Reberesburg National Historic District
Rebersburg was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Text, below, is an adaptation of selected material from the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Rebersburg National Register District is located in the eastern part of Centre County known as Brush Valley. This valley, formed by Nittany Mountain (to the north) and Brush Mountain, is about sixteen miles long and about two miles across, and is an area of lightly populated farmland. There are only a few small towns along the valley floor on either side of Route 192. The rich limestone soil and the source of water from Elk Creek on the southern side of the valley made this area desirable for settlers looking for good farmland.
Conrad Reber, one of the early settlers attracted by fertile farmlands, took advantage of the influx of people into the valley and laid out Rebersburg, named after himself, in 1909. He built his town next to two churches, a tavern, and a few other established structures. As the town grew, more residences and commercial structures spread out along the road, and in 1819 Henrysburg (see Boundary Description) was added to the east to accommodate the increasing number of settlers. Further additions were made to the east in 1871 and 1877 and a large section was appended to the west in 1891.
The Rebersburg National Register District contains 113 structures, ninety-two outbuildings, and five intrusions. The 113 principal structures contribute to the historical and architectural mood of the town. The ninety-two outbuildings include barn-like structures, garages, offices, sheds, and outbuildings. Of the five intrusions, one is a recent (1960's) brick house, one is a mobile hone, one is a modern bank building, and two are gasoline stations.
The concentration of all structures is on either side of Route 192. They follow the early plan laid out by Conrad Reber in 1809. His plan was based on the early road through Brush Valley with five equally spaced smaller roads crossing it at right angles. The lot dimensions were sixty-six feet by 190 feet or multiples of this size. The additions to the town in 1819, 1871, 1877, and 1891 followed the same pattern and lot sizes.
Rebersburg is entirely residential with the exception of two gasoline stations that serve people traveling on Route 192. The three churches are concentrated near each other in the center of town. There is a small luncheonette in the Henry Walborn Tavern. (Inventory no. 45). An ARCO Distributorship serving both Brush and Penns Valleys is located with the Jaspar R. Brungart House (Inventory no. 19). A grocery store is located in the structure originally used for this purpose (Harter and Loose Store, inventory no. 75). The post office is located near the center of town and provides a meeting place for the local clientele since there is no mail delivery in town. Designed by the local postmaster, the structure is reminiscent of 1930's roadside architecture and features Art Deco detailing.
The sense of time and place is preserved by structures of predominately the Georgian and Victorian periods. Several different distinctive types of house styles make up each of these periods. The following descriptions provide most of the elements to distinguish one style from another, although they may not include all characteristics for a certain house.
Row House: A two-story house with three bays, two rooms deep, and a central or side hall plan. Most have a two story rear addition. Usually there are internal chimneys at each gable end. The house has little decorative trim except for a simple transom. Often the first story windows are larger than the second story windows. The row house was known to both British and Continental emigrants. However, many of the ones in Rebersburg appear to be influenced by Germanic tradition as several of the houses are based on the two-room deep, central chimney plan with its uneven bays (Richard Pillsbury , "Pioneer America", July 1977). There are twelve of this type, including the Major John Reynolds House (inventory No. 36), built in 1820; the Robert Tate House (inventory No. 23), built in 1810; and the Daniel Walker House (inventory no. 70). built in 1840.
Double/Connected House: A two-story, two-room deep house with from four to seven bays and as many as two entrances, this house type is apparently a product of additional length to a three or four bay house. This house usually lacks stylish trim with the exception of a simple transom. It often has a two story rear addition and partial log construction. Nearly all these houses were owned by tradesmen at an early period which accounts for the additions used as shops. There are eleven examples of this type. Several typical good examples of this style are the Philip Reitzell Tavern (inventory No. 38), built in 1821; the Colonel Henry Royer House (inventory No. 27), built in 1823; and the Melchor Bierly House (inventory No. 62), built in 1844. They are of varying construction but most are clapboard.
