Cultural exchange between the Quaker English and PA Dutch
Successful farmers with iron forges and iron furnace manufacturing hauled their farm and iron products to the nation’s capitol daily in participating with the Republic’s economy. Thus, these upstate Dutchmen were also very familiar with English Georgian architecture as they noticed the Quaker mansions of William Penn’s “Society of Friends” and Grand Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Later, these same Pennsylvania Dutch people eagerly supported and signed the United States Constitution.
Our people became so ingratiated in the fabric of the port city, and Philadelphians enjoyed buying local PA Dutch scrapple from East Penn & Oley Valley area farmers, among other goods. In addition to our scrapple, still served as a side for breakfast at local restaurants, the Dutchmen’s “Schmearcase” was so popular, it became known as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, commercially. Thereby, no trade fair in Philadelphia was complete without our PA Dutch farmers in attendance with their large Conestoga wagons filled with foodstuffs.
Engaged in free market capitalism, some of our local farmers during Colonial times even went to the extent of allowing farm children to live and work on New Jersey farms to become more familiar with speaking the English language, since the PA Dutch Dialect was not spoken over there. Forcing their children to become fluent with American English was to the family’s advantage when they took turns going to market in Philadelphia where Philadelphians only spoke English when buying PA Dutch farm goods, thus breaking a language barrier.
Since PA Deitsch immigrants in the Oley Valley only spoke their native Dialect, few were bilingual (able to speak English that is), so their folk world was limited to Berks County. But in becoming intelligent citizens of our young Republic, these “modernized,” older Dutchmen would build fashionable English Georgian mansions in keeping with their acculturated American way of life, following mainline Philadelphia. They in turn borrowed the architecture of William Penn’s Society of Friends for which there was also a deep religious admiration among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites for the Quakers and vice versa.
Rhineland immigrants who built Georgian and Federal mansions in Berks County did not do so because they were Auslanders (outsiders), far from it, but instead because they were devoted friends of William Penn and supporters of the United States Constitution, as loyal American citizens! Of the many grand architectural English mansions built in our vicinity perhaps none as fine as the Henry Fisher farm mansion in Oley Township. Built in 1801 by prestigious master carpenter, Gottlieb Drexel, he was the designer of several, beautiful early American Georgian English buildings. Nonetheless, there were several English mansions built by Oley Valley citizens with just as a magnificent edifice as Fisher’s like the 1808 Fredrick Spang mansion in the Colonial village of Spangsville, just down the road from the Spang Forge, originally built by John Lesher in 1744.
The forge was then taken over by (Frederick) Spang in 1794 upon Lesher’s death, but Colonel Lesher’s Oley Forge House was very Germanic. However, when Spang built his mansion, being a remarkable businessman, he decided to go with a Georgian-style mansion instead one that reflected his wealth and one that kept with the social class of people in Philadelphia with whom he did business. Among these early American architectural forms which abound in the East Penn and Oley Valleys of Pennsylvania, the smartly designed Georgian Mansions are pleasant works of art in a rural setting. They were built for the most part by the landed gentry in the very late 18th Century to the early 19th Century and reflect the wealth of the agrarian society in the Valleys.