Part 1 of a two-part series
As modern day Pike Township celebrates its 200th Anniversary Aug. 17, its quaint village of Lobachsville dates back to 1745, named in honor of Peter Lobachof French Huguenot descent. It is one of the earliest villages in the historic Oley Valley.
Peter Lobach was given59 acres from his stepfather Wilhelm Pott, who owned the Lobachsville Gristmill, on which he built an early fulling mill for textiles. And later, a sawmill on the Pine Creek that ran through the village.
Since my great uncle, Freddie Bieber (1885-1978), had a Colonial farm in the Rockland Township mountains above Lobachsville, elderly Fred, up in age, often talked about the Lobachs. Since the Lobachs had land bordering Fred’s 80-acre farm, he spoke so personally about Davy Lobach who had become the Justice of the Peace in that area of Pike Township. Doing business with Clarence Yoder the miller who succeeded Wilhelm Pott, Fred bought feed and fertilizer for his farm animals and garden, regularly.
The Biebers, also French Huguenots from the Alsatian territory of Rhine Valley of Germany’s Palatinate area, spoke a Palatine German dialect like most of the other farmers in the upper Oley Valley. In fact, Johan and Jacob Bieber arrived in Pennsylvania as early as 1744, and eventually built a homestead and sawmill on the Bieber Creek along the Oley and Rockland Township border at a place now known as Tri-town Park, near Peter Engel’s historic mill. Thereby, both the Biebers and Peter Lobach were active timbering the forests of the Oley Hills. However, the Bieber clan became furniture makers, building dower chests and wardrobes for the pioneer families, near Lobachsville.
Peter Lobach’s son, Samuel, at Lobachsville began a chair making business making early American Windsor chairs on a lathe with distinctive bamboo turnings at a time when most natives needed household kitchen furniture. Located opposite the William Lobach Tavern in Lobachsville, Samuel Lobach also was involved with building the village general store that would eventually be designated a United States Post Office in 1835.
Besides Samuel Lobach, Jacob Keim, who lived outside Lobachsville on the New Jerusalem side, was a masterful wood turner who turned ball feet for dower chests and wardrobes that were fashioned by the Jacob Bieber furniture makers and decorated by his son, John in PA Dutch folk art motifs.
An early American self sufficient village economy, these PA Dutch pioneers were ready for the Continental Congress to declare independence by 1776; with farms bursting with wheat being ground at their gristmills and developing Conestoga wagon commerce with Philadelphia’s export trade as part of our bread-basket trade of the dynamic United States Republic. The four storey Lobachsville Pott-Reinert-Grim Gristmill still operated by an overshot water wheel is in the 21st Century; a reminder of frontier perseverance of freedom of opportunity.
A humble but talented basket maker living a few miles away from Lobachsville, Fred was dependent on the village store and gristmill, later owned by Clarence Yoder. Fred’s grandfather, Jacob Bieber (1731-1798), was on of the founders of Saint Paul’s Church. Fred relied on supplies from the general store and news of the outside world living in seclusion in the Oley Hills. But Freddie was a skilled craftsman of split oak melon shaped baskets, which were used by farmers for the harvesting of local potato crops. A folk personality, Fred made his baskets by shaving the oak splints on an old time Schnitzelbunk, being assisted by his wife, Annie Bucher-Bieber, who did most of the weaving. A traditional basket maker, Fred, varied his home craft by occasionally coloring his weavers in red, blue, and green to provide a chain link pattern to his melon shaped baskets.
Considered antiques in today’s basket market, they bring as high as $200 or more at auctions, since they are the last Americana ones made in the 20th Century. But being an early American French Huguenot, he counted himself lucky if he could provide for himself year after year and could pay his real estate taxes on 80 acres of poor farmland, additionally selling parcels off to neighbors to pay those real estate taxes! But today Freddie Bieber’s handmade split oak baskets are considered rare antiques.
Although the early American Windsor chairs make by the Lobach family are revered by the older generation considered an iconic antique of Colonial times, the realism of their skilled Americana craftsmanship is forever captured within the phrase that “they were made in Lobachsville, by natives who lived during the spirit of 1776!”
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.