Beginning in the early 18th century, immigrants from Germany began arriving in Pennsylvania. Many of these newcomers fled religious persecution in their home country, and as they arrived in America, they brought their religious faith with them: Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, and Moravians were some of the sects that came to these shores. Called the Pennsylvania Dutch (from the word Deutsch, meaning German), this community in eastern Pennsylvania is known for its unique culture, language, food, and traditions (via
On a gorgeous early December weekend, my wife and I set off to learn more about the Pennsylvania Dutch by attending a German Christmas Market in rural Bucks County. Along the way, we ate great food, found cool gifts, learned about a little-known religious community, and explored an abandoned steel mill that is now a public park.
Our first destination: the small town (population 508!) of Green Lane, Pennsylvania, and the Goschenhoppen Historians, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of German folk culture.
After traveling I-78 for almost an hour, we exited the interstate for a further forty minutes on two-lane country roads like this one, filled with farms, trees, and fields.
Our first stop for the day was a German Christmas Market in Red Men’s Hall. The Hall was originally built as a lodge for the Order of the Red Men. It now serves as a museum of German folk life in America.
We stashed my Accord (background) in the gravel parking lot and headed in to learn more!
Although focused on German-American history, the museum, located on the third floor of the building, begins with a small exhibit of Native American life in the region. These stone arrowheads and tools are approximately 2,000 years old.
The museum occupies only one floor of the building, yet it manages to present a snapshot of life in this region for immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries.
While a few of the items are reproductions, most of the displays are filled with antiques that are hundreds of years old, including the objects in this dining room. The detail of the corner cabinet stood out to my wife and I… good craftsmanship does not ever go out of style!
Several displays also addressed the tools of work, such as this spinning wheel, which would be used to create yarn from various strands of thread.
In the 19th century, the family Bible would also function as the family history book. This German-language Bible, owned by a Pennsylvania Dutch family, had blank pages for a scribe (or scrivener) to record events such as births, marriages, and property deeds. This Bible, from the 1830s, is even more notable for the scribe – Martin Wetzler, who was Jewish. He was a well-known scribe in this area of the country, and his writings are found in many family Bibles from the time.
The second floor of the Hall houses a German Christmas Market one weekend a year. Speaking of German Christmas traditions, did you know that the tradition of the Christmas Tree was brought to this country by German immigrants? Or that in 1860 a German-American political cartoonist drew a picture of Santa that is how we still view him today: round, jolly, and dressed in red? Or that the first Christmas Markets were held in Germany in the 13th and 14th centuries?
The Christmas Market had live fiddle music, a large train set, and several merchants selling their wares. This table had several Annalee dolls for sale. These collectible dolls were made in New Hampshire from 1934 until 2002 by Barbara Annalee Davis. The reclining Santa Claus (top of table) came home with us to be our new tree topper. He looks great for being made in 1963!
This display of glass ornaments is from the World War I-era – they’re in pretty good shape for being over one hundred years old!
There was also a display of toys from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. I’m pretty sure my Dad and Uncle had those exact toy soldiers (top shelf) when they were kids.
The first floor of the museum houses a General Store, as it would have appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Your local CVS… from over a hundred years ago! The general store had a small pharmacy, as it would have appeared at the turn of the last century.
The old-school barbershop was also pretty cool… and yes, you can still get your a haircut there (although prices are a little higher than they would have been in the 1890’s).
Our last stop was the basement, to grab a quick lunch. While we enjoyed our meal, the real treat was dessert: shoofly pie! This isn’t truly a pie – it’s a molasses crumb cake that is baked in a pie crust. It’s been a traditional dessert of the Pennsylvania Dutch since the 1870’s. Although I was pretty full from lunch, I finished every last bite of the pie. To quote a proverb of the Pennsylvania Dutch: “Better a burst stomach than wasted food!”
