Mission Statement:

The American Folklife Institute, a non-profit organization, located in Historic Kutztown, Berks County inside of Valentine Stoll's 1804 Federal Townhouse was one of several organizations inspired by Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker’s Folklife Scholarship (pictured left). We salute the academic recognition granted to this American scholar in an archived feature article.

A research Institute dedicated to archiving and understanding folklife practices in the Greater Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania's "Dutch Country," and beyond, American Folklife and its research center recognize the major role played by ethnic and religious groups of the Pennsylvania Dutch in developing American Civilization.

"Less we forget, the viable folk cultures that constitute the sum total of American civilization, we cannot move forward knowing from whence we came," Alfred L. Shoemaker and his two colleagues: Dr. Don Yoder and Dr. J. William Frey at Franklin and Marshall College thereby began an incredible journal of the ethnic American spirit, titled:  The Pennsylvania Dutchman (later, Pennsylvania Folklife), which we can all share in and live anew.

Among the many highlights of the historic Oley Valley is the American Revolutionary cannon that is our nation's reminder of Patriot sons of local families who lost their lives fighting for freedom during the 1776 American Revolution. This iconic historical artifact is on the front lawn of Mrs. Elmer Mast Petersheim who recently passed away at age 94. The cannon was a landmark that overlooked Kauffman Road, where the Kauffman-Petersheim farm was operated by she and her husband for many years, former farmers of the Royersford, Montgomery County area. The Kauffman family brought this Revolutionary war cannon to the Oley Valley from a previous farm site where it had been discovered it in 1904, nearer to Philadelphia in Chester County, when the British occupied the port city in 1777.

(Upper Right) Irish immigrants migrated to the Oley Hills in the post American Revolutionary War period and built their fieldstone homes in the early 19th Century.  The most obvious Irish immigrant family who settled in the Fredericksville area and became assimilated into the Pennsylvania Dutch culture was Jonas Day, Sr.  Above is one of his descendants, Jonas Day, called “Uni” by his Dutch friends, continuing in America’s melting pot theme and William Penn’s vision of religious freedom.

Perhaps the finest example of American acculturation among the Pennsylvania Dutch was borrowing English architectural ideals and can be seen in the elegant pedimented doorway of the 1805 Nicholas Hunter Mansion (center).

(Left) Betsy Keim (d.1911) was one of five spinster sisters who lived on the 1753 Jacob Keim plantation near Lobachsville, where after her death, villagers often talked of ghosts and paranormal experiences attributed to her family. As Rhineland people are often predisposed to follow ancient practices popular in the German homeland, the Jacob Keim (1724-1799) branch of this family settled near Lobachsville in the backwoods of America. In Colonial times, surrounded by many other Rhineland immigrants, their peculiar folkways were not noticed until the following century.

New Year’s wishes by sleigh at the Amandus Moyer farm at Lobachsville, circa 1910. Perhaps the man on the left had a little too much to drink.  Photo by turn of the century photographer, Amandus Moyer. Photo Courtesy Grace Shade.

Living in the wilderness near Ruppert’s Corner as the Day’s and other rural hill folk, survival was in part due to the wisdom of Americana folkways passed down to by mother and father who taught their children, neighbors, and other PA Dutch.  Without modern medicine in those early days: herbs, crafts, and yes, religious folkways were responsible for survival in Berks County, especially those who lived deep in the wilderness. Photo by Amandus Moyer, of his father, Jacob.
How Can We Help You?
Following in the footsteps of Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, Pennsylvania’s foremost Folklorist, the American Folklife Institute continues to research and write on native folklife of the Pennsylvania Dutch into present day.  Many of our staff writers, researchers, curators, and photographers partake in related outside projects of museum work, digital imaging, lecturing, freelance writing, editing, research opportunities, and consultation.​​

For inquiries contact:
Richard H. Shaner, Founder                                                       Richard L.T. Orth, Interim Director       
[email protected]                                            General Inbox


Academic folklife studies emerged worldwide in the wake of post WWII modern lifestyle created when natural fibers were replaced by new synthetic materials and mass produced commercial foods changed man’s traditional way of living. Folk cultures like Pennsylvania’s Amish and Old Order Mennonites had already surmised that some manmade innovations were to be avoided and were cautious of allowing social and material change in their religious Orders.

During the modern age of the 1950’s when nations embraced the scientific atomic age, people fearing to be considered backward, ridiculed old fashion living practices. Some folklorists announced folkways to be extinct among their people. However, national attention drawn to the persistent folkways of our state’s horse and buggy Dutch proved the opposite. As the mass media informed the public about contemporary Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and age old ethnic folk practices, it was apparent that the bilingual Pennsylvania Dutch were still practicing their folklife within the confines of modern society!

Sociologically speaking, the new folklife studies movement is a more broader and sophisticated approach to researching human behavior. Striving to understand and record the depth of a nation’s cultural complexity became the goal of earnest folklife researchers like Dr. Shoemaker as opposed to the classical folklorists of the past.

THE AMERICANISM: PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH The term Pennsylvania Dutch to indicate the broad group of immigrants who came to America in the pre-American Revolutionary period from Europe's Rhine Valley is preferred over the term Pennsylvania German or German-American, the latter of which are not Americanisms. Pennsylvania Dutch is the original term used by English Colonists referring to the Rhenish German Civilization of native Palantines: including French Huguenots, Swiss Amish and Mennonites, Holland Dutch Mennonites, and Moravians, who collectively, shared the German language together, in large numbers, seeking farms in Pennsylvania and almost outnumbering Penn's English immigrants. This early American cultural melting pot mainly in southeastern Pennsylvania was made up of naturalized Rhineland citizens who swore allegiance to the United States assimilating with English laws and standards, but their everyday work habits and living customs, they followed in their native Rhineland  fashion,  continuing German dialect in America, which soon became known as "Pennsylvania Dutch" rather than formal High German.

Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, founder of the Folklife Movement preferred the native American term, Pennsylvania Dutch, rather than the misnomer term, Pennsylvania German. An ethnologist, Shoemaker believed that the older term, Pennsylvania Dutch, was more precise in describing these people with pre-Revolutionary Rhineland roots rather than the latter terms that were not as accurate, especially because most of the Amish and Mennonites were not German but Swiss. Only because of varying editorial policies in America, the American Folklife Institute will use both terms.

The American Folklife Journal is dedicated to the field research of the United States folk culture, architecture, and antiques recorded in the greater Delaware Valley.  Our area of expertise is Americana achievements and agrarian life, past and present.

Below: The 1809 Knabb-Bieber, last operated by Ephraim Bieber, a skilled miller, is perhaps the most fashionably built gristmill of the early American period. The original water-powered mill wheel was replaced with a more modern source to turn the mill stones.