Continental Four over Four: A two-story house with four bays and a two-room deep plan. It has little decoration except for partial gable returns. This house type is an anglicized version of the Germanic two-room deep central chimney house. It generally has four equal rooms on each floor and symmetrical pairs of internal end chimneys after the English model. Many were later updated to Victorian Gothic. Clapboard was the preferred covering (Richard Pillsbury, "Pioneer America", July 1977). There are sixteen structures of this type. Good examples are the John Bierly, Sr. House (inventory No. 49), built in 1830; the Jacob Smull House (inventory No. 44), built, in 1825; and the Dr. Daniel J. Hilbish House and Office (inventory No. 67), built in 1853.
Pennsylvania Four over Four: This is a two story, five bay house that is two rooms deep. This house is similar to the Continental Four over Four with a simplifled Georgian central hall plan and four equal rooms on each floor. There are few, if any, exterior details, partial gable returns, and internal end chimneys. Many of these houses were updated in the Victorian Gothic mode with the addition of elaborate porches (Richard Pillsbury, "Pioneer America", July 1977). Some good examples of this type are the Daniel Brungart House (inventory No. 21), built in 1875; the Mrs. Mrs. Ephraim Erhart House (inventory no. 95). built in 1892; and the Henry Brungart House (inventory No. 60), built, in 1877. There are seventeen examples of this type in Reebersburg.
Victorian Gothic: Houses of this type have intersecting gables. The house plan varies in its placement of the transverse section of the plan. There is often a. small one story ell to the rear. These houses appear tall and narrow and have Victorian Gothic or Romanesque detailing around windows and doors and, usually, brackets under the eaves. Especially noticeable are the elaborate Victorian Gothic porches on some of the structures. Several good examples of this type are the Charles H. Bierly House (inventory No. 9), built in 1898; the Emma J. Royer House (inventory No. 99), built in 1897; and the James E. Ziegler House (inventory No. 92), built in 1908. There are twenty-three examples of this type. Nearly all of these houses were built after the 1891 extension was added.
Others: There are eleven house types with four representatives or less. These house types include Second Empire with two examples, Queen Anne with one example, Carpenter Gothic with one example, Bungalow influence with two examples, Stick Style influence with one example, and four that are the Cubic style or are influenced by the Cubic Style (Rickert, 1967: p. 209).
It is obvious that the Germanic architectural traditions were brought with the settlers to Rebersburg. Many of these German settlers came from the southeastern section of Pennsylvania, especially from Berks County. Their German architectural traditions were influenced by the English Georgian styles during their early stay in the southeastern area. Designs such as the Daniel Bower House (inventory No. 69), a two-room deep row house with the uneven Germanic bays but with Georgian internal end chimneys at either gable is a fine example.
The Pennsylvania Four over Four is an outgrowth of the Germanic Continental Four over Four. The Pennsylvania Four over Four is based on the same Georgian central hall plan as the Continental Four over Four and is characterized by five bays (instead of four as on the Continental Four over our), internal gable end chimneys, partial returns on the gable eaves, few, if any, exterior details and averages forty-two feet by thirty-six feet. Similarly, the Continental Four over Four was an outgrowth of the Germanic row house.
Though Georgian structures are prominent, Victorian architecture may be more characteristic of Rebersburg. The entire western section of the town from Pine Street to Fifth Alley reflects the Victorian Gothic style as tho majority of houses built in this 1891 period were in this architectural mode. Many of the earlier houses were updated in the Victorian Gothic mode and blend with the later houses to create this Victorian mood.
Another important aspect of Rebersburg's architecture are its porches. Many of them are in the elaborate Victorian Gothic tradition. Millwork catalogues from 1870 to 1920 offered an enormous variety of decorative details from which to select. The functional aspects of the porch structure were hidden by architectural whimsey. Mass produced bargeboards could be cut to size to fit any roof slant. Others, sawn-to-order, were obviously made by local carpenters to suit the homeowner's taste. Cornices and brackets were especially the target of woodworkers. Other houses adopted the Bungalow style of porch. Even now, when an old porch proves to be too much upkeep for the homeowner, it is quickly replaced by one with wrought iron supports. The large quantity of porches in Rebersburg makes it unique in that area.
