Tulpehocken Creek Historic District
The Tulpehocken Creek Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Tulpehocken Creek is the largest stream in Western Berks County. Arising from springs west of Myerstown in Lebanon County, it enters Berks near Stouchsburg in Marion Township and flows in an easterly direction approximately 26 miles until it reaches the Schuylkill River in the City of Reading. In its course it forms parts of the boundaries of eight townships: Marion, Heidelberg, North Heidelberg, Jefferson, Penn, Lower, Heidelberg, Bern, and Spring. The creek valley can be divided into three distinct areas due to the construction of the Blue Marsh Dam by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1979. The six-mile segment below the dam contains county park land with hiking and biking trails and a historic center featuring the Gruber Wagon Works. The six-mile Blue Marsh Lake section is Berks County's major boating and recreation area. The final fourteen-mile segment from the upper end of the lake to the county line has a completely different character. The creek corridor in this area is surprisingly undeveloped. It has a pastoral setting in which the gentle slopes are farmed and the steeper slopes wooded. The buildings along the bank depict the history of the region. This is the area proposed as the Tulpehocken Creek Historic District.
This historic district is comprised of the land, buildings, and sites that geographically or historically relate to the upper Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County and to the 0.7 mile Berks County section of the Mill Creek, a major tributary with similar historic character which also originates in Lebanon County and joins the Tulpehocken in Marion Township. Of its sixty-six properties, twenty-four are historically significant, thirty-three contribute to the character of the district, three are old properties with incompatible modern elements, and six are modern intrusions. Most of the buildings are located within several hundred feet of the stream. The mills and industrial sites are closer to the banks, the canal remnants along a parallel course, the 18th and 19th century farm buildings somewhat more distant, and the churches on high bluffs overlooking the creek. Each building fits naturally into the valley's terrain. Many farms are situated at the ends of long lanes, while clusters of sites occur near bridges and roads.
Probably no one area in Western Berks better illustrates the periods of development of the region through the existing architectural heritage. The Settlement Period 1723 to 1750 is represented by the log cabins of Godfrey Fidler and Frederick Reed. Each is a 1 1/2-story center chimney cabin built into a bank over a stone spring room. The Fidlers and Reeds were among the 33 German families that migrated to the Tulpehocken Valley from Schoharie, New York in 1723, establishing a German community from the outset. This period also witnessed the establishment of three early churches, now marked by Reed's Cemetery, the site of the first church in Berks County (1727); the Christ Little Tulpehocken Church (original log church 1730, present building 1809), and Christ Lutheran Church (original log church 1743, present building 1786).
The 18th Century Period of Expansion 1750 to 1800 brought agricultural and industrial development to the region. The large Germanic style farm houses and substantial bank barns testify that this was a prosperous era for farmers. Stone and log were favored as building materials. Five stone and five log farmhouses date from 1753 to 1797. On the same properties are one log and nine stone barns. The creek furnished power for the growth of industry. Gristmills were established at eight sites, many during this early period when wheat was the principal farm crop. A carding mill, sawmill, and clovermill were built on the Mill Creek. Today, four of these sites contain later mills, built in the 19th century, while others are marked by old foundations, dams, and races. The most important industrial site along the Tulpehocken is Charming Forge, an iron-making community from 1749 to 1895. Here the stately Georgian mansion built by George Ege in 1784, overlooks a group of 18th to 19th century forge buildings and workers homes as well as several 1920's summer cottages. Nearby are the forge dam, the mill race cut through rock by Hessian prisoners, and Lock 27 of the Union Canal.
The Union Canal Period 1827 to 1884 was the major era of 19th century development. The canal bed follows the course of the Tulpehocken Creek throughout Berks County and can be seen as a depression running through woodland and meadows. Locks 17 through 35 were located in the district. The best preserved examples are Lock 26 and 29 whose walls remain intact, and Lock 25 more than 50% intact. Other significant canal remnants are the brick Lock House and bridge at Lock 24 and the log Lock House and lock bed at number 30. The foundation of Lock House #33 has been used for a modern cottage which gives an indication of the close proximity of this Lock Tender's home to his place of duty. Most locks have been dismantled and the stones used for construction projects throughout the district.
The major impact of the canal in Western Berks was the growth of three towns, each within 1/2 mile of the Tulpehocken Creek, located just beyond the boundaries of the historic district. These towns were not included in the district because they merit historic district classification in their own right — Womelsdorf, Stouchsburg and Bernville. The 19th century character of each community was closely associated with its dependence on canal commerce, especially in Stouchsburg and Bernville where growth stopped abruptly when the canal was abandoned.
