Most recently, when I was driving by Ludwick Funeral Home, in Kutztown, I was surprised by the number of Mennonite Horse and buggies in attendance.
A reminder to me that our 300 year old Dutch Country was still comprised of the Plain Dutch and the Worldly or Gay Dutch (term popular in the 1950s and 60s), now more often called the Church Dutch or Deitsch to distinguish them from our early Amish and Mennonite sects who were personally invited by William Penn in the 17th Century.
The occasion was the death of a Dutchman from Bowers who was a modern Dutchman that drove our Wenger Mennonites to functions too far away that was practical for him to chauffer Plain individuals in an automobile instead; a citizen beloved by the Mennonite community.
My thoughts quickly reverted to how our Kutztown Mennonite Plain people had recently purchased two historic Oley Valley farms and that when driving to Oley from Kutztown down the historic Forgedale Road from Boyers Junction, it was a common occurrence to pass their horse drawn carriages; not only going to Sunday meetings, but everyday traffic since they were active farmers.
Coincidentally, the Historic Oley Township just commemorated its 30th anniversary of being a National Historic District, chosen by the Federal Historic Register in 1983, as an ideal example of rural American architecture and agrarian native culture.
The farming expertise of the native Kutztown Mennonites was welcomed by the farmers of Oley Township at a time when our nation was uncertain of its agrarian economy. Then too historians who were worried about the encroachment of commercial enterprises and realized that it was only a matter of time until the rural Oley Valley became annexed to the urban centers around it.
Route 73 that cuts through the Oley Valley had its old time American Legion restaurant bought by a citizen who wished to turn it into an ultra modern commercial Dunkiní Donuts, like so many other urban centers, which would have disgraced the early American landscape in the heart of the Federally protected National Historic District.
However, the religious soul of Oley Township was definitely compatible and comparable to Kutztown Wenger Mennonites, since its early French Huguenot and German Brethren pioneer sect (Dunkards) still had a meeting house in the Oley Hills. A conservative group of early American farmers with PA Deitsch ties with the Moravians of historic Bethlehem in Colonial Times, the Oley Valley immigrant descendants still believe whole heartedly in God and Country and World Peace.
Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.