Eastern Pennsylvania has many old highways and “pikes” (turnpikes) that radiate from Philadelphia into the countryside. Several of these went north to the Lehigh Valley, where intrepid German immigrants of the 1700s built homes and successful farms in a region taken from native inhabitants by the Penn brothers’ deceitful “Walking Purchase” of 1737. In early America, the valley was a center of agriculture and industry, coal, slate, iron, steel, and cement.
Mennonites settled in the lower end of the valley, at Upper Milford and Saucon, before 1740, founding congregations that exist to this day. By 1800, they had spread to other locations in Northampton County–Siegfried’s, Settlement, Mount Bethel, Rothrock, and Hellertown. These congregations no longer exist, but a descendant community does thrive in the valley today–several 20th century Mennonite congregations, and a dozen congregations of the Bible Fellowship Church (formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ).
On Thursday, August 14, the Mennonite Heritage Center will sponsor a tour that takes “Old Roads to Lehigh Valley”, up Geryville Pike and King’s Highway through Upper Milford, and back down through Saucon on Allentown Road. Along the way, we’ll hear stories of those who settled the countryside and the communities they formed. We’ll see a spectrum of Lehigh Valley life from a historic Pennsylvania German farm, to the new and modern America on Wheels museum.
Passing several historic homes as we head north on Geryville Pike in the morning, our first stop will be at the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center in Pennsburg. A small sect of devout German Protestants, the Schwenkfelders migrated to Pennsylvania in the 1730s and lived closely with Mennonites in Montgomery and Berks Counties. Our two heritage centers are currently hosting a joint exhibit of Pennsylvania German textiles. We will have opportunity to see the textile exhibit on display at the Schwenkfelder center, including items from the Mennonite Heritage Center collection, along with several other exhibits.
Leaving Pennsburg, we’ll pass a beautiful Schwenkfelder farm and meetinghouse on our way to rejoin the King’s Highway at Kraussdale, and travel up through Hosensack and Zionsville, passing Upper Milford Mennonite Church in its peaceful setting. Heading north through Shimerville into Macungie, we’ll see the Lehigh Valley spread before us.
The second stop of the day will be at the Troxell-Steckel Farm Museum in the village of Egypt, Lehigh County. Egypt is one of the oldest settlements in the Lehigh Valley, and was named for the fertility of local soil. Approaching the village, the road winds through expansive fields. At the farm museum, we’ll tour a fine large stone house built by John Peter Troxell in 1756 and a hex-painted barn containing a display of historic farm equipment.
A highlight of the tour (and lunch on your own) will be at the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market, where there are a variety of tasty lunch counters including Dan’s Bar-B-Que, Foods of the Mediterranean, Bada Bingg gourmet sandwiches, Loan’s Authentic Vietnamese Bistro, and several others. With two hours at this stop, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy lunch and browse the many interesting shops in the market. Coolers will be available on the bus to keep fresh goods as we continue the tour.
Leaving the market, we’ll travel across town to America On Wheels, a high quality museum of antique cars, trucks and other vehicles. This bright new museum (only six years old) has fascinating displays, including an antique car restoration learning center and the current featured exhibit “Gone But Not Forgotten: Orphan Cars of the 1950’s to Today”.
Our final stop will be in Coopersburg, where we will learn about the Saucon Mennonite community, the “Saucon Incident” of 1778, and the development of the Bible Fellowship Church. From Coopersburg, we will travel south on Allentown Road toward the tour’s end, through the village of Steinsburg and the Swamp Mennonite community, over the Ridge, and back to Franconia Township.
The tour fee of $80 (MHEP members $75) includes admission to all museums and gratuity for the bus driver. Lunch is on your own at the Farmers Market. Tour participants will board the Hagey Coach at the Hagey Transportation Center located at 210 Schoolhouse Road, Souderton (located 1 ½ miles east of Route 113). The bus will depart on Thursday morning, August 14, at 8:00 A.M. with boarding at 7:45 A.M. The tour will return to the same location around 6:00 P.M. Your automobiles may remain parked at Hagey’s fenced parking lot. Forrest Moyer, MHC Archivist, will serve as the tour guide.