Approaching 75 years of age, my life has been blessed with a number of kind neighbors and free private enterprise individuals (proprietors) like Jack and Martha “Dolly” Fox, who ran the Dryville Hotel in Rockland Township, and made my family life a cherished experience.
Having long been a customer of Henry “Hen” Fox’s butcher shop and general store in Dryville, I was familiar with many taverns and general stores in the historic Oley Hills of my maternal Bieber ancestors. But the recent passing away of Jeff Fox’s mother, Dolly (1931-2013), and his father, previously on February 3rd, 2010, made me realize that the Fox family ran a unique institution, far greater than any other proprietorship in Berks County.
More than a tavern or dining place, Fox’s Dryville Hotel; on the historic corner of Dryville has been a community institution for more than 63 years in the beloved Oley Hills, where I have been a customer of Jack Fox, and his father, Henry, (Hen) Fox who operated a butcher shop and a general store at Dryville for many years. Known for his delicious summer bologna and smoked sausage, a “must,” if you were making a dish like pig stomach.
Anyone who has ever driven past Dryville Hotel, on the way to the Pricetown Ridge in good or bad weather has realized the importance of the steadfast reliability of the Dryville Hotel as a stopping off point for a light lunch or leisurely beer, catching up with the latest news about snow removability in the hinterland mountains.
Living in a log house, near Boyer’s Junction, other neighbors and I, counted on the PA Dutch hospitality of the Fox family when we took friends to their Hotel to enjoy PA Dutch cooking and congenial conversation. But rarely did anyone local sitting at the tavern bar, share with me their favorite hunting spots for native morel mushrooms, a spring delicacy. Many of Jack’s patrons were hardcore PA Deitschers who spoke the Deitsch Dialect. But if you did not understand PA Dutch, they would shift their language into English, so Jack’s bar crowd could share in the humor of what they had said, a most congenial atmosphere!
Gordon George, a regular Dryville patron, was a competent tradesman and could fix almost anything if you asked him, for he was up in age and had the wisdom of experience to back him up! A country tavern where everyone was a friend and no one gossiped behind your back! For most of these hard working hill folk were members of the local Christ Mertz’s Lutheran Church, down the road.
Often villagers and urban folk stopped in to enjoy a respite between jobs and farming chores, a civic community who were interested in sports, hunting, and to a lesser degree, politics. The older generation passed on their unique PA Dutch folklife to the younger ones, and almost everyone was eager to share his sober wisdom as testified to by the bartender, Jack Fox, whose family were prominent members of the township.
At a time when older taverns had catered to the urban modern business crowd, the Dryville Hotel, run by the Fox family, did not forget its ethnic PA Dutch grassroots patrons, and often employed local workers to wait on these customers. A true grit experience, if a traveler was lost or needed assistance locating someone nearby, preserving our colorful Deitsch local folk culture, any of us were eager to help. Today, in 2013, there are few proprietors in the Oley Hills who have continued this true Americana spirit of an authentic Deitsch Tavern, but my fond memories linger on!
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.