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The Oley Valley Heritage Association recently had an illustrated lecture by Greg Huber on early log barn structures in Berks County. These elusive early American structures have usually been covered over with siding by farmers to protect them from our North American winters and deterioration from rain. But there are still a few rustic examples which can be seen in the Oley Valley, as well as early original log houses.
Ironically, it was the state government whose appreciation of the historic Herbein-Snyder log house that stood at the edge of an Oley Valley Quarry operation, in Oley Township, who decided to save this frontier log specimen for posterity. By moving it to the Daniel Boone Museum grounds in Exeter Township, where it has been restored for the public to examine, Davey Snyder, a farmer, was a personal friend of mine together with several other historians who cherished his PA German log cabin, a classic example of a frontier home.
But anyone who lives in the East Penn Valley is familiar with the log barns and log homes which were built by the Pricetown Dunkards, visible when you drive from Fleetwood to Pricetown on route 662 in the earlier days. The Price family were early frontier settlers and I admired the original log porch on their log-home adjacent to a log barn half way between Fleetwood and Pricetown, besides the other Price log structures in Pricetown where their 1777 stone meetinghouse is located. However, industrious farmers with log barns have protected these virgin pioneer structures over the years since they were a source of their prosperous livelihood. Although Mr. Huber had interesting photos of log barns with siding in Franklin County to contrast with Berks County, old-timers like myself knew that he has fallen short of reviewing examples of log barns in our backyard. But the audience at the Oley Fair Center that night did remember the historic restoration of the Davey Snyder (Herbein Snyder) log cabin done by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when they moved it to the Daniel Boone Museum grounds. A major historic restoration which inspired the Preservation Trust of the United States to proclaim Oley Township a Historic District to save other historic Americana buildings.
Dealing with the contemporary two by four lumber building materials in today’s modern culture, it was refreshing to see these massive log structures which our ancestors hewed to create rustic logs with dove-tail joints at the corners of towering farm buildings that man and beast might survive in the virgin forests of Pennsylvania. A rustic feeling that their efforts were not made in vain as we look around and appreciate our twenty-first Century comforts and challenges to reach the twenty-second Century.
A colleague of architect John K. Heyl and Robert Ensminger, I hope that barn researcher Greg Huber will add to the research already done on the Pennsylvania barn by these two previous historians. But no one will top Dr. Alfred L Shoemaker’s academic Pennsylvania Barn book, by the Pennsylvania Folklife Society at Kutztown in 1959, published 53 years ago!
Richard H. Shaner is director of American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.