Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Germanic Cultural Ties at the Henry Antes House

Germanic Cultural Ties at the Henry Antes House
Written by NJ Historian

In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, exists a plantation house built well before the American Revolution by one of the greatest master builder/architects of the early and middle eighteenth century, Henry Antes. From the house, this aspiring Moravian church leader established his roots in the region and hosted frequent evangelical and political meetings to promote understanding among colonists of different religions, cultures, and races. Antes is credited with bringing together segregated factions of the Germanic community and establishing the first interracial and nonsectarian school in Pennsylvania. After his death, his home served as General George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. Today, this well-preserved home, which retains many of its original architectural elements, is home to an annual, forty-seven year old festival which teaches and celebrates the traditional methods and culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Johann Heinrich "Henry" Antes was born to Philip Frederick and Anna Catherine Antes in Freinsheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany on July 1, 1701. He and his father's family emigrated to the Colony of Pennsylvania about 1720. Soon after settling in the colony, he became a partner of William Dewees, who owned a paper and flour mill. He married William's daughter, Christina Dewees on February 2, 1726 and together had nine children. Immediately after the wedding, he and Christina moved to Falkner's Swamp, a sparsely settled area thirty miles to the north in Frederick Township. Here, in 1736, he would build his home and a multi-purpose mill to supply lumber, flour, and oil to the surrounding settlers. Very quickly, Henry became a well-known statesman in the area outside of Philadelphia for his intellect, fairness, and mastery of the building trades.

Though he was born and raised in the Reformed Church, Henry left it in 1740 after joining the religious organization known as “Unitas Fratrum,” or Moravian Church. He played a significant part in the Moravian Church's purchase of lands to form the settlements of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Wachovia, North Carolina. Working part time as a lay-preacher, Antes thought that the early German immigrants to the Pennsylvania colony lacked a viable religious structure. With the encouragement of Moravian leader Nikolus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, he organized a series of meetings between leaders from multiple Protestant sects in the colony in 1742.

Records dated March 1745 reveal that Antes offered to board children in his home in order to teach them Christian ideals. Teachers from Bethlehem would travel to the farm and stay for extended periods to instruct the children. In early 1745, the boarders numbered "twenty-three boys, including a Negro from St. Thomas in the West Indies, and a Mohegan Indian. Before the close of 1745, the number of pupils reached thirty-four." The home became known locally as the Frederickstown School and was among the first interracial and nonsectarian schools in Pennsylvania and possibly the Colonies.

Restored kitchen and hearth at the Henry Antes House.
Between 1740 and 1745, Antes served as the chief architect/builder for the Moravian Church. In 1745, he was appointed to Justice of the Peace for Northampton County, and later in 1752 for Philadelphia County by the colonial Governor. The same year he was appointed as Justice of the Peace for Northampton County, he moved to Bethlehem and built a house, though only five years later, in 1750, he returned to his original home in Frederick Township after a disagreement with church officials. He removed the Moravian school from his property and distanced himself from the Church but still maintained a presence in the Moravian community at Bethlehem and acted as a consultant on a number of building and planning projects.

Henry died in 1755 and was interred on a knoll opposite his home. After his death, Antes' son Frederick went on to become a Revolutionary War hero and friend to George Washington, while his son John was a significant Moravian composer and is credited with building one of the first violins in America. His grandson, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who received a thorough training in building practice and architectural design from the Moravian church, was the architect of the Capitol of the United States of America.

The home that Henry Antes designed and constructed in 1736 is atypical of homes built in this region of Pennsylvania at the time, when the common house was a one-and-one-half-story log structure featuring an internal chimney and three-room floor plan. The Antes House reaches three stories in height and its outer walls are constructed of stone, a symbol of grandness and permanence. It is an outstanding example of a Germanic Settlement House. With its steep roof containing two separate floors in the attic, three-room floor plan, and massive internal fireplace, this pre-1760s house preserves rare evidence of early cultural traditions in the settlement of the colonies.

Although the kitchen fireplace jambs were altered to gain additional space at the turn of the twentieth century, the original three-room first floor plan consisting of kuche, stube, and kammer is intact. This type of settlement home in Germanic Pennsylvania was often a two or three room layout with a central chimney and corner “winder stair” leading up to a loft or second floor. The three-room format called for a large kitchen or "kuche" on one side of the center chimney and two smaller rooms including a parlor or "stube," and a bedroom or "kammer" on the other. This three-room Germanic layout is sometimes referred to as a "Continental Plan" by architectural historians. Other significant features of the house include an original splined board partition wall, splined floorboards, ceilings consisting of grooved joists fitted with riven mud- and straw-wrapped staves, and built-in vail cupboards.

The second floor is divided roughly in half by the masonry chimney wall and further subdivided into four rooms by beaded plank walls. The ceilings, unique to the German tradition, are called "stroh-lehm," meaning straw-mud. This practice employs the use of straw and clay as insulation between floors. The mud and finish plaster projects slightly from the underside of the timber creating a unique and somewhat medieval appearance.

"Stroh-lem" ceilings at the Henry Antes House.
One of the most interesting architectural elements at the Antes home is a small window on the first floor set low in the wall. This is the “Seelen Fenster,” or spirit window. In Pennsylvania German folklore such a window was a symbolic opening that was opened at the time of an individual's death to in order to allow the spirit to leave. It would then be closed to separate the earthly from the spiritual.

During the Revolutionary War, the Antes House served as General George Washington's Headquarters from September 22 through September 26, 1777 at the invitation of Henry Antes' son, Frederick, a colonel in the 6th Battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia. Underfed and in need of rest, the army marched to Fagleysville and General Washington made the Antes House his headquarters. The encampment stretched for several miles as the army took over all the houses and barns for shelter. During the army's stay, the weather was dismal with constant rain, cold, and wind. Being always short on food, the army confiscated any cattle, sheep, pigs, grain, preserves, and any other provisions they could find. In addition to General Washington, Generals Greene, Sullivan, Lord Stirling, Pulaski, Knox, Weeden, Armstrong and probably Maxwell, Muhlenburg, Stephen, and Nash were present at the encampment and visited with Washington at the Antes House.

The house and farm passed from the Antes family during the Revolutionary War when the British placed a large bounty on the head of Colonel Antes because of his anti-British sentiments. However, its isolated location allowed the farm to remain virtually undisturbed into the twentieth century when the Antes family rekindled an interest in family history and the preservation of the homestead. For a number of years the house was owned by the Girl Scouts of America who generously made it available to the family and the Goschenhoppen Historians for the study of Pennsylvania-German life. In 1987, the Goschenhoppen Historians purchased the property from the Antes family for purposes of restoration and preservation as a historic house museum. The Henry Antes House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and became a National Historic Landmark on April 27, 1992.

For forty-seven years, the Goschenhoppen Historians have hosted the annual Goschenhoppen Folk Festival to showcase the trades, craft, farm, and home skills of the Pennsylvania Dutch in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, over 500 costumed volunteers recreate kitchens, parlors, trade shops, and itinerants to bring to life the hands-on skills from the past one weekend each August. Working carefully to restore the house and perpetuate the authentic traditions of Henry Antes and other Germanic settlers, the Goschenhoppen Historians have allowed modern-day visitors to view a glimpse of household chores such as cooking over an open hearth, dipping candles, and creating a rag doll, to more industrial tasks such as woodworking, stone carving, and blacksmithing.

Additional photos of my trip to Henry Antes House on Pinterest

Henry Antes House Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

For More Information


Post a Comment

Thanks for the comments!