The Shel­leys and their unique English- style barn

The Hamburg Area Item - - Imorne Ocom/ - Richard L. T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

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.

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.

1768John 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.

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