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Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920

The eight essays in this volume, based on years of field observation and research by leading scholars and preservationists, examine Pennsylvania German architecture in light of current scholarship and newly documented buildings. The book features dozens of never-before-published measured drawings of important sites.

Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920

Edited by Sally McMurry and Nancy Van Dolsen

2011 | 272 pages | Cloth $55.00
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920
—Sally McMurry and Nancy Van Dolsen
Chapter 1. Landscapes	
—Gabrielle Lanier
Chapter 2. Rural Houses
—Sally McMurry	
Chapter 3. Domestic Outbuildings
—Philip E. Pendleton
Chapter 4. Barns and Agricultural Outbuildings
—Sally McMurry and J. Ritchie Garrison
Chapter 5. Town House: From Borough to City, Lancaster's Changing Streetscape
—Bernard L. Herman, Thomas Ryan, and David Schuyler
Chapter 6. Commerce and Culture: Pennsylvania German Commercial Vernacular Architecture
—Diane Wenger and J. Ritchie Garrison
Chapter 7. Religious Landscapes
—Jerry Clouse

Selected Bibliography
List of Contributors

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920
Sally McMurry and Nancy Van Dolsen

The phrase "Pennsylvania German architecture" calls forth a certain mental image, likely conjuring up first the "Continental" three-room house, with its huge hearth, five-plate stoves, tiny windows, perhaps a vaulted cellar, exposed beams, and colorful decorative motifs. The huge Pennsylvania bank barn with its projecting overshoot also enters the picture. Construction techniques such as Fachwerk, the liegender Stuhl truss, and paled insulation have long been associated with antecedents from German-speaking regions of early modern Europe. These and other distinctive building qualities have prompted the interest of a wide audience, ranging from tourists and genealogists to architectural historians, antiquarians, and folklorists.

Since the late nineteenth century, scholars have engaged in field measurement and drawing, photographic documentation, and careful observation; these have in turn resulted in an extended conversation about Pennsylvania German building traditions, spatial sensibilities, and aesthetic culture. What cultural patterns were being expressed in these buildings? How did shifting social, technological, and economic forces shape architectural changes? Since those early forays, our understanding has moved well beyond the three-room house and the forebay barn. This volume assembles contemporary scholarly insights about the Pennsylvania German contributions to American architectural expression. The essays draw both from previous generations' interpretations and from current intellectual perspectives.

What do we mean by "Pennsylvania German"? The "Pennsylvania Germans" descended from those German-speaking colonists who arrived in North America from various parts of German-speaking Europe between 1683 and the American Revolution, and whose progeny evolved a local dialect, planted institutions, and joined the fabric of American life. Beyond this widely accepted definition, the complexities are daunting. To begin with, both the terms "Pennsylvania Dutch" and "Pennsylvania German" came into usage to refer to the group. "Pennsylvania Dutch" probably originated as an anglicized corruption of Deutsch or Deitsch, words denoting the German language or Pennsylvania dialects of it. "Pennsylvania German" was also commonly used from the nineteenth century onward. Some Pennsylvania Germans were uncomfortable with the term "Dutch," believing that it not only obscured their German heritage, but was too easily paired with epithets such as "dumb."

Pennsylvania's German-speaking immigrants during the colonial period came from several different areas in Europe, and they came from varied religious and economic backgrounds, too. Not all settled in present-day Pennsylvania, either; some colonial-era German immigrants ended up in the upper South, and as far north as Ontario. This volume focuses on the region in Pennsylvania where German settlement and social influence were notably concentrated.

Early small-scale migrations beginning in 1683 brought German speakers to Germantown, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) from the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other parts of central Europe. But the largest migration—about 100,000—occurred between about 1730 and 1783, and originated primarily in the German-speaking states and principalities of the Rhine Valley; the Palatinate alone contributed about half. Many of these people were, in turn, only a generation or two removed from Swiss or Alsatian families. The first wave of migrants (roughly up to the French and Indian War) consisted mainly of propertied families, while thereafter the character shifted to young, poor men and women. Altogether, probably around ten percent of these immigrants were radical Protestant dissenters such as the Anabaptist Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish; the vast majority was Lutheran or German Reformed, with a sprinkling of Catholics. Most migrants came for economic betterment, leaving areas where opportunities were diminishing. By the Revolutionary War era, Pennsylvania's population was fully one-third German-speaking. This group became the Pennsylvania Germans.

