The Sarah Sweet House
Built in 1825, the Sarah Sweet House was constructed in three layers of plank construction: one vertical, second horizontal, and third vertical. It is typical of homes built by Pennsylvania German settlers. Long windows were added when the Victorian era came along. The horsehair plaster came from the tanning business conducted on this property.
This building is part of the Murray-Mosser (Musser) tannery complex, one of the earliest enterprises in the settlement that was called Springfield, and later Boalsburg, when Andrew Stroup began selling lots in his development about 1810. John and Catherine Miller are thought to be the builders of a log house on this large tract of land. Michael Jack bought the property in 1804 and dug the tanning vats in the side yard before selling to William Murray. While Murray ran the Springfield Tannery, other structures were built: a large bank barn (the foundation still exists), the log house, this plank house, and foundations for outhouses. In 1837, Jonathan Mosser became the owner and his sons Henry, Frederick, and John continued the tannery operation for many years. The next owner, Philip Meyer, made changes to the house. He installed large coal and wood burning stoves popular at the time. He also heightened the first-floor windows and shutters. The old “summer kitchen” has a big fireplace and oven. It was typical of the era to have a separate summer kitchen to try to keep as much heat outside of the house as possible in the summertime. The house was the girlhood home of Sarah Meyers before her marriage to William Nathanial Sweet.
Members of the Boalsburg Conservancy wanted to establish a museum in Boalsburg. In 1983 the Sarah Sweet house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Aikens who presented the property to the newly formed Museum Association as a gift. The Aikens required that a trust fund of $25,000 be raised by the Museum Association, half of it prior to the purchase of the property, and that it be held in escrow with only proceeds from it being used for operating expenses. The fund was established on schedule with the help of residents in town.
Transfer of deed for the property was accomplished in November of 1983. There is currently no mortgage on the property and loans by residents were gradually paid off. Funds and volunteers are needed to continue to restore and maintain the facilities.
The property of the Sarah Sweet House, currently the site of the Boalsburg Heritage Museum includes the house itself along with the Light House, the 2008 rebuild of the Bank Barn, and the Summer Kitchen.
Victorian furniture and musical instruments which include:
- Child’s rocker – found in the house. Belonged to Sara Meyers Sweet and her two sisters, Virginia and Naomi, who grew up in this house in the late 1800’s.
- Antique parlor pump organ – given by the family of Dr. Richard Ishler who grew up in Boalsburg.
- Nineteenth century parlor organ – belonged to Felix Dale of Houserville and donated by Nancy Lee Stover, the daughter of Marvin and Catherine Lee.
Before modern kitchens, rural families had separate cooking facilities for processing and preserving home-grown foods, as well as other household chores. The house did not contain a kitchen “room” as we know it, but only a hearth and sometimes a bake oven. The kitchen—later known as a summer kitchen—was located in a detached rectangular building. The process of preparing, canning, and preserving produce created a great deal of heat, and required dedicated space for the efficient production of canned goods, pickling, candle and soap making, laundry washing, sausage grinding, salting and smoking meats, and other household needs. A separate outside building not only kept a house cooler in the summer, but lessened the chance of potential house fires.
The designation “summer kitchen” and its typical architecture seem to be derived largely from the Pennsylvania German culture. Traditionally the summer kitchen was a one or two-story building made from brick, stone, logs or frame. Our Museum summer kitchen was constructed in the early 19th century of wood-frame German siding. The outbuilding is gabled, and contains three windows for lighting, an open hearth with a wood lintel, and a beehive oven that extends into a smokehouse for curing meats. A large saw blade can be drawn out of the exhaust to allow smoke to permeate the room, and wrought iron hooks are still attached to the smoky wood-paneled walls where once hams and sausages hung.
Iron pots hung from a lug pole over the fire for cooking, and Dutch ovens were placed directly on the coals with additional coals to cover the concave lid. Temperature control was achieved by raising or lowering the pots on a chain, or adding hot coals to the Dutch oven lid. Three-legged iron pots could also be placed directly on the hearth floor.
