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Wagonload of rye to be threshed and thatched
Wagonload of rye to be threshed and thatched at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival Courtesy Goschenhoppen Historians

Goschenhoppen Historians

In upper Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, lives one of the oldest Pennsylvania German communities in existence. In 1963, observing that the forces of change were threatening to obliterate the local German culture, folklife scholars and friends decided to found a society that would protect German culture and traditions, finally incorporating in 1965 as the Goschenhoppen Historians. They are chartered to collect, preserve, and present to the public the folk culture and history of the Goschenhoppen folk region and surrounding areas of southeastern Pennsylvania. The Goschenhoppen region includes parts of Bucks, Berks, and Lehigh Counties, and can be roughly identified as the valley of the Perkiomen Creek north of Schwenksville. The precise meaning and derivation of the term "Goschenhoppen" has been lost, but it is thought to have come for "Goshenhof," a German placename. The name "Goschenhoppen," however, has long been associated with the region, and it appears in public records as early as 1728.

Rather than just preserving and protecting historic structures, records, and artifacts, the Goschenhoppen Historians have devoted themselves to the European model of folk culture research, which studies the region's language and dialects, folk beliefs and practices, material culture, and geographic, historic and religious influences. By spring 1964, the Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum and Library had been established in the village of Vernfield, moving in 1971 to a building which is an outstanding example of late Victorian village lodge-hall architecture in Green Lane, Pennsylvania. The folklife museum presents the Goschenhoppen area prior to 1870, with exhibits of agricultural tools and implements; an 18th-century weaver's shop; a turner's shop; a flax exhibit; and decorative arts exhibit. Local material culture, folk beliefs and customs are illustrated by permanent exhibits in a room-like settings. Kammer (bedroom), Küche (kitchen), and Stube (parlor) rooms have been set up to reflect representative activities of the period, for example, a quilting frame with an in-process quilt and children's toys on the floor underneath appear in the Stube exhibit. Docents act as interpreters. The Goschenhoppen Folklife Library holds local English and German newspapers, account books, tradesmen's records, mid-19th century insurance company records, as well as books, magazines and pamphlets on Pennsylvania German folk culture.

Since 1963, monthly meetings of the Goschenhopper Historians have featured programs on various aspects of Pennsylvania folk culture, on the history of the area, and other folklife topics. Between 1960 and 1980, members of the group engaged in oral history interviews with folklife informants whose native language and culture were essential Goschenhoppen; the interviews continue to this day with elders in the community, though the contemporary interviewees are less likely to recall the dialect, old folk beliefs and folk songs than the previous generation.

Yet another Goschenhoppen Historian initiative was the sponsoring of a quilt-documentation project. Taped interviews with traditional quilters, over 1800 color transparencies and 1500 black-and-white photographs resulted. The Historians published a book, Lest I Shall Be Forgotten, which summarized the outcomes of the project. Another long-term preservation project of the Historians is the restoration of the Henry Antes house in Frederick, upper Montgomery County, thought to be the headquarters of General George Washington during the Pottsgrove Encampment in 1777.

The first annual Goschenhoppen Folk Festival was held in 1967 at the Old Goschenhoppen Union Church in the small town of Woxall. The festival, described as "living history," has featured demonstrations of traditional German crafts by volunteers in authentic period clothing, stage programs, and preparation and sales of traditional foods. It has since moved to the New Goschenhoppen Park in East Greenville, where it attracts about 8,500 attendees annually. The Goschenhoppen Historian insist upon total authenticity; no souvenirs, hotdogs, hamburgers nor soft drinks are sold.

The project is documented by an extensive article in the Spring 1996 edition of Pennsylvania Folklife, and two videotapes: "The Road Least Traveled..." on the Goschenhoppen Museum and '97 Folk Festival; and "Experience Yesterday Today," on the Goschenhoppen Historians Folk Festival.

Originally submitted by: Patrick J. Toomey, Representative (15th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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