Weiser Homestead Celebrates the Fourth

On a sunny Sunday afternoon at the beginning of July (the day after Independence Day, in fact), 600-700 people showed up at the Conrad Weiser Homestead to enjoy a concert on the grounds and to honor Reading-area veterans. Mary Fenton, who helped to organize the event, told me that nearly 100 veterans were present to be recognized. Veterans registered with the site ahead of time so that Mary could prepare certificates for each one. It looks and sounds like it was a wonderful afternoon and a great way to celebrate our country.

The concert was presented by the Ringgold Band, founded in Reading in 1852 and dedicated to preserving the traditions of concert band music (traditions which, I’m guessing, they helped to start in the band’s early days).

According to their website, the Ringgold Band ends most concerts with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” in honor of John Philip Sousa (read the rather poignant story here). I can practically hear it now.

Many thanks to Mary Fenton and George Hetrick for sharing their photos of the event.

We love our volunteers!

This summer, I'm calling on all of you to make volunteerism and community service part of your daily life and the life of this nation. And when I say ‘all,’ I mean everyone – young and old, from every background, all across this country. We need individuals, community organizations, corporations, foundations, and our government to be part of this effort.” President Barack Obama, June 16, 2009

The sites along the Trails of History have always counted on volunteers to, among other things, help organize and deliver programs, assist with caring for artifacts, and share our history with the public. Each year the sites select people for special recognition as part of the Volunteers of the Year program. Maybe someone you know is on the list of honorees for service in 2008:

Outstanding Service Award: Ronald C. Blatchley (Joseph Priestley House)
Leonard and Gerry Janus (Anthracite Heritage Museum , Scranton)
George Thorpe (Brandywine Battlefield , Chadds Ford)
George Heasley (Bushy Run Battlefield , Jeannette)
Alan Hackenberg (Conrad Weiser Homestead , Womelsdorf)
Anita Pence (Cornwall Iron Furnace , Cornwall)

Cherie Berg (Daniel Boone Homestead , Birdsboro)

Kathy Flaherty (Drake Well Museum , Titusville)
Gerry Allen (Eckley Miners’ Village , Weatherly)
Bill Miller (Ephrata Cloister , Ephrata)
Ardrey Manning (Erie Maritime Museum , Erie)
Robert Nipar (Fort Pitt Museum , Pittsburgh)

Jim Miller (Graeme Park , Horsham)

Bob Reese (Hope Lodge , Fort Washington)
Emily Dietrich (Joseph Priestley House, Northumberland)
Larry Hess (Landis Valley Museum , Lancaster)
Cary Brant and Randy Wilkins (Old Economy Village , Ambridge)
Robert Shields (Pennsbury Manor , Morrisville)
Bruce Cahilly (Pennsylvania Lumber Museum , Galeton)

Philip Sauerlender (Pennsylvania Military Museum , Boalsburg)

Joseph Palenchar (Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania , Strasburg)
Janet Sherbine (Somerset Historical Center , Somerset)
Charlie Hannon (State Museum of Pennsylvania , Harrisburg)
John G. Maher (Washington Crossing Historic Park , Washington Crossing)

An impressive group, right? Well you can be a part of it, Trailheads. Museums and historic sites are always looking for new volunteers. The United We Serve initiative has a website with opportunities all over the country. But if you’re here in Pennsylvania, any of the sites on the list above would love to hear from you. You never know where it might lead.

Bringing History to Life at Ephrata Cloister

Our guest blogger this week is Nick Siegert from Ephrata Cloister.

“The music had little air or melody, but consisted of simple, long notes, combined in the richest harmony. I almost began to think myself in the world of spirits, and that the objects before me were ethereal.”

Sound like a pretty interesting music review? It should. It was written over 230 years ago by a witness who saw a performance by the Ephrata Chorus. Back in the 1700s, this music attracted the attention of people who traveled for miles to hear them sing. Unfortunately, this music fell silent and remained so for more than 200 years.

The last weekend of May, 2009, we got together with some friends to see the 50th Anniversary concert of the Ephrata Cloister Chorus. On this beautiful Sunday the chorus recreated the first concert performed when it was reformed in 1959, by music professor Russell Getz.