The war in North America combined with imperial proscription of emigration in Europe to effectively cut emigration to a trickle until about 1830, leaving the pre-Independence group a generation to form a settled society and evolve the distinctive local dialect and customs. During the antebellum period and then again after the Civil War, large new influxes of German speakers introduced tensions between recent arrivals and Pennsylvania natives. Indeed, the presence of the new Germans prompted the "Pennsylvania Germans" toward a greater self-consciousness of their own group identity. Certainly mingling took place, but in general, the differences were keenly felt: new Germans headed for the cities while Pennsylvania Germans tended to be concentrated in rural places; the two groups shared a written language, but the immigrant High German speakers often scorned the Pennsylvania German dialect. Folklorist Don Yoder writes, "by the nineteenth century most Pennsylvania Germans could speak in ethnic terms of unser Satt Leit— 'our kind of people.'"

The establishment of the Pennsylvania German Society in 1891 marked a formal outcome to a process that had been taking place for decades. The Society flourished as a venue for Pennsylvania Germans from the majority "church" groups (Lutherans and German Reformed) for cultural, historical, and social expression. At least in part, the Society's early publications were aimed at fostering a positive view of the Pennsylvania Germans. Spokesmen like George Baer and William Uhler Hensel wanted to restore the Pennsylvania Germans to what they felt was their people's rightful place in American history and culture; yet in doing so they also (implicitly or explicitly) rejected some traits that were often labeled Pennsylvania German, particularly those associated with the increasingly distinctive Amish, whose reputed anti-intellectualism, rigidity, and lack of refinement the mainstream Pennsylvania Germans were anxious to condemn. David Weaver-Zercher has shown how, around the turn of the twentieth century, class, geography, and sectarian affiliation divided the various groups that together comprised the Pennsylvania Germans.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the colonial revival movement brought a nostalgic, often elitist embrace of the distant past. Henry Chapman Mercer pioneered in this rediscovery in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His exhibit "Tools of the Nation Maker" and his work on fraktur brought Pennsylvania decorative arts out of obscurity. Following his lead, prominent collectors like Abby Aldrich Rockefeller helped promote Pennsylvania German decorative arts including fraktur painting, furniture making, and quilting; the opening of the Metropolitan Museum's American Wing in 1924 legitimized colonial decorative arts as never before. Fiction writer Elsie Singmaster (1879-1958) helped to disseminate local color and a fond portrayal of Pennsylvania German life through her novels and short stories. Memoirs by writers such as Cornelius Weygandt (The Red Hills, 1929) brought into popular view a romanticized "Dutch Country."

Pennsylvania German people both participated in these broader cultural movements and shaped them. Before about 1950, most treatments of Pennsylvania German history and material culture indulged unapologetically in uncritical celebrations of ethnic "firsts," quaint folk customs, and aesthetic achievements. Some approached the subject through rigorous, object-centered connoisseurship, but still from a perspective that reserved the highest praise for objects with characteristics regarded as purely Pennsylvania German. In the 1950s and 1960s, reaction set in as scholarly research began to challenge key assumptions about Pennsylvania German distinctiveness. In writings and speeches, folklorist Don Yoder—himself of Pennsylvania German extraction—cautioned against approaches that focused too much on isolated Pennsylvania German achievements and personalities, and ignored cultural blending and social change. Geographer James Lemon attacked the popular assumption that the Pennsylvania German pursued ethnically distinctive (and superior) farming practices.

The revisionists also pointed to internal differences within the Pennsylvania German community. Yoder led the way in seeking a balance that recognized the vitality of Pennsylvania German culture while placing it within a wider context. In a famous 1985 essay, he reviewed "Three Centuries of Identity Crisis" among the Pennsylvania Germans and efforts to address it. Yoder noted splits over how to relate to "Anglo" America (itself a constructed and contested category) and (later) to the new-wave immigrant Deitschlenner. Some favored Americanization, others took a "Germanizing" approach, while in the early twentieth century a "dialectizing" movement flourished. Even referential terms (especially "Pennsylvania Dutch" versus "Pennsylvania German") were contested.

