Funds were raised for the preservation of the historic Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead at the 17th annual Auction held at the homestead on May 4.
New life is being breathed into the homestead by the preservation committee, Elam Stoltzfus and his son, Nicolas Stoltzfus, a 10th generation descendant and namesake of the Amish pioneer, ancestor of all the Stoltzfuses in America.
“This place is a little haven where the Tulpehocken Creek winds near Wertz Covered Bridge, Gring’s Mill, Gruber Wagon Works, and Penn State Berks Campus,” said Nic, the new ambassador and caretaker living in the refurbished apartment in the barn.
Festivities started under a large tent with breakfast and choir performance. By 11 a.m. an auctioneer’s call echoed over the landscape. Homemade quilts, furniture, plants and more were up for bid. Their slogan was “bring something, buy something.”
“It is a place for fellowship, a place for rekindling lost connections and appreciation of our Christian heritage and ancestors,” said Elam, a Florida filmmaker and documentarian originally raised in Elverson as an Old Order Amish.
In 1966 there was a split when New Order Amish broke away without being excommunicated. He still cherishes his heritage and named his son Nicholas after the original Amish pioneer.
On display in the home is the ancestral chest carried on the ship Polly in 1766 from Germany to Philadelphia along with replicas of their Holy Bible, prayer book and the Ausbund, the hymnal that includes texts dating back to the persecutions in the 1500-1600s that have been used for centuries of worship by the Amish.
It’s a step into yesteryear, Berks and Lancaster county Amish in their traditional dress; men with black trousers, colored shirts, suspenders, straw hats, and their long beards; women with their long hair tucked under bonnets dressed in black or colorful long dresses. They still live a simple life, drive horse and buggies, both quaint and peaceable they cleave to their faith and their past.
Some English (the term Amish use to refer to people outside of their brethren) attended, both locals and folks traveling in buses. Wooded planks covered the muddy ground soaked by rain. The aroma of food wafted from tables where signs jutted out of plastic jars that read “pay by donation” for homemade pies, buns, pastries, cooked sausages, soup, sandwiches, freshly made lemonade, tea and more. Amish and Mennonite books were for sale at another table.
Paul Kurtz, 89, formerly of Morgantown, worked with others for 20 years to keep the homestead from being demolished and then restoring it in 2003. In 1997, a small group of concerned Nicholas descendants worked to save the house from demolition, soon helped by numbers of descendants and non-descendants.
Kurtz said Gov. George Leader owned the property and scheduled it to be demolished and the land added to Country Meadows Home.
“Discovering what this meant to the Amish in 1950 he saved it from extinction and helped the Amish provide education to their children by establishing a school for their students to attend past their 8th-grade education. Previously their fathers were sent to prison for not sending their children to public school. This became a family mission. After his death, at the 2015 Annual Auction, his sons conveyed the deed to the property to The Stoltzfus Preservation Committee.”
Kurtz said Elam and Nic Stoltzfus continuing the work on the homestead is a blessing.
“The Amish will realize the amazing community they are going to get,” he said. “Now I have time to work on my father’s writings. I promised my father I would publish them. He was a farmer and a preacher. The Book is ‘Plow, Pulpit and People.’ Many tears I shed writing and remembering his wonderful life.”
“This is a place for history to come alive, a true gathering of the Stoltzfus descendants,” said Elam.
In 2008, they met with Paul Kurtz and others showing their PBS documentary “The Great Florida Cattle Drive.”
“It was magical. They invited us to come back in 2017 for a $10,000 fundraiser. It was a great hit and the Amish agreed to a coffee table book to share their heritage. I had visions of a film, but that is not yet to be,” said Elam.
“German Lutherans to Pennsylvania Amish: The Stoltzfus Family Story” -- a coffee table book written by Nicholas Stoltzfus with photography by Elam -- will be published soon by Morgantown’s Masthof Press. Owners Lemar and Lois Ann Mast also played an instrumental role in saving the homestead from demolition in 1977.
Elam brings to this enterprise what started years ago as a first-grade art student of Jere Brady of Morgantown and blossomed into a career in photography, film producer and winner of numerous awards including an Emmy. Nic and his father wrote three full length screen plays and documentaries for public TV.
They, along with a group of Stoltzfus descendants including Rose (Beiler) and Zach and Lucy Stoltzfus, traveled to Germany in 2018 to research the genealogy, history, religions and culture in which the family lived and immigrated to America from 1624-1832.
Nic wrote the coffee book seated at an old desk of his forefathers in the barn that collapsed in the 1920s but was resurrected by Stoltzfus descendants.
Today Stoltzfuses live all over the globe, with diverse occupations.
“But every Stoltzfus, no matter where they live or what they do, traces their roots back to one Amish family who arrived in America in 1766. It is from this one root that all other branches swell into one great Stoltzfus family tree,” to quote Nicolas Stoltzfus in their Stoltzfus Family Story book.
For more information or to book a tour or event call 717-808-7785 or follow on Facebook at Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead.