Tour Berks County's Dutch heritage

Photo by Dan Clark Barn Star in Kutztown off of Crystal Cave Road.

Along Old Route 22 is a part history that is unique to the area and its Dutch heritage.

The Dutch Hex Tour helps tourists and history enthusiasts find the famed Pa Dutch Hex Signs without being confined to a tour bus. The tour does not give group or individual tours, but rather a detailed pamphlet with a road map intended for a self-guided tour throughout Berks County.

“The Dutch Hex Tour started in 1963 and was designed to give people the chance to check out the Dutch Hexes that were painted on the sides of barns,” said David Fooks, director of The Dutch Hex Tour. He is also the Kutztown Folk Festival executive director.

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While many believe that the Dutch hexes are a more recent trend among the Pennsylvania Dutch, Patrick Donmoyer who is the Historical Building and Site Conservator of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown, believes they are older than what many people think.

Donmoyer, who lives in Dryville, said that his research on the barn stars has dated them back to the 1700s. He has been studying the Barn Stars in Berks County since 2008 with a grant from the Farmstead Society. He has taken thousands of pictures of the folk art and has documented around 500 stars in Berks County.

The barn stars took on the term ‘hexes’ in the 1920s when Wallace Nutting wrote a book called “Pennsylvania Beautiful.” This book, according to Donmoyer, inaccurately describes the paintings as something that would be used in association with witches and devil worship.

“I believe that they meant what their understating of the painting was and they were often put in places of life’s passages such as birth certificates and tomb stones,” Donmoyer, said. “There was also a strong connection to the way they saw the world and what was on the folk art.”

It is difficult to find out what they meant because people were not writing about them before the 20th century.

Because these barns and the hexes are older, the Dutch Hex Tour splits the money that comes in to give half of it to restoring Dutch Hexes. The Dutch Hex Tour will donate anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 to restoring the barns and painting new ones.

“That will usually cover the price of two to three barns,” Fook said.

To restore the hexes the Dutch Hex Tour outsources the job to Berks County Painter Eric Claypoole of Lenhartsville, who according to Fooks is one of the only professionals in the area who works with Dutch Hexes.

The Dutch Hex Tour also looks at candidates to have their barns painted so that they tradition may continue.

Donmoyer believes that there were many more in the area but that they have been torn down or deteriorated over time.

Fooks said the Dutch Hex Tour has an executive board that decides where the money goes but the administrative work such as layout for the pamphlet and printing is done by the Kutztown Folk Festival.

Fooks said that many people take advantage of the self-guided tour and that the only complaint that people have is that they get lost in the back roads of Berks County.

“But then they get to go on another adventure,” Fooks said.

The tour takes tourists all around Berks County and a cluster of the houses can be found along Old Route 22. There are also a few painted barns on Crystal Cave Road in Kutztown.