By Laura Knowles Callanan
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXI, Number 2 - Spring 1995
There is an undeniable simplicity, a serenity, that pervades one of Lancaster County's most fascinating visitor attractions, Landis Valley Museum.
A visit to Landis Valley Museum, actually a complex of more than two dozen buildings and structures, offers a glimpse into the lives of those who settled in Lancaster County, beginning in the early eighteenth century. An assemblage of workplaces of early craftspeople (such as the tin shop and the seamstress house), tidy farmhouses, a stone tavern, wagon sheds, and rustic barns, Landis Valley Museum seems as if it has always existed in this locale in Manheim Township, where early roadways converged just north of the city of Lancaster. Using this site as a museum was first conceived by two unusual individuals, brothers George D. and Henry K. Landis.
"Many people who visit Landis Valley assume that this is the way it was during a particular time period. Actually, the museum encompasses many time periods, from 1750 to the early 1900s," explains Elizabeth Johnson, museum educator. The Landis brothers had a special love of the past which, combines with unusual foresight, inspired them to avidly collect practically anything related to rural Pennsylvania German life.
Henry Landis was born in 1865, and brother George two years later. The Civil War had just ended and the wheels of the Industrial Revolution were whirling madly, an impact that forever changed the nation's economy. As the brothers grew older, they began to realize that many of the implements and tools of their Pennsylvania German farming ancestors were becoming neglected, outmoded relics of a passing way of life and work. Through the years the sickle had been retired on American farms in favor of grain cradles and later horse-drawn reapers. Hand flails were being stored in the dark corners of barns, as threshing machines took their place. New-fangled machines that could actually separate grain from straw (and the chaff as well) had arrived on the scene. Factories were mass-producing farm tools such as hoes, spades, scoops, and manure forks, among others. The village blacksmith was losing his trade and his handmade tools were becoming discarded vestiges of the past.
Henry and George were curious youngsters who collected just about anything they could find—from specimens of beetles to minerals to Native American arrowheads. They enjoyed studying the objects and artifacts that they collected. Their father, Henry H. Landis, encouraged them and helped them to study the stars with a telescope. Their mother, Emma, also supported their interests, helping them send away for catalogues and pamphlets on a variety of subjects.
The brothers—as well their sister Nettie May—were raised with more freedom and independence than most children. Since their parents highly valued formal education, both young men were fortunate enough to attend Lehigh University in Bethlehem. Henry graduated with a degree in engineering and George took engineering courses. Many years later when they both retired to their family homestead, Henry became the driving force behind the founding of Landis Valley Museum.
The Landises attended many auctions and public sales through the years, acquiring farming implements and a vast array of antiques. They acquired the unusual and the ordinary—authentic Conestoga wagons, children's carriages, fraktur, homespun fabrics, hand-wrought firearms, colorful quilts, pottery and china, books, and handcrafted furniture. Their collection burgeoned to become a monumental memorial to a vanishing way of life.
Henry and George Landis informally opened their "Barn Museum" in 1925 to exhibit their diverse collections. Henry Landis explained that the exhibits at the museum represented "technology, trades, decorative arts, and anything relating to the early days of the Pennsylvanian Dutch section of the state." The first building they themselves constructed for use as a museum was the Yellow Barn. It was built in 1939, using rafters and trusses salvaged from a barn that once stood at the nearby Brick Farmstead on the museum grounds.
The ambitious and visionary brothers had many ideas for their museum but, unfortunately, they lacked the finances to implement them. Their goal to create a more formally organized museum was supported in 1940 with funds from the Oberlaender Trust of the Carl Shurz Foundation. Things began to fall into place, as the Tavern, Gun Shop, Wagon Shed, and Implement Shed were built. The museum was formally incorporated in 1941, and Henry and George were appointed curators.
In 1951, financial assistance for the museum ended with the liquidation of the Oberlaender Trust. Two years later, the museum was deeded to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and eventually assigned to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the state's official history agency. With a long-range master plan for a museum that would accurately portray rural Pennsylvania German life over the course of several generations, the brothers' dreams finally had the substance needed to bring them to reality. The PHMC added more land and buildings to the museum complex. For a time the museum was known as the Pennsylvania Farm Museum of Landis Valley, but in 1987 it was returned to an earlier name, Landis Valley Museum.
Today, Landis Valley Museum yields a rare, calming influence on those who pass through its timeworn gates. Winding pathways lead visitors to what seems to be a simpler, gentler way of life. It is a time for which many long—when the farmer plowed the fields, the shoemaker made shoes, the weaver wove yarn into cloth, and the potter turned bowls and jugs. Although life was certainly not easier, a person's work role was perhaps clearer and more understandable.
