PA Dutch, Quaker English cul­tural ex­change.

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - FRONT PAGE - Richard L.T. Orth

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.


1808 Fred­er­ick Spang Man­sion. Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­tural style of the pe­riod con­tained large “quoins” (pro­nounced coins) or cor­ner­stones that ar­chi­tec­turally gave the home sym­me­try and framed the ran­dom laid walls.

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