Thursday, August 7, 2014

Postcards from America to Landis Valley: San Francisco's Golden Gate Before the Bridge (first in a series)

Guest blog entry by Shayla Carey
Upon first glance, Landis Valley’s postcard collection can be summed up in one word:  extensive.  Dive into it and other words come to mind:  humorous, colorful, touching, wondrous, and surprising.  In perusing the collection recently with volunteer and postcard expert Russell Eaton, I was definitely surprised and amused by a few of the pieces I found.

Most of the cards in the collection were produced in the first two decades of the twentieth century, a time when our country started to change dramatically.  Since then, bridges went up, mountains were moved, and cityscapes grew, sometimes to a point where we wouldn’t recognize the landscape that was there before the improvements.


That’s what struck me with this postcard of the Golden Gate.  As I flipped through the stack of cards labeled “San Francisco,” I almost missed its significance because of the image ingrained in my brain of what it “should” look like now.

I stopped and flipped back to the 110-year-old image.

To my mind, having walked along part of the 4,200ft span, it seemed that the gate was waiting for its bridge.  Between the Marin Highlands on the right and the Presidio on the left, steam ships chugged through the 300ft deep waters by the tiny lighthouse in the distance.  It was a quiet scene—nothing spectacular.

According to PBS.org, this wasn’t the first time that the San Francisco Bay changed dramatically.  The bay used to be a valley, which flooded at the end of the last ice age—roughly 10,000 years ago—due to rising ocean levels.  Today, on average, the bay is 14ft deep and is home to over 130 species of fish, including four runs of Chinook salmon.  The tides come in and out four times daily and carry roughly 390 billion gallons of water.  Moist winds off the ocean oftentimes carry a band of thick fog—called the Marine Layer—into the bay.  It wasn’t until 1933, when construction began, that the skyline to the north of San Francisco began to change forever. 

Engineer Joseph Strauss (1870-1938) had always dreamed of building “the biggest thing of its kind that a man cold build” and when San Francisco city engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy approached him in 1919 with the idea to build a bridge across the turbulent Golden Gate, he jumped at the chance.  He lobbied for a decade, facing stiff opposition from ferry operators, environmentalists, city administrators, and even other engineers before the voters approved the project in 1930.

Strauss was the chief engineer, but he also had a team of talented—if relatively unknown—designers working with him.  In a compromise, he selected his biggest rival, leading theoretician of suspension bridge design Leon Moiseiff, as a consultant on the project.  He also hired Irving Morrow, a San Francisco-based architect, who styled the bridge in the classic Art Deco style and gave it its distinctive orange color.  The man who should claim the most credit but who didn’t receive it, though, is University of Illinois engineer Charles Ellis, who worked tirelessly for months on the bridge’s overall design and specifications.  Ellis labored over calculations for so long that Strauss eventually dismissed him, accusing him of wasting time and money.  He wasn’t among the engineers credited when the bridge was completed in 1937 and it wasn’t until 1949, in an obituary, that he was formally recognized for his work with the project.

Strauss was a safety fanatic, ordering every worker to wear a safety helmet and constructing a huge safety net ten feet wider than the bridge’s width and fifteen feet longer than the roadways length.  It sped up work, but was not infallible, as evidenced by the tragic accident of February 16, 1937.  Twelve men who were working on scaffolding close to the North Tower fell when the scaffolding collapsed, taking the net with it.  Two survived, including foreman Slim Lambert, but the other ten were dragged down 220 feet into the icy water.  One, carpenter Arthur Anderson, was found tangled in the net when it was recovered a mile out and 500 feet deep into the Pacific Ocean.

Strauss’s structure holds fast today, having been closed only three times due to high winds.  Steel girders were added after a severe storm rippled the bridge in 1951 and the cables were replaced in 1970, but other than that, the bridge endured no other engineering modifications to the bridge in sixty years.

The image is eerie, but the card itself holds history, too.  It was produced by the Detroit Photographic Company and, according to the Metropolitan Postcard Club of NewYork City’s website (a great resource for information, according to Russ Eaton), it was produced between 1903 and 1904, right around the time that famous photographer William Henry Jackson became the manager of the factory and before it was changed to Detroit Publishing Company in 1904.  At that time, according to the Metropolitan Postcard Club, sales were around 7 million cards. 

