Monday, March 31, 2014

Examples in Landis Valley's Sidesaddle Collection

Guest blog entry by Jeannette Koczwara

My first task as an intern at Landis Valley museum has been to clean the collection of ladies sidesaddles dating from the mid 1800’s. At first glance one could tell that these pieces were not only a means for transportation but also works of art meant to display the taste of the owner and the skill of the craftsman. It became my goal then to see if I could discover who had put forth so much effort to create these, albeit much aged, painted and tooled works of art.

As a horsewoman myself I know how important it is to care for the leather tack. Properly oiled and stored a saddle can last generations of riders. But these sidesaddles, designed for the proper Pennsylvania-German lady, had seen better days. Some had come from musty attics, others stored in damp barns, and after carefully cleaning several of them I began to worry that and sort of maker’s mark had not survived.

But then, beneath the top pommel (also known as the fixed head) which would be on the rider’s right side, I found a nearly perfectly preserved paper label. Later I found other labels in far less readable condition, but this one was the best. Beneath the printed engraving of a horse the label reads “J. M’Phail/ Saddler/ Strasburg /Lancaster County.” It was a dream come true for my hopes of being able to place the origins of the saddle and its maker

Taking to my computer I began a search for one J. M’Phail who had been a saddler during the 1800’s in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly the easiest place to search for records was on such sites as and There I found the 1850 census record of James McPhail (an alternative to M’Phail) who lived in the Borough of Strasburg in Lancaster County and was employed as a saddler. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and together they had four sons, three of whom were also saddlers. When exactly this saddle was made and who it was for is still uncertain but should James McPhail indeed be its maker then an important piece of the puzzle has already been placed.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Biting Cold

Guest Blog Entry by Shayla Carey
This January has been extremely cold, with polar vortex winds driving arctic air straight down to our little section of the world.  Though Landis Valley doesn't take daily thermometer readings, the nearby Lancaster Airport does and our coldest temperature was recorded there four times this month:  a frigid -1°. According to Eric Hörst, director of the Weather Information Center at Millersville University (WIC), this January is shaping up to be the 7th coldest on record (since 1914) for Lancaster.

Weather forecasters and websites like to put up the “Real Feel” temperature, but it is still only a number, one of many ways to say the same thing that Henry Harrison Landis wrote in his diary over one hundred years ago.  His sporadic records tell of some days hitting as low as -2° (Wednesday, January 14, 1914), though the official low for that day was -3°, according to the WIC.  We like to think of the old song line, “Jack Frost nippin’ at your nose,” rather fondly, but Henry saw the reality a bit differently.  He eloquently reports that “The weather is so cold there is no pleasure being outside of the house.”  That morning he was “Rather late getting down stairs.  Awful cold but the sun came up bright and clear but the thermonator [sic] said 2 below and when I went out I found it biting cold.”  Apparently, Jack Frost got a bit nasty that year, as he did this one.

January wasn't always so bleak for the folks in Henry’s world—or cold, for that matter.  On New Year’s Day, 1881, he writes about his boys “keeping holaday (sic).  The[y] each have a little sleigh and they are out the whole day.”  A few days later that same year, he mentions that he “Took the boys to school this mor[n]ing.  A fresh snow of 6 inches.  Sleighing very good.”  On January 25, he notes,

“This after John Lawrence and the boys took the teacher and went to visit schools.  There were 6 sleighs of them and the whole school went along… Then [the] boys came home about 4 o clock.  They had been at Fruitville and at Gamber’s School house.”
In fact, he mentions the fine quality of the sleighing often that month.  This is a good thing, as he hauled not only people in his sleigh in 1881 and ‘82, but wood, tobacco, and shoats (weaned piglets) as well.
These accounts are of only parts of Henry’s January days—an important part.  Sometimes the weather cooperated with his farming, as when his pigs survived the cold and Emma’s chickens produced a good amount of eggs.  Sometimes, though, it didn't cooperate, like when, in February, 1881, meltwater came into the tobacco cellar and threatened his crop.

All in all, Henry’s diaries fill in details that data can leave behind.  It’s a reminder that diaries are invaluable, even if the characters are long gone and the landscape has changed beyond reckoning.  Some things, like the feel of biting cold on a January day, never change.

Winter is traditionally a time of hunkering down and improving the mind.  Come to one of Landis Valley's Winter Workshops and discover skills you never thought you had.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

At This Festive Season of the Year

Around Landis Valley, Christmastime is officially here. True, the interiors have been decked already, with trees, putzes, ribbon, candles, ornaments, and festive artifacts on display, but the exteriors always need a little something that says “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

Enter the swags and the wreath made today by 10 Heirloom Seed Project volunteers. Thirty swags will grace the doors and some of the signposts around the village and one wreath will hang against the façade of the Yellow Barn, totaling 250 pounds of plant material.

