Excerpts from “The Life History of Susie Freed Heebner”

Written by Forrest Moyer on July 23, 2019

Republished from the MHEP Newsletter, May 1986. Mrs. Heebner’s full memoir is available in the MHC library.

This history is a reflection of Susie Freed Heebner (March 7, 1892-December 6, 1984) as she thought about things that happened throughout her lifetime. Susie always enjoyed writing things down. Over the years she kept diaries. Her son, Steward, suggested that she write this life history. He bought her the spiral-ringed notebook into which she recorded her remembrances. For him we are thankful; out of his suggestion and simple action came something that can be a joy to us all. We print this with the encouragement and permission of the family. We want to thank them for sharing Susie’s gift to them with us.
-Joyce C. Hedrick, editor, 1986

Childhood memories

I, Susie Freed, was born in Franconia Township on March 7th 1892. When I was 2 my parents moved to Lower Salford Twp. where I lived till I was 21 years. Then I got married.

I started school when I was 5 years old. In this school room there was a bench with a water pail and a dipper which we all drank of. We fetched the water from a farm across the street. Later we had an artesian well dug and a pump with a cup tied to the pump, so we all had to drink out of the same cup.

In this room there was a big pot-belly stove and that belly got red hot in the wintertime when it was cold. There was a black board, teacher’s desk and a large chart on the platform. From this chart we learned the alphabet and learned to spell words like cat, dog, run, etc.  After that we might have got a reading and spelling book.

The girls sat on the right side and the boys on the left side. There were 2 rows of desks on each side with 6 or 8 desks in a row. I don’t think they were all filled. Two persons sat in one desk. Some desks had ink wells. We had slates to write on with a slate pencil. Did those slate pencils scratch sometimes.

When we had classes we sat up front of the platform. In spelling class we all stood. If the person above you spelled a word wrong and the next one spelled it right, you would trap him. That is, you would go above him. I liked reading and spelling and writing. As we got older we had history, geography, arithmetic, literature, and physiology, and mental arithmetic which I did not like. I guess I was too “dutchfiele” to understand the English. Most of us talked Pennsylvania Dutch.

Willow Grove School, Harleysville, circa 1906. Susie Freed is probably 4th from left in the back row. Notice the new pump Susie mentioned. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection; gift of John L. Ruth.


In the summer of 1907 when I was 15 I started to work in Godshall’s Shirt Factory in Telford; worked there till I was 21, when I got married. We worked from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m. and Saturday till noon.

The factory whistle blew at 7 a.m.  Then the steam was turned on and the shafts started to run and then we could start to sew. I hemmed sleeves for 2 to 3 cents a dozen. Some of the sleeves were pieced but you had to make 2 dozen, for a shirt had 2 sleeves. I earned about $5.00 a week. My sister earned $10.00 a week. She hemmed shirt tails. That was good for a woman at that time. There might have worked 50 or 60 people there.

We had an outside privy and a privy is a toilet outside. There was a key hanging on the wall where all could see it and when that key was gone there was someone out.

On Monday morning my mother borrowed a horse from a neighbor and took us to our boarding place where we stayed till Saturday noon. My sister and I and Martha and Minnie Swartley boarded at my cousin Abram and Hannah Freed for $2 a week. And when we missed a meal they took 25 cents off.

A local clothing factory similar to the one where Susie worked, with sewing machines powered by windmill. Susie’s factory was powered by steam. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection; gift of Isaac Clarence Kulp.

Single remembrances

One time three girls went to the Goshenhoppen picnic – Annie Derstine, Edith Bower and I. Annie drove and she started to drive race with two Harleysville boys and did it dust. There were no macadam roads at that time and when we came to my place she turned too quick for the lane and almost drove in the fence.

On Sunday evenings we went to the Harleysville Chapel where a preacher from a different denomination preached, also the Mennonites and other plain preachers. The Chapel usually was filled.  Dr. Vincent Z. Keeler was the chorister and Mamie Hauck was the organist. I took music lessons from her. What I know in music I learned from her.

