Going Dutch Festival: Goschenhoppen preserves the heart and soul of the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, thanks to a determined bunch of uncompromising 'Historians.'


GREEN LANE, Pa. -- The past rests lightly on this green and pleasant corner of the Pennsylvania Dutch country called Goschenhoppen. The old ways are preserved, honored and celebrated.

Goschenhoppen might sound like a village on The Shire inhabited by hobbits, but it's actually a verdant swatch of eastern Pennsylvania countryside along the upper Perkiomen Creek, about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.

This long-domesticated landscape was the Colonial frontier when German settlers began moving here at the end of the 17th century. They were among the first non-Anglo immigrants to come in significant numbers to the British New World and they created a unique culture that only the last decades of the 20th century have eroded.

For more than 30 years now, local folks called the Goschenhoppen Historians have scoured this creek valley for the surviving shards of their past. And they hold what is undoubtedly the most rigorously authenticated Pennsylvania Dutch folk festival in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Their 30th festival will be held Aug. 9 and 10.

"They say you can find Coca-Cola all over the world," Nancy Roan says. "But you can't find it at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival."

Roan is a Goschenhoppen Historian, and her husband, Donald, is a founding member.

"People say we're too fussy at the festival," Donald Roan says. "Well, if you want something done right, you've got to be fussy. Or it's gonna get polluted.

"Our festival doesn't have putt-putt gas engines," he says. "They're trying to portray the culture prior to 1890. We don't have patent washing machines. They do wash in a tub and on a board. No wringers. Our fellows are showing how to make a thatched roof. And showing how to split shingles by hand out of a 3-foot tall, 2-foot diameter section of a log."

The Goschenhoppen Historians have collected artifacts of their 300-year-old "Dutch" culture and recorded the memories of old-timers who often spoke the dialect their forebears brought with then from Germany. Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, actually Pennsylvania German, Dutch being the English attempt at Deutsch, as in Deutschland. Pennsylvania German is a more academic usage, Pennsylvania Dutch folksy.

The Goschenhoppen Historians, who now number 1,000, have created an extraordinary, if not unique, local museum in the old Red Men's Hall here, a three-story yellow brick edifice that is still the biggest building in Green Lane.

In a remarkable series of period rooms that range from a Colonial kitchen to a Victorian parlor, the Historians display a treasury of local heirlooms that could make a regiment of antiques dealers burst into a spontaneous combustion of envy.

You enter a turn-of-the-century Goschenhoppen country store fully stocked with old-timey merchandise from Clark cotton thread to mint condition Tongue's Good Glass Regal Brand Handmade Chimneys for oil lamps -- in their original paper wrappers.

A local blacksmith shop from the 1870s is installed intact in the basement with a rare bellows-driven forge and dozens and dozens of hand-made hammers and tongs that are marvels of workmanship. They have the heft of the craft in the hand when you lift them.

A white-painted, Gothic-styled organ, beautiful as a country chapel, and probably built by August Pomplitz of Baltimore in 1864, lured members of the Organ Historical Society to Goschenhoppen for a recital during their July 4 convention in Philadelphia.

Just down the pike, past the crossroads hamlet of Obelisk, the Historians have restored the 1736 Germanic-style home of a Moravian master builder named Henry Antes. The steep-roofed, stone house, massive for its era, is now listed as a National Historic Landmark.

"We were lucky. When we started in the '60s, the stuff was still here," says Donald Roan, 57, who is better known in Goschenhoppen as "Abe." He's one of the three men who became so identified with founding the Goschenhoppen Historians they were nicknamed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, after the Old Testament patriarchs.

Goschenhoppen was still very much a backwater in those days, Abe says.

"The old-timers were here and we could record things [handed down] from the Colonial times. We have miles of tape. We still go to senior citizens' homes and interview."

But the old folks are dying off. McDonald's has come to the next village. And as Abe's wife, Nancy, exclaims: "They have a Wal-Mart in Harleysville now!"

Nancy Roan is an expert on Goschenhoppen quilts and Pennsylvania Dutch home life in general.

Harleysville, incidentally, is a little town about six miles south, perhaps best-known in Baltimore for its baloney.

The epicenter

Green Lane is pretty much at the center of what was Old Goschenhoppen. Draw an oval five to eight miles each way and you've enclosed a folk region that dates from the 18th century.

"It was 95 percent Pennsylvania German here still in the 1960s," Abe Roan says. "You could walk along the streets of any town, and people were all talking Pennsylvania German."

Not quite all, Nancy allows.

"By the time we realized what was going on, one-third already are not speaking Pennsylvania German," Abe says.

"Thirty-five years later," he says, "it's only grandparents and the over-55 generation that talks German."

"You probably would hear a little over here at the gas station," Nancy says. "Depending what old codgers are there."

Nancy Roan has Pennsylvania Dutch roots. And she was born just north of Goschenhoppen. But Abe is a Scotch-Irish outlander. They moved here in 1963 from suburban Philadelphia where Abe taught high school history. Roan got his interest in things Pennsylvania Dutch and a degree in history in 1961 at Kutztown State University.

Kutztown, about 23 miles northwest of here near Reading, had a well-known and much-esteemed festival. But after a fairly acrimonious split and reorganization, now there are two: one a privately owned commercial venture, the other a new, "culturally pure" folk festival held in conjunction with the university.

