WYOMISSING, Pa. — The root of every Stoltzfus in Lancaster County lies in a tiny stone, wood-shingled house tucked between Route 222 and the Tulpehocken Creek in Wyomissing.
The Nicholas Stoltzfus House, built in the early 1770s in Berks County, was home to the progenitor of all local Stoltzfuses.
Now, history buffs and family descendants are trying to preserve and restore the house at 1700 Tulpehocken Road, as well as complete a neighboring barn for use as a museum and caretaker's residence.
"I don't think we're going to do much more with the house. We're just going to maintain it," says Paul Kurtz, a member of the Nicholas Stoltzfus House Committee.
"But we'd like to finish the barn," he adds. "We're waiting for funds."
Although he doesn't have a budget for the remaining work, Kurtz — who notes that his Stoltzfus score is four, meaning he had four great-grandparents with the surname — says "$60,000 to $80,000 would make a big dent."
Sandy Kauffman — also on the committee, although she had to marry into the Stoltzfus line — says they're trying to raise money through events on the 1 3/4-acre site, such as an annual spring auction and a harvest festival in the works for next fall.
There have also been family reunions, Amish youth group meetings and other activities there. Kauffman says they hope to do more, including educational programs, once the barn is completed.
Kauffman was the first person to raise a ruckus once she learned the house was destined for demolition back around 1990.
The house stood in the path of a possible route for the Route 222 bypass — fortunately, she says, the highway took a slightly different course a stone's throw to the south.
She collected signatures on a petition to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, eventually stirring up enough interest to preserve the site.
"At least I made people aware that it was here — and it was historic," she says.
Kauffman still remembers her first look at the place.
"It was pretty rundown. It was boarded up and overgrown," she says. "Everything was peeling — it looked really bad."
"It didn't look like there was much hope. But there was."
Once owned by the Textile Machine Co. and used to shelter workers at Tulpehocken Farms, the old stone house became a private residence again in the mid-20th century. According to Kurtz, it was last occupied in 1988 by the Schlegel family.
Despite its fairly recent use, he says, the house was not overly modernized. "They did have running water and electricity," he says. "But they used an outhouse."
Since then, committee members — putting to good use a fair amount of volunteer labor and donated materials — have restored windows and walls, stripped floors to the original wood, cleared away some plaster, repointed the stonework and slapped on some paint.
They found evidence in the basement that there was once a central fireplace in the house, as well as indications that the second floor was added some time after the home's construction — probably in the mid-1800s, Kurtz says, based on tax records of the property.
They're working with a Penn State archaeology student, who's cataloguing artifacts unearthed at the site and planning a more aggressive dig.
"We've found some evidence of a summer kitchen out by the well," Kauffman says.
The house is sparsely decorated with period furniture and accessories, although nothing specific to the Stoltzfus family has yet been found.
They're working on an application for the house's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The barn, Kurtz says, will showcase the Stoltzfus and Anabaptist stories.
"We'd like to have this place not just represent Nicholas and his family, but the Amish people and their heritage," he says.
"If a group of young Amish people comes here, we'd like them to be able to go into the barn and, within 10 minutes time, get an idea of their history."
Kurtz happily supplied stacks of historical data on Nicholas Stoltzfus, his house and 241 years of family growth.
Turns out, if it wasn't for a willful horse, there might not be Stoltzfuses in Lancaster County today.
But let's start at the beginning.
Nicholas Stoltzfus, born in 1719 in Zweibruken, Germany, broke with the Lutherans and joined the Amish faith in order to marry his sweetheart, whose name is lost to history but whom he met working on a Zweibruken farm.
Because the Amish faith wasn't readily accepted by the German government at the time, his marriage was given an official seal of approval on the condition he leave the country. He did, although he waited until 1766 before bidding farewell to his homeland and taking the ship Polly from Rotterdam to Philadelphia, via Cowes, England.
He settled in Leacock Township, Lancaster County, before moving in 1771 to a 101-acre farm near Reading, close to the Schuylkill River and a settlement of some 70 Amish families. Sometime after his death in 1774, his son Christian returned to Lancaster County, where he became a bishop of the Amish church.
According to family legend, Christian and his family decided to return to Reading but had second thoughts on the road. Leaving it to providence, Christian dropped his reins — and his horse turned back to Lancaster County.
Christian later established Myers Cemetery at the site — along Eby Road, near what's now Route 772 — where a horse determined his future. He and members of his family are buried there.
Meanwhile, his family grew and the name spread.
The Stoltzfus clan has proliferated here in the centuries since Nicholas's death, Kurtz says. Some estimate he has a million or so descendants who carry variations of his surname or Smoker/Smucker, via his daughter Barbara Schmucker.
According to Kurtz, his roots are linked to 98 percent of Lancaster County's current Amish population.
Information about the house and its history is online at nicholasstoltzfus.com.
Anyone interested in seeing the house can make an appointment with Kurtz via the website.
Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , http://lancasteronline.com