The Berks-Mont News (

A Look Back in History: Green energy long used by Old Order Mennonites in Kutztown

To pump water for farm, large windmills were erected or underground water-wheels

By Richard L.T. Orth, Columnist

Friday, October 13, 2017

Perhaps historic Pennsylvania Dutch farmsteads are more appreciated by Kutztown Mennonites than their modem Worldly Dutch neighbors, who seek to tear them down in modernizing farms. It is without doubt that Dr. Shoemaker’s “Pennsylvania Dutchman” newspaper aided in beckoning Plain Dutch Mennonites to follow him to Kutztown where he published his magazine and its successor, “Pennsylvania Folklife.” Here, in the Kutztown area is where he emphasized in his journal and we have seen over the decades a wonderful acculturation of genuine Plain and modern Dutch citizens continue our Pennsylvania folklife identity into the 21st Century.

Rarely in modern civilization do religion and science mix, especially as our use of fossil fuels in the world has become an issue towards endangerment, and current events such as oil spills off the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska in recent times have caused environmentalists to review native and natural ways in which our nation can produce energy in a more desirable method. Wind turbines, for example, advocated by capitalist, Boone Pickens always did have its followers among our rural Old Order Mennonites and Amish. Their religious philosophy to not let automatic machines run away with one’s life is the core principle of Plain People in our area, who encourage the use of natural forces on earth, instead of man-made inventions that may not be in the best interests of humanity. So, when the Old Order Mennonites converted Berks County farms to be operated by these old fashioned windmill derricks, few people applauded their energy saving tradition.

Whether it was pumping well water or water wheels harnessing eternal motion of our streams, these early American techniques have always had their place in our agrarian society, and one need not change one’s religion to engage in these energy saving techniques. But they do work, as well as harnessing a driving horse to a wagon or buggy to meet occupational needs, which I’m not suggesting the inexperienced do. But perhaps the materialistic American, who desires faster and convenient in many facets of life, especially on the highway, may not truly know what human sacrifice, principle, and medical cost he has forced upon nation to endure; and worst of all senseless, tragic deaths on our roads.

That first generation of Mennonites that made the relocation in 1949 at first replaced the electrical fixtures in the homes with gas and gasoline lamps since electricity was a bi-product of the modern world, but since natural gas comes from the earth it could be used by the Mennonites. Therefore, from the 1950s up until the 1980s, many farm homes of the Mennonites here in and around Kutztown used bottled gas for lighting the house, cooking ranges, and refrigeration before farms were reverted back to use electricity again. Those natural gas lamps gave a bright glow, almost equal to electricity, but not of the same convenience. Furthermore, in not sacrificing towards secular ways, if a Mennonite woman had a gas range, whether new or old, it was black and not fancy porcelain white. Plain women that had both a gas stove and an old-fashioned coal range often used both with no actual preference, as was the case with Pioneer Ezra’s (Burkholder) wife.

But in order to pump water for the farmstead, large windmills were erected or underground water-wheels in settling in at Kutztown. Unfamiliar with the Plain People at first, many Worldly Dutch people could not understand how their Plain Dutch cousins lived without certain domestic conveniences. Nonetheless, there was either a waterwheel or windmill on the farm since they were initially without electricity, and through the power produced by one of these machines, water was pumped from a well to a storage rank. Most farms, if not all with perhaps one as confirmed recently have running water now.