While hundreds of Americans drove by the 1783 historic Georgian mansion, east of Kutztown on Route 222, Hottenstein family descendants from all over the United States converged there for an exciting reunion, eating gourmet PA Dutch food and paying homage to their Americana ancestry.
Not just a country farmer in the vast East Penn Valley, David Hottenstein (1734-1802) was a Colonial gentlemen whose farming skills resulted in his building an estate with a farm mansion that rivaled the best architecture and the port city of Philadelphia. In fact, the Historic Preservation Trust of the United States has his 1783 home listed at the top of their National Register of important homes in the United States. It is an architecture that should become an official United States landmark, preserving the exceptional early American architecture of Colonial PA German Georgian architecture, which is of the typical style of our nation’s Independence Hall. Its ornately carved keystones on every window and its pedimented doorways built within its grand hallway suggest that you will come across the Liberty Bell standing around the next fashionable carved doorway.
Almost everyone knows that the DuPont family from Wilmington, Del., was so excited with finding this American shrine to our nation, they purchased the second floor ballroom of the Hottenstein mansion and installed it as one of the best examples of a Colonial American ballroom in the United States. At the DuPont Winterthur Museum, hundreds of Americans get a chance to tour the multi-colored ballroom with carved moldings, paneling, and pedimented doorways every day, preserving our unique PA Dutch fraktur folk art painting style.
This humble PA Dutch folk art technique was used throughout the interior of this multi-roomed mansion with beautiful fireplaces and mantels to match the raised panel wall wainscoting. However, one would think that a family who lives in such aristocratic surroundings, would not partake of anything as lowly as a glass of beer. So, when John Hottenstein addressed the reunion gathering, he surprised them with a rare finding he came across on eBay: two post-Civil War antique blown bottles embossed with “J.J. Hottenstein & Bro., Brewery in Lehigh County in 1880.
This Mansion is a gift to the nation via Dr. David Fulmer Hottenstein (last family owner of the home) bequeathing this early American architectural shrine to the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County in 1976. Dr Robert Reynolds, Jr., resident curator and preservation expert for the Trust welcomed the Hottenstein reunion gathering to this property, for which they have also financially supported its maintenance and some restoration.
The iconic PA Dutch folk art interior painting of the 1783 Hottenstein carved wood work by local natives is its most important feature to our Americana Pennsylvania Dutch ethnicity. This alone makes this regional architecture important to be classified as a National Landmark to be preserved forever by the Federal Government located along busy Route 222. Although early French Huguenot families were not vain in signing their folk art dower chests, it is evident from the signature flat hearts carved on the Hottenstein date stones, this beautiful Americana shrine was crafted by the local Jacob and John Bieber Oley Valley sawmill family and folk artists.
Those attending the reunion were a distinguished group of intelligent PA Deitsch individuals who had to park in a local church parking lot and take a ride back to the mansion site in a hay wagon pulled by a John Deere tractor, run by a local native. Is was a wonderful picnic, overlooking the farm fields of rural Maxatawny Township, eating delicious strawberry short cake made by an Old Order Mennonite family.
Although my wife and I are both early supporters of the Berks County Historic Preservation Trust, I would especially like to thank Russell Hottenstein for his invitation to join the Hottenstein Reunion Sunday, June 9th to enjoy the friendship of these descendants of David Hottenstein, some of which are personal friends of ours, such as Betty Hottenstein from the Oley Valley.
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.