the Federal Years

Submitted photo
The Earlville Bridge as seen through the lens of H. Winslow Fegley circa 1910. Fegley's photo collection is housed and can beseen at the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Museum, Pennsburg.
Submitted photo The Earlville Bridge as seen through the lens of H. Winslow Fegley circa 1910. Fegley's photo collection is housed and can beseen at the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Museum, Pennsburg.
Submitted photo
Shown here is the Lobachsville Grist Mill with mill pond in immediate foreground.
Submitted photo Shown here is the Lobachsville Grist Mill with mill pond in immediate foreground.

Considering the dynamic change in our region’s Federal years, perhaps the biggest change was when the United States Post Office established post offices within regional General Stores, especially the Rural Free delivery that supplied these rural villages with hardware and food supplies for the community life. The postmasters of our small villages with official United States designations were thought by the rural folk people as being almost as important as a town mayor. Thereby, official mailing address had to be legally correct. Thus, in our Federal years of the East Penn and Oley Valley, General Stores with post office addresses were significant to locate an area in which citizens lived.

Indigenous PA Dutch people thrived on our homemade Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine for over three hundred years, and this was considered a beer and pretzel culture, celebrated by taverns and wayside Inns in the historic Oley Valley basin and along the Great Easton Road or “High Road” (modern 222) such as at the Levan Tavern/ Kemp’s Hotel or Swan Inn, both in and on outskirts of Kutztown [laid out in 1779 by George Kutz (Coots)] and Maxatawny township. Numerous 19th Century trade fairs in the East Penn and Oley Valley Federal years could not forsake their grass-roots culture even after the Industrial Revolution made it possible for new methods in farming to update the newer products demanded in the 19th Century Civil War period, such as replacing homespun cloth from flaxseed used to cover their Conestoga wagons of the bygone pioneer days. However, the Keim family of Lobachsville, mentioned in last week’s article still wove homespun flax cloth as late as 1910.

East Penn farmers who were lucky enough to have shared road frontage on this important trade route became some of the most prosperous agrarian farm families in the Dutch Country. Building high fashion Georgian English architectural mansions and Swiss bank-barns our young Republic proved that economic freedom of opportunity in rural America was possible for those diligent enough workers who sought free private enterprise careers. The historic stone arched bridges in the early rural countryside would soon replaced by picturesque covered bridges of the 19th Century as commerce among Valley farmers now became a weekly routine, and allowed readily accessibility for farmers to attend farmers markets and sell their homemade butter and cheese at local boroughs and the historic City of Reading, PA.

Among the frontier tracts of land purchased from William Penn, lucky were those homesteads who had access to “water rights,” or creeks of water which could be dammed up to operate a water powered gristmill or at least able to create a raceway to turn a water-powered mill. Thereby, a mill wheel could set in motion an up and down sawmill to cut virgin timber that pioneers could use to build their homes and barns or for house furniture for not only themselves but to make furniture for their neighbors in a frontier settlement without any domestic craftsmen. But of the two choices: a grist or flourmill, turned by the creeks and streams, was a premium business in a Colonial time when the nearest gristmill was many miles away and settlers were in need of milling native wheat and grain, themselves. Thus, the earliest grist or flourmills built in the East Penn and Oley Valleys had a monopoly among frontier farmers. But, of course, relying on Mother Nature, and the necessity of rainfall determined if your water-operated mill wheel was an undershot one or an overshot mill wheel- according to the height of the race way or mill pond.

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