Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Willow Street / Hans Herr House

Willow Street, Lancaster County
Oldest Homestead in Lancaster
The Original Homestead
It was the middle of summer and I was visiting my brother and his family who were having us over for a cookout.  Upon marriage, he moved to the community of Willow Street on the south side of Lancaster City.  It is always strange to me when a town is named for a street.  When I first met my wife over two decades ago she was living in Lightstreet, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Bloomsburg, where I went to college.   So my brother and I both met and married a girl from such a "named town".  My brother's family later bought a house in Willow Street on Hans Herr Drive just down the road from the oldest known German homestead in Lancaster County.  For years I had wanted to visit the historic site but the only time I ever got over that way was for family visits.  However, on this particular get-together, I took a little break to drive up the road and check out the homestead.  It was a Sunday and I knew they would be closed. I thought I could take a quick look-see to determine if it was worth a trip back to take the complete tour.

Side View of the House
I took my camera along so I could get some nice shots of the property without people.  As a personal preference, I always try to maintain the historical atmosphere of a historical shot by trying to capture the images void of people, cars, etc.  So this was a great opportunity to get the photos I wanted as long as I didn't set off any alarms and get arrested for trespassing! The site was well maintained and had several out buildings and other examples of farm dwellings from the area from several time periods.  The original house built in 1719 was the star of the show.  I especially thought the windows were ornate with small panes set squared within each wall and protected by a single shutter.  The high slanted roof was evidence of the German style of the Herr family's homeland.  The sharply slanted roof enabled heavy snow to slide easily with the help of gravity, easing the weight load on the roof. The sun was beginning to set, giving a nice fading light to take my pictures.

The Front Door
Well, so far the cops hadn't shown up... at least not yet... but I was startled by a pair of pigs who seemed to be acting as stand-in watch dogs.  They suddenly emerged from their shed and squealed loudly to sound the alarm that an intruder was on the property.  Or, they might have been hoping it was time for dinner and I was carrying a bucket of slop.  I decided to get back to the cookout and return another day for an in depth tour of the history associated with the Hans Herr name.  I was anxious to see the interior of the house and take in the view of the outside world from the beautiful windows.

Hans Herr Guard Dog
Upon returning for the nickle tour I was surprised to find myself all alone again with two pigs who seemed happy to see me.  The site, like so many other small historical landmarks, make most of their connections with the public by holding special community events.  When I arrived, they were in preparation mode for the upcoming Snitz Fest and Heritage Days.  Several staff members were loading the old smoke house full of traditional German sausage which I'm told is a must for all who attend the festival.  I was accompanied by a tour guide who first took me down to the Pequea Creek where a small crude lean-to shelter was located.  This represented the first temporary home of Hans Herr and his wife Elizabeth, while the stone farmhouse was built by his son Christian Herr.  The Herr family were of the Mennonite faith and had escaped the brutal persecution in Switzerland and Germany by accepting the invitation from William Penn to take part in the Holy Experiment on the other side of the world.    

The Smoke House
William Penn's impact on the poor and persecuted of the entire European continent can never be appreciated enough.  He was a special person who used his life to make the world a better place for so many disadvantaged others.  He could have lived a life of ease as a member of the English Aristocracy but gave it all away for the concept of religious freedom, which most of the world was not ready to accept.  He spent most of his life away from the colony he created, searching instead for others like himself in Europe, who wished to escape hardship and needed a safe haven.  When William Penn visited "Penn's Woods" he made changes to the charter that limited his power more and more each time until he had created a commonwealth for the benefit of the people of Pennsylvania.  How many leaders in history followed such an unselfish path? 

Penn's Treaty with the Indians
(Painting Credit / Benjamin West)
The bulk of the European World stood back and waited for Penn's Holy Experiment to implode and erupt into violence... but it never happened.  The Pennsylvania colony was a huge success and became one of the most populated.  Penn's concept gave birth to the possibilities of religious tolerance and the other twelve colonies now had to bend and also offer religious freedom to compete with Pennsylvania's success.  It became the foundation of the ideal of American freedom.  Later, James Madison included Penn's concept in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Hans Her Cabin in Winter
(Photo Credit / Scott Martin) 
The centerpiece of the interior of the Hans Herr stone farmhouse was the large family German Bible carefully preserved for future generations.  The few pieces of furniture were simple and practical as would be expected in a colonial home from the period.  The tour was informative and told the story of a single family who prospered with the help of their faith and the rich soil of Lancaster County.    