Also in the 1980s, material culture scholar Scott Swank suggested that Pennsylvania Germans chose among three basic positions along a continuum: total assimilation, controlled acculturation, and rejection. At one end, he argued, Pennsylvania Germans disappeared into a cultural "mainstream." At the other, they rejected that course for a self-consciously separate expression. Many chose to retain some customs and discard others; this strategy Swank called "controlled acculturation." Architectural historians have tended to place buildings as representative of either "assimilation" or "controlled acculturation."

Since the 1990s, scholarship has concentrated on carefully dissecting the interplay between German speakers and others in the American context. The premise is that German American identities were not shaped in social isolation, but forged through intimate contact with many groups. A. G. Roeber's historical scholarship analyzed the dialogue between European and British American political ideologies in the Pennsylvania context. He argued that Palatines integrated Continental notions of "liberty and property" with emerging American ones. More recently, historian Steven Nolt has argued for a process he calls "ethnicization as Americanization," in which "Germans in Pennsylvania" became "Pennsylvania Germans"—simultaneously ethnic and American—between about 1780 and 1848. Architectural historians Cynthia Falk and Gabrielle Lanier have suggested that cultural interaction should be understood not as a process in which a minority culture always reacts to the dominant culture, but rather as a give and take (Lanier calls it "creolization") in which both sides participate on a more or less equal basis. Falk sees Germans in Pennsylvania as more interested in expressing class status than in expressing ethnic solidarity.

Most of this scholarship assumes an identifiable Pennsylvania German ethnicity on one level or another, and further assumes that ethnicity is expressed architecturally. The presence on the landscape of buildings and patterns clearly identified with German Pennsylvanians and visually differentiated from the dominant cultural pattern seems to warrant this assumption. However, Dell Upton has challenged scholars to move beyond positivistic, static notions of ethnicity to "understand ethnicity as a synthesis of imposed and adopted characteristics that is forged through contact and conflict. It is a role played for the benefit of others." Upton stresses that ethnicity is not inherent or essential, but rather that it depends on the situation. From Upton's perspective, then, the very notion of "authenticity" is a red herring; the "synthetic process of ethnic definition" involves both creolization and commodification, borne of contact between groups, and ultimately is also affected by individual self-fashioning.

In general, current scholarship detects an invented "Pennsylvania German" community by the nineteenth century, a community that had demographic, geographic, political, and cultural dimensions. It also seems clear that Pennsylvania German self awareness developed through several processes: demographic consolidation; common cultural (especially linguistic) practices; interaction with the mainstream culture; contact with later waves of German immigrants; and change over time in response to larger economic and social trends. It is important to note that ethnicity was only one kind of identity available to Pennsylvania German; occupation, class, religion, or even region intertwined with ethnicity. By far the majority of those identified as Pennsylvania Germans did not belong to the Plain Sect groups, but rather were either Lutheran or German Reformed. Another critical contextual factor is that Pennsylvania Germans were not always internally cohesive: class, religious, and political divisions occurred within Pennsylvania German society, just as in the wider society.

We can conclude that the Pennsylvania German community had a definite, if complex, geographic and demographic origin, and that "Germans in Pennsylvania" became "Pennsylvania Germans" through an evolution that involved not just tangible processes (such as forging a more or less common dialect) but also collective "inventions," which changed over time. Of course, Pennsylvania Germans were never monolithic, but nonetheless their collective cultural self-conceptualizations were very powerful, because they drew on widely shared memories and experiences, from harvest rituals to foodways to holidays. Pennsylvania German "peoplehood" arguably reached its zenith in the late nineteenth century. With the twentieth century came a more historical consciousness as long-held traditions began to pass away. Pennsylvania German collective historical understanding was shaped by a complex interaction among popular memory (as expressed for example in linguistic or craft revivals, historical fiction, etc.) and academic historical documentation.

