HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SITES OF INTEREST
By David Luz
Prior to European settlement, the Upper Perkiomen Valley (then known as the “Goschenhoppen”) was populated by North American people known as the Lenape. When European immigrants settled here, the Lenape had been gone for more than a generation. The name “Perkiomen” is said to be of Lenape derivation. Its meaning, though uncertain, may refer to the existence of cranberry bogs along the Perkiomen Valley watershed. The origin of the term “Goschenhoppen” is unknown as well.Some very old roads run through the Upper Perkiomen Valley. “The Great Road to Philadelphia” (known today as Route 29, Main Street and Gravel Pike) was laid out in 1735. One can still see the occasional marker that indicates “Miles to Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania, first as a colony, and then as a state, did not maintain the roads as the state government does today. They were maintained by those who lived near them or used them. Eventually, privately owned “turnpikes” evolved and tolls were sometimes charged.
The vast majority of the early settlers in the region were Germans who adhered to the Lutheran and German Reformed faiths. Other German settlers included Mennonites, Brethrens, Schwenkfelders and Roman Catholics. The German language was used almost exclusively; formal high German was used for religious observance and a German dialect for everyday speech. The dialect eventually evolved into what we know today as Pennsylvania Dutch (or German). The settlers were generally subsistence farmers or craftsmen who also farmed.
In addition to farming, the settlers of the 18th century soon discovered the potential of their plentiful local streams for operating mills. The earliest mills, established for cutting wood or grinding grain for flour, were known as saw mills and gristmills, respectively. Mills also were built along the waters for production of gunpowder (powder mills), linseed and other plant oils (oil mills), for mixing animal feeds (feed mills), and machine shops and forges. Local tradition states that more mills were in operation along the Perkiomen Creek at the end of the 18th century than on any other waterway in the state of Pennsylvania. The mills brought prosperity as reflected in growth and good-paying jobs. Inns along the turnpikes provided food and lodging to those transporting goods to and from the area’s markets.
The railroad set the stage for the
development of the cigar industry
here in the 1880s and 1890s.
The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad operated along the Schuylkill River as early as 1848. By 1868, the Perkiomen Railroad extended service from the Perkiomen Junction (where the Perkiomen Creek drains into the Schuylkill River near today's Oaks) to the Upper Perkiomen Valley. The freight and passenger stops included Perkiomenville, Green Lane, McLean’s Station (between Green Lane and Red Hill), Red Hill, Pennsburg, East Greenville, and Palm. Industries in the Valley still rely on the railroad for transportation of goods, but passenger service rapidly declined following World War II and ceased altogether in the 1960s.
Ice harvesting along the Perkiomen Creek and its tributaries was common for many years prior to the establishment of large harvesting facilities in the early 20th century. Several large insulated warehouses along the railroad and Perkiomen Creek stored ice before transporting to markets in Philadelphia. By the 1930s, various factors led to the decline of this robust industry. Very little evidence remains today of these once-thriving Valley businesses.
The railroad set the stage for the development of the cigar industry here in the 1880s and 1890s. Cigar manufacturing changed the community from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial one. These changes were reflected in an influx of workers from surrounding farms and cities, an increase in building, including homes and general and specialty stores, and the establishment of places of worship and clubs and organizations for the workers and their families. By 1910, the cigar manufacturers were among the largest employers in the Valley. Factories were established in every community. The semi-skilled, handmade cigar process appealed to the artisan and trade-oriented Pennsylvania German population, offering better-paying jobs as an attractive alternative to farming, until the industry in the region waned in the late 1920s.
For the remainder of the 20th century, some of these factory buildings were reused for weaving, clothing, and rug-making industries. Other buildings stood empty and were eventually razed. Population centers continued to grow, and with them small local businesses. Examples include automobile dealers and repair shops, bakeries, green grocers, dry-goods merchants, electric appliance and repair stores, and drug stores and pharmacies. Today the region continues to follow the path our ancestors forged toward prosperity, and community leaders are also guided by a unified vision for maintaining the area’s rural character while building a more diversified culture to be enjoyed by all.
Goschenhoppen Historians, Inc.
116 Gravel Pike, PO Box 476, Green Lane, PA 18054
215.234.8953 | www.goschenhoppen.org
Hereford Township Historical Society
3131 Seisholtzville Rd., PO Box 225, Hereford, PA 18056
1235 Water St., East Greenville, PA 18041
215.679.1388 | www.knoll.com/museum/index.jsp
Red Men’s Hall
PO Box 476, Green Lane, PA 18054
215.234.8953 | www.goschenhoppen.org/museums/red-mens-hall.html
Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center
105 Seminary St., Pennsburg, PA 18073
215.679.3103 | www.schwenkfelder.com
Stahl’s Pottery Preservation Society
6826 Corning Rd., Zionsville, PA 18092
610.965.5019 | www.stahlspottery.org