Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hans Herr House

If you live in South Central PA near Lancaster County, you often hear terms like Mennonite, Amish, Moravian, Quakers, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Pennsylvania German. And until I visited the Hans Herr House yesterday, I had only a cursory understanding of the differences between them.

The Hans Herr house was built in 1719 by Hans' son, Christian, a Mennonite minister who came from the Palatinate area in Germany, along the Rhine River, to acquire religious freedom and land. It is the oldest home in Lancaster County and the oldest Mennonite meeting house in the United States.

The house was used both as living quarters for Christian's family and the community's church. Much of the original building was intact when it was sold to and renovated by the Mennonite Historical Society in 1970, and is now furnished with period-accurate originals and reproductions.

A thin paperback, A Modest Mennonite Home, which I purchased in the tiny gift shop, explained all the aforementioned terms that have until now befuddled me.

A bit of history:
During the Reformation (1517), religious reformers, including Martin Luther, broke away from the Catholic Church. In 1525, a small group of them in Switzerland advocated "believer's baptism"—baptism of adults—which was in opposition to the Church. They became known as Anabaptists, meaning, "rebaptizers."

Anabaptist movements appeared in both the Netherlands and northern Germany, independent of one another. In 1536, a former Catholic priest named Menno Simons, joined the pacifist, Dutch Anabaptists. He became a leader in the movement and united the Anabaptist brethren in Northern Europe. From this, a group emerged called the Mennonites, who believed that faith must be demonstrated through good works. This term became associated with the Anabaptists in Switzerland and southern Germany.

The Anabaptist movement also spread northern Italy, Austria, France, the Russian Ukraine, and Moravia.

In the 1690s, a group of Mennonite churches near the French-German border came to believe that their brethren in Switzerland and Germany had become too lax in their strict belief of "shunning" unrepentent members. Led by Jakob Amman, they split from the Mennonites, and became known as Amish.

By 1700, many Anabaptists had moved to the Palatinate area in Germany to escape religious persecution. Here, they were tolerated, but could not own land and could not build churches. Instead, they worshipped in small groups in their homes.

In 1677, when a number of Mennonites had settled in this area, William Penn traveled and preached throughout the Palantinate. Because of this, some Mennonites joined the Quaker movement. In 1683, a group of German Quakers and some converted Mennonites journeyed to Pennsylvania and founded Germantown, the first permanent German settlement in North America.

The Herr family was among the Swiss Mennonites who had moved to the Palatinate. In 1709, desiring to be land owners and having heard of religious tolerance in William Penn's colony, they joined a small group of 29 Mennonites and traveled to and settled in the Conestoga Territory, named for the Conestoga Indians, now known as Lancaster County.

Since many Mennonites orginated in Switzerland, they were sometimes called Swissers. However, most Mennonites and other Pennsylvania Germans came from southern Germany.

The term Dutch Mennonites was used for those originating in the Netherlands and, I'm surmising, may be the root of the term Pennsylvania Dutch. Although, I have also heard that "Dutch" in this case is a derivative of "Deutsch".

A bit about the house:
Pennsylvania Germans built homes that were divided into 2, 3, or 4 rooms on the main floor. All had a stuben (stove room) and k├╝che (kitchen). The massive fireplace was centrally located in the structure and the kitchen was the room that was entered from the outside, and therefore doubled as a corridor. This style became known as a corridor-kitchen house. PA German houses had steep roofs, often had one to four attics (which were mainly used for storage), and arched cellars.

A bit of humor:
On the property was a blacksmith shop, where men were taking a class. As I was walking by, I overheard "Ouch! That's hot."*

*Isn't that the point? ; )


rgdaniel said...

Nice history, thanks for that! We have Mennonites in our part of Ontario, though I don't know of a place like Hans Herr House. We bought some stools for the kitchen that were made by Mennonites, and they're fantastic. I have an uncle, however, a retired farmer, who expresses dislike for the Mennonites on the basis that, according to him, they mistreat their horses. And there's been some discussion about the role women play in Mennonite culture, with comparisons made to the treatment of women under the Taliban. Me, I just enjoy the baked goods and hope it's not true.

DonP said...


I know that this is a place to talk about woodworking and not religion -I hope Kari will grant me some leeway.

I am the grandson of Mennonites from the Lancaster, PA and Newport News area. Like many fundamentalists I know that at times their beliefs led some into practices that might seem (and often were)cruel. My own grandfather was for a time whipped every morning to cover any transgreasions that might be missed during the day.

To make blanket unproven statements based on hearsay about a large group of diverse people is unfair.

My grandfather had, as you may imagine many disagreements with the church and when he left, taking my grandmother with him, there was much hard feeling on both sides.

