A look back in history: The Shelleys and Their Unique English Style Barn on the Hunter Plantation

Here, the Shelleys pose through their Dutch doors where either the top or bottom open independently of one another.
Here, the Shelleys pose through their Dutch doors where either the top or bottom open independently of one another. Courtesy American Folklife Institute Collection.
1768 John Hunter Barn. This Swiss bank barn built by George Focht has an English style, whereby there is no recessed forebay protecting the five stable doors and the large brick-arched threshing doors in front. They were traditionally used by the English to create a draft, while the farmer was threshing; a very rare feature among the PA Dutch people.
1768 John Hunter Barn. This Swiss bank barn built by George Focht has an English style, whereby there is no recessed forebay protecting the five stable doors and the large brick-arched threshing doors in front. They were traditionally used by the English to create a draft, while the farmer was threshing; a very rare feature among the PA Dutch people.

One of the most beautiful Oley Valley plantations is the 1768 John Hunter plantation that also served as a wayside inn located on Covered Bridge Road, halfway between Pleasantville and Yellow House, in Oley Township. One of our early Georgian architectural buildings with masonry keystones, even the main entrance with PA Dutch Doors was fashioned with raised panel Dutch doors crowned by a masonry keystone, just as the other English windows and topped with keystones. The interior floor plan with chair rails invokes our early American Colonial period, and a historic property up until recently owned by Dr. Donald Shelley and his wife.

The accompanying Swiss bank barn, built by George Focht, has an English style, whereby there is no recessed forebay protecting the five stable doors. However, most visually appealing, are the large brick-arched threshing doors in front traditionally used by the English to create a draft while the farmer was threshing; a very rare feature among the Pennsylvania Dutch people. Although most English raised panel front doors of the Georgian variety feature a Cross and Bible layout, it was not uncommon in the Oley Valley to have raised panel Dutch Doors, which often provided air current to vent these large Georgian mansions (Also, see locally the 1783 David Hottenstein Mansion in Kutztown for “Dutch Doors”).

Without a doubt, the most beautiful Georgian pedimented doorway in the Oley Valley though and area for that matter is the one designed for the 1805 Nicholas Hunter Mansion, a relative to John Hunter. Perhaps someone could contact me with the exact relationship. This property also faces the historic Covered Bridge Road, between Pleasantville and Yellow House, Berks County. The occurrence of Early American fashionable Georgian mansions in the Oley and East Penn Valleys were indeed the result of prosperity that followed the Constitution of the United States and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Many of the first Georgian mansions were built by successful iron forge and iron foundry owners, all of whom were engaged in commerce with the port of Philadelphia as our young Republic became involved with world trade. But perhaps the ultimate example of Georgian Colonial in America remains, although late, is the 1801 Henry Fisher Mansion, which I’ve mentioned on occasion.

Although early Georgian architectural dwellings featured stone dressed keystones over their windows, several farmers in the backcountry used wooden-painted keystones over their windows with smartly carved English pedimented doorways and arched fanlights that lit up these spacious Georgian central hall doorways in the front of their facades. This was a dramatic difference from Pennsylvania Dutch manor-houses of the middle ages which seldom featured any balanced symmetry. There should be no doubt that the Georgian architecture that was predominately in vogue in Philadelphia during early American times was being copied by upstate citizens in the East Penn and Oley Valley as these Rhineland immigrants became “Americanized” after the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States Republic, and of course lag times in judging Georgian and Federal architecture simply by date, but by features.

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Certainly, the architectural preferences of the inhabitants of the region were influenced by their homeland. Even though Georgian architecture is an English tradition, some of the inhabitants such as the LeVans, Bertolets, DeTurks, and many others were French Huguenot Pennsylvania Dutch, yet others were as German as sauerkraut (Fishers, Hunters). But this melting-pot process seemed to be working very well, as the few English of the territory, coupled with the numerous times citizens had to make frequent trips to Philadelphia, the region is graced with all her 18th Century elegance in architecture, and had to influence our descendants’ thinking in some ways.