Many businesses were located along the canal. Stores, inns, lumber yards, and cement works are identified in the Berks County Atlas of 1862. Buildings representing canal trade are the Cross Keys Tavern, an inn for more than a century, the Schock and Klopp scores and the Hershberger Mill, all converted to residential use.
The primary land use throughout the 19th century was farming. Twenty-seven farms date from this period. Although the farmhouses demonstrate a variety of vernacular styles, the four-bay square-shaped house is by far the most common. Construction materials vary great deal. Eight houses are log, seven stone, six brick, and six frame. Nearly all the barns are built with vertically planked wood walls and stone foundations.
The 20th century has had negligible impact on development along the Tulpehocken Creek. There is little to disrupt the historic setting. A trailer park abuts the creek near the old Kurtz Homestead on Canal Road. A sewage treatment plant serves the Borough of Womelsdorf. An A-frame cottage near the Braun Mill and a summer home near Krick's Mill overlook the stream. Three modern houses are built alone roads within the district boundaries. Also classified as intrusions are the new house on old foundations at Lock #33 and the 3-bay farmhouse converted to an aluminum salt-box.
Throughout most of the district, the Tulpehocken Creek is inaccessible from public roads. It can best be viewed by canoe. Drifting along with the current one can sense the timelessness of the setting. Luxuriant vegetation obscures all but the most immediate man-made structures. The scenery ranges from steep slopes to rolling hillsides to verdant meadows and swamps. The busy days of water-powered industry and of canal commerce are forgotten memories. The days of settlement when the stream was a major transportation route are easier to imagine. Nature dominates the scene today as it did when first it was given its name by the Lenni-Lenape — Tulpehocken — Land of the Turtles.
The Tulpehocken Creek district is significant as the original settlement area of Western Berks County. Not only was it the destination of the German community that transplanted itself from Schoharie, New York to Pennsylvania in the 1720's, but it was the pathway they followed, the last leg of their water route via the Susquehanna and Swatara and Tulpehocken to their ultimate home. It is significant for its agricultural tradition based on the affinity of the original settlers to productive limestone soils and the strong bond that has existed since then between Pennsylvania German farmers and their land. It is significant for its association with the water-powered industry of the 18th and 19th centuries, the grist mills, sawmills, carding mills, and forges that supported the rural economy during a time when Pennsylvania was both the "breadbasket" and the "iron capital" of the young nation. It is significant as the site of the Union Canal in Berks County and for the era of 19th century development that canal commerce brought to the region. It is historically significant, also, for its three early churches and the role they played in the "Tulpehocken Confusion" of 1729-1743 and in the subsequent religious development of the community. Today the Tulpehocken Creek Historic District is characterized by its historic landscape featuring well-preserved buildings representing each of the above areas of significance and furnishing throughout its 15 mile course an architectural history of quality and integrity.
It has been written that the Tulpehocken Settlement of 1723-1729 marked the beginning of one of the great population movements in Colonial America—the German migration to Pennsylvania. The original Tulpehocken settlers had formerly been part of a group of some 4000 Palatine Germans who colonized New York state under Governor Hunter in 1710. Unable to carry out the impractical plan of producing tar for the Queen's Navy to pay their passage, or later to acquire land titles to farmland in the Schoharie Valley, a good portion of the Schoharie Community traveled by water to Tulpehocken in groups of fifteen to fifty families. Led by Conrad Weiser and others, these settlers spread the news to their relatives in Germany that Pennsylvania offered freedom from religious intolerance and land that was reminiscent of the fertile valleys in the Palatinate. In the following decades the shipping lanes from Rotterdam to Philadelphia brought some 3,000 German immigrants bound for the interior of Pennsylvania. By 1752, when Berks County was founded, its population was overwhelmingly German, and the Pennsylvania German character of the region was established.
