A look Back in History: Preservation Trust holds Christmas Tea in Oley Valley

Submitted Similar to the Pooks' dower chest shown at the Christmas tea, the 1776 Esther Hoch prominently displays Huguenot flat hearts.

The Berks Historic Trust held their Annual Christmas Tea Dec. 4 to raise money to benefit the properties they preserve in the county of Berks. This year’s Tea was hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Pook in Oley Township, a few miles from Lobachsville, where they own an organic certified farm that was originally owned by the Engel Peter family, upon which there is a beautiful 1804 Georgian farmhouse with other structures.

The Pook’s are best known as the operators of Pook and Pook Auction Gallery in Downingtown, and have furnished their Georgian home with Colonial and early American antiques, located amidst the rolling hills of the Oley Valley. Their farmstead includes a quaint PA Deitsch bank barn and piggery, and provides an ideal backdrop for their lifelong collection of PA Dutch antiques, which were eagerly appreciated by Trust supporters of early Americana.

Women of the Trust poured tea and coffee to more than 200 visitors, benefiting the financial objectives of the Historic Preservation Trust, as they toured an ideal historic mansion and ate exotic sandwiches and homemade cookies. Enjoying a colorful tall Christmas tree in the front parlor, amid local period antiques of the PA Deitsch variety, and classic colonial furniture, everywhere.

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This spacious 209-year-old Peter Georgian farmhouse with a central hallway was heated by several original elegant fireplaces, which added to the family Christmas mood of the Holiday Open House. But our ethnic PA Dutch cupboards done in native folk art style added rural charm to the holiday serving table where Trust women served tea and coffee from the formal silver 19th Century pouring vessels complete with silver trays of a variety of delights.

Of special interest was the huge original Berks County Almshouse painting done in the 19th Century showing life in our rural county in the early 1800s, including a Conestoga wagon pulled by a six horse team in the adjoining dining room; an Americana treasure cherished by major museums. There is nothing as nostalgic than Christmas in the Oley Valley were 18th Century Quakers joined humble Palantine Plain Deitchers (Rhinelanders) to practice Christianity amid native Indians to follow the Bible and plow to begin America’s God given right to worship and till the New World soil in harmony to cultivate an Americana Civilization where all God’s people are equal.

In particular, the French Huguenots like Johan and Jacob Bieber whose farm was alongside the 1730 Engel Peter’s farmstead purchased by Ron and Deborah Pook where typical God fearing Huguenots whose humility was just as strong as their neighboring Quaker farmers. Following Calvinists teachings like today’s Plain Mennonites, they were not vain and did not place their signatures on several works of art they had created. So when museums discovered their Christian Huguenot designs on Colonial Americana dower chests around early Lobachsville done in the 18th century, they wondered why such a talented family never signed their work.

“The credit for the beautiful folk art on their chests belonged to the glory of God, they were only interpreting his will!” Thus, these humble folk artist who painted large flat hearts to represent Christianity became known as the Huguenot Flat Heart Artists of Lobachsville. Such as the one they did for Esther Hoch in 1776, their neighbor at Hoch’s Crossing, before Jacob and son, John migrated to Salisbury Township in Lehigh County in 1789.

However, visitors to the Pook farmstead were amazed to find in the master bedroom upstairs, a superb Bieber decorated dower chest at the foot end of the Pook carved 18th Century style canopy bed. An excellent example of a Lobachsville native dower chest with two large Christian flat hearts of the pioneer period, standing near to a gorgeous Chippendale slant top desk of the same period. But the tall case early American clocks of this Americana farmhouse that were throughout the Pook collection, added to the ambience of this annual Tea, which had become a revered event in its 40 year history.

Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.