The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

A Look Back in History: National Register property owners maintain and preserve our heritage

1980s survey of homes along Route 222 shows architectural examples of early Americana

By Richard L.T. Orth, Columnist

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the shadow of the Berks County Conservancy, volunteers who had surveyed the historic early American heritage of the East Penn Valley decades ago, modern citizens could not believe it was possible for a civilized community such as ours to demolish one of our landmark buildings, which was once slated to be put on the National Register of Historic buildings in the United States!

A historic honor fought over by many citizens who wanted their homes registered on this architectural who’s who in America. In order to be listed on the national register, your home had to be lived in by a major historical personality or be such an example of a major school of architecture that it rivaled most other architectural models. So, when conservancy volunteers surveyed the entire East Penn Valley, they were eager to discover some of the nation’s most dramatic examples of early Americana, in the 1980s.

Just east of Kutztown, in 1950, Henry Dupont had discovered in the 1783 David Hottenstein mansion, a ballroom which had one of the most decorated folk art painted themes in America. Now installed at Dupont’s Winterthur museum, this folk art room (known as the Fraktur room) may have been decorated by the exceptional Jacob and John Bieber PA Dutch folk artists from the Oley Valley.

Thus, when the conservancy asked for volunteers in the 1980s to survey the homes along Route 222, there was no shortage of volunteers and architectural buffs. Of the several dedicated historians who led the search among other Berks Conservancy members to record the early American architecture of Berks County was the late Phoebe Hopkins of Oley Township who was one of the citizens who founded the Historic District of Oley Township where the entire township is under the protection of the National Historic District status.

A very active person enlisting citizens to register their historic properties on the National Index of homes, Phoebe was a dedicated preservationist. With commercial redevelopment in rural America being unstable near our suburbs, I give credit to the volunteers of the Berks County Conservancy for drawing the public’s attention toward preserving our material heritage by listing properties on the Historic National Register, which only means that no federal funds can be used to demise, however, a private citizen can demise his own property.

I salute all Americans who own property on the National Register who maintain and preserve our American civilization. Our local governments are behind in historic zones to preserve national heritage for posterity.