Snow Covered Split Rail Fence
(Photo Credit / Scott Martin) 

As the community prospered and grew around the Herr homestead, two other homes remain that were built close by as the years passed.  A Georgian style home was built in 1835 by the Shaub family and a Victorian style home built by the Huber family sometime in the 1890's. The 1719 stone house had a root cellar under the house that was quite cool in the heat of July.  It was built in the form of an arch with stones cleared from the nearby fields, as was the rest of the house. I wonder how many Herr family members took a break from work to hide out in the root cellar to take advantage of natural air conditioning during the hot summer months?  Storage space was essential since the home was the only building on the early farm.  The house had two attics built into the steep slants of the roof which were used for storage.  The lower attic was also used for sleeping space for the family's seven children.  As with all early American homes, the kitchen was the center point of the house and often the only heated room during the winter months.  Later iron stoves were added to give a heat source for the upper floors.  The house also used rye straw insulation to keep winter's cold at bay, a technique brought from the Old Country.

Stone Livestock Barn
This year will mark the 300th anniversary of the first arrival of settlers to Lancaster County which will be commemorated in an event called Lancaster Roots 300 sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.  You may also want to visit the Hans Herr House for their popular candlelight tours during the Christmas season on Friday and Saturday evenings.  Special events often include live music and traditional foods such as homemade bread and the smoked sausages that were curing within the smokehouse during my visit.  What other motivation could you possibly need?  Normal operating hours for the site is April through November, Monday through Saturday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.  The Hans Herr House is located at 1849 Hans Herr Drive, in Willow Street.  Take the time to see where it all began, a short tour well worth your time!  And stop in and say hello to my brother if you have time!

My Brother Scott and his wife Teresa
(Who puts up with him)
A Thought...
  • What would the Herr family think if they could see the number of homes that have been built in Lancaster County since 1719?  What is the German word for Suburban Sprawl?


Sunday, December 5, 2010

O' Christmas Tree / Elizabeth Farms

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt
Elizabeth Farm/ Brickerville, PA

Ride Out to the Fields
It's that time of the year again... Christmas is less than a month away and the most essential of holiday decorations at the Martin household is the all-important center piece, the Christmas tree.   When I was a kid, Christmas was always such a magical time of year and I always looked forward to going out to look for our tree.  My father was a Douglass Fir man.  I now know that Christmas is always a magical time for kids because all they have to do is show up.  As a kid, you don't see the blood, sweat, and tears parents have to endure as they navigate their way toward the big day. 

Elizabeth Farm Horse Power
Over the years, my family and I have always enjoyed a real Christmas tree with the exception of one experimental year with plastic.  The only place we can put our tree in our living room is right in front of our large bay window, which looks great.  However, it is also the spot where a large heating vent blows hot air from our furnace into the room, which often drys out our tree.  A few years ago, we decided to give an artificial tree a try so we could keep it up longer, avoid daily needle cleanup and the risk of fire.  We set it up and burned a Christmas tree scented Yankee candle for effect.  Can you say epic fail?  It just wasn't the same and our dabble in fake trees ended after one forgettable season.  
The Ultimate Christmas Tree?
This year we decided to try something new and avoid the Christmas tree lots that sprout up all over the county with pre-cut trees for sale.  I had heard of a Christmas tree farm north of Lititz where you can cut your own tree fresh from the field.  As we headed north toward our destination, we passed a convoy of vehicles with their chosen Christmas masterpieces securely bound to their roofs as precious cargo, yet to be delivered.  We had a little trouble locating the entrance to Elizabeth Farms because the tree plantation is so vast at 250 acres and borders both Routes 501 and 322.   My daughter Katelyn openly expressed her concern that they would be sold out before we found the farm!  After a few navigational mishaps, we found Hopeland Road and the farm lane that led us to Elizabeth Farms and a parking lot filled with about a hundred cars.

The Staging Area
We were newbies in this neck of the woods and navigated our way through the complex of Christmas tree harvesting stations in search of the starting line.  We soon found the little booth to register our name for our tree tag and sign the legal wavier exonerating Elizabeth Farms of any legal or financial liability if we were injured by horse, tree saw or random acts of God.  Any activity that requires a legal get out of responsibility document has to more exciting just by the risk of potential pain and suffering!  I love it!  We got in line and waited our turn to board the festive green and red wagons that would transport us to the trees.  The wagons were pulled by impressive teams of draft horses that were all decked out in their holiday work gear.  They were beautiful animals and the star of the show.  Giddy-up kids, it's time to make a family memory!