Fortunately, few intrusions have interrupted, the visual unity of the National Register District. The most glaring intrusions are the two gas stations in town and the mobile home at the eastern end of town. The nineteenth century Cubic and other recent houses maintain the same height and dimensions as the earlier houses and do not readily detract from the total village identity. The mobile home at the eastern end of town forebodes of the potential for more of the intrusions on its periphery.
The physical condition of most of the buildings within the district ranges, from good,to excellent. Many of the structures are well maintained with traditional materials, but many also are well cared for structures covered by aluminum or asphalt siding. In this rural outpost the current interpretation of preservation has not yet become popular. A few houses are greatly in need of attention (philip Reitzell Tavern, Inventory No. 38) and Daniel Walker House, Inventory No, 70) but do have the potential to be fine houses when correctly restored.
Spacing in the District follows the original town plan of 1809 and the successive additions also follow this pattern. The lots are all of a uniform size based only on the placement of the road and boundary lines. The houses in the older sections are pressed tightly against the rough sidewalks with little or no front yards. The later houses, especially those at either end of the town, have front yards. All the lots are characterized by long narrow back yards very often containing large vegetable and flower gardens. Nearly all the back yards contain small barn type structures at the ends.
The setting of this town in the very center of a long narrow valley is incredibly beautiful. From any position in the town unadulterated farmland stretches out to the east and west. To the north and south lies the mountainous beauty so typical of Central Pennsylvania.
Although there are no threats to the present town of Rebersburg at this time, unplanned growth could result in the proliferation of modern one story homes and mobile homes. The majority of citizens work in larger towns; the distance deters all but the intrepid from living this far away from their place of work. Rebersburgs's distance from the major sources of travel and commercial areas has slowed its growth, but has also preserved its pattern of early settlement.
The Rebersburg National Register District is a fine example of Central Pennsylvania's small rural farming communities. As is common in such communities it is a mixture of earlier folk housing and later nationalized styles. Like Aaronsburg, the land on which Rebersburg is situated was part of the territories newly reopened, after the American Revolutionary War. Colonel Samuel Miles, active in land speculation during this post-Revolutionary period, owned all of Brush valley. He first had a road cut along the length of the valley before 1791 for the convenience of settlers and as an incentive for land sales. This road and the rich farmland attracted settlers to the valley and by 1809 Conrad Reber felt there were enough people to support a town. As both a post and farming town Rebersburg grew steadily. The importance of the road as one of the quickest routes to eastern Pennsylvania faded with the opening of the Lewisburg, Centre, and Spruce Creek Railroad about 1877. Even so, when a new section was added to Rebersburg on the west in 1891 all the lots were quickly bought and houses soon built. Farming became the main concern of the town, and business catering to the farming community also located there. Few houses were built after 1900 and the town provides a fine example of the evolution of a farm community up to 1900.
Colonel Samuel Miles bought most of the land in Brush Valley. By the 1780's he had acquired twenty-three or twenty-four tracts, each with about 300 acres. The tract on which Rebersburg is located was called "Straits of Magella" and contained 334 acres. In 1785 he sold this tract to Christian Waldsmith who sold it to Stephen Bollander in 1791. In 1796 Bollander conveyed a lot at the future site of Rebersburg to John Buchtel and Jacob Walter for "a building site for a church, and a school house, and for a burying ground" for the use of the United Lutheran and German Reformed congregations of Brush Valley. By 1801 Bollander had sold 222 acres of the original 334 acres to Conrad Reber. Because of the great influx of settlers into the valley in the 1790's, Reber saw he would be able to make a profit by selling lots in a town. In looking for the perfect spot he must have realized the potential of a site which already had a church and tavern in addition to a continuous supply of water from a nearby spring.