The Mennonites did not have no evening services. Later the Dunkards [Church of the Brethren] had services in [the] evening. We liked to go there, as boys and girls could sit together.

“…she started to drive race with two Harleysville boys and did it dust.” — Two unidentified Harleysville boys in a buggy, circa 1910, perhaps the very boys Annie raced. Photo by A. G. Metzger. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection; gift of Amandus & Sallie Clemmer Bergey.

Married life begins

[Abe Heebner and I were married] on a Thursday, June 12, 1913…. We had a double wedding with Edith Bower and Irwin Beidler. We went to the Telford parsonage and were married by a Reformed pastor, John Frantz.

I went with Abe to live with his brother Jake and started to work in the Lansdale shirt factory. In July 1913 we moved to Telford. Abe worked at the Feed mill and I went back to my old shirt factory. We lived there till April 1915.

I had a wedding ring which I gave to my daughter Susie. I also gave her my graduation pin of 1907. I think the school colors were orange and purple. I also had a bracelet with our initials on the inside: “A.L.J. to S.N.F.” The wedding ring also had the initials in it and the date of our marriage.

I had a round brooch or pin with crystal stones on the outside and a white stone in the middle. I wore it on my graduation picture. I also had a finger ring with a March birthstone. The stones came out and that was the end of those things.

What we gave each other for Christmas

The first year Abe gave me a silver tea set. I gave him a gold watch charm with a little charm at the end with his initials on it.

The second year he gave me a kerosene parlor lamp. It was green with red grapes and the shade had red bead fringes. He paid $6 for it and when we had sale in 1968, our oldest grandson, Harleigh Moyer, bought it for $50. We had it made into electric sometime. I gave him a horse blanket and a swivel chair.

The last year, he gave me a rocker for Christmas and a picture to hang on the wall which we still have and an umbrella for my birthday.

Now we start farm life

In April 1915 we moved to a farm back of Telford along the trolley road, which we bought from John A. Detweiler for $6000. It was a farm of 60 acres. A widowed lady had a $3000 dower or mortgage in the farm which could not be paid off as long as she lived. [We] paid 3% interest.

There was clapboard fence around the house which hung toward sundown. Later we tore the fence down and got galvanized fence to keep the chickens out. The lawns weren’t very even. I used a hand lawn mower. Abe said I wore out a couple lawn mowers to mow over these uneven places. I mowed around the barn and out the lane. There was a rail fence along the lane and there were mulberry trees and also red cherry trees. They used to put a load of hay under the trees. That is how they picked most of them. They did not take time to pick cherries….

We lived on the farm thirty-one years.

The Heebner farm near Telford, circa 1942. Photo courtesy of grandson Abram L. Moyer.

Before electricity

I must tell you what we did before we had electric with kerosene lamps and lantern. Every Saturday morning we had to wash the globes of lamps and lanterns and fill them with kerosene and trim the wicks to last for another week. We had a hanging lamp in the kitchen and had night lamps to go to bed, so you always had to have matches handy.

Another thing we had no stainless knives and forks so we had to scour our knives and forks with a cleanser or wood ashes. Every morning you had to clean the kitchen, take the ashes out of the coal stove and fetch coal in. As this dusted when you take the ashes out, you had to dust and wash the kitchen floor maybe once or twice a week. Every Saturday we had to wash the porch and pavement and scrub our outside privy once a week.

Thanks for electric.

Children born at home

Our children all were born on the farm at home, not in the hospital. Those that were born in the same room were Earle, Steward, Margaret, and Harleigh Moyer, our oldest grandson. That was the bedroom above the kitchen. When we got the heater we moved to the front room where Susie and Virginia were born.

Abe & Susie Heebner with daughter Virginia, 1937. Photo courtesy of Abram Moyer.

We did not know what to name Virginia, so Steward [age 13] sat on the floor at the door and said, “Let us call her Virginia.” I still can see him sit. He said it in Pa. Dutch.