And what a variety of plants are used! Beginning at 9 a.m., the volunteers are presented with at least double the amount of greens and dried ornamental plants that they will need to create the beautiful decorations.

“We supply the greens and the volunteers bring whatever they want to put on the swags,” says Beth Leensvaart, Assistant Coordinator of the Heirloom Seed Project. “In fact, that’s the most fun for me—collecting the dried ornamentals.

It is a veritable feast for the creative minds gathered. They carefully pluck from the piles and bags:
  • Pine branches and cones
  • Locust Bean Pods
  • Fir
  • Holly
  • Hydrangeas
  • Lavender
  • Boxwood
  • Winterberries
  • Prickly sweet gum tree seed pods
  • Broomcorn
  • Milkweed Pods
  • Chokecherry
  • Amaranth
For the swags, most of the branches are pleasantly arranged and then twisted together with floral wire. They must be held together tightly because, as the days pass, the branches dry out and shrink, causing loose, errant stems to fall from the arrangement. A few of the decorations, like the gum seed pods and the hydrangeas, need to be glued in place. Once done, each swag then gets a pretty, freshly-made, red bow [at left]. Beth reports that the enterprise uses about 100 yards of ribbon.

As for this year’s wreath, that is the realm of long-time volunteers Gloria Stevens and Julie Welsh [right]. They have taken holly, amaranth, pine cones, broom corn and boxwood, twisted them together with branches of fir and floral wire, and have wrapped them around the roughly 4-foot wide wooden frame.

They are not edible by any stretch of the imagination, but the swags and wreath are eye candy for not only those with a horticultural bent, but for anyone who appreciates natural beauty. It also creates a feeling of satisfaction in Landis Valley volunteers and staff who come together and festively change the Landis Valley landscape. Enjoy!

Our swags and wreath will be on display from now until December 31. Bring the family and tour the decorated buildings, make Christmas-themed crafts to take home, and enjoy complimentary gingersnaps and cocoa as you are entertained by the Belsnickel. It’s Country Christmas Village, Landis Valley’s interpretation of Pennsylvania German Christmas traditions. Saturdays, December 7 and 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays, December 8 and 15, from noon to 4 p.m. Regular admission rates apply.

Also, don’t miss the Holiday at Landis Valley Bonfire, to be held Friday, December 13, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. As this is our annual gift to you, admission is free and all are welcome! We just request that, in lieu of admission, please bring a canned-good donation for the Lancaster County Food Bank. We hope to see you there!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Never-ending Toil: A Short History of Animal and Human-powered Treadmills

Blog entry by Shayla Carey

Image taken from the article, "History of the Horse in Britain," by Wikipedia.  Image from the book, 1881 Dictionnaire d'arts Industriels
Before they became exercise equipment, treadmills were used to harness the energy of living things to power simple and complex machines.  Egyptians used animals to power saqiyas that pulled water from the Nile and sent it to irrigation channels, according to J. Kenneth Major, author of the HistoryToday article, “The Pre-Industrial Sources of Power: Muscle Power.”  Romans attached oxen, donkeys, and humans to hourglass-shaped flour mills (examples of which were preserved at Pompeii).  In the fifth century A.D., Chinese engineers built ships propelled by man-powered treadmill-paddle-wheels, as described in the book, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel, by Frances and Joseph Gies.  Major mentions that horse power pulled ore out of medieval mines and powered mills located in areas without ample supplies of other renewable energy sources (sheltered valleys without sufficient wind, areas without swiftly flowing water, etc).  Landis Valley has one example of a horse-powered treadmill in the Bitzer Barn.

Turnspit dog at work.
Taken from the Wikipedia article, "Turnspit Dog."
Fast forward centuries and you find that dogs were pressed into service as well, and not just for the herding, hunting, and companion jobs dogs in the American Kennel Club were specifically bred for.  Some, mainly in the lowlands of northern Europe, pulled small carts filled with canisters of milk and other supplies, as well as people, according to the book, Colonel Richardson’s Airedales:  The Making of the British War Dog School1900-1918, by Bryan D. Cummins, PhD.  There were also terriers that flushed out and killed rats, weasels and mink, as well as an extinct variety that turned a roasting spit.  These tiny, bow-legged “turnspit dogs” took turns in shifts running like hamsters inside a wheel that rotated a roast haunch over the hearth.  Dave DeWitt’s book, The Founding Foodies:  How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine, mentions another interesting little fact:  the City Tavern, a Philadelphia establishment frequented by Thomas Jefferson, featured roasts that were turned by little turnspit dogs.

While horses provided power for larger machines like threshers on farms in the latter half of the 19th century, some dogs, as well as goats and sheep, ran smaller treadmills (example at right).  According to Larry Hess, a former teacher and engineer of much of the machinery in the triangle village during Harvest Days, these machines pumped water, powered washing machines, and cracked corn.  One task they could not so effectively help the busy farm family with, though, was churning butter, as these reluctant laborers would frequently stop and needed to be prodded to move again.  This left the constant motion required by butter churning to the children.

