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? ; )