Notes from Field Guide (full cite here)


p064: Keim Homestead

Maintained as a resource for study of the region's vernacular architecture by the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County, the Keim Homestead presents intact examples of several building types. The main house, built 1753, ranks as an important, relatively intact stone-built example of the Flurkuchenhaus type. Retaining its floorplan of Kuche, Stube, and Kammer, the house also contains some impressive original door hardware, arrangements for jamb stoves on both first and second floors, and partitions constructed of studs rabbeted to hold hand-split staves, a method similar to that more commonly seen in the fabrication of early cellar ceiling insulation, though here arranged vertically instead of horizontally. The roof structure consists of through purlins supported by braced queen posts and carrying common rafters. A particularly interesting element is a surviving, and presumably original, balcony door of board-and-batten construction, made with two broad vertical boards that were carved to resemble a chevron-style door of the type popular in German-speaking Europe in the eighteenth century. Apparently, achieving the right look was of paramount importance, at least in this instance. The house was extended with an addition in the nineteenth century. A freestanding, barrel-vaulted root cellar is situated just to the east.

Next to the house is an outstanding early example of the ancillary house building type, in this case built to house workshop space on the first floor for use by a turner. This building is also thought to have been built in 1753 or within a few years afterward. The workshop space, lit by oversized windows, contains evidence that a pole lathe apparatus was once present. Evidence also exists for a partition that once separated a kitchen from the workshop. An aperture for a jamb stove pierces the side of the ancillary first-floor kitchen hearth instead of its back wall, presumably to minimize loss of workspace and danger of accidental burning. The roof is still covered with red clay tiles, its heavily built structure based again on sturdy through purlins that are supported by a braced queen post on one side and the shoulder of the center chimney on the other. The outer edges of the rafter feet and of their supporting sleepers protrude through the stone wall of the building, a detail occasionally seen in early stone-masonry Pennsylvania German buildings. The cellar had also been partitioned into two spaces, both served by a spring trough, the inner one insulated and whitewashed for dairying use. The outer cellar room contained a third walk-in hearth for the early homestead complex. At first-floor level, this hearth's chimney may have originally been used to facilitate the drying of wood for use by the turner, and was apparently later used for smokehouse purposes. A privy of unknown date stands just south of the ancillary.

Among the resources here is a rather enigmatic and seemingly one-of-a-kind mid-nineteenth-century barn that invites (while threatening to defy) any effort at interpretation. Built with a frame upper story over a stone raised basement, the barn, which is not an embanked structure, boasts forebays on both longitudinal walls instead of just one. The basement area housed animals, while the upper floor contains workshop space, fitted with a chimney for a stove, and what appear to be a threshing floor and storage space. There is also a loft over the upper floor. This seeming architectural non sequitur is further enriched on one gable end with a hoist hood and three vertically aligned doorways reminiscent of a grain mill of the same period.

Not original to the Keim Homestead is a massive eighteenth-century cider press, although these great implements were common in the Oley Valley as in all settlements throughout the region. It and its frame shed were moved here by the Historic Preservation Trust from a farmstead in central Berks County, and set atop the stone walls of the Keim Homestead's former pig stable.

In 1753, this land was conveyed to Jacob Keim, a turner, by Johannes Hoch, father of Jacob's bride Magdalena. It is attributed, probably based on records of Oley's Moravian mission establishment, that the house was built in the same year by a team of workers from outside the valley. The same men were said to have erected two other large stone houses in the vicinity during 1753-1754. Jacob Keim's will (made 1789, proved 1799) bequeathed to Magdalena the right to possess the "lower room chamber" of the house, with privilege of the stove room and the kitchen, plus "the bed and bedstead with curtains we sleep in, the cloth dresser standing in my dwelling room, her spinning wheel and a chair and so much of the kitchen furniture as she shall want," along with the cow of her choice. The will divided "the corn in the ground, the barn, and the garret," giving three-fifths to son John, who was to inherit the homestead, and one-fifth each to daughters Esther and Barbara.

The homestead remained in the Keim family until 1918, held by five successive Keim men until their respective deaths (Jacob, circa 1799, John, circa 1841, Jacob, circa 1863, John M., circa 1897, and Isaac W., circa 1918).

--Philip E. Pendleton

Berks County Deeds and Wills


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