Our collection has many other interesting postcards, including the one on the left looking out across the Golden Gate.  We also have an interesting one of Mt. St. Helens before it blew its stack, but that’s a story for another time…


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Prolific John Heffner

Guest blog entry by Shayla Carey

In Landis Valley’s extensive newspaper collection, curator Bruce Bomberger discovered in the September 6, 1883 edition of the Reading Eagle this sad, but odd, tale of a prolific man looking for a decent living.

On Tuesday, September 4, 1883, a certain John Heffner, 67-year-old German rag picker from Reading, PA, dressed up in a full suit, high hat, and coarse shoes, tearfully parted with his children, and went to Lancaster to look for work.  He took with him several dollars and a card that bore the inscription, “Fredericka Hefner, 816 Bingaman Street, Reading,” and it’s a good thing he did.  While crossing the railroad tracks on Prince Street in Lancaster, he was struck and killed.  The card was what identified him.

A sad tale, but not odd—yet.  Turns out, the rag picker sired a prodigious family which he, somehow, supported by picking up rags, pieces of paper, stumps of cigars, etc. and utilizing in various ways.  All told, John Heffner fathered 42 children with three wives.  Heffner didn’t say goodbye to all of them on September 4, though, as only five daughters survived to see 1883.

A native of the Kingdom of Wurtemberg (which includes the Black Forest, top, and whose capital is Stuttgart, bottom), he started his brood at the age of 25 in Germany.  Mrs. Heffner #1 bore 17 children in eight years:  twins in each of the first two years, triplets in each of the next four, and in the seventh year a single child.  She died the year after (in February, 1848) and was laid to rest in the village church yard in Germany.

Faced with a large gaggle of children ages seven and younger, Heffner accepted the help of a young woman, who took charge of the children three months after Mrs. Heffner #1 died and shortly thereafter became Mrs. Heffner #2.  She bore Heffner a son in February, 1849, and that same Christmas came Heffner child #19, which made the Heffner family the largest in that part of Germany.  The Eagle colorfully speculated that, “When they gathered around the table, the household had the appearance of a small orphan asylum.”

Twins came in each of the next five years and then, after the entire family packed up and moved to America, Mrs. Heffner #2 had one child per year for three years.  Childbirth is very hard on a body, and so she died in 1857, having been married for nine years and producing 15 children.  Of that large brood, 12 had died, leaving Heffner with 20 to be taken care of by a widow, who became Mrs. Heffner #3 in 1858.

Mrs. Heffner #3 brought one child to the family and added nine more in the next ten years.  The Eagle states that “another was born since then,” but does not give the child’s birth year.  The article also does not delve into how Heffner supported his large family, though it does say, “None of the first set of 17 of children survive.  Two of the 15 of the second wife still live, and 3 of the third wife’s 9.”  According to the article, “The old man has long since forgotten the names of his numerous progeny.”


Fast Mover


In looking over the chronology, it seems that Mr. Heffner moved awfully fast, mourning a wife for a few months before marrying again and proceeding with adding more children to the family.  Further research on encyclopediavirginia.org, though, reveals that, according to antebellum traditions, a man could mourn for three months, whereas a woman must mourn for a minimum of two and a half years.

The tracks that Heffner crossed were probably on the Reading and Columbia Railroad line, which, according to the website, "Pennsylvania Railroad Stations Past & Present," had a station at Prince and Frederick Streets, near the present-day Clipper Stadium.

Heffner's Reading


Heffner lived on Bingaman St., of which we don't have a picture readily available in the collection.  We do, however, have a few Reading postcards from the turn of the 20th century.

At right is a postcard of the St. Joseph's Hospital, which was built in 1885 at 12th and Walnut Streets (the image, though, was taken a few years after construction).  Heffner would have seen a much different building in his lifetime, which can be seen in the article "St. Joseph's Hospital" on the Go Reading Berks website.


Another interesting find (and an ironic one, considering Heffner's search for work on the day he died) is this postcard image of Labor Day in Reading, taken around the turn of the century.  It features the huge Kline, Eppihimer & Co. department store (second building from the left).

Below are images of the Penn Street Bridge, which spanned the Schuylkill River from 1885, two years after Heffner's death, to 1913. According to Go Reading Berks, the old steel bridge was built for ordinary traffic, but expanding industry in the western part of the city necessitated rail lines across the span. These were built without thought for the strength of the structure so, in 1913, the current viaduct was built.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Delaware Valley Ladder Back Chair

Guest blog entry by Shayla Carey

Walking through an exhibit with Jim Lewars is fun, especially when he is in the mood to give a history lesson.  He is so much like my favorite high school teacher, Mr. Anderson—who could skip an entire lesson in physics when we asked him to tell us about black holes—that sometimes, when I just feel like relaxing and losing myself in a good, informative lecture, I’ll ask Jim to enlighten me about an aspect of the latest exhibit in the Visitor Center Gallery.