The Tulpehocken area was the first section of the county to be settled as a clustered colony. For this reason it was one of the first to establish a church. In 1725 Leonard Reed donated seven acres of ground for church, school, and burial purposes, at the present site of Reed's Cemetery. The first log church was built in 1727 and the school organized in 1730. During its early years a struggle for control occurred involving community and church leaders. Conrad Weiser, a pious public spirited citizen (as well as Pennsylvania's foremost spokesman and ambassador among the Indians) was embroiled in the rivalry between the Lutheran followers of John Caspar Stoever and the Moravian Congregation under Caspar Leutbecker both seeking exclusive occupancy of Reed's Church, and the concurrent efforts of John Philip Boehm and John Peter Miller to establish a Reformed Congregation. One result of this "Tulpehocken Confusion" was the withdrawal in 1735 of Weiser, Miller, and Gottfried Fidler to the Cloisters at Ephrata, enticed by the magnetism of Conrad Beissel. In order to break ties to the past, an infamous "Burning of the Books" was performed at the Fidler Cabin in which 36 devotional books were burned in an act of cleansing and sacrifice. The religious confrontations were resolved by the separation of the three congregations: Lutherans at the Christ Little Tulpehocken Church (1730-34) in the northern part of the district, another Lutheran Congregation at the Christ Tulpehocken Church near Stouchsburg (1743) and the Moravians remaining at Reed's Church. The arrival of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg to guide the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania helped bring order to the chaotic conditions in many rural churches. Several years later Christ Tulpehocken (Lutheran) Church was the scene of Muhlenberg's marriage to Anna Maria Weiser, the oldest daughter of Conrad, in 1745. Another historic figure associated with this church is John Andrew Shulze, Pennsylvania's Governor 1824-1829 who was born in the parsonage. His father was a minister from Saxony, Germany, and his mother the daughter of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Under Governor Shulze the Pennsylvania Canal System was built, the Union Canal coincidentally passing a stone's throw from his birthplace.
The Tulpehocken colonists recognized the advantages of the stream valley to meet their needs. In a letter Conrad Weiser in Schoharie dated May 1729 they encouraged him to follow to "this land which is lovely, fruitful and has the best springs and water power." In this letter they stated they already had "one mill at the Tulpehocken and the Millbach." This was the Leonhardt Reed gristmill, razed in the 1820's when the canal was built. Several miles to the north Lorentz Zerbe built a mill in 1735, later the site of Krick's Mill. Such mills were a necessity in a pioneer community, and through most of the 18th & 19th centuries, when at least thirteen different water power sites were used. Some grist & saw mills continued to be used in the 20th century including Sunday's Mill, which Lammes Lutz operated until 1956. The most recent development of a power source was the construction of a hydroelectric plant at the Charming Forge dam by the Borough of Womelsdorf in 1908.
The site of this dam was first used in 1749 for the iron forge built by Michael Miller and George Nikoll known as "Tulpehocken Eisenhammer," and later renamed by "Baron" Henry William Stiegel "Charming Forge." In 1774 George Ege, a nephew of Stiegel obtained part interest, and in 1783 full ownership. It was Ege that developed the property to its full potential constructing a slitting mill, a gristmill, a company store, stables, blacksmith's and saddler's shops, a "boarding house," worker's homes, and a fine Iron Masters mansion for his family. Unlike other Berks County forges which produced only bar-iron, Charging Forge used the most sophisticated technology available to manufacture nail rods, spike rods, sheet iron, plated iron, slitted iron, and rolled iron. The forge record books have been carefully preserved and provide insight into the daily operations of this industry. The forge village also has been kept intact by its subsequent owners, the Taylor family 1835-1916, and the Sallade family 1916 to the present. Few privately owned properties have so successfully retained their connections with the past.
The Tulpehocken Creek provided the course for the Berks County section of the Union Canal, built 1821-1827 to connect the Schuylkill Canal in Reading with the Susquehanna River at Middletown. Almost from the beginning this canal was at a disadvantage to compete with other forms of transportation because of its modest size. Nevertheless it was a boon to the areas it served, hauling gypsum, lumber, bricks, iron, flour, grain, whiskey, tobacco and other products to and from the port of Philadelphia. The towns of Bernville, Womelsdorf, and Stouchsburg grew and prospered. The boom in Bernville was so substantial that the residents seriously considered a petition to have the county seat moved there. Taverns, stores, and warehouses flourished along the route. It was an era of lively camaraderie at the weigh stations and lock houses as the mule drivers, boatmen, merchants, and neighborhood residents exchanged news and gossip. During 1853-1857 the canal and locks were enlarged to accommodate the larger boats used on adjoining canals. This was a costly enterprise from which the Canal Company never recovered. Shortly afterward the Reading Railroad purchased the canal, kept reducing its schedule, and abandoned it in 1884. The end of the canal signalled the decline of all development along the upper Tulpehocken Creek and the gradual reversion of the area to its former rural tranquility.
