A Look Back in History by Richard L.T. Orth: The Pricetown Brethren Tradition: Part II

Submitted photo The 1777 Meetinghouse in Pricetown.

Further up, just east of the old village tavern along the Pricetown Road, the once simple Price one story log house built in the late 1770s may not been whitewashed for many years, as tradition, but its rustic logs repaired with cement chinking, and restorations done to protect this historic building from severe weather on the Pricetown Ridge, where ice storms are common. Furthermore, many properties along this route in recent years have been restored drawing attention to the town’s vestige past.

In the 1700s, the heavily traveled Pricetown highway was a major route farmers on the Reading prong of the Appalachian Mountains traversed to the city of Reading in buying and selling wares in this thriving market city. Pricetown itself, at the time, had three taverns to serve this busy trade with adjacent general stores, making it a once thriving and historically relevant community, besides for its deep Plain Dutch population.

Another colorful period of trade occurred in the late 1800s when Montana horses were brought in by the railroads to Temple, and drivers took them up the Pricetown Road to be sold at country auctions, like the Fredericksville Ascension Day auctions held by John Frey, and others in the back country. Pricetown, being one of the most distant civilized outposts from Reading, became a successful town way beyond the needs of the immediate population.

The several Brethren who were shoemakers and saddle-harness tradesmen were in a unique position, together with wheelwrights and blacksmiths, meeting also the needs of travelers going from the Oley Valley bottom lands, north to the East Penn Valley over the Oley Hills, Pricetown, and Fleetwood, truly an interesting time in history not found in student textbooks of today.

Dunkers are pacifists (conscientious objectors), and certainly by way of their religion, fall into William Penn’s utopian ideal of “Brotherly Love.” As it pertains to theology, the German Brethren are very similar to their Swiss Mennonite and Amish cousins; however, they are exclusive in their observances of baptism and “love feasts.” Whereas they are all considered, “Anabaptists” and fled persecution from Europe for their religious beliefs; once a Brethren first accepts Christ as their savior (“an outward show of inward expression”), they are then baptized.

The Brethren promote full triune (three times): immersion of the body in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, baptism was followed by a “Love Feast,” which I will elaborate on in a future article, due to its uniqueness and importance, should be written separately. Mennonites, on the other hand, become members of the church at marriage.

In previous years, when Franconian Brethren would travel to Pricetown from Harleysville to hold their annual worship service in this ancient 1777 meetinghouse, only a few learned Pricetown citizens knew why they were present with their big brimmed black hats. Worship was done in both English and German up to the 1930s at the Pricetown Meetinghouse and done then on a quarterly basis. Now, and for past several years, only an annual session is held and in the most part, done in the English language.

Usually, these meetings were held on the First Saturday and/or Sunday of June at 2:30 in the afternoon at the Pricetown Meetinghouse, and were once an overnight affair. However, specially done in 2003, the church held a Homecoming Service, and the service program included in its schedule a history of the Pricetown Meeting House. The summary of one is written in the form of a by Ruth Fox that remains locked in a showcase that can be seen every year during the annual worship or with special permission to enter the premises of “oldest unaltered church in America,” which I have had the privilege and honor to do.

Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.

Pricetown Meeting Place

by Ruth E. Fryberger Fox

In the shade of the old oak tree,

The Brethren meet to worship God.

They came on horse back far and near,

Till the shadow of the old oak was filled.

The pioneers to the Oley Valley came.

That they through freedom,

The full Gospel to preach,

And sing songs to praise his name.

In 1777 this house Martin built.

A place for divine worship,

And to promote the Gospel in full.

As the Lord his will to do.

As they laid stone upon stone,

And the kitchen with its fireplace and mantel.

Never tarrying from their labors.

Rafter to rafter till all was complete.

With its oaken floor and benches.

In the late 1800 the backs were added.

At saw buck table the preacher stood,

To proclaim the Gospel full.

Thru the window you can see

The tomb of Martin Gaube.

The pioneer who preached the Gospel

To the never dying soul.

With it’s hand cut windowpanes,

And the broad windowsills.

With the hanging lamps from the hewn rafters

To give them light still.

With eager ears they listened to the Gospel.

They knelt to call upon the Lord,

And filled with the spirit, they wept,

Because they loved the Lord.

Composed in 1955 by Ruth E. Fryberger Fox.