Our next stop was a recommendation from the Goschenhoppen Historians – the Schwenkfelder Library and Cultural Center in nearby Pennsburg. We had never heard of “Schwenkfelder,” so we set off to learn more.
The Schwenkfelders are a religious sect from Germany. Persecuted for their beliefs, they emigrated to Philadelphia beginning in 1731. They followed the Protestant teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. The museum houses several objects from the Schwenkfelders’ migration to America, such as the chest from 1732 in this photo.
The museum preserves the tools and objects of daily life for the Schwenkfelders. Although a small group, the Schwenkfelders continue to reside primarily in this area of Pennsylvania.
“It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you…” One of the museum displays that caught my eye… This sleigh was originally sold in the Sears Catalog in the early 20th century for $20.
The museum was fun, although many of the displays were not labeled. For instance, there were three wall-to-floor display cabinets featuring Peanuts memorabilia, but there was no information as to the history of the collection or the relevance to the Schwenkfelders.
The collection was a lot of fun, and since Peanuts was one of my favorite comic strips as a kid, I enjoyed exploring the display, regardless of the lack of information.
Tucked away in the corner of the library was this display of recreation for the Schwenkfelder community. Baseball was a major pastime, and the display highlighted local hero Bobby Shantz, a Major League Baseball pitcher for several teams including the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. Bobby was a three-time All-Star, the American League MVP, winner of the Gold Glove award eight times, and is the oldest living former player of both the Phillies and the Houston Astros (via Wikipedia).
On our way home, my wife asked if we could detour to another Christmas Market in a very cool location.
As we were driving, we stopped for a great photo opportunity – from a hilltop at Lehigh University, we could look down at the city of Bethlehem.
We also pulled over beside a small lake that was a resting point for seemingly countless birds migrating south. There were at least two hundred birds taking a break here – it made for some great photos!
Located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the SteelStacks is a former steel mill that is now a shopping and concert venue. A walkway along the derelict steel mill allows you to explore this relic of the Industrial Age.
Construction of the steel mill began in 1861. Blast furnaces, such as the one pictured, worked 24/7 to produce steel for railroad tracks, armor for US Navy warships, guns for battleships, and metal for skyscrapers.
After declaring bankruptcy, Bethlehem Steel closed in 2003, and several years later the SteelStacks re-opened for music, shopping, gambling, and other events. In its earliest years, the mill provided work for newly arrived immigrants, including the Pennsylvania Dutch from the surrounding towns.
The shapes and textures of the rusting metal was a photographer’s dream.
I love how this mill, started before the Civil War, was not torn down but instead was preserved in a state of decay.
As we walked past the visitor center, this steel sculpture caught our eye. Far out, man!
Every December, the SteelStacks hosts Christkindlmarkt, a Christmas festival with over 150 vendors, along with live music, food stands, ice carving, and glass blowing.
Within this large tent were food stalls, small shops, and live music – not a bad way to pass an afternoon!
And, of course, no trip is complete without posing the Accord for a souvenir photo!
The successful end of yet another trip, and the Accord continues purring along without complaint. Next stop, 145,000!
This trip was a lot of fun, and cost remarkably little to enjoy. The Pennsylvania German Christmas Market in Green Lane, PA is open the first weekend of December, although the Goschenhoppen Historians run other events throughout the year, so be sure to check
the website. This year the market was open on December 7th and 8th, and admission was free, although bring extra cash to do some Christmas shopping and enjoy delicious food! The Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center is open from Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free. The SteelStacks are free to explore, and are open Sunday through Tuesday from 9:00 am – 8:00 pm and Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. Finally, the Christkindlmarkt at SteelStacks is open every weekend from November 22nd through December 22nd of this year. Hours vary, so check the website before heading over. Tickets are $10 for people 13+, $6 for children ages 6-12, and children 5 and younger can enter for free.
Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead. And speaking of this adventure, I learned a fun Pennsylvania Dutch proverb that sums up exactly how I feel about this blog: “When you love what you do, it’s not work.”
’Til next time.