From Sandy Ridge and Pine Run to Main Street and Cross Keys: The Photography of William Histand of Doylestown

Written by Joel Alderfer on January 20, 2023

For decades, we’ve known about some of the unusual photography of the late William L. Histand (1911-1994) of Doylestown, PA. In fact, over the years we’ve used several of his classic images of local Mennonite life from the 1930s and 1940s in various exhibits. I became acquainted with Bill in his later years when he visited at the Mennonite Heritage Center in the early 1990s and donated just a sampling of his photos to us. In the years since Bill died, I’ve been in touch with a couple of his sons to try to learn more about the extent and location of his photography. In the last year these efforts have borne some fruit.

Early view of traditional Franconia Conference Mennonite worship – a Harvest Home service at the Deep Run East Meetinghouse, Fall of 1938. Photo by William L. Histand.

Last May, Bill’s son, Leonard Histand, contacted me and revealed that he had scanned many negatives, prints, and slides that he had inherited after his father died. Leonard sent me a flash drive with about 2500 scans of his Dad’s photos, which soon captured my attention. What a treasure of images of life in the Mennonite and neighboring community around Doylestown! With Leonard’s awareness, I sifted these 2500 scans down to about 1000 images that I felt have long-term cultural, genealogical, historical, and even artistic value. Leonard agreed that I could save these images to our server and use them appropriately for research, exhibit work, and publication.

In this article, I’ll feature some of what I think is Bill’s earlier, finest, and most interesting photography. But first I’ll give a short biography of the photographer.

William L. Histand (1911-1994) was born in Doylestown Township, Bucks County, on the farm of parents Samuel S. and Susan Landis Histand, next to the Doylestown Mennonite Meetinghouse. He was the twelfth of the couple’s sixteen children, fourteen of whom lived to adulthood. The family attended the Doylestown Mennonite congregation and most of the children were baptized there as teenagers or young adults. William was baptized there by Bishop A. O. Histand (his uncle) in 1926 at age fifteen. Two of his younger siblings were in the membership class with him. During these years, Doylestown was considered a progressive congregation in Franconia Conference and had begun hosting occasional Bible instruction meetings, evangelistic meetings, and regular “Young People’s Meetings” by 1915. Plain dressing and devout evangelist-preachers were brought in from other (Old) Mennonite congregations and conferences to conduct these services. Bill Histand and his siblings were certainly influenced by this religious activity and fervor.

By all indications, Bill enjoyed growing up in a busy Mennonite farm family, participating in the activities of church and farm life. Son Leonard says that Bill contracted rheumatic fever in his teenage years and for a time was limited in the amount of physical work he could do. In the 1930 U.S. Census, William was listed as living at home, aged 18, and working “on own account” as a “metal cast toy maker.” Leonard remembers some metal toy molds and hand-painted cast-lead figurines in their home as he was growing up.

In the early 1930s, with his father’s encouragement and perhaps financial help, Bill attended barber school in Philadelphia and opened his own shop on Main St., Doylestown in 1931, next to his brother Samuel’s grocery store. After working at this location for about twenty years, he built a new shop at Cross Keys (on the northern edge of Doylestown) in 1951 and continued as a barber there for several decades until his retirement.

Interior of William Histand’s barber shop along Main St., Doylestown, 1934. His younger brother David Histand is in the chair. This is one of Bill’s earliest photos that can be dated. All photos used here were by William Histand unless otherwise noted; photos are courtesy of Leonard B. Histand unless noted.

Surviving Histand family photographs indicate that Bill started wearing a Mennonite-style plain coat by 1930, at least on Sundays and other formal occasions. In formal photos, he appears in a plain coat until about 1935-36.

Family of Samuel S. & Susan Landis Histand in about 1932. Nearly all of the 14 children (and the parents) are “dressing plain.” Photographer unknown.

