Monday, June 20, 2011

Civil War Camp to Decend on Landis Valley

They seemed like foreigners to those whose open spaces were shared by Union soldiers during the War Between the States. Men and women in their normal linen and hemp in shades of brown had to make way for men dressed in dark blue with yellow trims as they marched along our streets. Some of us sympathized with them and what they stood for, but others of us could see the viewpoint of the Southern cause as well.

They could be rowdy at times, but for the most part, they remained cloistered together on the edges of town. The only times that those of my parents' generation were disturbed by them were when they performed musket drills on the edge of town. The pops and booms brought the war uncomfortably close, though, thankfully, it never actually came to Landis Valley.

Food had to be rationed, so infantrymen didn't feast at the tavern every night. Instead, soldiers relied on hardtack and salted meats to keep them going, sometimes getting raisins and figs to stave off scurvy. They looked forward to stopping at verdant villages like ours so that they could replenish their supplies and tend to their wounded. This stressed the resources normally abundant here, but the scarred land healed once the soldiers were gone.

Landis Valley memorializes the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians every year during its Civil War Day, giving visitors a unique perspective on a much-romanticized time in American History. It is held this year on Saturday, July 9. Visitors can join our resident historical interpreters as they work amidst bayonet and cavalry drills, musket firing demonstrations, and meal preparations. You can also tour the military camp or take a wagon ride around the site. Children and adults who want to participate can also join a musket drill. My brother, George, would have liked that.

Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for seniors; $8 for children 3-11; and children 2 & under are free. For more information on this event, call the Visitor Center at 717-569-0401 or visit our website at

They Came To Learn From The Masters

Students from all over the USA and Canada flocked to Landis Valley last week for the 55th Annual Summer Institute for Rural Life. For four days, the valley was a-buzz as students learned how to make a moonshine still, a leather fire basket, herbal medicines, an iron trivet, wall hangings in both scherenschnitte (paper cutting) and fraktur (PA German calligraphy), a basket, a tin chandelier, carved wood figures, and bread and pies—lots and lots of bread and pies. Others learned to drive wagons and to keep dairy cows happily producing lots of milk. Still others went off-site to learn about the historic Oley Valley or to tour beautiful gardens, mills, or houses and barns normally not shown to the public.

“We learned how to maintain the fire. Also shaping, riveting, and welding,” said Vinny, a blacksmithing student from nearby in Lancaster. Beside him were rested a trivet and camp fork, made at the portable forge across the lane from the blacksmith shop. He learns the craft plied by my ancestor, Jacob Landis Sr., whose blacksmith shop once stood at about the same spot that the current one stands today.

Further along, in the bright yellow Isaac Landis House, was the scherenschnitte class, where students sat at long tables strewn with pieces of paper, scissors, and memories. Many of them have come back repeatedly, such as Nina, of Bensalem, PA. She’s been coming for ten years to practice her craft and to re-learn the patience it takes to keep it up. “We had a good class on scherenschnitte. We learned a lot, made good friends, had excellent teaching, and, as always, it was good to come back to institute to meet—or re-meet—people that we’ve met in the past and become friends with,” she said.

There are some skills that cannot be learned from a book and need the careful supervision of a master. He looks over your shoulder, checks your work, and tells you how to salvage a project that would have been scrapped had you tried to learn on your own. She teaches you techniques that may be more efficient than you had previously learned, and then shows you how to display your piece. They provide the backup and patience that builds confidence. And all the while, they are passing down skills once common in my time here.

“I come back here for peace, every year,” says Lynn, a tinsmithing student from Horsham, PA. “And I achieve it.”

Next up for Landis Valley is the Tinsmith Convergence on Friday and Saturday, June 24 & 25. Tinsmiths and copper-smiths will demonstrate their trade and will exchange ideas and techniques at this gathering of masters. Anyone interested in these two crafts is welcome to come. Registration and admission information is on Landis Valley’s website,, or go to You can also contact Timothy Essig at 717-569-5783 for more information.