Bucks County Herald

Historical Society of Hilltown sets festival and open house


Bill Stahl, president of the Historical Society of Hilltown Township, stands in front of the Strassburger Homestead.

Step back in time Saturday, Sept. 15, when the Historical Society of Hilltown Township hosts its 11th Historical Festival and Open House.

Admission to the rain or shine event, held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 407 Keystone Drive and Bethlehem Pike, Sellersville, is free.

Tour the circa 1830s Strassburger Homestead, also known as the Strassburger Farmstead – one of four properties in the township listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit the summer kitchen, the Pennsylvania ramp barn and the society’s museum inside a former tenant house.

The festival features local artisans and antiques vendors, a Pennsylvania long-rifle demonstration, a youth tin-punch craft, farm animals, books and historical maps for sale, period instruments and vocals by Clemmer Music, a silent auction, a bake sale, refreshments, wine tastings by Cardinal Hollow Winery and antiques appraisals from noon to 1 p.m. at $5 per item, with a limit of three.

Located midway between Philadelphia and Bethlehem, the property started out as a 42-acre farm, said Bill Stahl, president of the historical society.

It was purchased by Reuben Strassburger in 1849, likely using a generous dowry from his wife, Elizabeth’s father. A shopkeeper, he had an addition built and opened a general store fronting on Bethlehem Pike around 1850. Strassburger also added a tenant house, now a museum, for workers who farmed his property.

There are rumors that one of the front rooms of the main house served as a tavern. Evidence of the Wheatland Hotel, according to a sign inside the house, are the double-hung doors and the double baseboard, or kickboards, in the west front room – features usually found in taverns but not in houses.

According to the sign, the tavern may have been incorporated into the homestead around 1849.

Inside the Federal-style red brick house, constructed in the 1830s for the Hartzel family, along with the summer kitchen, many of the walls and ceilings have been intentionally left as they were found, with their lead paint looking patchy.

“It’s just typical of an old building,” said Cindy Gery, a historical society board member.

Two blanket boxes on display were found inside the house, as was a large cabinet with tiny drawers, some missing. Other period furniture was acquired, as were shoe forms similar to what might have been used in the shoemaker shop Strassburger rented out in the 1860s.

“I partly refinished it,” Stahl said of the cabinet he found in the basement of the house. “It’s just pre-Civil War,” he said, adding it was made of cheap wood with the graining painted on. He said he was careful not to sand the piece too much, to prevent removing the faux graining.

Stahl said he believes the cabinet, for which each drawer is numbered and fits into a specific space, was used in the general store.

“That was a fun project, and I’m glad to have it back up here in the store,” he said.

The barn, which dates back to 1830, is used to store tools and farm equipment and has a lower level that once was home to a horse, mules, cows, pigs and chickens for the farm, Stahl said.

Inside the former tenant house, now home to the museum, are artifacts that pertain to all of Hilltown – including old tools, old photographs and maps, and a room set up as a one-room schoolhouse, complete with old school desks of varying sizes.

Gery said it is the society’s goal to preserve the Strassburger Homestead, summer kitchen, 1830s Pennsylvania German Bank Barn and former tenant house for future generations. The three buildings on five acres – the remainder of the farm became a housing development – was deed to the historical society in 1980.

The homestead was listed on the National Register in 2017 because it was an “excellent example” of mid-19th century architecture, and because of the contribution of Strassburger’s dry goods store and the shoemaker shop, according to information provided by the historical society. Also important for the designation, the society said, was the farming of the land and a blacksmith shop, now in ruins, which provided much-needed services to the horse-powered transportation passing by on Bethlehem Pike.

For information, call 267-614-9174 or email Hilltownhistory1@yahoo.com.


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