For the past fourteen years, early spring has meant sprucing up the Stoltzfus homestead grounds in preparation for the annual benefit auction, which will be held next Saturday, May 7, 2016.
There will be the usual 7 a.m. hearty breakfast, Pennsylvania German traditional singing, a quilt auction, cooking demonstrations and craft tents that bring a slice of Amish cultural and religious life into mainstream America.
But this year is particularly special because it marks the 250th anniversary of the Amish Nicholas Stoltzfus family landing in America in 1766.
Even more significantly, the Stoltzfuses were among the first Amish families in Berks County. They sailed from Cowes, England, in 1766 en route to Pennsylvania, having previously left Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They arrived in Philadelphia two months later and wound up in Leacock, Lancaster County, before moving to Berks in the early 1770s. There were about 70 Amish families in Berks County in the 18th century, and many were in the Irish Creek Valley area.
Over the decades, historians and Amish researches have tracked the ownership and tax records of the Nicholas Stoltzfus homestead, showing the connections between families such as Stoltzfus, Smucker, King, Myer, Martin, and Riegel. Other later owners were also traced with names such as Maderia, Templein, Gass and Gring.
Although Berks County played a pivotal part in early Amish settlement, most of them left the county by the 19th century for fertile agricultural lands in Lancaster and York counties and beyond. There were probably several reasons for Amish migration, including Indian attacks along Berks County's northern tier; the Revolutionary War and how it impacted nonresistant denominations; local taxes sometimes deemed unfair; and the natural inclination of a people to settle among like-minded souls in other areas.
Whatever the case, more Amish have moved back into Berks County in recent years, especially in the western part of the county in the Bethel area, while they have also made a firm commitment to preserve their heritage in Wyomissing.
So far, the Stotltzfus rehabilitation project since it's inception has received $200,000 in donations and a roughly equivalent amount in in-kind contributions and volunteer work. About $40,000 more is needed to complete the barn and create an apartment for a tenant for maintenance and monitoring of the facility.
(Excerpts from an article published in the Reading Eagle, April 30, 2016)