Most butter churns involved constant, tiring vertical motion, but this year’s Harvest Days will feature a churn run by a kid-powered treadmill.  The machine (at left), an 1888 Harding Manufacturing Company contraption, differs from the animal powered ones only in that it has a front handle grip for kids.   It took one hour to separate cream into butter and buttermilk and the kids would pass the time by singing songs such as “Come butter come, come butter come.  Peter stands at the gate, waiting for a buttered cake.”  They would take turns walking, too, as even boundless energy needs to recharge.

What has saved animals (and humans, too) from the drudgery of most menial labor is the inventiveness of people who were able to harness the power of fossil fuels to drive engines.  Our factories, farms and homes no longer need treadmills to transfer monotonous motion of one kind to useful motion of another.  These machines, similar in design to the one to be featured at Harvest Days, have now been relegated to the realm of exercise equipment and to hospitals for use during stress tests. Our dogs can rest easy now that they don’t have to work like dogs anymore.

Incidentally, page 150 of the book, Yesterday’s Farm Tools and Equipment, by Dr. Irwin Richman and Michael Emery, features a quote from the 1840 edition of The Cultivator:  “Churning is never done by hand except for a single cow.  In small dairies, the churn is worked by a dog or sheep, the latter being preferred; the larger dairies have water or horse power.”

If your kids want to try walking the treadmill, come down to Harvest Days, to be held October 12 & 13, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.  It's a celebration of a year's worth of hard work, with demonstrations, food, exhibits, music, and wagon rides spread out over our 40+ acre village area.  It's a great time and a Lancaster County tradition.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Learning What Books Can't Teach: Part 2

Guest Blog Entry by Emily Reinl
As an intern doing interpretation at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum this summer, I have been very much enjoying myself. One of my favorite parts of working here – and something that surprised me – is how many people I get to meet from all over the world. In particular, I like getting visitors from Germany; I have taken several years’ worth of German classes and plan on studying abroad in Germany in a couple of years, so I enjoy having the opportunity to speak German with native German speakers. I also often get the impression that the visitors appreciate my attempts to converse with them in their native language, which makes the experience all the more gratifying.

I also love having the opportunity to dress in period costume. Ever since I was little, I have loved historical clothing; this contributed to developing my interest in living history museums. I put together the outfit I wear for my internship over the course of several years, buying some here, making some there. For instance, I made my skirt but then bought the blouse I wear with it. I try to be as historically accurate with my costume as possible, even down to wearing the proper undergarments. I always have to laugh a little to myself when I am in the store and a visitor points out the corset and comments on how uncomfortable he or she thinks it looks – I wear a corset every day I work, and I find it very comfortable. I feel great in my costume, and I love the way wearing it and being at Landis Valley transports me back in time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Learning What Books Can't Teach: Part 1

Guest Blog Entry by Marian Krick

The Landis Valley internship experience is a truly symbiotic one.  They help us and, in return, they gain valuable experience in their respective fields, whether they be History, English, Museum Studies, Tourism, or even Auto Body Technician.  These interns truly learn from the past at our museum and, in the spirit of sharing, they would like to share some of their experiences with you.

Hello Everyone!  My name is Marian and I am an intern with Landis Valley for the summer.  I am a student at Slippery Rock University studying resort management/tourism.  Here at Landis Valley I am working within the sales department.

One opportunity that I have had has been shadowing during tours.  The experience has refreshed my memory on historical information, and it has also taught me about the guests that choose to come here.  Listening to their questions and their stories during the tour is really interesting.  It reminds me that each guest is different, and will take something different away from their experience at the museum.

An especially exciting tour occurred during the week of the Summer Institute.  As our group went from building to building, guests were sidetracked by displays of traditional crafts and other activities.  One craft, which we were told is called a "whirligig", really caught their attention.  It had them excited and talking for the rest of the morning!

Shadowing tours and other experiences have really taught me a lot.  I look forward to learning more by the end of the summer!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Tour of Landis Valley's Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Guest Blog Entry by Shayla Carey.

“This is one of the most interesting plants that we have here,” says Dr. Irwin Richman on this exceptionally fine afternoon as we stroll the grounds of Landis Valley. We’ve stopped at the stout bush closest to the path that leads to the back of the Country Store from the parking lot. Burgundy-colored flowers that look like shredded paper teacups decorate an otherwise unremarkable plant. “Its common name is the “Sweet Smelling Shrub” [left] and it is a native of the Carolinas. It was probably introduced up here by the Moravians. “

He takes a branch and bends it my way. I bend over and take a whiff: my nose is almost assaulted by the smell of over-ripe apples. “It has a very nice aroma and an old Pennsylvania German custom was that women would tie it into a handkerchief as a scent.”

