Visiting my greats–history on a personal level

We came through Pennsylvania so that I could explore family history.  All the branches of my father’s family originally settled in Eastern Pennsylvania, yet I visited here only once when I was a child.  Thanks to extensive research by my cousin (of some degree) Arlene, I knew exactly where I wanted to go this time.

We first drove the back roads of Berks County to see the house and mill that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Johann (John) Conrad Bobb, bought in 1744, which his son and grandson, both named Daniel, (also my great grandfathers, however many times) continued to run after his death.  Here’s more: http://berks.pa-roots.com/familyfolder/Bobb-JohannConrad.html.

We found them easily, in a rural, wooded, hilly area—house and barn right on the road, which seems to be common in Pennsylvania—with the mill set back on a creek.

The mill

The mill

The property was heavily posted with “No Trespassing” signs—too many curious Bobbs?  Even though I couldn’t explore as I would have liked, it was extraordinary to stand there and try to absorb the fact that, for over a hundred years, generations of my family had carried on all the good and bad of their lives in this particular place.

Bobb homestead

Bobb homestead

It wasn’t just a lovely old stone house and historical mill building—it was our family’s house and mill.  Hard to digest, really.

Barns

The barns

View of the mill at the back of the property

View of the mill at the back of the property

As a fortuitous follow-up, we visited the Hopewell Furnace Historical Site the next day and were able to see the inner workings of a preserved building with a functioning water wheel.  The wheel powered a mill furnace, not grist wheels, but it gave a sense of what the Bobb mill must have been like.  I hope so, because it was efficient, rhythmic, and visually beautiful at the same time.

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

The Hopewell Furnace site is an open-air museum of a 1700’s iron forge.  It has farm, home, and furnace buildings, and you are free to wander around at your leisure.  As an added bonus, it was dog-friendly and Zoe was able to accompany us.

Hopewell furnace workers' houses

Hopewell furnace workers’ houses

Hopewell furnace

Hopewell furnace

As a counterpoint to the iron forge–an early pre-industrial energy source—the plumes from the nearby Limerick nuclear power plant rise over the fields where the sheep are grazing at Hopewell Furnace.

Limerick plumes

Limerick plumes

I tried to come up with a power plant limerick, but couldn’t get any farther than, “There was an old lady from Hopewell, Whose furnace was hopelessly unwell …”

One of the most intriguing branches of my Dad’s family tree is the Schwenkfelder contingent.  They are the descendants of followers of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, a German Reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther.  After severe persecution in Silesia (now in Poland), eventually they were given refuge in Saxony and then emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1730s.  They valued education highly, and—unlike other Anabaptist sects such as the Amish—the Schwenkfelder communities did not remain insular, but became integrated into mainstream society during the 1800s.

I believe that my great grandmother, Emma Kriebel, was in the first generation to marry outside of the sect.  She married Abraham Bobb, great-grandson of Daniel Bobb, Sr., the mill owner mentioned above.

The Schwenkfelders have a beautiful museum and library in Pennsburg.  When I entered, the first thing I saw was a full-wall photo of a 1912 family reunion.  I looked at it with mild interest and then … whoa … I recognized a face, then another.

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Amazingly, it was a Kriebel family reunion, our branch of the Schwenkfelders, and I found my grandparents, great grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, and, most amazingly, my father, at the age of one—a blur in his father’s arms.  My grandmother, who died well before I was born, was there, looking beautiful.  What an unexpected treat.

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

The museum display had a whole section on how the Schwenkfelders were well-known as spinners and weavers, in Silesia and in Pennsylvania.  The Bobbs also were weavers.  Creeped me out a little.  I don’t know if weaving has a genetic component, but I bought a loom and started weaving and spinning when I was high school.  Maybe we don’t have as much free will as we think.

We visited two cemeteries, full of family names and family members.  History made very personal.

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetary

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetery

Visiting with the greats

6 thoughts on “Visiting my greats–history on a personal level

  1. You know this gives me chills! I was so incredibly moved to see our ancestral homestead that I made sure I left some of my DNA by the mill (haha…remember, I lived in the outback of Alaska!). Seriously, I had even dreamt of Hill Church many years before seeing it. It was one of the high points of my life to go there. I’m so glad you saw it too…so I think we divurged at Emma Kriebel, which wasn’t that long ago. Enjoy every second…your second or third cousin, Arlene

    • I know, wasn’t it amazing? Didn’t think to leave my DNA, though! I would love to spend some more time exploring, maybe we should arrange a cousins trip sometime. Thanks again for your research. I felt so fortunate to be able to do this–and it’s thanks to your hard work.

    • Our time in Lancaster was kind of surreal. I would like to go back and explore some more. We’re in upstate NY now, 100 degrees today. THAT’S HOT.

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