Featured on the Mennonite Heritage Center's Farm and Barn Tour Oct. 26 will be the farm of Samuel Kriebel who is the seventh generation of his family to call the land home. Kriebel points out the beams that make up his barn built in 1748, which still stands on its original base. The beams in his barn on Fretz Road in Lower Salford are made from hand-hewn timber.
The Upper Perkiomen Valley and surrounding communities looked a lot different 100 years ago but an upcoming tour by the Mennonite Heritage Center (MHC) hopes to highlight some of the region’s historic farms and barns still dotting the landscape. Some of those farms, including one in Lower Salford, have a storied past dating back to the American Revolution.
As part of its Farm and Barn Tour Oct. 26, the Harleysville-based center will host a trip to six farms in Bucks and Montgomery counties in an effort to spotlight their significance and promote the center’s current museum exhibit, “Remembering the Farm.” MHC is also in the midst of reconstructing a circa-1850 Hilltown Township barn, named in honor of the late Paul M. Nyce, on its campus.
“The farm tour will highlight modern, operating farms and historic barns, so it’ll be a chance for people to see working farms up-close-and personal as well. Most people around here don’t get to go into a barn to see a milking parlor,” noted MHC Collections Director Joel Alderfer.
The Samuel Kriebel farm, on Fretz Road in Lower Salford, boasts a history dating back to 1735. The log house that once stood on the grounds not only served as a makeshift hospital for Gen. George Washington’s troops during the American Revolution, it was also home to Kriebel’s ancestor, Christopher Kriebel, who settled there in 1753.
Sam Kriebel is the seventh generation of his family to call the land home.
“There is a lot of history around here,” the 91-year-old said, holding a box containing a chewed musketball used by troops being treated for their war wounds, as well as a quartz American Indian arrowhead. “I’ve saved what I could.”
Saying he salvaged what he could is a little bit of an understatement. Kriebel has old photos and letters, one in German by a female member of the family during the time Washington’s army first utilized their farm during the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-1778.
And while the woman remarks how different the farm’s fields look with thousands of troops and their horses spanning the acres, she expressed relief the army didn’t feed all the family’s hay to their animals. Enough was likely left for their own livestock to survive the winter.
Kriebel said eight of Washington’s troops, along with a number of his family members, are buried in the Salford Schwenkfelder Church cemetery adjoining his property.
He also saved wooden barn beams carved with the names and dates of his ancestors and half of the Dutch door from the original log house that stood on the farm.
The barn, which is home to an impressive assortment of antique farm machinery and implements, was built in 1748 and still stands on its original base of hand-hewn white oak lumber.
Kriebel farms 25 acres of land at the site to this day.
On the Rittenhouse farm in Franconia Township, 80-year-old Lester Rittenhouse is the last farming huxster in the area, experts say. He has traveled to sell farm goods in and around Philadelphia since the age of 7.
“Dad is one of the last dinosaurs; one of the last butter and egg delivery persons in the area,” said son and farm co-owner Jim Rittenhouse. “Hatfield, Leidy’s, Moyer’s…they all started with a horse and wagon.”
The preserved Rittenhouse farm dates back prior to 1856, when Jim’s great-great-great-grandfather purchased the property. There were six owners from William Penn to their ancestors. While the original house was torn down, the brick farmhouse now at the site, circa 1885, stands adjacent to the recently and immaculately restored barn and corn crib.
Lester and his wife, Rhoda, still actively cultivate and harvest crops on the property, which is also home to a herd of 30-some sheep.
“You can look around at the tools used and you realize how many years have gone by,” Jim Rittenhouse said of the barn and farm. “I am very interested in history, though, and we want to help preserve what we can.”
The family recently purchased a second farmhouse on a neighboring property that once part of the Rittenhouse homestead.
At another stop on the tour, the Marwell Farm in Coopersburg, at the Bucks-Lehigh county line, Bob and Addie Gehman and family conduct a modern dairy, hog and poultry business. A small orchard is also onsite. The business is a multi-generation, multi-family operation.
The remaining stops on the tour will include Bolton’s Turkey Farm and Market in Silverdale, Tussock Sedge Farms in Blooming Glen and Penn View Farm near Dublin.
For more information on the tour, visit www.mhep.org or call 215-256-3020.