The 45-member chorus containing current members and alumni from years past alternated between musical selections and readings of 18th-century newspaper articles.

We asked the chorus director, J. Darryl Hollinger, about the performance. He said, "We try to make it sound like what we think it would have sounded like 250 years ago." (You can listen to audio clips of the Chorus here.)

The founder of the Ephrata Cloister, Conrad Beissel, was known for instructing chorus members to sing with their heads bowed and mouths almost shut. He was extremely demanding with how the singers performed and even took care of their voices. In fact, Beissel even said that “the angels when they sang at the birth of Christ had to make use of our rules.”

Lots of colonial sites have festivals featuring colonial food, crafts, and activities for children, but few if any have an event that specifically features the colonial building trades and preservation of colonial structures. On June 6th, the Ephrata Cloister featured its 3rd annual Building History: Making and Saving Historic Architecture.

It was a great opportunity to discover the techniques used to build the first homes in the Lancaster area with demonstrations of log hewing, shingle making, wall construction, thatch roofs and early masonry, painting, and window making, to name just a few of the trades that were represented.

The demonstrators were more than happy to share their knowledge. Visitors could take a special walking tour focused on the characteristics of early Pennsylvania German architecture and take advantage of a rare opportunity to tour the unrestored areas of the Ephrata Cloister.

The event also featured lectures by noted local historians. Alan Keyser shared his vast knowledge of Pennsylvania German hearths and heating, and author Cynthia Falk lectured on changes in 18th-century Pennsylvania German architecture.

The highlight for me was a demonstration on colonial pipe drilling. It’s really unbelievable the amount of sweat and labor that went into colonial water systems. You could even participate and give the drill a couple of turns yourself – I gave up after three turns. The whole event was fascinating, fun, and offered something for the whole family.

Be sure to check out Ephrata's calendar for more events and programs that combine history with food, music, and crafts.

Welcome to Trailheads!

Join us on a journey around Pennsylvania. We’ll highlight stops along the Pennsylvania Trails of History (TOH) and introduce you to life at our sites—in front of the cameras (so to speak) and behind the scenes. We look forward to your contributions, too. Post photos of your favorite TOH sites or reviews of programs and events. Tell us about your interests—Trailheads is about you (okay, it’s about us, too).

By way of introduction, let’s take a quick walk down the trails just to get our bearings (I promise to keep the trail metaphors to a minimum). You may know that some of our sites are in transition, moving from PHMC management to a partnership approach that keeps them open to the public through local organizations. These sites are still part of the Trails of History and we hope you’ll continue to visit and support them.

During 2009, we have an Energy Trail of History focused on sites and historical markers related to PHMC’s annual theme, Energy: Innovation and Impact. Of particular interest at the moment is the 150th anniversary of Edwin Drake’s first successful oil well, drilled in Titusville, in August, 1859. Other sites on the trail tell stories of early energy (human, animal, wind and water power, for example) and of energy extraction and production in Pennsylvania—especially oil, coal, and lumber.

Our Military History Trail stretches across the Commonwealth, taking in battlefields, forts, and museums that shed light on battles fought in and around Pennsylvania during the 1700s and 1800s. Museum exhibits extend the story into the 1900s and include the role Pennsylvanians and Pennsylvania-based units have played in every war fought by the United States.
If your passion is historic furnishings and architecture, then the Historic Homes Trail is for you. Located mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania, this trail features the homes of celebrated figures in Commonwealth and American history and introduces you to some of the people who made those households run.

Pennsylvania’s key role in America’s industrial development is at the center of the Industrial Heritage Trail. From one of the earliest intact iron furnaces in the nation to the first successful oil well to a world-class collection of railroad locomotives and cars, this trail covers it all. And a surviving coal patch town brings the struggles of miners and their families to life.
Follow the Rural Farm and Village History Trail to explore early religious communal societies and Pennsylvania’s rich agricultural heritage. If you’re a fan of Pennsylvania German culture, you won’t be disappointed by what this trail has to offer.

And don’t forget that the State Museum of Pennsylvania has exhibits and programs in all of these areas.

So pick a trail (or pick more than one) and see where it leads you.