These shifts found expression in the landscape. In general, we can see that Pennsylvania German cultural self-consciousness and landscape expression broadly coincided. In the early years, Old World traits appeared prominently as "Germans in Pennsylvania" brought their traditions with them. Then, as "Pennsylvania Germans" cohered as a people, they blended Old World spatial, aesthetic, and technical values with American ones. At first these combinations were somewhat forced, but before long a more nuanced blending helped to shape a distinctive regional landscape. Remnants of this nineteenth-century world still have a strong presence in today's Commonwealth. In the twentieth century, entrepreneurs seized on the "Pennsylvania Dutch" theme and reworked it into a tourist-oriented commercial experience that had little to do with actual Pennsylvania German life. In parallel, organizations like the Pennsylvania German Society renewed their insistence on what they regarded as authenticity. These conflicting notions are still being worked out today, but the fabricated commercial presentation—often conflating "Pennsylvania German" with "Amish"—is prominent in the landscape.

The historic Pennsylvania German landscape still exerts a powerful attraction. In 2004, the Vernacular Architecture Forum devoted its annual meeting to the theme "Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720-1920." The conference organizers planned seven study tours, which explored Pennsylvania German landscapes in Lancaster, Berks, Lebanon, and Cumberland Counties, fanning out from a base in Harrisburg. Extensive field documentation preceded the conference, resulting in a large archive of original measured drawings, plans, and photographs. The conference stimulated organizers to synthesize the current scholarship about Pennsylvania German architecture and landscape in an interpretive guidebook that accompanied the tours; now, these essays have been revised and are collected here so that a broader audience can learn from them. Most of the examples in the book are drawn from the VAF 2004 study area, which is located in an area of strong Pennsylvania German settlement and cultural influence. The buildings discussed here represent types common throughout Pennsylvania German country, so though this book's reach does not consistently extend to the geographic edges of the region as it is commonly defined (much less to the Greater Pennsylvania German region beyond the state's borders), it does treat the most important Pennsylvania German architectural and landscape expressions.

The essays benefit from fieldwork done through the VAF conference process; many sites were newly documented. Measured drawings, plans, and site plans were produced for over forty-six sites, encompassing well over a hundred buildings. In itself, this documentation has added to our understanding. Also, since the last major overview of Pennsylvania German architecture (Scott Swank's 1983 volume, Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans), scholarship in a number of disciplines—especially history, anthropology, and literature—has raised several new issues. First, while previous scholarship focused on expressions considered to be quintessentially Pennsylvania German, more recent work considers German Pennsylvania within a much broader context, and considers the continual process of interaction among social groups that took place right from the beginning. Second, Pennsylvania German cultural productions are being re-examined as the theory of ethnicity changes. Third, the relationship between the Pennsylvania Germans and Europe, formerly assumed, has been re-examined and shown in many cases to be less a wholesale importation of Old World forms than an innovative reshaping of these forms in a new environment. Fourth, where most previous scholarship on Pennsylvania German material culture focused on rural areas in the eighteenth century, this volume treats farms, towns, and cities, and extends into the early twentieth century. Thus the interpretations offered here bring together current scholarly perspectives.

The time frame treated in this volume is bounded by two important watersheds. The year 1720 represents the point when German-speaking peoples' migration to Pennsylvania began to accelerate notably, and it also represents the earliest extant buildings. At the other end, by 1920 the transformations wrought by World War I had asserted themselves; Pennsylvania German people would continue to celebrate their heritage, but in a new context, as the dialect declined and the mainstream "church" people became (at least externally) more Americanized. From this point onward, touristic constructions of the "Dutch Country" and outsiders' nostalgic preoccupation with Amish life fundamentally transformed popular understandings of the Pennsylvania Germans.

Conceptually, the present volume collects seven substantive chapters, six of which are devoted to specific building categories, from dwellings to farm buildings to commercial architecture. Like the German-speaking immigrants with their disparate backgrounds and cultures who settled in Pennsylvania and who eventually became "Pennsylvania Germans," these essays take varied perspectives as they interpret these much-admired buildings. The essays discuss not only the Pennsylvania Germans' complex relationship with American or "English" culture, but also their wrestling with the forces of modernity and industrialization.

