Mod­els of Chris­tian­ity have lived in Kutz­town for 70 years

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - OPINION - Richard L.T. Orth A Look Back In His­tory

Liv­ing on the Lan­caster Plain for many gen­er­a­tions, the Plain Peo­ple have bought as much till­able land as their econ­omy would af­ford. How­ever, since their fam­i­lies are quite large, there is just not enough land avail­able to ac­com­mo­date all their off­spring in farm­ing. Con­se­quently, the large farms of the Plain Peo­ple have been sub­di­vided among the chil­dren, and today an av­er­a­ge­size farm in Lan­caster County con­sists less than 50 acres. With land con­tin­u­ing to bring out­ra­geous sums of money in Lan­caster County ever in­creas­ing over the past few decades, the Plain Dutch have been forced to seek farm­ing land else­where or get out of farm­ing com­pletely. The Amish (dif­fer­ent from Men­non­ites) have mi­grated west­ward and into Canada in search of cheaper land but sur­pris­ingly not here in Berks County.

Con­versely, in our back­yard, al­most 150 Men­non­ite Plain Dutch fam­i­lies call the Kutz­town area home today, an in­crease of 40% in the last 20 years with meet­ing­houses be­ing filled si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Kutz­town and Fleet­wood on Sun­days, in­stead of al­ter­nat­ing weeks at the two lo­ca­tions as in years past. All of the East Penn Val­ley Men­non­ites are Wenger Men­non­ites from the Groff­dale Con­fer­ence, a ti­tle that can be traced to the first leader of the Old Or­der Men­non­ites, Joseph Wenger. In Lan­caster County, there were eight Wenger meet­ing­houses each called by their lo­ca­tion: Groff­dale, Martin­dale, Church­town, Weaver­land, Bows­man­ville, Con­estoga, Muddy Creek, and New Hol­land. Only On­tario, Canada has as many meet­ing­house groups as Lan­caster County, and Men­non­ite Church meet­ings are held ev­ery Sun­day. Re­mem­ber, Amish al­ter­nate mem­bers’ home to wor­ship not meet­ing­houses as Men­non­ites.

Both tourists and area Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch­men com­ing to Kutz­town though are sur­prised to see how many “Horse and buggy Dutch” Men­non­ites liv­ing here and are as­ton­ished be­cause they can hardly be­lieve these Dutch­men have kept their 19th Cen­tury ways. The his­tor­i­cally-minded lo­cal Dutch are sur­prised be­cause this was the first time since the found­ing of Penn’s colony that the Plain Peo­ple have moved into this Worldly Dutch epi­cen­ter. Whether ei­ther call them the mis­nomer, “Kutz­town Amish,” or Amish; more ac­cu­rately, they are the East Penn Val­ley Men­non­ites, and the tourist that trav­els to Kutz­town should be in for a sur­prise while de­light­ing in lo­cal cui­sine. As of writ­ing, no Amish fam­ily lives in Berks County, not even any rum­blings, just Plain Dutch Swiss Men­non­ites and Ger­man Brethren, as far as the Plain sects.

Pre­vi­ous to this Men­non­ite colony (1949), the greatest dis­ap­point­ment ex­pe­ri­enced by a tourist was the fact when they came to see Penn­syl­va­nia’s Plain Dutch, mostly in Lan­caster County, they could not find Penn­syl­va­nia’s world-fa­mous hex-sign barns. Thousands of tourists that travel to the Plain Dutch cap­i­tal of Lan­caster are as­ton­ished to find that there are no hex-sign painted barns in just about all of Lan­caster County, ex­cept per­haps a ran­dom one re­painted by an his­toric-minded farmer. But, of course, there should not be any for these peo­ple are the “Plain” peo­ple, and the beau­ti­ful hex signs are tra­di­tion­ally painted on the barns of the Worldly Dutch peo­ple in Berks, Mont­gomery, and Le­high County most no­tably, among most of the other seven PA Dutch Coun­ties, mi­nus Lan­caster.

How­ever, stand­ing on the slopes of the East Penn Val­ley are many large bank (Sch­weitzer) barns still with smartly bal­anced painted hex signs. Gone may be some of the white­washed board fences and nar­row dirt roads, but sharp black bug­gies and car­riages are pulled by pranc­ing horses and fill our mod­ern­ized road­ways (to the dis­may of Deka traf­fic). Some of the Plain Dutch at Kutz­town (rarely) have ac­cepted these world ly col­ored barn dec­o­ra­tions but a his­tor­i­cally minded Men­non­ite or two has even re­painted them (see barn ad­ja­cent to Ren­ninger’s farm­ers’ mar­ket and the old 1801 Os­car Bieber farm on the road lead­ing to Bow­ers. There is in­deed an in­trigu­ing hori­zon in folk-cul­ture here over the last 67 years since their ar­rival here in Kutz­town in 1949 and a mag­nif­i­cent ac­cul­tur­a­tion between the two worlds of the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch!

Men­non­ites have called the Kutz­town area home for many years.

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