Around 1933, Bill started courting Mary S. Bergey (1911-1997), also a member of the Doylestown congregation. She had been baptized several months after Bill, in early 1927. Mary was the daughter of Levi R. and Elizabeth Strouse Bergey, members of the Doylestown congregation who lived on a farm along the Pine Run Creek, just north of Doylestown. In January 1934, Mary had the likely formative experience of attending a “Special Bible Term” at the conservative Eastern Mennonite School (EMS) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It must have been a meaningful time for her. By this time, she was also “dressing plain,” with a cape dress, prayer covering, and bonnet (when in public). As a female student at EMS in those years, there would have been considerable pressure to wear a cape dress and covering, especially if one was a baptized member of the Mennonite Church.

Mary probably influenced her boyfriend William to continue “dressing plain” during this time. There is no evidence that Bill attended a Bible Term at EMS, but photographic evidence indicates that he visited Mary while she was there. They were married in February 1935 and first lived in Doylestown, close to the barber shop that Bill had opened in 1931. Their first child, born August 1937, lived only a few hours. Within a year or two they took in a foster child, Thomas Blake, whom they raised as part of their family. They later had three more sons of their own—Timothy, Leonard, and Lowell.

Bill Histand and Mary Bergey in plain clothing, around the time of their marriage. Hanging on the wall behind them is a wide-angle photo showing the students and faculty of the “Special Bible Term” at Eastern Mennonite School in January 1934, which Mary attended.

Back to Bill’s photography interests. Photographic evidence indicates he bought his first camera in 1933 or early 1934—probably a folding Kodak that used roll-film—and began recording scenes from his own life and that of his family and neighborhood. Before long, he bought a Korona View camera with a tripod, which produced 5×7 negatives and some very sharp images. One of his Kodaks used 2.5×4.25 format film and produced sharp, well-composed photos. In late 1938, he bought a Leica camera which used 35mm film and could produce black & white negatives or 35mm color slides. These were the early years of Kodak color transparencies. It seems Bill didn’t produce many color slides the first couple years, but those that survive are some of the earliest we know of from local Mennonite families and communities. A few of his slides must be from 1939 or 1940. Several color slides are dated 1941.

William Histand with his Korona View camera in about 1936. This camera used 5×7 film cartridges and produced some very sharp images.

Around 1940, Bill became interested in aerial photography and built his own large aerial camera, which survives. There are a couple of photos of Bill holding that camera, seated in or standing next to a small plane. The Doylestown airport was nearby and Bill apparently made connections with small-craft pilots there. Before long, he was flying over the Doylestown and Central Bucks area, recording then familiar farms and landscapes—many now long-gone. A couple years later, Bill and his younger brother James (also an amateur photographer) bought a large military-style camera designed for aerial photography. This produced many good quality photos taken above the Bucks County landscape.

Bill Histand in a Piper Cub, probably at the Doylestown airport, with the aerial camera he built himself in the early 1940s. Pilot may be Jim Delong.

From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, alongside his career as a barber, Bill continued to document life in the Cross Keys, Pine Run, and Doylestown neighborhoods where he lived and worked. He recorded family groups and reunions of the larger Histand and Landis families of his parents, as well as the Bergey and Strouse families of his wife Mary’s parents. A significant project he undertook from 1939 to 1942 was a photographic survey of the families of, and the businesses and shops in and around the village of Blooming Glen in Bucks County. This resulted in about 50 copies of a completely hand-produced, wooden-covered photo album of life in the village, entitled “Mementos of Blooming Glen.” Bill donated two copies to the Mennonite Heritage Center collection before he died.

A photo from Bill Histand’s “Mementos of Blooming Glen” booklet, 1942 – Melvin Bishop working in his shoe repair shop in the village.
Pasted-up page for Bill’s “Mementos of Blooming Glen” album, 1942. From these “paste-ups” of individual photos, Bill produced the finished pages of the album by re-photographing these sheets and making a second-generation print.

