A Look Back in History: Rare H. Winslow Fegley & Amandus Moyer photos show early life in rural Berks

Side of Amandus Moyer’s brick residence, these young girls pose for a Moyer photo on horseback. Courtesy Webster Reinert Collection, Photo taken by Amandus Moyer.
Side of Amandus Moyer’s brick residence, these young girls pose for a Moyer photo on horseback. Courtesy Webster Reinert Collection, Photo taken by Amandus Moyer. Submitted photo
Harvesting tobacco was once a cash crop in the area, especially among the Plain Dutch Wenger Mennonites in the 1950s when the first moved their colony into Kutztown. Here, Worldly Dutch farmers at work.  Photo taken by H. Winslow Fegley, courtesy the Schwenkfelder Library Archives, Pennsburg.
Harvesting tobacco was once a cash crop in the area, especially among the Plain Dutch Wenger Mennonites in the 1950s when the first moved their colony into Kutztown. Here, Worldly Dutch farmers at work. Photo taken by H. Winslow Fegley, courtesy the Schwenkfelder Library Archives, Pennsburg. Submitted photo

The treasure trove of culinary secrets that have been passed down to our Pennsylvania Dutch people by their ancestors explains only in part their unique fulfillment of life. As an industrious, diligent people, some of which still long prefer to do things by hand rather than machine, the challenge of hard work is met willingly, and the satisfaction that ensues comes from the accomplishment of meeting the challenge.

There is among the people a sense of yearning to work the soil by our Worldly and Plain Dutch cousins or as we refer to our Mennonite colony, “Born of the soil and subservient to God.” Whether be it a truck patch, a flower garden, or just the grooming of the land, a natural curiosity for gadgetry and simple electronics and not the expansive world of I-phones, tablets, handheld computers, but the inventiveness and ingenuity has enabled their rural economy to keep pace with the nation. Such is also the case with the Old Order Wenger Mennonites who have made their way into the Historic Oley Valley, only recently.

From an anthropologist’s vantage point, it’s near impossible for city people to appreciate the true-grit experiences of an agrarian people, and especially those folk who lived in such an original culture as the Oley Valley. The daily experiences which made their lives exciting and satisfying are beyond concept of a modern urbanite, who being diminished by affluent living and commercial values, are disqualified in finding enjoyment in the simple pleasures of life. But are certainly able to witness the grind yet beautiful simplicity on their big screen TV’s or tablet popular reality shows such as Mountain Men, The Last Alaskans, or the like that give resemblance to the self-sufficiency once prevalent in the Oley Valley.

In spite of political anxieties with recent presidents, social and economic pressure that continue to engulf the East Penn and Oley Valleys, as well as elsewhere, the very same obstinate American individualism that spawned these folk together with the rest of the nation still nurtures the dynamic culture of America today. The development of land in America has been an irreversible process that began with the coming of the white man to the Western shores and the expulsion of the Native American. Ultimately, American conservation of culture and gathering of material folk art has dropped in the list of national priorities and for quite a number of years now. The reality is that national heritage is no less important and no less valuable than it was before, but the political and financial structure of the nation no longer makes it possible for private philanthropic preservation such as with contributions of the Rockefellers, Fords, and DuPont’s to the National Heritage as in the past.

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Through all of this, at the turn of the century into the 1900’s, when most of the nation was fascinated with the unbelievable results of automation and the beginning of a mobile America, there were a few who saw the opportunity to record that way of life that was soon to be antediluvian. Such, were men like H. Winslow Fegley of Reading and Amandus D. Moyer of Lobachsville, Pennsylvania, who took their hobby of photography seriously and embarked on a candid picture taking spree that captured for all the lifestyle in this part of America.

Fortunately, Reinert from nearby Pleasantville, Oley Township had the chore of helping clean up Amandus Moyer’s farm for a family who had just bought the farm. Acquainted with the village of Lobachsville, he was a great help adjusting the new couple to the farming territory. However, there were a lot of personal things left behind by Amandus that was of no use to the new family among which were photographic supplies not of any value to this family, who was only interested in farming. Thus, this old box of glass negatives which were very old found in the attic, had no use to them, as well.

Therefore, in honor of his helping clean up the farmstead, they gave him this heavy box of antique glass negatives from the 19th Century made by photographer Amandus Moyer. Some were photos of his old automobile that he drove around photographing local Oley Valley people.