Going Dutch Festival: Goschenhoppen preserves the heart and soul of the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, thanks to a determined bunch of uncompromising 'Historians.'

August 07, 1996|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

GREEN LANE, Pa. -- The past rests lightly on this green and pleasant corner of the Pennsylvania Dutch country called Goschenhoppen. The old ways are preserved, honored and celebrated.

Goschenhoppen might sound like a village on The Shire inhabited by hobbits, but it's actually a verdant swatch of eastern Pennsylvania countryside along the upper Perkiomen Creek, about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.

This long-domesticated landscape was the Colonial frontier when German settlers began moving here at the end of the 17th century. They were among the first non-Anglo immigrants to come in significant numbers to the British New World and they created a unique culture that only the last decades of the 20th century have eroded.

For more than 30 years now, local folks called the Goschenhoppen Historians have scoured this creek valley for the surviving shards of their past. And they hold what is undoubtedly the most rigorously authenticated Pennsylvania Dutch folk festival in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Their 30th festival will be held Aug. 9 and 10.

"They say you can find Coca-Cola all over the world," Nancy Roan says. "But you can't find it at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival."

Roan is a Goschenhoppen Historian, and her husband, Donald, is a founding member.

"People say we're too fussy at the festival," Donald Roan says. "Well, if you want something done right, you've got to be fussy. Or it's gonna get polluted.

"Our festival doesn't have putt-putt gas engines," he says. "They're trying to portray the culture prior to 1890. We don't have patent washing machines. They do wash in a tub and on a board. No wringers. Our fellows are showing how to make a thatched roof. And showing how to split shingles by hand out of a 3-foot tall, 2-foot diameter section of a log."

The Goschenhoppen Historians have collected artifacts of their 300-year-old "Dutch" culture and recorded the memories of old-timers who often spoke the dialect their forebears brought with then from Germany. Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, actually Pennsylvania German, Dutch being the English attempt at Deutsch, as in Deutschland. Pennsylvania German is a more academic usage, Pennsylvania Dutch folksy.

The Goschenhoppen Historians, who now number 1,000, have created an extraordinary, if not unique, local museum in the old Red Men's Hall here, a three-story yellow brick edifice that is still the biggest building in Green Lane.

In a remarkable series of period rooms that range from a Colonial kitchen to a Victorian parlor, the Historians display a treasury of local heirlooms that could make a regiment of antiques dealers burst into a spontaneous combustion of envy.

You enter a turn-of-the-century Goschenhoppen country store fully stocked with old-timey merchandise from Clark cotton thread to mint condition Tongue's Good Glass Regal Brand Handmade Chimneys for oil lamps -- in their original paper wrappers.

A local blacksmith shop from the 1870s is installed intact in the basement with a rare bellows-driven forge and dozens and dozens of hand-made hammers and tongs that are marvels of workmanship. They have the heft of the craft in the hand when you lift them.

A white-painted, Gothic-styled organ, beautiful as a country chapel, and probably built by August Pomplitz of Baltimore in 1864, lured members of the Organ Historical Society to Goschenhoppen for a recital during their July 4 convention in Philadelphia.

Just down the pike, past the crossroads hamlet of Obelisk, the Historians have restored the 1736 Germanic-style home of a Moravian master builder named Henry Antes. The steep-roofed, stone house, massive for its era, is now listed as a National Historic Landmark.

"We were lucky. When we started in the '60s, the stuff was still here," says Donald Roan, 57, who is better known in Goschenhoppen as "Abe." He's one of the three men who became so identified with founding the Goschenhoppen Historians they were nicknamed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, after the Old Testament patriarchs.

Goschenhoppen was still very much a backwater in those days, Abe says.

"The old-timers were here and we could record things [handed down] from the Colonial times. We have miles of tape. We still go to senior citizens' homes and interview."

But the old folks are dying off. McDonald's has come to the next village. And as Abe's wife, Nancy, exclaims: "They have a Wal-Mart in Harleysville now!"

Nancy Roan is an expert on Goschenhoppen quilts and Pennsylvania Dutch home life in general.

Harleysville, incidentally, is a little town about six miles south, perhaps best-known in Baltimore for its baloney.

The epicenter

Green Lane is pretty much at the center of what was Old Goschenhoppen. Draw an oval five to eight miles each way and you've enclosed a folk region that dates from the 18th century.

"It was 95 percent Pennsylvania German here still in the 1960s," Abe Roan says. "You could walk along the streets of any town, and people were all talking Pennsylvania German."

Not quite all, Nancy allows.

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