It had been a long day for me, back in early March, and I was feeling pretty excited about the prospect of trying out the seating in the Gallery provided by Martin’s Chair and not about having to go back to my office and face my list of e-mails.  Jim, curators Bruce Bomberger and Jen Royer, and I had just gotten done with giving a preview tour and were loitering.  Jim was taking a last look at the chairs in the case closest to the exit and it was there that I approached him.

“Jim, what makes the Delaware Valley ladderback chair special?” I asked.  The light went on in his eyes.  I had him.

Delaware Valley ladder back chair.
Daniel Boone Homestead.ca. 18th century.
“So, the Delaware Valley ladder back became very commonly used throughout Southeastern PA in the 18th century.  And it is a chair type which was distinctive to Southeastern PA.  There were ladder back chairs produced elsewhere—there were New England ladder back chairs, New York ladder back chairs—but the chairs produced in the Delaware Valley are distinctive.  It is believed that they relate more closely to a Germanic prototype, as opposed to an English ladder back.  The back—the splats—are not only arched on the top, but the bottom as well.  The armchairs have a distinctive cutout, which you can see here on this one loaned from the Daniel Boone Homestead,” he said as he pointed to a well-preserved, rush-bottom, rocking chair dating from the late 18th century.  I leaned over and, sure enough, when viewed from an artist’s perspective, I could see the curved negative space between the arms and the seat.  Beautiful.

He went on to say, “They were produced by non-German cabinetmakers as well, but the style is attributed to the Germans.  We have visual evidence that they were produced as early as the beginning of the 18th century.  There’s a painting of a man named Johannes Kelpius that shows the Delaware Valley ladder back.  And they were produced well into the 19th century, too.”

Jim started to walk away, but my interest was piqued.  After excitedly returning to my desk, I researched as much as I could find about the Delaware Valley ladder back style:

According to Harvey Green in his book, Wood:  Craft, Culture, History, two chair making traditions existed in Europe:  joiner’s chairs, of frame-and-panel furniture, and turner’s chairs, made with a lathe.  Ladder backs are a relatively easy to produce combination of the two, with the support structure—legs and stretchers—turned with a lathe and the backs made of pinned mortise-and-tendon joints.  The seats were of woven rushes, or other pliant materials, and tightly threaded through the weave, creating a sturdy platform upon which to sit.

Green also goes on to say, “The ladder back was also a more efficient way to produce a chair back.  Although it entailed chopping six to ten mortises (which could be roughed out with an auger), that process involved less careful and less demanding work than did the multitude of round holes that had to be drilled in precise angles to hold the spindles of the Windsor chair’s back and sides.”

The ladder back’s comfort and modest price were well-known to those around the Philadelphia area, including Benjamin Franklin, who bought twenty of them between 1739 and 1748, according to the late Benno Forman, who worked as curator of Winterthur Museum and wrote the essay “German Influences in Pennsylvania Furniture” for the book, Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans.  Philadelphia styles tended to be higher style, borrowing elements such as crookt legs and ornately turned stretchers from other styles.  At their heart, though, they were the rush-bottom, straight-back chairs of German origin.

According to Forman, the Delaware Valley ladder back chair “may have been introduced into Pennsylvania by a chair maker who was a member of the Shoemaker (originally Shumacher) family of Germantown.  If the Shoemakers were the first makers of these chairs in the New World, then they are also the agents through which the style made its way to Philadelphia early in the eighteenth century, for Jacob Shoemaker, formerly of Germantown, moved there in 1714/15 and continued to practice his trade.”  The ladder back was made even later than Jim thought, too, as Forman notes the Ware family of southern New Jersey, who made these chairs well into the 1930’s.

In my research, I also found a book on “chairs-as-art,” by Ray Hemachandra, called 500 Chairs:  Celebrating Traditional and Innovative Designs.  In it, there are ladder back chairs made of wood and iron and actual ladders that are really neat to look at, but their sole purpose is gone.  The iron climbs up the back like an immovable portcullis.  In the other, the ladder rests in a chair that reminds me of a letter Z made of wood.  I would never want to sit in them and rock out all day long like I would when I gaze at the examples in Landis Valley’s exhibit.  Maybe that’s the true innovation—when form and function combine to make you want to plant yourself on it and forget all about that for a while.


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 FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. 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.