'Dutch through and through'

"I became fascinated by this culture which is 100 percent different from the rest of America," Abe Roan says. He even demonstrated Pennsylavania Dutch folk medicines at the Kutztown fest for a dozen years. He's become so fascinated with the culture that Becky Gochnauer, another Goschenhoppen Historian, says Abe is now "Dutch through and through."

At the Goschenhoppen festival, about 1,000 volunteers, 800 in Dutch country costumes, try to re-create life as it used to be in the upper Perkiomen Valley as faithfully as possible.

They'll demonstrate 50 or 60 farm crafts and household skills, children's games and household pastimes -- and talk, sing and cook Dutch.

They'll erect two mock-up houses to display 18th and 19th century furnishings and household wares and homemaking activities. They'll spin linen thread from flax, butcher a pig and also make applesauce, Goschenhoppen style.

"We start on Friday morning," Abe Roan says, "and by Saturday afternoon, the cut-up apples have been put in cider and boiled down and they have dark, rich apple butter. And they sell it!

Folk culture

"The purpose of the festival is to present to the public the folk culture of Goschenhoppen," he says. "It sounds like tooting the horn here. But we've tried as an organization to keep to that as authentically as possible and free of commercialism."

Lancaster County, with its Amish farms and its "plain" people riding in horse-drawn black carriages, is easily the most famous, and most commercialized, locale in the Dutch country, a broad region that runs through about six Pennsylvania counties from Chambersburg to Allentown.

Lancaster County has lots of festivals, an 800-PA DUTCH number, an Internet site for Amish crafts and a plethora of Dutch trinkets made in Third World countries.

The Goschenhoppen Historians zealously guard the "purity" of their festival -- not to mention the authenticity of the exhibits in the museum.

"We've offended people by asking them not to come back to the festival because they don't come up to our standards," Abe Roan says. "They're too commercial or they're not familiar enough with their particular demonstration as it applies locally."

They eschew shorts and T-shirts, plastic bags and Tupperware.

They even discourage festival-goers from bringing their aluminum lawn chairs to watch the pageant that unfolds in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, or the Grande Fantastical Parade, or to listen to an old-fashioned picnic concert by the Schultzville Band, or the "Observations of an Octogenarian Pennsylvania Dutchman on the Festival Theme: The Maid (Die Maad) and the Hired Hand (Der Knecht)."

The observant octogenarian is Clarence Kulp, the "Isaac" of the founding Historians. Nancy Roan will also talk about Die Maad und Der Knecht. Abe, the other patriarch still around, will discourse on Dutch folk tales and folk medicines.

For more than a century, rigorous hometown scholars have debated the very meaning and origin of the name Goschenhoppen, not to mention the pronunciation. Abe Roan favors the Pennsylvania Dutch pronunciation "Gush-n-hup'n" and explanation: Goschenhoppen's a Pennsylvania German or German rendition of an Indian name.

"We know there was a Chief Mesgoshen, who owned this area," Abe says. "There's a deed where he turned [it] over to William Penn. And on it he's got a drawing of a creek."

His squiggle on the deed looks a lot like the upper Perkiomen Creek valley that became known as "Mesgoshen's Haven." Abe thinks German settlers "pronounced and mispronounced that over the years to Goschenhoppen."

Serving history

The Goschenhoppen festival grounds occupy about 8 acres of a tree-shaded picnic grove with lots of parking nearby, about 6 miles north of here on Mesgoshen's creek.

And the Historians demand that even the food at the festival be historically accurate. Churches, senior citizens groups and the local library run food concessions.

"But they have to serve what we approve and only what we approve," Nancy Roan says. "And those things have to be suitable to Goschenhoppen."

The Historians argued for years over whether funnel cakes should be allowed on the Goschenhoppen menu.

Sweet, fluffy funnel cakes are indisputably Pennsylvania Dutch. They get their name because the batter is literally poured through a funnel into a skillet. But until somebody documented their presence in Goschenhoppen kitchens, they weren't served at the festival. Now they're in the recipe book.

"We had a big fuss with one of our suppliers who wanted to use canned corn," Abe Roan says. "We wanted them to use corn off the cob. If we can't document it as being eaten around here, we don't serve it."

"You can go to Kiev. You can go to Hong Kong. And you can buy Coca-Cola and hamburgers from McDonald's," Nancy says. "But neither of those two items are at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival."

But the Peace in Zion United Church of Christ of Zieglerville offers a complete baked ham dinner with all the trimmings: dried corn, string beans and potato filling, which is mashed potatoes with onions and celery and parsley, eggs and butter folded in, and baked.

"It's wonderful. Like a souffle," Nancy says. "It's a festive potato dish."

And it not only tastes good, it's authentically, historically, locally Pennsylvania Dutch, which is what counts at the Goschenhoppen Historians' Folk Festival.

Pub Date: 8/07/96

Folk festival

What: The Goschenhoppen Historians' authenticated Pennsylvania Dutch celebration

Where: Goschenhoppen Park, near Green Lane, Pa.

When: Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday

Cost: Requested donation of $6 for adults; children 12 and under get in free

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