Historical Markers
Fisher House Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Fisher House

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
PA 662, 1.4 miles N of Yellow House

Dedication Date:
August 27, 1948

Behind the Marker

Map of barns in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Map of Barns.
No symbol of rural Pennsylvania is more typical or better known than the "Pennsylvania barn." Spreading from Pennsylvania to states across the nation it was a well-designed, multipurpose storage facility and workspace that for generations was at the heart of the farm.
The Henry Fisher House, Oley, PA, 2013.

The Fisher farm complex in Berks County well illustrates the long history of Pennsylvania barns and outbuildings - and they in turn tell much about the history of Pennsylvania agriculture. The Pennsylvania barn was just becoming popular when Henry Fisher erected his farm's classic Pennsylvania barn in 1795.

Although it had antecedents that reached back to the Swiss Pratigau region from which many Pennsylvania German immigrants hailed, the "Pennsylvania barn" is a uniquely home-grown
Pennsylvania Barn
Pennsylvania barn
creation, and a marvel of functional engineering. The most prominent among its distinguishing features is the projecting "forebay," or "overshoot," which projects over the lower-level doors.

The barn was always placed with one long side built into a bank so that wagons on the bankside could enter the upper floors laden with hay, straw, or grain. The upper story was divided into mows (places where hay and grain are stored) markerthreshing floors, and sometimes a granary. From there workers taking advantage of gravity-power could toss feed, hay, and straw down through holes to stables on the lower floor where cattle, horses, and sheep could stay warm. To permit the circulation of fresh air and confine animal droppings for efficient collection, the forebay side usually faced south and opened onto a walled yard.

Fisher's and other Pennsylvania barns reflect the heady atmosphere of Pennsylvania farming in the early Republic, a time when prices were high and domestic markets were developing rapidly. Unlike their European counterparts, the average Commonwealth family could afford to eat meat often. Free wage laborers were replacing indentured servants, and the Pennsylvania barn made the most of a short labor supply by organizing work efficiently.

It also facilitated a diversified grain-and-livestock system in which farm families produced a variety of items. Farm families used grains, including wheat, rye, oats, barley, maize, for straw, animal feed, home consumption, and for sale. Hay filled the mows, fed the animals in winter, and could be sold to passing drovers or shared with tenants. Wool, dairy products, and meat, which they could consume or sell, added to the family's "competency."

Black and white image of Farmer and wife each holding horses by their reins. To the left is the white farmhouse with a porch and slate roof. The barn and outer building is behind the farmer. The outhouse is behind his wife.
Farm family in front of their barn, somewhere in Pennsylvania, circa 1890.
The American Civil War created a huge demand for the food products grown on Pennsylvania's farms. In 1862, John G. Fisher, Henry's grandson, enlarged the family homestead's barn, adding double threshing floors which probably accommodated storage of the growing number of farm implements, as well as room for machine threshing. Rebuilt with a wood frame rather than stone construction, it also included a new roof with simple, generic construction technology that show the declining influence of Germanic customs.

New outbuildings built in the 1800s also show the growing range of activities and still higher standard of living of the Fisher family. A pig stable appeared on the Fisher farm, strategically placed about 100 feet from the house. Pigs supplied the family–and likely neighbors, storekeepers, and markertenants too–with sausages, hams, bacons, scrapple, pig stomach, and other Pennsylvania German delicacies. A smokehouse located between the house and hog pen was a visible reminder of the pigs' ultimate destiny. A bakehouse also appeared.

These buildings testify to the ongoing importance of women's labor, since it was usually women and children who tended the hogs, did the baking, and helped out during butchering time.

Around 1900 the Fisher farm complex grew to include a woodshed, workshop, wagon house-corncrib, and small wagon shed, all of which reflect the rise of markerhorse-power mechanization and the growing importance of corn. The addition of a milkhouse and a poultry house by the mid 20th century show how fluid milk and poultry products overtook grain-and-livestock farming as key income generators on many Pennsylvania farms.

All together, this farm complex is an excellent example of a Pennsylvania German farmstead. Although no single building says "Pennsylvania German," the whole complex bears the stamp of more than two centuries of Pennsylvania Dutch life. marker Full Text Document Link
Back to Top