The first permanent settlers to Brush Valley and Rebersburg were attracted by the abundance of rich limestone soil. Agriculture played an important role in the settlement of Rebersburg. Although the Scotch-Irish and English were the first to settle here, they did not remain. In 1883 John Blair Linn's History of Centre and Clinton Counties reported only a few names of these early settlers were remembered by the oldest residents. These early settlers must have been few in number and their stay short since scarcely any trace of their existence is left. The most important settlers were the Pennsylvania Germans who mostly migrated from southeastern Pennsylvania in search of more open farmland. The earlier English and Scotch-Irish who had neither bought nor taken out leases were forced to leave when the Pennsylvania Germans arrived, provided with legal documents for the land.
Farming and associated activities were the principal occupations of those settling in Rebersburg and the Brush Valley. As farmers migrating from now crowded southeastern Pennsylvania, these Germans found fertile Brush Valley similar to what they had left behind.
At an early date ample provision was made for the manufacture of whiskey. By 1803 there were eighteen distilleries in the valley. Host grain was converted into whiskey, which reduced the bulk of the commodity. The portion not drunk by the people themselves was taken to market. Besides grain, uagon loads of apples and peaches were hauled to the distilleries to be made into liquor. The exports were chiefly flax seed and clover seed, wheat, and whiskey, which were transported in large covered wagons to which were hitched four to six horses. Produce was hauled to Philadelphia, a ten-to-fifteen-day round trip. Some of the produce was taken to Reading, Pottsville, and later to Lewisburg, which continued to be the chief market place until the railroad was extended to Penns Valley around 1877.
Throughout its existence Rebersburg has retained a reliance on agriculture. The town provided a place for settlers possessing useful farming skills to find immediate work. Soon after the town was founded, craftsmen began to buy lots and settle in town. The earliest business, a tavern run by Adam Bollander, was already there, and along with the churches, provided a nucleus for the settlement. Soon after 1809 James Heylman built a tannery at the western end of the original town. A store was run by Jacob Bollinger at the present site of the National Bank in Rebersburg. Other settlers followed, many being craftsmen, seeking a place where their services were needed. Such occupations as weavers, gunsmiths, masons, distillers, millers, tanners, tailors, wagonmakers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, saddlers, and coopers are listed in the assessments for Rebersburg. Although many. of these early German farmers made their own necessities they could purchase them from the local craftsmen, too. The increase in the numbers of such settlers continued steadily into Brush Valley and Rebersburg. As indicated by assessment books, the number of new residents locating in Rebersburg grew steadily but slowly. After the 1891 addition to the town was filled, growth stopped. Since farming was the principal occupation, the land in Brush Valley had been bought and divided by this time.
In addition to the importance of agriculture in the founding and growth of Rebersburg, transportation played an equally important role. The early road through Brush Valley provided an easy access for travelers seeking better and more open land. The popxlarity of the road and quantity of people using it became such that a tavern was operating on the site of Rebcrsburg by 1809.
Several early roads provided easy access and by 1815 there were at least five different roads into the valley. The first and.most important road was the one opened by Colonel Samuel Miles before 1791. It started in West Buffalo Township, Union County, and ran west for thirty miles through the Brush Valley Narrows across the entire valley floor. Several important roads from adjoining valleys were direct routes to Rebersburg. In 1802 a road in neighboring Penn's Valley started from Aaronsburg, went over Brush Mountain through Kleckner's Gap, and ended near Rebersburg. This road was used by many settlers to get into Brush Valley. Another early route, passing through a gap in Brush Mountain connected Millheim in Penn's Valley with Spring Bank in Brush Valley. This road was improved in 1811, but before that time it had been an old Indian trail. There were many roads between Rebersburg and Tylersville in Sugar Valley to the north in Clinton County. The oldest road, known as the Brungart Road, was granted in 1806 and was a principal route in the early settlement of Sugar Valley. In 1834 a turnpike from Bald Eagle Bridge through Nittany Valley to the Brush Valley Road in Miles Township was authorized and named the Bald Eagle, Nittany, and Brush Valley Turnpike Company.