In her essay on rural house types, Sally McMurry discusses various house forms, spatial patterns, and construction techniques traditionally associated with Pennsylvania Germans in rural areas. She synthesizes current and past scholarship that debates the significance of the "Continental" house type, particularly the extent to which it can be considered an "ethnic" expression. The essay also assesses the later nineteenth-century developments, including the subtle but perceptible connection between Pennsylvania German culture and the "Pennsylvania farmhouse" type identified by cultural geographers. Philip E. Pendleton discusses the domestic outbuildings surrounding farmhouses and townhouses, which have received little scholarly attention in the past. Pendleton provides a history of the development of the outbuilding tradition and a discussion of types, focusing on the ancillary house, which he views as a cultural marker illustrating the reorganization of the Pennsylvania German farm as it evolved between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century.

Sally McMurry and J. Ritchie Garrison reexamine that quintessential Pennsylvania German building, the bank barn with projecting forebay, and its accompanying outbuildings. In these agricultural buildings, they see a continual reworking of German-derived attributes, molded and remolded by agricultural modernization. McMurry and Garrison pose questions regarding aspects of Pennsylvania German culture and agriculture that have not yet been studied: gender, tenancy, and the possible connection between developing Pennsylvania German cultural consciousness, particularly as connected with foodways, and agricultural landscape features.

Very little scholarly work has focused upon the urban landscapes of heavily Pennsylvania German cities and towns, such as Lancaster, Schaefferstown, and Strasburg. Bernard L. Herman, Thomas Ryan, and David Schuyler take a look at the houses and streetscapes of Lancaster City to examine the formative and competing urban dwelling traditions, and to explore the impact of industrialization on the dwelling fabric of the city. They find that during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century three major design traditions were found in almost every town in the Pennsylvania German region: the three-story brick residences of the class of urban residents linked less by ethnic and national identities than by association through trade and government; dwellings that conformed to well-established rural Pennsylvania German plans adapted to an urban setting; and residences that drew on a distinct Pennsylvania German town house design tradition, first formulated in Europe. In general, their piece shows Pennsylvania German remnants within an urban context that was more commercial and civic than ethnic in nature.

In their study of commercial architecture, Diane Wenger and J. Ritchie Garrison present findings that tally well with the work done by Schuyler, Ryan, and Herman. They find that the Germans first retained traditional home-work combinations such as "housemills," but these existed along with, and eventually seemed to be superseded by, forms that were not identifiably ethnic, at least not in the public areas. The Pennsylvania German merchant and trader transacted business with members of all ethnicities, "seeking those who would give . . . the best deal on the goods . . . needed rather than limiting himself only to Pennsylvania German businessmen," as noted by Wenger and Ritchie. In contrast to the scholars who study rural buildings, then, Wenger, Garrison, Ryan, Herman, and Schuyler do not see much ethnic expression at all in commercial architecture.

Jerry Clouse provides a history of the multitude of German religious groups that settled Pennsylvania, and how they developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Clouse describes the architecture of the churches and meetinghouses, and traces how changes in church doctrine affected the plans and ornament of the buildings. In ecclesiastical architecture, the Pennsylvania Germans paralleled other nationalities, but they generally adopted new church architecture much later. For example, the Pennsylvania Germans abandoned the "meeting house" form long after their Presbyterian or Episcopalian counterparts. Architectural conservatism, we may venture, was a Pennsylvania German characteristic in ecclesiastical buildings.

Gabrielle Lanier's essay on "Landscapes" places all of these building types in a much larger context. It traces landscape expressions through time and shows how they evolved in response not only to cultural impulses but to market forces and even tourist stereotypes. It carefully weighs perceptions against documentable cultural practices, and finds that historically there was a complex interaction between them, which continues down to the present.

Together, these seven essays point to new directions for future scholars. We hope these pieces will collectively stimulate further discussion and new understandings, even as the "Pennsylvania German" landscape continues to evolve.

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