Today, as in the beginning, it is agriculture that prevails as the primary activity in the Tulpehocken Creek district. Dairy farming is the most important industry, while livestock, grain and hay are raised on the tillable acreage and a number of Christmas Tree plantations occupy the steeper slopes in Jefferson and North Heidelberg townships. Tills traditional agrarian land use pattern preserves a continuity that is a large part of the Pennsylvania German heritage.
The Tulpehocken Settlement area differs from other historic rural sections of the county because of the dominance of its Germanic character. Eastern Berks had settlements of German, Swiss, French, English, and Swedish; Southern Berks was peopled by Welsh and English; Northern Berks by English, German, and French. Western Berks was nearly pure German. This has had an impact on its architecture. The vast majority of its rural buildings—farmhouses, log and stone cabins, spring houses, smoke houses, summer kitchens, bake houses, bank barns, pig pens, etc., are typically Pennsylvania German, derived from architectural forms from the medieval and renaissance periods and arranged in patterns resembling a Palatine Court.
An outstanding group of Colonial German farmhouses built before 1770 is found in the southern and western section of the district in Marion Township, the first section to be settled in 1723, and the area of the richest farmland. These include the Fidler, Reed, Kopp, and Braun log houses built c. 1730-1752, and the Loesch, Reed, and Dieffenbach stone houses c. 1753-1765. The log houses feature interior off-center chimneys, a two or three-room floor plan, and notched-corner construction. The stone houses display steep rooflines, evidence of encircling pent roofs, flat brick or stone arches over the window openings, and asymmetrical placement of windows and doors. It is interesting to note that if the section of the Tulpehocken and Millbach Creeks beyond the Berks-Lebanon boundary could be appended to the district (the settlement era preceded the erection of these counties) several textbook examples of Colonial German architecture would be included: Fort Zeller and the Mueller House on the Millbach; and the Meier, Immel, Spangler, and Ley Houses on the Tulpehocken. All of these important homesteads are located on the banks of these two branches of the Tulpehocken.
Adding to the architectural significance of the district is its portrayal of the evolution of building types. Two stone houses date from the 1770-1799 period, the Christ Lutheran Parsonage (1771) and the Charming Forge Mansion (1784). The parsonage combines Germanic construction features such as segmental brick arches over the windows with a balanced five bay facade and central hall plan introduced by English influence. The Charming Forge Manor House is the only example of Classic Georgian architecture in the district. Both structures display a high degree of sophistication when compared with the other houses built at the sane time, four log and one brick. The 1800-1820 period is illustrated by twelve houses, ten of which are three or four bay brick, stone, or log. These houses appear to be patterned after the earlier Germanic two and three room floor plans, but differ in the evenly spaced openings that display the symmetry of English design. Most of the twenty-one later farmhouses in the district (1820-1860) are four bay houses with a four room interior plan on each floor and an enclosed stairway between the two back rooms. Many of these houses have two front doors, side by side, permitting separate entry to the formal parlor or the family living room. In Western Berks County this is a common building type.
Other architecturally significant structures in the district are the gristmills, stone arch bridges, canal locks, limekilns, water wheels, churches, and cemeteries. These are rare survivors of earlier life styles and building techniques.
The proposed Tulpehocken Creek Historic District is a small part of the vast Tulpehocken Settlement area, but it captures its essence. It contains the best examples of settler's cabins and Colonial German farmhouses, the premier iron community and finest Georgian manor house, some of the better gristmills, the major portion of the Union Canal, and a typical cross-section of the architectural development of the region.
Its most salient feature is its Germanic character. This was noted in comments of early travellers:
John, Schoeff (1783-84) "...the Tulpehocken Creek is an exceedingly beautiful and fruitful section. Its inhabitants are prosperous and nearly all German, for these people have always and everywhere had an eye for the most fertile lands."
Theopile Cazenoveo (1794) "The farmers houses are well built of stone, good large barns,...the land in grains and clover. They have all become rich through the high prices of grain since the French Revolution...They accumulate cash, buy land next to their own and give it to their sons . . . They have kept their ancestors' costumes...their bearing and appearance...is German."
Watson (1829) "(In) the Tulpehocken country...houses are of squared logs, neatly framed, two stories high. Barns are large and well-filled, generally constructed of logs or stone, but all the roofs are of thatched straw. The face of the whole country is German..."
The persevering qualities of this German heritage have made the area what it is today—Tulpehocken—a land of the Pennsylvania Germans.
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† Hopkins, Phoebe L., Berks County Conservancy, Tulpehocken Creek Historic District, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.