The taverns of Rebersburg played In an important role in its development. In fact, the town was built, with a tavern and a church already situated at one end. Conrad Reber, no doubt, recognized the potential of such an area with community gathering places already present. Taverns in the early nineteenth century provided places of meeting and exchange of information between members of a community. Of equal importance were the entertainment and refreshment facilities they provided for those traveling along the road. These early taverns were also for the comfort of local citizens, for interchange of news and opinions and the sociability that resulted from this interchange. Taverns often were places used for political and military meetings. The 1816 assessment in Miles Township includes a remark that an "appeal" was to "be held in April "at the house of the Innkeeper Zachariah Lesh of Rebexsburg."
During the course of its history, Rebersburg has had as many as four taverns. The first one, built around 1807, was owned by Adam Bollander. Linn relatss that this tavern was burned down in its early history but rebuilt soon after. It was used as a tavern until the 1840's. The second tavern was kept by Leonard Stump from 1811 until 1826. Finally Zachariah Lesh, referred, to above, opened his tavern around 1814. Another tavern operated, by Philip Reitzell was built in two parts. The western half of the house was built by John Weaver, and the eastern half by Philip Reitzell 1827. Philip Reitzell also had a store in the building and was instrumental in establishing the post office situated at Rebersburg about 1828.
In 1877 the Lewisburg, Centre, and Spruce Creek Railroad, beginning at Lewisburg, was extended to Spring Mills. The small town of Coburn then became the main distribution terminal for Rebersburg and all of Brush Valley. Before this farm products were taken by conestoga wagons to Philadelphia which required a ten to fifteen day round trip and to Reading and Pottsville. Later most produce was taken to Lewisburg. The opening of the railroad, in Penns Valley led to a decline in use and importance of the Brush Valley Road as a thoroughfare.
Rebersburgs architecture is important for its early folk housing which is the product of largely Germanic traditions. The center of town from Chestnut to Pine Street is almost exclusively of structures of Germanic origin. Many of the Germans who came to Rebersburg had lived in southeastern Pennsylvania for a period of time. They had been influenced by the Georgian architecture of the English and their houses reflect this influence. While the houses retained the two room deep plan from German building tradition, they had dropped the earlier central chimney plan in favor of the Georgian symmetrical pairs of end chimneys. The rooms became equally four over four. Many of these houses were modified by the later nineteenth century addition of ornate porches and bracketing.
The Victorian Gothic style is the other important architectural influence in Rebersburg. Nearly all the houses in the western section of town (founded in 1871) represent this style and.appear to have been built from the same plan. This basic plan, designed by a local builder, Reuben Bierly, included a rectangular section with another section perpendicular to it. The houses include the usual Victorian Gothic details of steep roofs, window headers, tall windows, and cut-out detailing and brackets. Many of these houses have later porches influenced. by the Bungalow style of the 1920's and 1930's. More recently wrought iron and cement have replaced earlier, more elaborate porches. Other structures in Rebersburg reflect the Victorian era with Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Carpenter Gothic styles.
Several houses emulating the national styles of the Bungalow and Cubic house plans were built in the 1920's and 1930's. Few houses were built after the 192O's, and those that were are generally sympathetic to the materials and size of previous structures.
Rebersburg represents an interesting blend of early Georgian influenced folk housing and later Victorian and early twentieth century styles. It remains remarkably free of intrusions and retains the sense of time and character of an early farming settlement. The preservation of this early settlement, similar to others in its origins as a post and farming community, yet relatively unique in its Germanic origins and pastoral location, will advance the understanding of rural culture in the American landscape.
School District: Penns Valley Area