12/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Sue Bowman Southeastern Pa. Correspondent
Kerzenlicht Nacht offers Candlelight View
Those who dream of the holidays in earlier, simpler times got to take a step back in history recently in Myerstown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The setting was “Kerzenlicht Nacht,” which means “candlelight night” in the Pennsylvania German dialect. The event was held at the homestead of the town’s founder, Isaac Meier.
Guests were welcomed to the imposing two-and-a-half-story limestone structure with soft Christmas music, cookies and cider, which was warmed over one of the home’s seven original fireplaces.
Built in 1738 by Meier’s father-in-law, Valentine Herclerode, the home stands near the Tulpehocken Creek along what is now PA Route 501. Its two-foot thick stone walls give the house deep window sills beneath the twelve-over-eight-paned first floor windows.
Kerzenlicht Nacht visitors found these sills decorated for the holidays with candlelit hurricane globes surrounded by festive natural materials. Chartreuse Osage oranges, deep green pine boughs, and holly laden with red berries lent color to the subtle earth tones of dried hydrangea, pine cones and nuts.
Visitors to the evening event, which followed Myerstown’s annual holiday parade earlier in the day and the town’s traditional tree lighting ceremony, entered the Meier homestead through its kitchen door, where sixteen-foot wide walk-in fireplaces flank the room and its herringbone patterned brick floor.
As Jerry Sanders played familiar Christmas tunes on a penny whistle, cider was heated over the east fireplace, which also features a beehive bake oven. While the west fireplace was not in use for Kerzenlicht Nacht, it has a Moravian-style cooking arrangement in one corner that enables a cooking pot to be submerged.
The story-and-a-half kitchen is one of five first-floor rooms and is located a step down from the “stube”, the room connecting the kitchen to the home’s large central hall.
The stube and the room behind it, where a walk-around spinning wheel and a large loom are on display, are the only two first-floor rooms without fireplaces. A door in the stube leads to the cellar under the east end of the house; the door’s five coats of paint are visible and reveal the changing tastes during the past nearly 275 years.
The nine-foot-wide central hall of the Meier homestead stretches from the front door to the rear door, and features an open staircase that reaches all the way to servants’ quarters in the attic via two landings. Supporting the stair’s bannister are three carved spindles to each stair tread.
At the foot of the staircase is a bedroom with a corner fireplace. This fireplace shares the same flue with the parlor next door, which hearkens back to the days of a tax on each of a home’s separate chimneys. This bedroom has two rope beds a main bed and a smaller child’s bed that trundles underneath the front of the larger piece of furniture.
The Isaac Meier homestead’s front parlor contains some of the building’s greatest treasures. Not only is there another corner fireplace found in this room, but there is also a built-in floor-to-ceiling corner cupboard which is original to the property.
Behind its solid panel doors the cupboard’s butterfly shelves hold a variety of artifacts uncovered on-site during archeological excavation done in the 1950’s, as well as reproductions of some other pieces.
The cupboard’s interior is still painted in its original salmon color. One especially interesting piece is a circa 1785 creamware teapot believed to depict Isaac Meier and his wife Catherine, which serves as an indicator of their wealthy status. The teapot was recovered from one of the closed up kitchen fireplaces during renovations; it was in shards and was reconstructed by June Ebling, an active member of the Isaac Meier Homestead, Inc. committee, which numbers about 125.
During Kerzenlicht Nacht, the front parlor was the setting for visitors to join in singing Christmas carols in Pennsylvania German with the “schalle” (choir) of young singers conducted by Alice Spayd. Tunes were sung to the guitar accompaniment of J.J. Suk. The glow of candles combined with familiar holiday tunes made the front parlor a popular spot for guests to linger.
Isaac Meier was a wealthy man by any standards, owning not only his sizable “plantation” in what was then known as Tuplehockentown, but also three additional plantations in the area. A well known banker, money lender and eventually a magistrate, Meier met an untimely end in July 1770 at age 40 when he was shot in the neck after being summoned to a meeting at the Henry Buch Haus, a local tavern. Despite a reward offered by William Penn’s son, John, who was then governor of Pennsylvania, Meier’s murderer was never apprehended.
The Meier homestead stood vacant for many years and fell into disrepair before being converted to apartments in the 1950’s. During the 1968 Myerstown Bicentennial, interest was created in restoring Isaac Meier’s residence.
Ownership was acquired by the Borough of Myerstown through community donations, and restorations were made that now allow the first floor to be open to the public. The second floor remains a work in progress. The committee that operates the homestead relies on contributions from local donors and proceeds from special events like their annual country fair to provide operating costs.
Kerzenlicht Nacht is held on the last Saturday night in November. For those desiring to visit the historic Isaac Meier homestead at other times, open houses are held on the second Saturday of each month between April and October from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
The Meier homestead’s Country Fair is held annually on the last Saturday in September from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and features a variety of demonstrations and colonial craftsmen selling their wares, as well as baked goods made in the homestead’s beehive oven.
The Isaac Meier homestead is on the State and National Register of Historic Places. For more information or to arrange group tours, contact Beverly Strickler at 717-866-4480 or visit the website, myerstownboro.org and click on the Isaac Meier Homestead, Inc. link.