“May 1, 1915 – Aunties birthday. I do up work.
Clean windows in kitchen then at p.m. boy and I go to
Root’s Nursery for his tree. We get evergreens and
magnolias. So cool we enjoy our kitchen.”
This entry in Emma Herr’s diary provides a glimpse into everyday life on an early 19th century Lancaster County Farm.
“Boy,” explained Eileen Bender Johns, volunteer coordinator and Director of Collections of the Amos Herr House Foundation, was Emma’s nickname for her son Amos, used to distinguish him from her husband of the same name.
The Herr Family Homestead Historic Site, 1756 Nissley Road Landisville, was home to three generations of the Herr family who farmed 92 acres in the traditional Lancaster County crop rotation of hay, wheat, corn, and tobacco. The 12-room Pennsylvania German brick farmhouse, built in three sections over time, has six bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, sewing room, and three parlors.
“May 4, 1915 sweep and dust – mend a few pieces.
eve we plant our evergreens, magnolia,
and Judas Trees Warren Longs baby died.”
The same magnolia tree mentioned in Emma’s diary is, on April 18, 2003, in full, glorious bloom just outside the window of the formal parlor, a tangible bridge’ between past and present.
Henry and Elizabeth Breneman Herr built the homestead in 1852. Henry was killed on the railroad’ in 1862 at the age of 48. Amos Breneman Herr, one of the couple’s six children, stayed on the farm. When he married in 1902, he brought his wife Emma Rohrer to live there. Elizabeth remained in the home until her death in 1913. She was 91.
Living with extended family members is rarely without difficulty. According to Johns, “as soon as the matriarch died, the next woman in line would make changes to suit her.”
Emma’s diaries began in 1890 and continued for 40 years. For many years, she purchased her diaries each year on trips to Philadelphia at the John Wanamaker & Company. In them, she “mostly recorded the weather and chores of the day,” Johns said. Unfortunately, Emma burned the earlier diaries. It was through Emma’s eyes that history is left with this precious account of everyday life in Lancaster County a century ago.
“May 14 – Man finishes our screen doors.
I bake fresh raspberry pie
and custard and peppernuts.
Get eggs ready. Men make wine.
Finish at railroad.”
Emma, raised in a well-to-do local family, brought family heirlooms to the house. After Elizabeth’s death in 1913, Emma and Amos made major renovations that reflected both the practical nature of life of a farm and the family’s growing affluence.
Structural changes to the house indicate that the front stairwell was removed. A new stairwell was added in the side parlor, which Emma called “the reception room.”
Pocket doors were installed to separate the reception room from the dining room and the family parlor. Guests entered through the side door to the reception room. If no one chanced to be at home, a visitor could leave a calling card.
“May 30 – It turns out to be another rainy Sunday.
I do up work and late breakfast. No dinner. A.M.
I go through drawers and papers.
I don’t get done. Day only too short.”
Entries often ended with the regretful phrase, “day only too short,” a distinctive reminder that women’s work “was never done.” From the diaries, we learn that Emma cleaned the fire corner and blackened the stove twice a year. She cleaned the house from top to bottom every spring. She whitewashed the walls, washed and ironed all the curtains, and beat the rugs by hand.
Every spring and fall she scrubbed the attic floor on her hands and knees, and twice a year, aired the heirloom’ linens stored in chests.
Everyday life took place primarily in the kitchen. Except on special occasions, the family ate meals in the kitchen.
To minimize tracking in dirt from the barn, family members used the kitchen entrance. Many household tasks (canning, cooking, and washing and ironing) also would have taken place in the kitchen
A farmer’s early to bed, early to rise’ schedule suggests that use of the family parlor may have been reserved for what Johns termed “quiet recreation” on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The parlor table displays some of the family’s customary activities: a family Bible, a game of dominoes, a stereograph and slides. Music on the Edison Victrola may have played in the background.
“May 31 – Decoration Day. I do up my work
and I sweep “garret” (attic). We dress and
take 1 p.m. car (trolley) from Mount Joy.
See parade. Call on Fannie Mumma at Salunga.
Call on Mrs. Aaron Hershey and see her new houses”
The younger Amos and his wife Ethel Stauffer were the third generation to live in the house. The elder Amos died in 1926, sixteen years before the young couple married in 1942 when young Amos was 35. Emma remained in the house until her death in 1956.
Ethel added her own personal touch to the home by installing a large picture window in the dining room. She also added a fireplace and replaced open shelves in the kitchen with modern cabinets.
Ethel and Amos had no children, but were active in the community and in their church, the Landisville Church of God. Amos attended Penn State University and graduated from Franklin and Marshall College. He taught social studies and physical education at Landisville High School for 33 years.
He coached baseball and basketball and established soccer as a major sport in the school’s athletic program. In addition to teaching, Amos continued to farm, served as a township supervisor, and taught Sunday school for 51 years.
In 1958, Amos took a sabbatical so the couple could travel. During the next several years, he and Ethel traveled abroad 14 times. The couple shared slides of their travels with many community groups.
Although Herr was a seasoned history teacher who kept logs of his many travels, he unfortunately wrote nothing about himself or the property, Johns said.
“He left his home to the township and his money to the church, with no instructions for what the township was to do with the property.”
It is only through his generosity that this historical place will be available to future generations, she said.
The Amos Herr Foundation’s Board of Directors hopes someday to publish a history based on the diaries.
For more about Emma see the Herr Family Genealogy