I think when Virginia was small she must [have] had a habit of walking away. One time we could not find her. She was in the Jamesway chicken house and another time she sat on the trolley track. All we could see of her was her pink bonnet. I think Beulah Morris, a neighbor, saw her and it was almost time for a trolley to come. Another time she went with Steward on the flat wagon and 2 horses to a field across the trolley track. She held on to the cracks on the wagon. The horses ran around the barn and when she saw us she left go and flew off the wagon but was not hurt. The horses stopped when they got to the other side of the barn.  

Good neighbors on the farm

We had good neighbors when we lived on the farm. They came from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. They lived across the street on the other side of the trolley track. It was a widow lady with ten children. Her name was Lydia Morris.

The mother used to sit at the front window towards our farm. She saw what was going on at the farm. When [our] children were sick and the Doctor drove in the lane, soon [Lydia’s daughter] Beulah would come down. When Steward and Margaret were babies Beulah took care of me and the babies with the help of [her] mother, I think. The children often stayed at their place when we wanted to go away. The children liked to go there.

When there was a funeral in the family at Wilkes-Barre we would take them up. Most of them are buried at White Haven Cemetery.

Neighborhood theft

One Sunday morning when we were at church, thieves broke in the house and took mostly of Steward’s clothing and tore open the children’s bank and took the money and went in the cellar and took a bite out of every funny cake. This was in November, 1935. It was close to the hunting season and Pop [had] bought him boots Saturday night. Later we found out it was the neighbor’s children John and Walter Radawitz.

We heard later that Walter was in jail. One year later they were at Sam and Clint Landis’ and also at John Godshall’s but Mrs. Godshall was home. We were all neighbors of these boys. At Landis’ they hid some of the things under the corn shocks. 

We had our joys and sorrows in life

On July 18, 1915 a son Earle was born to us and he got catarrh fever and passed away on October 4, 1916 at the age of 1 years, 2 months, 16 days.

We had two single hired men when we first started farming. At one time we had a young boy by the name of Ralph Gentsch, about 13 years. He got his hand in the feed cutter and lost a lot of blood from which he died. We paid all the doctor’s bills, hospital bills, and funeral expenses. This must have been in 1918 or 1919. The funeral was at Zion Mennonite church.

The task that killed hired boy Ralph Gentsch — cutting corn stalks into cow feed — as demonstrated at the Mennonite Heritage Center Apple Butter Frolic in 2016.

What the children and grandchildren bought at our sale June 28, 1946

I sold over $300 worth of quilts I had made. One was a “Martha Washington” applique which I had the pattern from my mother’s patterns. I made some of dark silk patches. Made most of them “Around the World”. Cross-stitch some of them. Made a Lone Star quilt of diamond patches which Susie and Howard Moyer bought at the sale for $50. Elwyn and Margaret Moyer bought a cross-stitch quilt which was called “Sun Flower” quilt. Nevin Heebner bought the chenille bedspread what we got in Florida. I usually had that on the bed when they came to us overnight.

Chester and Virginia Bergey bought our extension table what we got when we started housekeeping.

At my parents sale in March 1938 I bought my mother’s white set of dishes for $5. There were three sizes of plates, cups and saucers, gravy boat, sugar and creamer, meat platter and two oblong dishes with lids on. Margaret and Virginia bought each one of these dishes and maybe some plates.

Harleigh Moyer bought our parlor lamp and bookcase and writing desk combined. Underneath the writing desk he said we kept our playthings. Bruce Moyer bought the chamber set for $50. We had bought it at a sale some years back for $30. It was just like my sister’s set. That is why I wanted it. Bruce also bought our lantern and kerosene lamps what we used at night before we had electric.

Elaine Souder bought my father’s Sunday spittoon for $16. Fern and Jim Derstine bought our box of books where my German ABC book was in.

Anetta Derstine bought my blue vase what I got from my school teacher one Christmas. Miriam Heebner has our tea set of blue and gold. Nevin Heebner bought the candy dish where we always had our chocolate candy in on our Christmas table. We had bought it at Abe’s parent’s sale. She always had her candy in on the middle of the table.