But even with that, when the depression hit and he had no work to feed his family, the community took them in and shelterd them till WWII provided him with work in the shipyards. Allthough thay never rejoined the church they rest in the Mennonite cemetary in Newport News. I wonder if you can understand what an act of grace that was.

As to their treatment of women - in all of our family history there is not one instance of a woman being stoned or having acid thrown in her face because she sought an education. No Mennonite man ever got rid of his wife by walking around her three times. Maybe most importently is, if a Mennonite woman was ever raped, she would not have been stoned to death as an adulteress.

Thank you for hearing me out.
Don Peregoy

rgdaniel said...

"To make blanket unproven statements based on hearsay about a large group of diverse people is unfair. "

Actually I made no such statements on my own behalf, but I can see how it would appear that way. No disrespect intended.

I have pretty strong beliefs about certain strong beliefs that others have, and the way they choose to express those beliefs. But as you said, Don, this is not the venue for that.

My comments were intended more as third-party anecdotal, as I don't have personal evidence in this case one way or the other.

DonP said...

Thank you for replying to my remarks in the spirit they were intended. I did not intend to attack you personally.
In truth - I probably (ok almost definitely) share the same “pretty strong beliefs”.

Happy woodworking

P.S. you aren’t one of those PINS first people are you >) OK now everyone knows I don’t know how to make Smiley face.

rgdaniel said...

haha, "pins first"?, no, so far I'm basically a "Leigh Dovetail Jig" first kind of guy... I did one by hand once, it wasn't pretty... when winter comes, it's back inside to practice the hand skills...

David Cockey said...

I've read a reasonable amount about old order Mennonites and Amish. It is way too easy to not see past the clothes, horeses, etc and assume "they" are all alike because they appear so different from us. Also there is a tendency to use stereotypes and simplifications.

Any large religous group will have a wide variety of members, some of whom are rather fanatical and some of whom do just enough to stay in the group.

Back to woodworking. It's amazing how many folks believe anything "Amish" made is somehow superior just because of the religous and cultural affiliation of the maker. This weekend we visited an old order Amish or Mennonite carriage shop in Indiana with a group of Model T's. The folks were most gracious and quite interested in the cars. Lots of power tools and I don't recall seeing any hand tools. One of the power tools was a Makita miter saw - converted to run on air but with the air motor in the same housing. The only noticeable difference was an air hose instead of a power cord.

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - interesting post, I suspect you were itching to get cracking at the bench when you saw all those tools. Same here, I hated to see old tools on pub walls in the UK that are there purely for decoration - Rob

Anonymous said...

Herr, interesting name. According to wikipedia he was a descendant of the Knight, Hugo Herr. The name means "lord" as in Lord Terry(Pratchet ;o)

/Heinrich H

The Village Carpenter said...

David, I've run into that around here, too, with people thinking that Amish-made furniture is superior. I always wondered if they were confusing Amish with Shaker. You're right about the power tools. I've been to tool auctions with the Amish and they always want the circular saws.

Heinrich, that's correct! One friend on facebook asked if Hans would have been addressed as Herr Herr. haha!

Anonymous said...

ups ! I missed that Pratchet is a Sir not a Lord
Heinrich H

Lisa said...

hi, I found this blog while searching for a bit of info on Hans Herr(who happens to be my ancestor through my grandfather, who is a Herr)I found some of your comments interesting, as I was raised in a Mennonite home in Amish country. For some time as an adult I was not part of any Mennonite or Mennonite related group(we just moved to help my grandmother and joined her church)
I can agree with the comment that not all mennonites are the same. I know nothing whatsoever of the kind mentioned by the man who said his grandfather was whipped for possibly missed transgressions. My father is also from Lancaster, Pa. He is a devoted Christian and never whipped us in anger. We did get punished for disobedience but knew we deserved it. Women are NOT suppressed or mistreated as alluded. I am a woman, so I should know. :) right? I receive the kind of respect and care that real women(not feminists who try to be men) really want. It is true that in leaving some ultra conservative groups one can be rather ostracized. But this is also not true of every group. This happens more in Amish groups whose leaders are threatened when someone claims to be born again(most Amish do not think one can know if they are saved and going to heaven) Those who do trust in Christ for salvation, may actually be put out of the church and totally disowned by their families. (This happened to some of my friends from Amish background- who are now part of my parents church)
One of the main differences between mennonites and amish today is lifestyle. Most Amish still cling to past traditions and are not allowed electricity(some have it secretly) but something interesting to woodworkers would be to see their shops. Modern and up-to-date(but no electricity) What?! Yes, indeed, all of it is air powered or gas generated, not connected to the power lines(some feel this is too much of a connection to the world).
I really shouldn't write more though I could. Blessings, Lisa