The way of life of Pennsylvania German rural peoples is the focus of the museum. Visitors discover how the close-knit families and communities learned to be interdependent. Every member of a farm family was required to do his or her share, from the youngest toddler to the oldest grandparent or even great-grandparent. Many of the tasks were assigned according to gender. Typically, the men tended the fields and animals, mended fences, cleaned stables, cared for the orchard, and maintained farm equipment. Women raised the children, prepared food, made and washed clothing and lines, made soap, prepared herbal remedies, sewed and knitted, made butter, and took care of the poultry.
Depending on gender, children were basically "helpers," assisting the men and women with their arduous chores. There were many tasks, however, that were ideally suited to their smaller hands and ability to climb over and under things. Children, as young as three or four years old, often gathered nuts and berries, weeded gardens, picked stones form the fields, and helped with washing and peeling vegetables. At butchering time, the entire family usually helped with the big undertaking. To be a member of a farming family was simply, to be a member of a team. "This is one of the things that Landis Valley Museum conveys to visitors. Rural life had its responsibilities and everyone had a job to do," says Johnson. At times, however, roles varied, especially if a woman was widowed or a man left a widower. Barriers were crossed as men learned to cook and women plowed the fields.
The changing way of life of the rural Pennsylvania Germans is depicted in various time periods at the museum complex. From the Log Farm (1760–1780) to the Brick Farmstead (1830–1850) to the Landis House (1870–1890), a visitor can see, firsthand, the fascinating evolution that took place through several generations of farming families. Primitive kitchens were gradually outfitted with "modern" cooking equipment. Homespun fabrics were replaced by factory-made cotton and woolen material. Handcrafted field tools became more sophisticated and efficient. New machinery, which used animal power more effectively, made it possible to till, seed, and harvest more land. Landis Valley captures the character of each period in order for visitors to understand a time long before their own.
One of the advantages—and most relaxing aspects—of visiting Landis Valley is that one can wander at will with only a map of the complex in hand. A day at Landis Valley is, perhaps, one of the finer pleasures of a visit to Lancaster County. At each stop along the way, costumed guides-who seem to have stepped out of the past-greet visitors and carry them back in time.
The Brick Farmstead, with its Grossmutter Haus or "Grandmother's House," provides a fascinating peek at the period between 1830 and 1850. The large main residence was built to meet the growing needs of a family, while the smaller house served as a retirement home for the grandparents. Provisions were made for a grandmother after she was widowed, and firewood and other necessities supplied by the family. The Grossmutter Haus allowed elderly or infirm grandparents to live independently, yet remain intimately connected to younger family members by sharing a tract of land that would eventually be passed on to future generations of descendants.
Despite decades of research and scholarship, a few intriguing mysteries do remain. One mystery that has fascinated many is the construction of an exterior wall of the main house. Although most of the Brick House is built of brick (hence the name), one side features an irregularly shaped wall of both brick and stone. Looking at the side of the house, it is difficult to imagine why it was built that way. "No one really knows for sure," comments Johnson, noting that the house was built in various stages and that it is possible that stone from an earlier building was used to construct the present-day house.
In the Tavern, constructed of local blue limestone, table and chairs fill one room and walls are lined with shelves brimming with old bottles. It is not hard for today's visitors to image wary travelers settling down to rest at the crossroads refuge after a long day's journey. A huge, brick-floored kitchen welcomes guests with its warm, aromatic atmosphere rising from commodious bowls of hearty fare. Dressed in authentic period clothing, a cook demonstrates how food was prepared and cooked on an open-hearth fireplace. The fare might be a cinnamon-flavored apple pie or spicy gingerbread, and it is difficult for most to resist the urge to sample a taste of such delicacies that reaches back through the years to another way of life.
Today, children are bemused by the stories recounted by interpreters and enjoy guessing what curious wooden boxes were used for. "Mousetraps!" a child will shout after making several guesses, and is rewarded with works of praise. During special events, they enjoy listening to lively fiddle and dulcimer music, watching live sheep, riding a horse-drawn wagon, attending "school" in a typical rural one-room schoolhouse, carving a big orange pumpkin, or giggling at a visit from the Belsnickel, a feisty costumed character who appears at Christmas. Children have always been welcome at Landis Valley, where they can roam freely outdoors and are encouraged to ask questions. The educational aspect of Landis Valley was always important to its founders. Henry and George Landis wanted people to learn about, appreciate, and remember the heritage of the Pennsylvania Germans. And so Landis Valley Museum emphasizes the education of its young visitors.
The Landis Valley Fair in spring, the Harvest Days celebration in autumn, the Pumpkin Patch Weekend in October, and the Days of the Belsnickel in December are all events that encourage visitors-both young and old alike—to savor the pleasures of the past. At each of the historic buildings at Landis Valley, children and adults are treated to sights and stories of the community. During Harvest Days, preparations were carried our for the mock funeral of Jacob Landis, a farmer, blacksmith, and owner of the Brick Farmstead, who died in 1848.