Sylvia Derstine bought a glass fruit dish. Abe Moyer’s Glenda bought the crocheted living room set. Margaret bought the hand painted bread tray what we got from Sallie Wolfe for a wedding gift. She was Abe’s step-mother’s twin sister.

There are other things they bought which I do not remember. Margaret bought the plate with a quail on that I got from Irwin Beidler’s mother for a graduation present. 

Memories of Franconia Church

We joined the church at Franconia [Susie’s home church] and were baptized by Bishop Jonas Mininger on March 8, 1914. There were 9 in the class. They were: Susie and Abram Heebner; Edith and Irwin Beidler; Annie and Willie Moyer; Bessie and Jonas Shoemaker; Howard M.Bergey, husband of Sadie Derstine of Rockhill. Young people that time did not join church till they were married.

We took communion at Franconia the first year. Then we moved to the farm near the Rockhill church. Preacher Mahlon Souder came and asked us to come to Rockhill. For a long time we went one Sunday to Franconia and the next Sunday to Rockhill. At that time the church services were only every two weeks. When they had no church services, the Sunday School was in the forenoon. That was the time we did our visiting. Sometime we had 3 or 4 families. No refrigerators at that time.

The ministers [at Franconia] were Bishop Josiah Clemmer and Michael Moyer. The deacons were Abram Clemmer [and] Jacob L. Freed of Elroy, father-in-law of A.F. Moyer, the butcher which is now a great butcher business called Mopac. The deacons gave their testimony after the ministers had preached. Jake Freed’s testimony was always the same. This was in German: “lch sagt ya und Amen zu die larey die liebe Breder. Wider Freiheit.” The English would be: “I say amen to the spoken word of the Brethren. Further Liberty.”

Franconia Mennonite Meetinghouse, shuttered between services, as it appeared when Abe & Susie became members in 1914. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection.

Remembers of what some people say

Pennsylvania: “You are the dearest land outside of heaven to me.”
Pennsylvania: “Your laurel and redwood trees, when I die, I want to rest upon a graceful mountain so high, for that is where God will look for me.”

The picture what I gave to Harleigh and Jean Moyer of my sister Maggie and I and Martha and Minnie Swartley. One young fellow said when he saw the picture, “They are the four nicest monkeys that I ever saw.”

When a Mennonite person married one that was not a Mennonite, they had to make a confession that he was sorry they went against the rules of the church. The Mennonite minister would not marry anyone except Mennonites.

I know of two couples that had to make a confession because they were to a daughter’s commencement in the Broad Street Theatre, Souderton, Pa. We don’t hear of any confessions anymore.  

How did I meet Abe?

One of the grandchildren asked how I met Abe, my husband. I knew him before we dated.

The Mennonite churches [had services] only every two weeks so the young people went to different churches. The boys waited on the outside till they were all there and then came marching in. The boys sat on the right side on the back benches. There was an aisle between the boys and girls, so we girls watched who was coming. The married sat next to the girls, another aisle and some men sat.

Another girl and I walked to the Harleysville chapel where services were held. You did this only when it was “Full Moon” as it was as light as day. There were no lights around except moon and stars.

When we walked home that evening there was a small bridge with a little water and it was a little dark and spooky. After that bridge, a horse and rubber tire buggy with a young fellow on it stopped and asked [us] to go along. That started our dating in the summer of 1910 till June 1913.

Harleysville Union Chapel and the dirt road through town, circa 1910. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection.

Moving to the [Hatfield Mennonite] Home

Pop [Abe] was 80 years when we came to the Home in 1971. Wellington Cassel was one of the Directors at that time and he asked if we were interested to come to the Home. We waited for about a year till an apartment got empty. A maiden lady had lived in the apartment what we got. We were the second people to occupy the apt. We paid $10,000 for the apt. and paid $200 rent a month and it went up till March and now we are paying $380 in 1982.

Susie & Abe Heebner at their 70th wedding anniversary celebration, 1983. Photo courtesy of Abram Moyer.