The Museum’s beehive oven is larger than most and may have been used for baking by several farms. Wood used for fuel in the oven must be dried and chosen carefully for heat potential. Fruitwoods are preferable, but oak is good for providing medium heat and is slow burning. It takes more than three hours to preheat the oven! When the right temperature is achieved, foods that require high-temperature cooking are placed in first, followed by foods requiring longer times and lower temperatures. Temperature can be estimated by placing one’s hand in the oven: if you can only hold your hand in five seconds, you have a hot, quick oven; ten seconds would be a medium oven.
The skills needed to cook on a hearth are nearly lost, but if you have ever tasted a beehive oven-baked ginger cookie, or roasted meat over a fire, you will not soon forget the flavor. The demise of the cooking hearth and beehive oven was ushered in by cast iron stoves, then electric ovens. Because it was so labor intensive and grimy, summer kitchens ceased to be in use after the Great Depression.
Our Museum is fortunate that in 1995 Professor Dick Pencek and his American Studies students undertook the restoration of the summer kitchen. On special occasions throughout the year, Debra and Charles Nydegger, who for 20 years have been skilled beehive oven bakers, demonstrate hearth cooking and baking in the Museum’s Summer Kitchen. Please plan on visiting us for Boalsburg’s Hometown Christmas! Enjoy a warm, spicy cookie in our lovely summer kitchen redolent with wood smoke and holiday greens. Maybe you, too, will want to learn the art of cooking with the magic of fire!
The Boalsburg Country Store
Most every village had a country store where people bought the things that they needed that they didn’t make for themselves. The selection was often very limited. Items were usually on shelves behind counters and a clerk, who was often the owner, would get them, wrap the package and collect payment. Usually the store was a large room that was part of the house in which the owners lived and, in the days before central heating, had a large pot-bellied stove around which customers gathered to discuss topics of interest. Politics, hunting and fishing stories and general gossip were the usual fare and were the origin of many “cracker-barrel tales.” It was not unusual for the store to also be the post office. A corner of the store would be sectioned off for the collection and distribution of mail. There may have been individual mail slots or the clerk would hand it to you. There was a store in Oak Hall and in the mid-20th century a Clover Farm Store owned by Bob Hess and later Fred Dale was on the Diamond in Boalsburg.
The country store merchandise displayed at the Boalsburg Heritage Museum was donated by Ken and Margaret Tennis of Boalsburg and were the actual items from the store operated by Ken’s aunt and uncle, William and Helen Riley Tennis, at 137 West Main Street in Boalsburg from about 1926 until after World War II. They sold hardware, meat, groceries and furniture in the store, and in the rear they had a feed mill where grain was ground.
The building itself where the Tennis store was located on West Main has an interesting history. Augustus Wolf purchased the land in 1811 on which he constructed a log cabin that exists today, but has been covered with wood sheathing. It served as a tavern and inn serving many cattle drivers. In 1894, Sammey Bell, a tinsmith sold his wares there and in 1915, John F. Zackerman had his undertaking and furniture business there.
Sitting adjacent to the Sweet House on a 50 by 80- foot lot along Loop Road was the original bank barn which burned in the late 1960s leaving only the stone foundation walls. It had been the site of a barn which had been part of the property and was the entrance to town at that time. In the summer of 1984, this lot became available. William Sweet had passed away and his three daughters sold the property to the Museum for $5,000.
The Board of Directors under the leadership of Earl Kessler, etc, organized a master plan for the site to rebuild the barn on the stone foundation and make it a functioning part of the museum, coupled with improvement of the infrastructure to provide a concrete sidewalk and curbs to enhance safety. In 2008, the goal was reached.
Today, a new barn sits on the original site of the former bank barn. The new bank barn was built in 2008 with funds raised by the Boalsburg Heritage Museum Association. The new bank barn is a handmade 35 by 56-foot bank barn constructed from native woods. The stones of the old foundation have been saved for later use. The new bank barn currently exhibits vintage tractors, horse-drawn carriages and sleighs, and other transportation and antique farming tools.
