Goschenhoppen homestead

Volunteers Lowell Linde and Bill Daley (right) at Antes Plantation in Perkiomenville.
Volunteers Lowell Linde and Bill Daley (right) at Antes Plantation in Perkiomenville. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)

Folk festival will show off customs and crafts at this restored Pa. German site.

Posted: August 12, 2011

 Jacquelyn Daley seems right at home in a gold linen skirt, brick-color top, beige apron, and white shawl and bonnet as she goes about her chores.

She pokes around the heirloom beets and beans in the garden. She checks on the rye bread or molasses cookies baking in the outdoor oven that she once crawled inside - to collect trays of fruit that had been dryingovernight.

"It was still 120 degrees. The blueberries almost got singed," she says, casual about the possibility that she might have gotten singed as well.

You could pick Daley out of a crowd, for sure.

But there's no crowd, which is puzzling because this place - the 18th-century Henry Antes Plantation in Perkiomenville - stirs ancient spirits and soothes 21st-century souls.

Just beyond Swamp Creek, it's a world away from the new shopping centers and townhouses that creep incessantly into the countryside. And it's far less known than two other preserved Pennsylvania German homesteads - the Peter Wentz farm in Worcester and the Landis Valley Museum in Manheim.

This, despite the fact that it has been carefully, authentically restored, its rhythms and customs re-created by Daley and hundreds of other Goschenhoppen Historians, members of the volunteer organization that bought it in 1998. (Goschenhoppen is an old name for the Perkiomen Creek watershed in northern Montgomery County.)

"We've always been interested in history," says Daley, whose husband, Bill, a retired civil engineer, also volunteers. "We're the back-to-the-earth generation. We like doing everything ourselves."

Their celebration of traditional Pennsylvania German culture goes on year-round. But especially in August.

Friday and Saturday, the volunteer historians will host the 45th annual Goschenhoppen Folk Festival, the group's chief fund-raiser. (See "The Goschenhoppen Folk Festival," on this page.)

Furniture-makers, tinsmiths, shingle-makers, and other craftsmen in period dress will be on hand to demonstrate the old-time techniques of their real-life trades. Food and drink will be the real deal, too; there'll be homemade summer sausage and peppermint water, apple butter and ice cream.

"You can't buy hex signs here," says volunteer Bob Wood, a retired teacher and self-described "farm boy," who grew up a few miles away.

No slaves worked at the Antes plantation, he says. Plantation simply meant farm in Pennsylvania German, the dialect spoken by Antes and the other "Deutsch" who flocked to the frontier here in the 1700s, mostly from southern Germany, to find work and escape religious persecution. By 1790, Germans made up 40 percent of the state's population.

It's a classic American story, one that fascinates Daley, a retired home economics teacher, who focuses on food and garden history at the 25-acre homestead. "I was reading an old cookbook from the 1860s," she'll say, by way of explaining how women used quills to extract pits before baking cherries in pies.

The kitchen was female territory, as was the garden, often referred to as "the woman's garden."

In the tradition of medieval monasteries, the Pennsylvania Germans built four beds, raised them five to eight inches, and enclosed the whole thing with a crude wooden fence. The design was known as a "four-square garden."

The benefits: The ground wouldn't shift. Water drained well. You could plant intensively. And you could add pig manure here, sand there, to create exactly the type of soil you needed.

These are attributes today's raised-bed gardeners have come - back - to appreciate, after decades of infatuation with gasoline-powered rototillers, devices good for a quick till, but unwieldy with raised beds, according to Irwin Richman, professor emeritus of American studies and history at Penn State Harrisburg and author of Pennsylvania German Farms, Gardens, and Seeds (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., $29.95).

"With the rototiller, raised-bed gardening became very, very old-fashioned very quickly," he says. But growing interest in organic and urban gardening has made raised beds popular once more.

Daley knows every inch of the Antes garden - from the herbs, hops, and occasional berry bushes on the perimeter to the four squares in the middle.

On the perimeter, she identifies spurge, which was known as "mole plant" because it was believed to keep moles away; dill, which was made into tea, Daley says, "to relieve gas in children"; and parsley, whose roots were deemed helpful for urinary problems.

Inside the four squares were the staples of self-sufficient living: cabbages, potatoes, turnips and onions, beets, cauliflower, peas, and beans. Rhubarb, mint for tea, and horseradish, used as commonly as ketchup today, tend to be aggressive and were sequestered from other crops.

Flowers had little ornamental value; they were planted mostly to repel destructive critters or attract useful ones. And beyond parsley, sage, dill, and saffron, herbs were used more for medicine than seasoning, according to Richman, whose wife's ancestors emigrated to Pennsylvania from the German Palatinate, the same region as the Antes family, in the 1760s.

"There was tremendous dislocation in Germany in the 17th and early 18th centuries," says Richman, who then shares this:

"Some say they followed the trail of the black walnut tree," which thrives in a lime-based soil, good for farmland. "If you go to the Palatinate, it looks like this area," he says.

Richman is sitting at a picnic table on the grounds of the Landis Valley Museum, where he is a part-time volunteer. The museum highlights Pennsylvania German culture from 1750 to 1940 - traditional farming and crafts, village life, heritage animal breeds, and heirloom-variety plants.

A popular mantra at the time, according to Richman's book: "Gude Sume, Gude Gaard" - good seeds, good garden. No matter how many squares.


Read gardening writer

Virginia A. Smith's blog

at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

gardening


Irwin Richman talks about

the Landis Valley Museum's four-square garden

at www.philly.com/landis.


Contact garden writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720

or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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