Old-fashioned hymns drifted through the air on Saturday as visitors walked a meadow path to a Virginville farm. This was the site of the PA German Farm Festival, which underscored the region’s agricultural history and raised funds for the Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society.
Oliver and Elliott Heck of Oley hand-dipped wax candles at an interactive display. The young brothers planned to light the candles for Halloween or Christmas. Their grandmother, Donna Heck, has attended the festival for several years.
“It’s a lovely day,” she said. “It can be tough to relate history to younger people. Here, they get to see it.”
More than 50 volunteers dressed in period costumes and helped guests experience life on a 19th century Berks County farm. They demonstrated broom making, basket weaving and butter churning or explained the processes used to butcher a hog or churn fresh butter. Others guided visitors through the brick farm house.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that almost no improvements were made to the house since the 1800s,” said Joy Stutzman, who toured the home with her husband, Dave. “Electricity and a coal furnace were added, but no kitchen, no bathroom.”
Cindy Spangler of Wrightsville sat in the shade and practiced the lost art of drop spinning.
“It’s spinning without the wheel,” she said, explaining she taught herself the skill after finding a wooden spinner and bundles of Civil-war era flax in her mother’s attic. She was spinning wool at the festival and has also learned to spin silk on the instrument, used in place of the more familiar spinning wheel.
“There’s not a straight line in it,” she noted, holding the curved spinner up to the light. “I find it very relaxing.”
Her sister, Linda Bookmyer, sat beside Spangler, adding small, even stitches to a patch quilt. The sisters have attended the festival for several years.
“It’s always nice to show [a skill] to someone new, to get a new generation started on a hobby,” Bookmyer said. “You don’t want people to forget how to do it.”
The sisters learned about the festival from their friends, Meredith and Warren Harmon. Meredith is a descendant of the Dreibelbis family and the couple is planning to move to Virginville in the near future. They used modern tools like torches to recreate the hand-cast spoons, bullets and medallions that their 19th century counterparts would cast over a fire.
Guests could purchase modern snacks, like French fries or cheeseburgers, as well as ice cream cones or old-fashioned mint tea served in simple paper cups. In the wooden barn, choral groups sang and lecturers shared about diverse topics: archaeology, women’s rights, native storytelling. Several tables spotlighted the Native American influence on the land.
Barry Navarrb of New Tripoli displayed “Tools of the Past,” inventions unique to American farmers and entrepreneurs. His table included favorite pieces from his large collection, including miniscule red blinders placed on chickens to keep them from pecking other birds.
“I’m always interested in the way our forefathers invented things,” Navarrb said as he demonstrated some of the ingenious ways early Americans trapped flies, ants and mice. “It shows their imagination, how they could invent things to make life a little bit easier.
In a nearby grove, musicians played fiddles, dulcimers and banjos, while guests wandered the grounds or waited their turn to tour the farm house. Looking over the scene, Mark Dreibelbis (who owns the property along with his wife) explained the idea behind the festival.
In 1998, then-owner Parker Dreibelbis moved to a nursing home. A lawyer contacted the family and encouraged them to take steps to preserve the farm, which he called a historic treasure. A group of relatives formed a nonprofit group, the Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society.
“For the first couple of years, we were just patching things up and repairing things,” Dreibelbis explained, and the group decided they needed a focus for their efforts. Talks led to the idea of a festival, and the farm festival became their rallying point.
The PA German Farm Festival has been held for five years. The society has added other activities: a spring flower walk, spring peeper walk and winter ice harvest. Eventually, Dreibelbis said, the plan is to turn the family farm into a farming museum.
For information about events at the Dreibelbis Farm, readers may contact Mark Dreibelbis at firstname.lastname@example.org. The farm also has a Facebook page.