Of the Oley Valley pioneer farmsteads recorded by Reverend Philip Croll’s 1926 Annals of the Oley Valley, there is no chapter on the three Bieber brothers who settled in America from Europe’s Rhine Valley in 1744. This information is in a recent article I wrote about Jacob Bieber who had a water powered sawmill near Tri-Town Park in the Upper Oley Valley, where his farm was located adjacent to the Peter Engle’s mill and the historic John Hoch farm.
Sawyers of virgin timbers in the Oley Hills, Jacob and son, John were known for making early dower chests and decorating them with double heart motifs in the frontier period before they joined French Huguenot settlers in the Allentown area in 1786. Other Bieber brothers raised important families in our Berks County territory, which historian Philip Croll failed to include in his Oley Annals.
However, the Bieber woodworkers of French Huguenot ancestry who were marvelous as folk artists utilized an egg and dart design with their dower chests often called “Jesus fish” in the folk world by Huguenot who wished to keep their religion private. This folk design is carved on the Salem U.C.C. church balcony, adjacent to the Christ Lutheran Church where the viewing was being held for Clarence E. Bieber, Thursday, Jan. 24 at Spangesville, on land that was set aside for the Reformed Church in 1754, by Jon Lesher, Oley Iron Forge Master.
Among the devoted Oley Valley Citizens, I was pleased to work with, over the years, Kevin Bieber, President of the Oley Valley Community Fair Association; a responsible and dignified citizen who volunteers for community service, besides his four older brothers and sister, Shirley, who my wife remembers when she was a high school as an advisor to the cheerleaders. Kevin’s civic minded father, Clarence E. Bieber, passed away at 89 years of age in Oley, after retiring from Boyertown Auto Body Works in 1985. A dutiful father and husband to his late wife, Mabel, Clarence once had a soda soft drink truck route, years ago in the 1960s, and my wife’s family remembers him stopping at the house to drop off cases of glass quarts of A-treat soda.
Her father and Clarence were both Dutchman, and they had a lot in common since their sons knew each other, going to the Oley Valley School District. In the 1960s, quarts of A-treat soda were a family pleasure in rural America. Since I am on the Oley Valley Heritage Association Board, which sets of exhibits at the Oley Fairgrounds, I knew Clarence’s son, Kevin who was responsible leader in the community, and did more than his fair share of work to make sure the event was an annual success. The viewing and funeral for Kevin’s father, Clarence, was held at the Christ Lutheran Church on Covered Bridge Road, next to Salem UCC on a very frigid and windy day. The Lutheran church parking lot was filled, and we had to park next door on the Salem church lot to attend Clarence Bieber’s viewing.
Clarence Bieber’s children as well as his courteous grandchildren had more than enough warmth to greet the scores of well wishers who came to share in their grief, the type of Christian love for which Oley Huguenot farm families are known. I recalled how many French Huguenots were recorded as Colonial settlers in the Oley Valley, besides the Biebers, Bertolets, Griesemers, and Leshers who founded Spangesville at the two twin churches in Oley Township.
My own grandmother, Mary Bieber, who lived in the Oley Hills, followed the austere Protestant teachings of John Calvin. Ironically, the same week we bid farewell to descendant, Clarence Bieber, my wife (a Griesemer descendant) wanted to see the classic French movie Les Miserables, which is a reflection of the French Revolution and the myriad of emotional feelings of Huguenot pioneers and others who had everything to gain by emigrating to America, like the Biebers in 1744, and other European immigrants.
Clarence Bieber’s viewing was a packed celebration of Oley Valley neighbors, and all those who are the patriotic descendants of early American pioneer families, whose ancestors had sought the mercy of a universal God. Clarence was buried in the historical Oley Cemetery.
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.