The farm of Isaac Meier: “The old fort” of Myerstown
In 1757, Isaac Meier purchased 249 acres of farmland which included farm buildings and a large limestone house, now called Isaac Meier Homestead, at 524 S. College St. in Myerstown. To this day, the house and much of its interior have been preserved as a living history museum.
The house was built around 1750 by Valentine Herckelrod, his stepfather. Meier turned the property into a working plantation, soon purchasing an additional 250 acres of nearby land on which he began developing and selling residential and commercial lots for a town then known as Tulpehockentown, later renamed Myerstown. . The architectural significance and importance of the property in community planning and development led to its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The privileged life and tragic death of Isaac Meier
Isaac Meier was born near Conestoga Creek, east of present-day Millersville, on January 4, 1730. He married Catherine Herckelrod in 1754, and they had a son and five daughters. The Meier family was wealthy and enjoyed a privileged life as they owned several plantations and other business interests. Meier was also a banker, moneylender, overseer of the poor (an official who administered relief items such as money, food, and clothing to the needy), his district magistrate, and land donor for the first school of the region.
On the evening of July 14, 1770, Meier was sitting by a front window in a local tavern called Henry Buch Haus when an unknown assailant fired a gun through the window. The assailant’s bullet hit Meier in the back of the neck. He lived through the night, but died the next day at the age of 40 and was buried at Trinity UCC Cemetery in Millardsville. John Penn, Governor of the Colony of Pennsylvania, issued a proclamation which read, in part, “… the perpetrators of these inhuman and atrocious crimes should be detected and brought to a dignified and exemplary sentence…” and offered 100 pounds sterling in reward for arrest. of the aggressor. The murder of Isaac Meier has never been solved.
Characteristics of the Isaac Meier property
Isaac Meier Farm was built in the traditional Pennsylvania German architectural style with Georgian architectural elements including symmetrical windows. It measures 3,846 square feet with exterior walls two feet thick of locally quarried and quarried limestone.
The one-and-a-half-storey kitchen section was built around 1750 and has a large fireplace on the eastern side of its gable roof. The two-and-a-half-storey main section of the property was built a few years later and features two chimneys, one on either side of the gabled roof, and arches with 11 limestone above each window on the first floor.
Some of the original moldings, doors, interior wood frame walls and wood floors exist throughout the building. Originally, both roofs were covered with handmade clay tiles in the shape of a beaver tail. There is a basement under the central part of the house with rough stone walls and a dirt floor.
The kitchen section includes a large fireplace 12 feet long by six feet high with mantel, fireplace and wood-burning oven. A wooden staircase leads to the upper part of the attic. Antique furniture, including a table, chairs, cooking utensils and fireplace accessories, give the kitchen a period feel.
A brick squirrel tail oven has been added to the exterior of the kitchen section. It has exterior half-walls of dressed limestone, four large square wooden pillars and a horizontal cladding of wooden planks covering its upper part with a gable roof covered with wood shingles.
The main section’s first floor features a nine-foot-wide central hallway with a living room and bedroom on either side of a wooden staircase with hand-carved handrails and spits that lead to the second floor.
The first floor is partially furnished with colonial pewter, antique furniture, and accessories that include a blanket box, tea table, and cupboard with English-made crockery from China and Pennsylvania. Various antique chairs include a Hepplewhite shield back and a Chippendale country side chair.
Two original first-floor fireplaces have recently been exhibited, having been paneled decades ago, and are currently being renovated. Plaster was removed from a section of a first story wall to show the 18th century interior wall construction, including horsehair insulation materials and framing techniques.
The second floor has five bedrooms. David Zimmerman, president of Isaac Meier Homestead, Inc. and tour guide, said: “The hand-carved limestone fireplace in the second-floor master bedroom, which was made by the same man who carved the stone. Isaac Meier’s tomb, is the most impressive artifact in the building due to its rarity.
Currently there is no furniture on the second floor, as renovation projects for all rooms are under consideration. A wooden staircase leads to the attic.
The unfinished attic has two bedrooms and storage cupboards. Some of the original roof beams, floors and walls are on display, showing the raw wood that was used and the craftsmanship of the building’s construction.
Slavery on the farm and plantation Isaac Meier
Isaac Meier owned human slaves of African descent, and some were held on the farm and its surrounding plantation. Significant human labor was required to tend animals, work agricultural fields, and maintain buildings, roads, and various other plantation operations.
Kitchen slaves most likely lived in the attic above the kitchen, and other house slaves likely lived in the farm attic. Field slaves probably lived in cabins or in the attics of plantation buildings.
On March 1, 1780, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, which was the first comprehensive abolition legislation in the Western Hemisphere. Some residents of Chester and Lancaster counties (of which Lebanon County was part at the time) opposed the bill.
Due to loopholes in the law, some slaves in Pennsylvania were not freed until 1847. It is not known in what year the slaves were freed from the Isaac Meier farm and plantation.
Was Isaac Meier’s farm really a fort?
From the early to mid-1700s, most homes in the central part of colonial Pennsylvania were built of logs. Meanwhile, native tribes, including the Iroquois and Leni Lenape, were uprooted from their native lands and moved west, engaging in skirmishes with European settlers. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) also sparked local fears that its fighting could spread to the region.
Log houses offered little to no protection, so the few well-built stone houses in the area were often prepared to serve as border forts that could shelter neighbors and defend against Indian attacks. Isaac Meier’s farm has been known as “the old fort” for over two centuries.
There is a local debate as to whether well-built 18th-century stone houses, such as Light’s Fort in Lebanon, Heinrich Zeller House (Fort Zeller) near Newmanstown, and Isaac Meier Homestead, all of which served as community shelters. and defensive fortresses, should or should not be called a fort.
Some believe that only structures built by military or militia forces specifically for defensive or strategic purposes should qualify as strong. Others believe that any private or public structure sufficiently strengthened to be used as a community shelter and for defensive purposes can also be called strong.
There is no doubt that Myerstown is named after Isaac Meier. However, historical records are not exactly clear when the name Myerstown was “officially” given to the city.
Myerstown celebrated its bicentennial from June 16 to 22, 1968. However, the Meier family did not change their last name to Meyer until after the death of Isaac Meier in 1770. It is likely that the locals referred to the town as Myerstown before it was “officially” so named.
The first reference to Myerstown printed in a local newspaper appeared in the Lancaster Intelligencer and Journal on February 22, 1812, under the spelling of the town of Myers. This explains why between 1770 and 1812, the town of Tulpehockentown officially became Myerstown. The Borough of Myerstown was officially established in Lebanon County in 1912.
Preservation of the Isaac Meier property
The Isaac Meier property remained in the Myer family until the early 1860s. Most of the land on the original farm and plantation was subdivided and sold to individuals. The farm itself was privately owned from the 1860s until 1968 when the Borough of Myerstown purchased it. Today it is leased to the nonprofit Isaac Meier Homestead, Inc., which is dedicated to maintaining its structural and historical integrity.
Daily use and private tours
Today, Isaac Meier Farm is a living history museum used for educational, cultural and social activities. It is open for special events throughout the year and is open to the public on the fourth Saturday of each month from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Private tours can be arranged by contacting the Isaac Meier Homestead committee at meierinfo1750 @ yahoo .com.
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