About 1945, Bill and Mary Histand moved their growing family from Lacey Street, Doylestown, to the Bergey farm where Mary grew up, along the Pine Run and Old Dublin Pike just north of Doylestown. Before long, they bought the farm, lived here for 22 years, then moved to near Fountainville. Bill took many photos of their family and neighborhood as their boys were growing up on the farm.

Bill’s relationship to his home congregation, Doylestown Mennonite, was strained during these years. According to the church’s membership records in the archives at the MHC, Bill was excommunicated in 1944. The reason for the church discipline is not recorded, but son Leonard thinks it may have had something to do with the news stand at his father’s barber shop where he sold cigarettes, tobacco and secular magazines. Son Timothy says his father was not afraid to express his thoughts to church leadership, even in writing! Their Dad continued to attend church even though he was disciplined. A later note in the church membership record states that Bill “was reinstated Oct. 1970.” Beyond his barber shop, which eventually grew to a five-chair enterprise, and his photography, Bill had other interests. He loved to travel, camp and hunt, built a wooden pull-behind trailer and took his family on camping trips. Later in life, Bill made plexiglass signs for local businesses for a few years. Beekeeping was also a hobby.

Bill & Mary Histand and their boys, circa 1950, in front of the camping trailer which he built and titled “Camp Pine Run, Doylestown, Pa.” Son Leonard says his father also used this as a photography darkroom.

Instead of telling the story of Bill Histand’s later years, I’ll close by showing a selection of what I think are some of his finest and more interesting photographs, mainly from the 1930s and 1940s.

