The Historic Dreibelbis Farm Festivalhighlighted the historical, cultural and ecological features of the Virginvillefarm and its landson Aug. 18.
'It's a true rural experience because you're walking from the 21st century back to the 19th century and so the unpaved lanes and the unclaimed fields are all a part of going back to a historic farm,' said Ned Dresher, officer of the Dreibelbis Foundation and volunteer.
He greeted people once they emerged from a field of high grass and cow paddies. Parking in the field was the start of a true rural experience. Dresher said the gem of the Virginville property, the farmhouse, was originally a log home built at the time of the French and Indian War, but was replaced around the time of the Civil War with brick. The log timbers were reused on some of the other buildings. Dresher also said the homestead is used for the Dreibelbis family reunions with as many as 300 members. The family is an organization that has been in effect for 80 years and is known as the Dreiblebis Cousins of America.
Mark Dreibelbis, a Hamburg resident and descendant of the original Dreibelbis settlers, purchased the farm property from a relative in the 1990s for purposes of conservation, and has worked with the Berks County Conservancy and other organizations to protect the farm from future development, preserve the historical resources of the site, and enhance the ecological value of wetlands and endangered species habitat onsite.
'In 1996, the owner's power of attorney approached our family organization about preserving the farm because it was a known historical site and the family organization worked together with my wife and myself and we actually then formed a non-profit foundation in 1998 to acquire it,' said Mark Dreibelbis. 'We formed this non-profit foundation to preserve and protect the farm and make it available to the public for educational purposes.'
The Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society was founded to carry out this mission and make the resources of the farm available to the public.
The brick house still contained furnishings from the 19th century. Different members of the Dreibelbis family led small groups through each of the rooms giving a little bit of history on pieces of furniture, art, artifacts and a frugal way of life. Besides portraits, the art that hung on the walls came from calendars. Other art pieces were made from the farm's resources such as duck feathers and suckers jaws. A desk in the office featured a book from the late 1800s with a running tally of purchases and expenditures that related to the farm from seeds to livestock to various pieces of equipment. Books on agriculture indicated that the family tried to keep up with trends in agriculture and in keeping a farm productive.
While the tour of the home and other buildings on the farm gave an intimate look into life on the homestead, re-enactments of candle making, spinning and weaving, wood working, making butter and even making your own ink for a feather quill pen gave attendees a feel for the work that needed to be done.
'I don't think people appreciate what they have nowadays because clothing is pre-made; a lot of food is pre-made. Back then you had to make everything,' Leona Kieffer-Moyer said. 'I would love to spend a day or two back in that time era just to see the differences.'
Moyer, also Pennsylvania Dutch, was naturally interested in family history and heritage having traced her own roots back to 1495.
Part of the educational and rural experience included a large red barn where a farm machine sat filled with cuttings from the field. Ernie Heckman, Windsor, held the stalks as he perched in front of an old red thrasher. He explained how it was used to process grain to onlookers.
'Some people might call it a grain separator. It goes back to the mid 1800s. You feed them by hand and as it goes through the machine it shakes it. The straw goes out the back, the grain falls to the bottom, the fan cleans it out, it comes into the elevator and goes into the bags; it's a very, very, simple operation. What you see here is the way they actually worked the farm.'
From there, people gathered inside the barn to listen to Dr. Carl Constein talk about Pennsylvania German Emigration: The Story of a Young German Family. After his seminar, the former school superintendant, answered questions and autographed copies of his book. Although the Staudt's in his book are fictional, the inspiration for their creation came from a 1737 church-Hain's Church. Constein said it is one of the oldest reform churches in America. He said it had been rebuilt in 1766 and even though it had been added to since, it still is there.
'Every Sunday when I go to church I meditate how could they have done this? I'm very oriented toward them, not necessarily my direct ancestors, but the culture generally,' said Constein. 'You look out the building and see some of the walls are two foot thick; some are three. So I think, what's going on here? And I look into it and of course the older church was three foot. The new addition is two foot. Then I get curious and inquire and nose around and that's how it went.'
Constein's presentation was the first of several. Dave Fox gave the presentation, Civil War First Defenders of Berks County, and Keith Britzenhoff put on a performance of Pennsylvania German Folk Music and Dance.
The event also featured hay rides, displays of arrowheads, a nature trail, blacksmithing, and Native American displays.
The foundation will be hosting future events with the hope of expansion. For more information, go to http://dreibelbiscousins.org.