(aka Electrical Plant)
For most people, the term “Light House” connotes a towering beacon along a shore – so what is it doing in the middle of Pennsylvania? That’s the name given to the building housing the Boalsburg Electric Company that supplied electric light to the streets and houses of Boalsburg from 1914 to 1930. Most of the same men who had started the Boalsburg Water Company a few years earlier – T.D. Boal, H.C. Rothrock, W.H. Stuart, William Myers, and Dr. L.E. Kidder – believed that water from Galbraith Gap could be used to generate electricity. They signed an agreement with Harris Township to supply lights to the streets for $175 per annum for a period of three years. Light was to be supplied starting a half hour before sunset on clear days and one hour before sunset on cloudy days, and continued until sunrise on clear days and a half hour after sunrise on cloudy days.
A pipeline was laid and the “Light House” built on land donated by William Myers. A generator was purchased from Westinghouse Company of Pittsburgh and installed. Water turned a turbine in the basement and belts coming through openings in the floor turned the generator. Lines were strung from telephone poles at first, but later a contract was made with Mr. Walker Slurtt for the setting and furnishing of poles for $3.45 per pole.
Eventually there was a demand for electricity in the homes and it was provided first on Mondays to accommodate washing, and later also on Tuesday for ironing at a charge of twenty-five cents per month for individual use of each iron and washer. Apparently, homeowners could have electricity run into their homes on a trial basis because there is record of Mr. Austin Dale who lived at 229 West Main Street, having light in his home for ten days and if he was not satisfied it would be removed at no cost. Meters began to be used in 1921, but those without meters were to be charged a minimum of $1 per month.
Finally on January 30, 1930, the Boalsburg Electric Company was sold to West Penn Power Company for $19,750. The Light House became part of a dwelling on Loop Road, but in 2000, through efforts by the Sweet Family and Harris Township, it was returned to its original location.
The One Room School
Boalsburg area had six one-room schools in the 1800s. They were in Shingletown, Oak Hall, Walnut Grove, Branch Road, and the small, white frame schoolhouse on Main Street in Boalsburg. On display in the Museum are items from these schools such as children’s school desks, the teacher’s desk and table, pictures of United States presidents, and a 48-star U.S. flag.
The Boalsburg Blacksmith Shop is located at the SE corner of the old Carriage Works building (the building that now houses the Harris Township offices at 224 E. Main St.). It is a fine example of a 19thcentury Pennsylvania blacksmith shop, complete with original tools, Swedish anvil, working forge & bellows wheel. It was in continuous operation for over a century. The first blacksmiths in the Boalsburg shop made the wheels and iron parts for the wagons, buggies & coaches that were made in the Carriage Works, which began operation around 1846. In the 1850s the Carriage works employed two coachmakers, an apprentice coachmaker, and a blacksmith. By the 1860 census, there are eight employees listed, including a blacksmith’s apprentice. The last blacksmith, Al Gingrich, began as a blacksmith’s apprentice in 1895 at the age of 14. When he was 25, Al became co-owner of the Carriage Works, and in 1924 he became the sole owner. As coaches gave way to automobiles, Al began to convert the carriage works into a woodworking shop for his furniture making business, but he still worked the forge, making hand-made hinges and latches for his furniture, as well as doing automobile repair work. When Al retired in the mid-1950’s he closed the doors of his shop, leaving everything much the same as it had been on his first day of work in 1895.
Today the Blacksmith shop is open for tour groups upon request, and on Memorial Day when local area school students have the opportunity to try their hand at being a blacksmith’s apprentice, alongside professional blacksmiths John Wood and Eric Johnson. During the live blacksmithing demonstrations on Memorial Day, the apprentices make items (hearth cooking utensils, door latches, etc.) that become part of the permanent collection at the Boalsburg Heritage Museum. To arrange a tour of the shop, and learn about upcoming hands-on blacksmithing workshops, such as being a blacksmith’s apprentice on Memorial Day, or joining the Friends of the Blacksmith Shop Committee, contact Paula Ralph, firstname.lastname@example.org.