Sharp, well-composed portraits of Bill Histand and Mary Bergey, 1934 or 1935, perhaps just before they were married.
Sharp, well-composed portraits of Bill Histand and Mary Bergey, 1934 or 1935, perhaps just before they were married.
Self-portrait of Bill Histand holding his recently purchased Leica camera, late 1938 or 1939.
Bill Histand’s barber shop (on the left) next to his brother Sam Histand’s grocery store, at 208-210 N. Main, Doylestown, about 1941. Bill had opened his shop here in 1931.
I think this is one of Bill Histand’s most precious photos, but really there are many. Here the unidentified “Umbrella Man” (an itinerant who repaired umbrellas) has set-up in front of the barber shop and entertains two little Histand cousins – Bill & Mary’s foster son Tommy Blake, and his cousin Sammy Histand – about 1942. Sammy’s Dad, Sam Histand Jr., ran the grocery store next door.
Bill Histand standing in the Doylestown Mennonite Cemetery looking at his older brother Abram’s new gravestone, about 1937. Abram, who ran the Histand farm next to the Doylestown meetinghouse, had died of cancer in late 1936.
Aerial photo by Bill Histand of the Doylestown Mennonite Church property and neighborhood, circa 1940. Note the horse sheds still standing to the left of the meetinghouse, though no one drove a horse and carriage to church anymore. To the near right of the meetinghouse is the house Bill’s parents, Samuel & Susie Landis Histand, built when they retired from farming. To the right of that is the Histand family farm, previously run by Samuel and Susie, where Bill grew up. Much of this landscape has been altered by development and the Rt. 611 By-pass.
Entrance to the Doylestown Mennonite churchyard showing some horse sheds, circa 1940. The meetinghouse is on the left. The small sign on the end of the closest horse shed can be read when magnified: “Prepare to Meet Thy God.”
Front of Doylestown Mennonite Meetinghouse, circa 1940.
Aerial photo of Blooming Glen Mennonite Meetinghouse, Blooming Glen, Bucks County, circa 1940.
: Bill Histand with the new military grade aerial camera that he and brother Jim Histand bought apparently in the early 1940s. He’s with the same pilot and airplane that we saw earlier.
Brothers Levi (seated) and Abram Bergey planting potatoes on Levi Bergey’s farm, along Old Dublin Pike just north of Doylestown, about 1943. Levi was Bill Histand’s father-in-law.
Levi R. and Elizabeth Strouse Bergey at their farmhouse, about 1935. They were the parents of Bill Histand’s wife, Mary.
Levi Bergey planting corn on his farm, Old Dublin Pike near Doylestown, about 1943. These color images were taken with Kodachrome slide film in Bill Histand’s Leica camera.
Aerial view of Levi and Elizabeth Bergey’s farm (center of photo) along the Pine Run Creek and Old Dublin Pike, circa 1945. In the lower part, is the feed mill and farm supply business of Daniel Histand, Bill’s older brother. Running diagonally in the background is Swamp Road (Rt. 313).
Family of Levi and Elizabeth Strouse Bergey (older couple in center) in front of their farmhouse, 1941. Bill and Mary Bergey Histand are in the back row, left. The older woman on the left is Elizabeth Bergey’s single sister, Sara K. Strouse, who visited often.
Levi R. Bergey reading a magazine and listening to the radio in his farmhouse kitchen, circa 1940. Interesting, unusual portraits of a Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite farmer of the period.
Levi R. Bergey reading a magazine and listening to the radio in his farmhouse kitchen, circa 1940. Interesting, unusual portraits of a Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite farmer of the period.
Levi Bergey’s household and farm equipment auction at the Bergey farm, circa 1945. Auctioneer not identified.
Another scene from the same auction at the Bergey farm.
Reunion of the Eli & Sarah Kulp Strouse family held at the Bergey farm, July 1936. Eli Strouse is the elderly man seated at center. His wife Sarah had died fairly young many years earlier. One of his eight daughters, Elizabeth, married Levi Bergey.
80-year-old Eli Strouse on the porch of the Bergey farmhouse, not long before he died in November 1936. Another fine portrait of an elderly Mennonite by Bill Histand.
The family of Bishop Abram O. & Emma Wismer Histand of near Doylestown, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in September 1941. A. O. Histand was a minister in the Doylestown Mennonite congregation and a bishop for the Franconia Conference churches in central Bucks County. Another very sharp group portrait by Bill Histand for the family of his uncle and aunt.
Reunion of the descendants of late Isaac M. & Elizabeth Overholt Landis of New Britain Township, Bucks County, October 1941. Bill Histand’s mother, Susan Landis Histand, was a daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth. Bill is not in this photo, but his wife Mary and two oldest sons are. It’s another sharp group photo—everyone could be identified.
Paul W. Histand’s farm equipment dealership near Doylestown, late 1940s. Paul, a cousin of Bill Histand, specialized in Oliver tractors and equipment and had many Mennonite customers.
Interior of Paul Histand’s farm equipment dealership, probably mid-1940s. Another sharp photo with good contrast.
Bill Histand posing in early 1991 with an enlargement of one of his photos, taken over 50 years earlier, and used in the new exhibit at the recently opened Mennonite Heritage Center. Photo by Leonard Histand.


-Ruth Histand Mosemann, Family Directory of Samuel Swartz Histand and Susan Overholt Landis (Goshen, IN, 1969), pp.19-31.

-Phil Johnson Ruth, A North Penn Pictorial (Lansdale, PA, 1988), pp.120-122.

-Conversations with Leonard B. Histand, of Doylestown, PA, January 10 and 13, 2023.

-Church membership records in the Doylestown Mennonite Church Collection, Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, PA.

-1930 U.S. Federal Census, Doylestown Township, Bucks County, PA. Accessed at

-Levi R. Bergey family and Samuel S. Histand family memorials on

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6 replies to “From Sandy Ridge and Pine Run to Main Street and Cross Keys: The Photography of William Histand of Doylestown

  1. JB Hamilton -

    What a great article. Bill was such a nice man. Cut my hair many times and always had an interesting story. I have so many great memories of the area since I lived near the church for years. Thanks for posting the story and photos. I have Ariel photo in book for horse show at Doylestown fair grounds. Thanks again for posting.


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