“It is sweet,” I say. “Do the young flowers smell better than the older ones?”

“When they’re fresher they have a stronger aroma.”
I lean over and try a younger flower. The apple smell definitely seems younger, more fresh. I like it.

This is one of the many types of flowering trees and shrubs that provide the backdrop for the interpretive buildings, animals, and people here. Enter the museum grounds in the springtime and see flowering cherry and dogwood trees grace the space around the Tavern. Beyond the Tavern, a trumpet vine climbs over the arbor. A tall smoke tree lends visual interest to the Crafts Barn. Walnuts line the pathway to the Log Farm where quinces, lilacs, and chestnuts bloom at different times in Spring. Stately hundred-year-old sycamores dominate the areas around the Brick Farmstead and the Landis Valley Hotel and roses climb fences in between.

We get questions about the plants at Landis Valley all of the time, and, since he is leading the upcoming Summer Institute tour, “Genius at Work: The Wharton Esherick Museum and Chanticleer Estate,” I thought I could tap Dr. Richman’s fountain of horticultural knowledge. And he doesn’t disappoint.

Below is a list of some of the many flowering shrubs and trees you may encounter:

  • *In Flower
  • **Already Flowered
  • ^ Not Flowered Yet

Millstone Grove:
  • Black Walnut**
  • Flowering Cherry**
  • Dogwood**
  • Ginko [right] (not in bloom, but a very interesting tree, as the species is older than the dinosaurs)
  • Buckeye** (a relative of the Chinese Chestnut with drooping, white flowers)
  • Forsythia**
  • Lilac (next to Tinsmith Shop)**
  • Bayberry**
  • Japanese Lilac**
  • Trumpet Vine^
  • Broom Plant (a native of England and Scotland. It is not a bush, but as big as one and with pretty yellow flowers right now)*
  • Smoke Tree (an American native)^
  • Maple**
  • Sycamore (is just finishing up its bloom, then it’s huge leaves will come)*
  • Mulberry (One between the Hotel and the Schoolhouse and one beside the Blacksmith Shop. Will produce tasty fruits later that resemble raspberries)**
  • American Boxwoods (behind the Hotel)
  • Grapevines (beside the Isaac Landis House)**
  • Yucca (beside the Isaac Landis House)*
  • White Hydrangea (beside the Isaac Landis House)
  • Sweet Smelling Shrub (beside and behind the Country Store)*
  • American Holly (in front of the Country Store)^
  • Rose of Sharon (behind the Blacksmith Shop)**
  • Japanese Red Maple (behind the Heirloom Seed House)**
  • Magnolia**
  • White Rose [above, right] (behind the Landis Brothers’ House)*
  • Pink Rose (At gate to Landis Brothers’ House. Definitely smell this one!)*

Log Farm:
  • Quince (a white-flowered tree that bears fruit so sweet early settlers made candy from it)**
  • Walnut**
  • Chinese Chestnut**
  • Apples**
  • Wineberry (A vine along the snake rail fence that will bloom later in the summer and provide a wonderfully tasting fruit similar to raspberries. Don’t touch, though, as it is absolutely covered in thorns!)^
Brick Farmstead:
  • Sycamore (is just finishing up its bloom, then it’s huge leaves will come)*
  • Chinese Chestnut**
  • American Persimmon Tree (these flowers resemble the Sweet Smelling Shrub in appearance)*
  • Peach (beside the pasture fence)**
  • Rose (there are two of these bushes: one beside the Brick Garden and one beside the pasture)* 
I know that I can’t count them as shrubs, but my eye is naturally drawn to the peonies that partially line the old road to Reading. Their pale, cheery blooms hide such a sweet and wonderful fragrance that I can’t help but stop and smell them. Dr. Richman keeps going, though, as he heads to the old rose at the corner of the fence surrounding the Federal Barn’s pasture. This rose is the quintessential rose--headier than any rose I’ve ever smelled before and an absolute joy to be around. I can even share it with the bees that normally send me running.

Our feet take us to trees that have already flowered, too, with baby apples, walnuts, and grapes peeking out from nests of leaves. Quinces, apples and mulberries will provide fruit for hungry birds and small mammals.

“Actually,” Dr. Richman says as we leave the quince tree, “There was a time when quinces were more commonly grown than apples in America.”

“When did that change?” I ask.

“The changeover occurred in the late 18th and early 19th century,” he says. “It was discovered that apples could keep longer and, more importantly, they could be made into cider—hard cider.”

Later, Dr. Richman shows me the mulberry tree and sagely says with a smile, “It should be a chestnut.” He then quotes from “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Under the spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

A tour with Dr. Richman is always enlightening and, with him, I’m starting to appreciate Landis Valley’s incredible scenery anew. It’ll never be just a background again.