Thursday, February 16, 2012

Visit to Wernersville

Our spontaneous road trip to the Willa Cather Seminar at Smith College that led to the unplanned side trips to Rossville and Hoopeston (See my January 20 & 27, 2012 posts) resulted in other impromptu visits to authors' homes and historical sites, and when we wandered off the planned route as far as Gettysburg, I just had to go to Wernersville. Having made none of the research preparations I should have, I convinced my husband that it was nevertheless an opportunity we should not miss. As it turned out, we crowded more into our brief visit to Wernersville than I could have imagined if I had planned the visit for weeks.

Initially, I just wanted to see the land, to experience the mountain ranges that embrace the Lebanon Valley--the Blue Mountains to the north, the South Mountains to the South, and Mount Penn and Neversink in the distance to the east. I wanted to see the hillside farms of Isaac's youth, so different from the flat, sandy loam prairie where he did his farming. As I stepped out of the car to take a photograph of one of those Berks County, Pennsylvania farms, I experienced a moment when I almost felt that Isaac was arranging the experience, for the air was filled with more bird songs than I ever remember hearing at once. It was a twirping, twilling, whistling cacophony. Isaac loved birds, noting in his journal when favorite birds arrived back after winter, scattering grain for what he called his "pet flock of quail," posting his farm to protect the prairie chickens and quail from hunters before there were protective laws, pausing to watch the seasonal passage of geese over head. I stood there, listening to the chorus of bird songs and understood how quiet the prairie must have seemed to Isaac in comparison.

We had arrived in Reading, east of Wernersville, in late afternoon, and after checking into the hotel we had driven the few miles to Wernersville. About all we had time to do that evening was make sure we knew the way to Wernersville and how to find the cemetery at Hain's Church. That evening, as the sun went down, we found Isaac's twin brother's family gravesite in the "new" cemetery across the road from the church, with Henry, his wife, Eva, and their son, Charles, buried there, and Eva's parents buried nearby.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Red Plate Diner and met Reading Principal Joe Torchia, who was having breakfast with his daughter in the booth next to ours. When he overheard us discussing whether to order scrapple, he introduced himself and praised the local pork specialty so enthusiastically that we had to try it. I fear scrapple may be an acquired taste, but meeting him and his daughter in the pleasant surroundings of the diner was a great start to our day.

Despite a light rainfall, we wandered the old cemetery, located at St. John's (Hain's) Church, finding William Werner's grave and many other Werner aunts, uncles, and cousins buried there. The history of this church is too rich and wonderful for me to share in this post, but next week I will tell you about our unexpected discoveries when we stepped inside the church.

Part of my eagerness to visit Wernersville was to see the town William Werner had founded, although I realized that little would remain from that long ago. The Heidelburg Historical Society is housed in one of the oldest buildings remaining in Wernersville, originally a tavern, but the Society building was closed. We drove the streets that William had named with family names--William, Rebecca, Werner, Beckley and Reber. The old depot is in the process of being restored, but it was built after the original depot upon which the name "Wernersville" first appeared, negotiated by William as part of his consideration for allowing the railroad tracks to cross his farm. (To see pictures of the 1855 survey map and William Werner's grave, click on the 2011 blog archives for my November 4, 2011 post, "Isaac's Birth & Childhood.")

Having seen the popularity of the local Twisty Freeze, crowded with people of all ages enjoying the summer evening as we drove through town the previous night, we were tempted into taking a late afternoon break to sample their ice cream before ending our visit to Wernersville. We sat at one of their outdoor tables and reflected on how much we had learned during the past few hours. As former Michigan governor John Engler said when he entered the 2008 presidential race: "Sometimes it is better to begin the journey, to get underway, than it is to sit back and wait until such time that you're convinced that all conditions are perfect and that there'll be no surprises along the route." Our decision to visit Wernersville seems to have worked out better for me than his presidential race did, but I like his encouragement of daring the impromptu. In next week's post I will tell you just how wonderful the surprises that we found at St. John's (Hain's) Church turned out to be.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

I misread the first sentence of your first blog post and will fix my mistake. Thought you were a distant cousin but on reading your comment and rereading the first blog post I now understand. Some days I am not a bright as other days, apparently.