Annual Harvest Fair stays true to tradition
Each year, when fall arrives and the crops are safely in, it's a time to celebrate.
At the Alexander Schaeffer Farm, the annual Harvest Fair will be held the weekend of September 12 and 13, and visitors are encouraged to come and enjoy, as they learn more about how their forebears lived life.
While games and horse-drawn wagon rides are on hand for the kids, and plenty of good food and crafts are available for the adults, it's the traditions of the past that make this a special weekend.
"We don't want this to look like a state fair, because it's not, it's a historical event, and we're all about education," said Linda Holt, festival coordinator. "If you don't do it, you lose your history. You lose your past."
It's a "homey" fair, close to the earth, and honest to its history, and that's what the organizers have always wanted it to be, Holt said.
"The crafters we have here are not just about selling their wares; you can ask them questions and they actually show you how they make their crafts," Holt said.
This will be the 47th annual Harvest Fair at the historic 90-acre Schaeffer farm.
Schaeffer, of course, was the founder of the town, and the Schaeffer House has now reached Historic Landmark status. Only 167 National Historic Landmarks are in Pennsylvania, and only 2,500 in the entire United States.
The people of Historic Schaefferstown Inc. know they have a "gem" with the farm and are intent of preserving and teaching the culture of the Pennsylvania Germans.
This year, archeologist Dr. Patricia Gibble will be available to explain the workings of the alcohol distilling that was a source of income for the Schaeffer family.
Guides in period dresses will also explain the workings of the farm and the uses of a number of different outbuildings, as well as answer visitors' questions.
One of the highlights of the property is the traditional four-square, raised German garden. Holt and sister, Emily Holt, are in charge of the garden, which is chock-full of heirloom plants.
"We try to go from the early 1800s and back," Holt said, of the varieties planted in the Schaeffer garden.
Heirloom plants are those grown from seeds passed down through the centuries, varieties like the Brandywine tomato, that was widely grown in the 1700s.
"At one time, we had vegetables from Thomas Jefferson, a line of beans; he was quite the gardener," Holt said. "Of course, it's all organic, because back then, they didn't have a word for organic; that's how everything was grown."
The garden is filled with many of the stock crops a farm family would need; beans, red beets, squash, onions, peppers, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips.
Around the perimeter of the garden, medicinal herbs are planted. Sage, comfrey, penny royal, feverfew (to lower fevers), celadine (for rashes), and peppermint - still used for digestive upset.
A purple morning glory vine hanging over the garden gate is also an heirloom plant, Holt said.
Bryan Nye, of Hummelstown, secretary of the HSI organization, is overseeing all the farming operations for the weekend.
"We'll have teams of horses for plowing and harrowing, and we'll have horses plowing fields of potatoes," Nye said.
As soon as the potatoes reach daylight, they'll be for sale, he added.
Nye learned to harness and "drive" horses at a class given by the Landis Valley Farm Museum, and now takes that skill to various fairs.
Kids can ride in a horse-drawn wagon to a pumpkin patch during the harvest fair, and choose and buy a pumpkin to take home, Nye said.
Antique farm machinery will not only be on display, but will be functioning that weekend, Nye said. That includes a threshing machine for threshing barley and a hay press from 1910.
"The hay press is an old-style hay baler, but the bales had to be tied by hand, using wire," Nye said.
A number of "hit and miss," or fly-wheel engines will be running, Nye said, including one used to pump water from the creek for the horses to drink.
Volunteers will help at the sawmill, sawing logs into boards, Nye said, and corn-shelling and corn-grinding demonstrations will be held in the barn.
A Ford Model A will also be driven around the pasture, giving rides.
The barn will be open for tours, too, and it contains a treasure trove of early farm machinery.
"This is a barn full of history," Holt said, standing in the large, airy barn. "This is like a farm museum in here."
Perhaps the barn's claim to fame is a bobsled, a wagon with runners, donated to Historic Schaefferstown Inc. by the late actor, TV host and singing legend Arthur Godfrey.
Then, there's the wooden washing machine made by Jonas Krall in the 1890s; the contraption won first place for new inventions at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
The barn contains all sorts of esoteric a: a barber chair from 1895, a corn sheller made in Schaefferstown in 1862 (while the Civil War was raging), a parlor stove from 1850, a five-feet-long hand-held hay rake from the 1700s, a dog-powered treadmill from 1880, and a scythe to cut grass and hay, also from the 1700s.
"There's all kinds of history in here," Holt said. "Just look at all the neat things you can learn when you come to the Harvest Fair."
Along with observing, the early Pennsylvania Germans were real big on "doing." Hard work was what it took to get ahead, to make sure the family would be warm and fed through the winter, and have clothing to wear and food to eat all year long.
Folks didn't go to the nearest grocery store or restaurant; they went to their cold cellar to get the fruits and vegetables they had canned or salted or otherwise "put up" in the summertime. Split wood baskets of potatoes, apples, and turnips filled those cellars, too; insurance against a lean winter.
From making apple cider to a working blacksmith shop, living history demonstrations at the harvest fair will make life in the 18th century come alive.
Cooking will take place in an outdoor, wood-fired bake oven and volunteers will be kept busy making apple butter, a chore only for the patient.
Hundreds of apples will be pressed Thursday evening, Holt said, so they can go into the kettle Friday morning to make a batch of apple butter for visitors.
The crew will also make a batch of apple butter on Saturday, so folks can see how it's done.
"It takes three kinds of apples to get the right flavor," Holt said. "It can't be too sweet or too tart."
Plenty of fun-filled events are planned for the kids, including cake walks and bobbing for apples.
"The kids really have fun trying to get the apples out of the little buckets," Holt said.
There's also a "potato dig" for the kids - and kids getting dirty? That's just a bonus for them. Besides, nothing demonstrates the harvest better than actually harvesting something.
As a way to introduce the Pa. German dialect to youngsters, a German-language scavenger hunt will be held. Kids traverse the property, looking for signs like "die Grummbierre," which means potato basket.
Music played an important part in the lives of the settlers, and the two-day festival has a wealth of musical acts to entertain.
Linda Russell, a New York City balladeer and folk music historian will play guitar, dulcimer and penny whistle.
Robert Mouland, a combination historian and musician, will entertain with a number of period instruments.
The Pa. German choir called "Die Schwadore Schalle" will perform on Saturday. The Holt Twins and Charmaine will sing and play a multitude of instruments. Also on the bill, The Ryeland Harp Ring and Stewart's Musical Saw.
On Sunday, at noon, the public is invited to a church service that will be conducted in the dialect.
At the Schaeffer farmstead, the harvest tradition continues.
"It's a busy time and there's something for everybody," Holt said.
The farm is located at 213 Carpenter Street, just south of Route 897. Admission is $5, and children 12 and under are free. The Harvest Fair will take place Saturday, Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, contact www.hsimuseum.org or call (717) 949-2244.