Through researching extensive notes and diaries dating from the mid-nineteenth century, information was pieced together to re-create a mid-nineteenth century funeral. The educational component was provided with a living history presentation by Geraldine Horner, who portrayed a neighbor of Jacob Landis. Horner's spellbinding tale of how she learned of Landis' death, the foods she helped to prepare, and the customary practices of the day drew the audience into the lives of Jacob Landis' family and friends. (After the presentation, a man entered a humorous comment in the museum's visitors register: "I was sorry poor Jacob died. He owed me money.")
Each and every building and structure at Landis Valley Museum tells a story. In the rustic Log Farm, a simple mattress stuffed with shopped straw is topped with a feather bed in the stube (or stove) room, a combination living and sleeping room. A wardrobe holds essentials for the entire family, including linen and clothing. In the narrow kitchen, with its walk-in fireplace and simple farmhouse table, it is easy for visitor to imagine life on a working Pennsylvania German farm. One is easily transported back in time and can sense the comfort—the reward—of that feathery bed after a long day of hard work in the fields or at the hearth.
The span of time at Landis Valley simply adds dimension to the story. The effect can best be explained by a rambling walk through time, not really beginning at one point and traveling step by step to the next, but moving a random fashion from 1750 to 1900 and back again to 1815, then on to 1870, and so forth. Several buildings remain at their original locations at the crossroads of highways that once took travelers from Lancaster to Reading, Berks County. Some historic buildings were moved from other areas, such as the Maple Grove Schoolhouse that one stood near Leola in Lancaster County and a handsome one-and-a-half story house that originally stood on West Orange Street in downtown Lancaster. Known at the Erisman House, the restored building, constructed of square-hewn logs covered with a clapboard façade, had once been owned by George Erisman, who owned a doll repair shop. Other buildings were constructed much later, built to enhance the museum complex. These include the Tavern, the Visitor Center, and the Country Store. The store is a showcase of Victorian period wares.
"It was built to look like a country store might have looked in the past," explains Johnson. "Landis Valley had acquired such wonderful inventories of items from country stores that we needed to exhibit." Jewelry, china, linens, fabric, brooms, glassware, and other treasures neatly line the store's shelves. In one corner an authentic post office, complete with pigeonholes, yields a glimpse of the days when the cost of a stamp was just a penny. Two antique wax mannequins, with tiny pearly teeth and glass eyes, serve as props to display fancy hats and jewelry. "Those eyes follow you wherever you go," remarks one young guide, with a knowing wink and smile. Indeed, they are eyes that look from the past and into the future.
The Landis Valley House Hotel proffers a more recent view of history in a restored Victorian era country hotel and would have served both travelers and local residents. Not merely a place to eat or socialize with friends and neighbors, it was the centerpiece of the crossroad community. Its first owner, Jacob Landis, sold the hotel to Isaac Landis in 1860. In addition to housing dining rooms, a barroom, and rooms for guests, the hotel also accommodated the Landis Valley Post Office for quite a few years.
At Landis Valley Museum there is no set timeline. The complex—and, especially, the visitor experience—is never frozen in one era. In much the same way that any community might grow, Landis Valley Museum has grown and evolved, one building at a time.
The resulting mix of architecture is pleasing to the eye. Pretty white gingerbread detailing accents the pale beige of the Victorian era Landis House, surrounded by a white picket fence. The Erisman House, with white clapboard siding and slate blue shutters, is small and delicate in comparison to several of the larger buildings. Not far away, the Brick Farmstead stands strong and stalwart, sheltered beneath tall trees. In a nearby field the Log Farm, built of heavy logs, gives a glimpse into the lives of the area's late eighteenth century Pennsylvania German farmers. Indeed, Landis Valley is a visual feast with its intriguing buildings and structures, county meadows, meandering lanes, and majestic old trees. Pathways lead to secret, secluded places, bordered by fences of every type, period, and description.
In addition to handsome buildings and structures, the museum grounds are dotted with authentic kitchen gardens lush with herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits. Many plants were originally cultivated for medicinal purposes, such as feverfew and comfrey. Vegetables, including several oddly names species—Lazy Wife beans, Deacon Dan beets, and Deertongue lettuce—are grown in raised beds, along with flowers and herbs that include larkspur, calendula, sage, mugwort, and southernwood. The orchards of Landis Valley are bountiful with antique fruit varieties, including the sheep nose, Cox's orange pippin, sops of wine, and smokehouse apples. Scion wood of these old-fashioned apples, as well as seeds of antique plants, are made available through the museum's Heirloom Seed Project, created to preserve these rare varieties.
