A Visit To The Hans Herr House
By Alexandra Rosenberg, WPAMC Class of 2019
One of my favorite aspects about classes at Winterthur is their hands-on nature. However, what I love even more is actually getting out of the classroom and museum in order visit other historic sites. The American Interiors class I am taking this semester enabled me to do just that, by requiring all of the enrolled students to visit a site other than Winterthur that has a furnished interior.
As a result, on a rainy Monday morning I decided to make the drive from Delaware to Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania to visit the Hans Herr House and view its interior. Built in 1719 by Christian Herr, this stone house was continuously occupied through the 19th century, but remained primarily unoccupied during the 20th. Although the first-floor window and the entrance to the house were altered in the early 19th century, it’s lack of occupation during the 20th century spared it from being modernized to the point that its 18th century roots were unrecognizable.
Walking through the front doors, my eye was immediately drawn to a massive stove at the center of the house and a long table with pieces of typical 17th century cooking and kitchen material culture. This was surprising for me, as I was used to touring and working in 18th century English-style houses, not 18th century German-style houses. I was excited to see something new! Reading about different floor plans only takes your understanding of a space so far; actually being in a space enhances your perspective greatly. It was immediately obvious that unlike English-style houses, the stove room was the main room in a Pennsylvania German house.
Not long after the background history was given by the tour guide, he stated that although the house was built in 1719, the furnishings of the house date to the Inventory of Christian Herr made before his death in 1750. He elaborated further, by stating that while all of the furnishings are accurate to the period, or are reproductions of period objects, that nothing actually belonged to Christian Herr except for a butter churn in the next room.
This announcement didn’t diminish my enthusiasm for the site at all. In fact, it made me realize how important setting and place really are to understanding material culture. The Herr House itself remains primarily original. Although the objects in the house were not the Herr’s, seeing the actual space lived in by the Herr’s coupled with period objects can help a 21st century visitor visualize the patterns of movement its 18th century occupants would have made. This was especially important for a visitor like me, who is more familiar with the English-style houses of Virginia than the German-style houses of Pennsylvania. Although Winterthur has its share of Pennsylvania German objects that I love to take closer looks at, to me it lacks the sense and significance of place that I felt standing in the Hans Herr House.
Overall, my tour of the Hans Herr House was wonderful! Coupled with my drive through the narrow roads of Lancaster Country and the agricultural landscape surrounding me, I really felt that the Hans Herr House’s slightly-altered state and surrounding landscape added to the experience of understanding 18th century Pennsylvania German daily life.