In the 1700s shipload after shipload of German immigrants landed in the colonial port of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Germans made up 40% of the southeastern Pennsylvania population by 1790.
These immigrants and their descendants created a distinct culture with folk traditions, decorative arts, and a language (Pennsylvania German) based upon their Germanic heritage. As Americans, they continued to use patterns from the homeland in erecting their buildings, in decorating their furniture, pottery, and family documents, and in practicing their folkways and religion.
Like the other American settlers, over 90% of the German immigrants became farmers. They toiled in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a region known as the “breadbasket of America”. Here, and especially in Lancaster County, farmers employed many of the most advanced agricultural techniques tilling some of America’s most fertile land.
Pennsylvania Germans labored in a variety of crafts and businesses, as clockmakers and clergymen, tavern keepers and tinsmiths, storekeepers and weavers. Farmers and craftspeople marketed their products with an interdependent economic system of farmsteads and craft shops, villages, cities, and overseas trade. Because of this interdependency, by the late 1800s, most Pennsylvania Germans spoke English as well as their German dialect.
George and Henry Landis came from such a heritage and were the founders of the Landis Valley Museum. Their German ancestors had settled in Lancaster County during the early 1700s. Recognizing the significance of their culture and its traditions, the brothers began to collect Pennsylvania German objects from the 1700s and 1800s. They built a collection of over 75,000 objects and established a small museum in the 1920s on the grounds of their Landis Valley homestead.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the Landis brothers’ museum in 1953. Over the years the museum has grown from a handful of buildings to an assemblage of many exhibit areas including structures original to Landis Valley, relocated early buildings, and new facilities. The museum includes exhibit buildings, a crossroads village, and adjoining farmsteads with historical breeds of animals and heirloom plants. The collections of buildings and artifacts, together with demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills, serve to interpret and preserve the past of Pennsylvania German rural life.
Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum is a nationally significant living history museum that collects, conserves, exhibits and interprets Pennsylvania German material culture and heritage between 1750-1940. This is accomplished through preservation and interpretation of the largest collection of Pennsylvania German artifacts in the country and through the presentation of authentic traditional farming, village and industrial life, skilled craft demonstrations, and historical animals and plants. The museum promotes education, research, programs, and events for the benefit and enjoyment of its visitors and the community.
What is the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum?
A visit to Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum, the largest Pennsylvania German museum in the country, provides the visitor with a wonderful overview of two brothers’ passion for collecting “things of the past.” In 1925, George and Henry Landis (at right) opened a Barn Museum – filled with thousands of everyday farm and household objects of their 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania German heritage. With the rapid advancement of 20th-century technology in all walks of life, these two brothers sought to preserve not only the tools and farm equipment of yesteryear, but a way of life. George and Henry Landis were proud of their Pennsylvania German heritage and culture and did not want to see it disappear. In 1939, they expanded their crowded museum to serve their ever-growing collection. In 1941 the brothers received much needed financial assistance from the Oberlander Trust, which formerly incorporated the museum. The Trust’s monetary help led to the construction of an early 19th-century Tavern which served as the earliest visitor center and library. Soon afterward, a gunshop and two sheds were included behind the tavern to form a courtyard which housed the brothers’ growing collection. In 1953, their financial resources dwindling, George and Henry arranged for their museum to be administered and supported by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), an agency of state government.
Over the next 45 years, the state began purchasing and building structures which are now part of the historic village. The property includes an 1856 hotel and two brick buildings built between 1815 and 1840. Also, two log buildings, an 1890’s schoolhouse and an old blacksmith shop were purchased and moved to the site. The museum constructed a firehouse, a 19th-century Swiss bank barn, an 18th-century log home with a bakehouse and smokehouse, a pigsty and spring house to add to the general interpretation of the museum. In 1970, a new visitor center and the textile building completed the museum’s existing layout.