Haul Back to the Barn
The ride out was great fun; a throwback to a bygone era.  I felt just like John Boy riding the team up Walton's Mountain in search of a Christmas miracle.  The power of the horses was immediately felt as the wagon jutted forward into motion.  The irony of the fact that the man guiding our team to the field was a big guy with all white hair and matching beard was not lost on me!  On Dasher! On Prancer! The team trotted at a swift pace giving us a thrill as we bounced out of our seats along the winding trail.  We soon arrived at the staging area where a happy elf came on board to give us instructions about the process of hunting and gathering the perfect tree.  I was hoping this would be a quick and easy find.  After all, I was sacrificing some good college football games on television for this fun family experience. How hard could it be?

Christmas Tree Forest
Now with saw in hand and family in tow, I entered the maze of evergreen trees in search of the perfect Douglass Fir to enrich our holiday experience this year.  My wife prides herself as a gifted critic in multiple categories of everyday life, especially me... and... apparently as a world renowned connoisseur of Christmas trees.  We looked at tree after tree and penetrated deeper and deeper into the evergreen abyss in search of perfection.  Our favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation, came to mind multiple times with several classic scenes fondly discussed in detail.  I was feeling more and more like Clark W. Griswold as the search exceeded an hour.  I was just hoping that my cousin's R.V. wasn't going to be parked in my driveway when we finally returned home.  On with the extensive search...
Goldilocks and Accomplices
The quest continued and we began to resemble Goldilocks and the three bears with my wife playing the lead role... this ones too tall, this ones too thin... We began to consider trees that we previously considered.  However, no one could ever agree which direction that specific tree just might be found.  My daughter Katelyn feared we might aimlessly wonder the evergreen labyrinth for eternity and never be seen again!  This surprisingly seemed like a real possibility... so we decided to abandon the mission of giving previous trees of honorable mention a second glance and continued searching through new territory of virgin timber.

 Lumberjacks at Work
Finally we all reached the breaking point and the only criteria considered in our final choice came down to two essential questions.  Was it green and would it fit in the living room.  We soon stumbled upon the perfect tree, the clouds parted, and a bright ray of light descended from the heavens.  I thought I might have heard angles singing in the distance.  My teenage son, Tyler, who was now turning blue for not complying with our parental request for him to wear his heavy winter jacket, had the honor of cutting down our holiday prize.  I love winning these little power struggles with my teenage son and watching him suffer.  It almost makes the role of being a parent at this stage of endless tug-of-war battle-of-wills worthwhile... Almost!

Animated Christmas Display
The beautiful tree fell to the ground.  It was dead!  We killed it!  We dragged it into the farm lane, and waited for the modern tractor to collect our prize and take it back to the staging area.  The wagon, full of fresh-cut trees, soon appeared along with all the people who had completed their successful search.  Trees were matched with their owners and both boarded a horse drawn wagon back to the farm where they were measured, bagged, and tagged.  We then went to the Christmas Village were we enjoyed a complimentary hot chocolate as we got in line to pay for our tree.  Tyler began to get his color back but continued to shiver uncontrollably.  It was awesome!

Our Bagged Catch
We did a quick tour of the animated holiday display in remembrance of Christmas from the 1950's in the large barn.  A very cool and unique display!  A nice man carried our tree to our vehicle and helped lift it into position on top of our car.  We then used about fifteen bungee cords to secure it to our roof rack.  It wasn't going to move an inch, it was practically glued to the roof.  As we left the parking lot with our prize catch in full view of envious passersby, the car in front of us lost their tree on the sharp curve on Hopeland Road.  Never bring string or rope to a job requiring the sophisticated technology of the bungee cord.  I was going to pull over and offer to help but hey... we were missing football!   Besides I only had fifteen bungee cords and they were all in use.  I couldn't spare one.  Live and learn buddy!

 Final Product 24 Hours Later
Well, we got it home in one piece and within an hour we had our trophy mounted in the living room.  And... I still had time to catch the kickoff of the 7:00 SEC game between Florida and Florida State!  The sweet evergreen smell permeated the entire house, which even a Yankee Candle on steroids couldn't match!   In all seriousness, it was a great time, enjoyed by all!  Even Tyler... well sort of... Next year we plan to go again and make the experience an annual family tradition.  I'll bet Tyler will even wear his heavy winter coat without an argument!  Well... maybe? The price was fair and the festive ambiance was priceless. The farm has been in operation since 1752 and the scenery was beautiful.  The farm's future looks as bright as the new fallen snow!  Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Happy Holidays Campers!

Please See My Additional Photos of our Adventure at...

Elizabeth Farms
Hopeland Road, Brickerville PA

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