A Look Back in History: Kutztown citizens celebrate American roots

Most recently, the community of Kutztown celebrated its roots with a unique lecture by the Kutztown Area historical Society in their nationally famous 1892 Public School building designed by the renown PA German architect, Milton Beam. The guest lecturer, Leopoldo M. Montoya, a researcher from Drexel University Library and teacher of philosophy, was very honored to find such a surviving lavish example of architect Beam's distinguished public school facades. Montoya was lucky himself to also have found an original Beam designed home in which he and his wife live at Wyncote, Montgomery County. But locally, Milton Beam had also designed two distinguished churches, one at Hamburg, the other at Windsor Castle, besides Kutztown's enormous 1892 public school building.

Of Spanish ethnicity, with a pronounced accent, speaking to our native PA German audience, Montoya spoke English well, showing illustrated examples of architect Beam's creativity. A gray-haired lecturer with matching beard, Leopoldo Montoya appeared much like the late Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, who always lectured on our PA Dietsch Americana folkways. Answering questions from the floor, Montoya showed his rapture for the exciting architecture created by Beam whose original German spelling was 'Biehm', before it was Anglicized into (Beam), the English equivalent. But with Montoya's tall structure and lecture-style, becoming excited with Beam's architectural expertise, there was no mistaking he was the re-incarnate twin professor Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, showing his mannerisms and possibly his respect for Kutztownians who dared to preserve a public school building, by having it registered on the National American Historic Index, so it could be preserved for posterity! Not being familiar with our early American homes around Kutztown, Montoya may have missed the fact that Milton Beam had incorporated in the 1892 school building its lavish Georgian and Federal trim, which was evident in the homes of gentry as the 1783 Hottenstein mansion. But the classical formal entrance to the 1892 school façade with spacious tower on top was the signature design of Milton Beam.

A well-spoken American whose ethnic roots are Spanish, his interpretation of Beam's building materials and style were enthusiastically viewed by the audience, some of which had personal recollections with this historic site, now registered on the National American Index of important buildings. Having enjoyed Mr. Montoya's lecture, with his accent, one might say we all experienced a nostalgic rebirth of what it meant for our immigrant ancestors to have come to America for freedom and liberty. Craig Koller and Dr. Brendan Strasser, among other Kutztown Historical society members, were enthusiastic about major recent restorations to the front doors of the Kutztown Historical Museum, just in time for Mr. Montoya's academic presentation to a packed house that Sunday afternoon. But few of us realized that Montoya was such a 'look alike' to the tall, charismatic Kutztown Folk Festival founder, Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker!

Following the informative lecture, my wife and I went from the historic 1892 public school shrine to Trinity Lutheran Church for the 7 p.m. Disney music concert by the Kutztown Community Choir, under the capable direction of J. Richard Wagner; always a delightful treat, but this year featured the Americana music of Walt Disney. The people in the 56 voice choir sang flawlessly in English, although I knew personally that it may not have always been easy, since like our Spanish lecturer, there were tall tale signs of our American Dietsch roots or accents that reach back in the community to the founding years of America, itself.

But this is the 21st Century and individuals who have grown up in our public school systems have learned to speak English and understand various phrases, although back home on the farm, there may have been PA German Dialect expressions which much better suited our individual moods. To a packed crowd of well wishers, the audience heard individual solos by local natives whose English voices regardless of ethnic accent filled the Trinity church spires with each one's freedom of individuality, as American as America itself.

My wife and I retired to bed that wonderful Sunday evening, praying for the soldiers and citizens who protect American Freedom, everywhere.

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

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