Each season at Landis Valley has its own special appeal. In autumn, huge black walnuts tumble from golden trees, thumping to the ground. In spring, the sweet scents of blossoming flowers and flowering trees fill the air. In summer, visitors discover true indulgence in eating delicious ice cream while butterflies alight in meadows and fields. Even in winter, the snowy landscape and glistening ice-covered tree branched give an image of a holiday season that has been frozen, long ago in time, by Currier and Ives.
Each day, from May through October, Landis Valley Museum offers living history programs and craft demonstrations. On any given day, one might see wool being spun into yarn and woven into fabric of a massive loom watch as hot molasses cakes are taken out a Dutch oven, or see a team of huge farm horses pull a plow across a field. The museum has become one of these cherished places where one can find quiet respite from the cares of the world. Once Henry and George Landis dreamed of crating a miniature Colonial Williamsburg, where Pennsylvania German heritage was preserved for all time. If they could walk the grounds of their museum and see what Landis Valley has become, surely they would be pleased.
For those who wish to take home a little piece of Landis Valley, the museum's Weathervane Shop carries a distinctive array of traditional gifts and handcrafted items that reflect the Pennsylvania German heritage, such as books, theorem painting, pottery, and hand-woven textiles. The Weathervane Shop is operated by the Landis Valley Associates, a nonprofit group dedicated to the continuing development of the museum. Associate members enjoy privileges that include free admission to the museum, special programs, and opportunities to serve as volunteer guides and demonstrators. Membership is open to all.
Landis Valley Museum is open every day except certain holidays. The museum complex is also open for special events, such as Harvest Days in October, Country Christmas Village in December, and Charter Day in March.
Information regarding hours and admission fees is available at: Landis Valley Museum, 2451 Kissel Hill Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17601 or by telephone (717) 569-0401 or TDD (800) 654-5984.
Individuals visiting Landis Valley Museum will soon discover that Lancaster County literally abounds with historic attractions.
In Strasburg, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, administered by the PHMC, chronicles the exciting history and fascinating technology of the Keystone State 's railroad industry, from the fabled age of steam to innovations of the twentieth century. The museum features an extensive collection of rolling stock and related railroading equipment and memorabilia.
Also administered by the PHMC, Ephrata Cloister in Ephrata is one of the country's earliest-and most unusual-communal villages. The village, which is actually a unique complex of medieval-style buildings, offers a rare look at an eighteenth century community once inhabited by devout religious celibates and today best known for its original music, fraktur, and books.
Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan (1791–1868), is a fine example of Federal-style architecture. In 1848, Buchanan purchased the property (open to the public under the auspices of the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland) while serving as secretary of state under President James K. Polk. After leaving the White House, he retired to what he called the "beau ideal of a statesman's abode," where he lived until his death at the age of seventy-seven.
Highlighting more than two centuries of fine and decorative arts crafter, used, or owned by countians, the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County is located on Penn Square in center-city Lancaster. The Lancaster County Historical Society, founded in 1886, collects, preserves, and interprets objects and artifacts documenting the county's history; facilities include a small museum, exhibition gallery, library, and an archives for genealogical research. Also located in Lancaster if the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, which documents and interprets the background, religious beliefs and expression, culture, and genealogy of Mennonite and Amish groups originating in Pennsylvania, including their European backgrounds. Rock Ford Plantation, the eighteenth century mansion of General Edward Hand (1744–1802), is located nearby.
Other attractions in the county include the eighteenth century Hans Herr House in Willow Street; Wright's Ferry Mansion and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Museum, both in Columbia; and the Robert Fulton Birthplace in Quarryville, administered for the PHMC by the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society.
For more information about these historic sites and museums, as well as other attractions in the area, write or visit: Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, 501 Greenfield Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17601; or telephone (717) 299-8901 or TDD (800) 654-5984.
Laura Knowles Callanan of Lititz, Lancaster County, has pursued her writing career for nearly twenty years, focusing on history, travel, art, and culture. She regularly writes for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal and the Lancaster Sunday News. She has also contributed to several magazines, including Country Living and Pennsylvania Magazine. The author has been a member of the Landis Valley Associates for more than six years.
For Further Reading
Farming, Always Farming: A Photographic Essay of Rural Pennsylvania German Land and Life. Birdsboro, Pa.: Pennsylvania German Society, 1987.
Friesen, Steve. A Modest Mennonite Home. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1990.
Gehret, Ellen J. Rural Pennsylvania Clothing. York, Pa.: Liberty Cap Books, 1976.
Landis, Harry K. Canoeing on the Juniata, 1888. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Landis Valley Associates, 1993.
Lark, Jack. The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Swank, Scott T., ed., Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983.
Turner, Robert P., ed. Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles. York, Pa: Historical Society of York County, 1966.
Weaver, William Woys. Sauerkraut Yankees: Pennsylvania German Food and Foodways. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.