New acquisition: Clemmer family folk art and documents

Written by Joel Alderfer on December 10, 2019

Earlier this year, Harold R. and Doneda Clemmer donated a small collection of folk art and a group of deeds and surveys from the family and homestead of his ancestors, Preacher Christian & Barbara Gehman Clemmer, of Hereford Township, Berks County. The Clemmers were members of the Hereford Mennonite congregation, in Bally, PA, where Christian was ordained a preacher in 1842.

We’ll feature some of the folk art and just a selection of the land-related documents from the recent donation in this post. The Mennonite Heritage Center had earlier acquired from a couple of other sources several other artifacts from this family and farm – I’ll highlight several of those here as well.

Barbara Gehman Clemmer (1815-1894) was born in Upper Hanover Township, Montgomery County, close to the Berks County line, the daughter of Preacher John Z. and Mary Latshaw Gehman, members of the Hereford congregation in Bally. Barbara grew up on the Gehman farm and had just two brothers: Abraham L. Gehman (1817-1913) and John L. Gehman (1819-1892), who bought the homestead (now a golf course). In 1838, she married Christian Clemmer (1813-1883), son of George and Anna Geissinger Clemmer of Hereford Township, Berks County. Christian and Barbara eventually bought a farm near his parent’s farm, along what is now Tollgate Road in Hereford Township.

A primitive fraktur school reward in the MHC collection, signed “Barbara Gehman 1826”, seems to have been made for Barbara Gehman (Clemmer). It was passed down in the family of her brother John L. Gehman.

School reward with large tulip signed “Barbara Gehman 1826”. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (1990.8.8): Gift of Melvin & Sara Gehman.

Three other surviving objects made by young Barbara Gehman show her skill in traditional needlework and folk decoration. One of these is owned by a descendant.

Sampler (in old frame) made by Barbara Gehman in 1832. Private Collection; photo courtesy of Hereford Township Heritage Society.
Detail of a fine cotton tablecloth embroidered by Barbara Gehman in 1836, two years before her marriage to Christian Clemmer. It would be difficult to show the decoration on the whole tablecloth, but this detail shows three of the eight hearts where Barbara embroidered the letters of her name, two in each heart, and the date 1836. Here we see the first two letters, BA, and the last two, NN. Purchased by the donor in 1981 at a family auction on the Clemmer homestead. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (2001.21.2): Gift of Hiram & Mary Jane Lederach Hershey.

Christian and Barbara Clemmer’s son, Henry G. Clemmer (1841-1928), grew up on the homestead, married Mary Geissinger, and inherited and purchased the farm from his parents. In the recent donation from the Clemmers are two primitive drawings by Henry.

Primitive tulip drawing apparently by Henry G. Clemmer, 1855. Inscription reads: “Heinrich Klemmer, Jenner den 21ten, A. D. 1855 [January 21st, 1855].” Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (2019.25.2): Gift of Harold & Doneda Clemmer.
Drawing apparently by Henry Clemmer. Undated, in an unusual frame made of many small seashells or snail shells. The drawing is similar in style and color to the previous drawing. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (2019.25.3): Gift of Harold & Doneda Clemmer.

Henry and Mary Geissinger Clemmer bought the farm from his parents in 1882 and lived there the remainder of their lives. After Christian Clemmer died in 1883, his widow Barbara Gehman Clemmer continued to live on the farm with her son’s family until she died in 1894.

Clemmer farmhouse in Hereford Township, Berks County, in 1890. Standing out front are, left to right: Emma G. Clemmer (daughter), Henry G. Clemmer (father), widow Barbara Gehman Clemmer (mother of Henry), and Mary Geissinger Clemmer (wife of Henry). So here we see the aged widow Barbara in her last years, living on the homestead. Photo courtesy of Hereford Township Heritage Society.
In 1890, Henry G. Clemmer stands with two fine horses in front of the large bank barn built by his father Christian in 1857. The cows are standing on the manure pile, traditionally located (as here) inside the barnyard wall. Photo courtesy of the Hereford Township Heritage Society.
Grain bag, late 19th century, used by Henry G. Clemmer on his farm. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (1981.3.1): Gift of Hiram & Mary Jane Lederach Hershey.
By 1898, it appears that Henry’s son Alfred G. Clemmer was running the farm. Here Alfred poses behind the barn with his little daughter, the family dog, two young men on horseback, and a flock of chickens. Photo courtesy of the Hereford Township Heritage Society.

Two other folk art drawings from the Clemmer family were also donated by Harold and Doneda Clemmer.

Not signed or dated, this colorful ink and watercolor drawing of a plumed bird came out of the Clemmer family papers. Sometimes called the “Exotic Scenery Artist”, work by this yet unidentified person has also been found among Mennonite families in central Montgomery County. Similar “exotic” drawings, perhaps by a different hand, have come out of Schwenkfelder families in Montgomery County. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (2019.25.4): Gift of Harold & Doneda Clemmer.
Undated calligraphy reward of merit, made for Naomi K. Markley, of Red Hill, circa 1880. The initials R.G. at the bottom are probably of the artist. Naomi K. Markley (1865-1931) married Alfred G. Clemmer (1867-1923) in 1893. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection (2019.25.6): Gift of Harold & Doneda Clemmer.

Alfred and Naomi Markley Clemmer operated (but apparently never owned) the Clemmer farm from the 1890s until his death in 1923, and raised their family of nine children there. It was bought by Alfred and Naomi’s sons Leroy M. and Warren M. Clemmer, from the estate of their grandfather Henry G. Clemmer, who died in 1928.

Alfred G. & Naomi Markley Clemmer and their nine children, about 1909: Ella, Bertha, Mary, Anna, Warren, Alfred Jr., Leroy, Henry and Ira. Photo courtesy of Hereford Township Heritage Society.

The donation from the Clemmers includes a fairly extensive collection of deeds, surveys, mortgages and other land-related documents from the Christian Clemmer homestead, dated from the 1740s to the 1920s. Here is an example of the land surveys.

Draught (draft) by Schwenkfelder surveyor David Schultze, dated April 26, 1757, of a 33 acre tract in Hereford Township, sold by John Bechtel to Frantz Latshar (Latshaw). The tract was surrounded by lands of Martin Sturtzman, Melchior Wiegner, Abraham Yeakle, John Bechtel, and Abraham Bechtel. A century later, this land was part of the farm of Christian and Henry G. Clemmer. Gift of Harold & Doneda Clemmer.

Sources used:

Early Times in Hereford Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania (Hereford Township Heritage Society, 2005), pp. 72-76.
The Clemmers (Clymers) of Berks, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. Compiled by Joel Gerhard Clemmer III, 1973.
-Arlan S & Jorene P. Clemmer, editors, Henrich and Maria Clemmer of Franconia, Pennsylvania Genealogy. Compiled by Abram L. Clemmer (Clemmer Family Association, 1992). Appendix, pp. A-3 to A-8.
-Telephone conversation with Harold R. Clemmer, November 14, 2019.