I've probably driven past the Rehersburg exit on I-78 a million times, each time wondering about the Conrad Weiser Homestead sign. A history buff, my instincts almost always lead me to try to find out about the people and places unknown to me, but Conrad Weiser, for whatever reason, has been elusive. So on a recent weekend, my wife and I decided to get acquainted with Conrad Weiser and made a long overdue stop at his homestead in Womelsdorf in the western part of Pennsylvania's Americana Region.
Passing through classic Berks County countryside on Route 419, after heading south from Rehrersburg, we eventually arrived at the Conrad Weiser Parkway in Womelsdorf.
Turning in to the historical site, I’m immediately struck by the well-preserved stone structures on the grounds and drawn into Weiser’s complex story, which is told through exhibits, plaques and volunteer guides at the site.
How, I wonder, doesn’t this diplomat, soldier, Indian interpreter get equal billing with other figures of mid-colonial Pennsylvania history, like William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and Daniel Boone?I caught up with Lynn Ottoa member of the board of directors of the Friends of the Conrad Weiser Homestead and a volunteer at the site, who shed some light on Weiser’s place among Pennsylvania’s early leaders.
“Conrad Weiser gets lost in the shuffle,” he says. “But he was a man of many hats and certainly left his mark in our state’s early history.”
Fleeing religious war and famine, the Weiser family left Germany in 1710 and settled in New York’s Schoharie Valley, where the young Weiser learned Native American customs, language, and culture. After Weiser married in 1720, the couple moved to the farm in Womelsdorf in 1729.
“Because of his experience living with the Mohawks in New York he was well-versed in the ways of Native Americans,” Otto says. “With Indian conferences and negotiations going on, Conrad Weiser was instrumental in keeping the peace between the Pennsylvania government and the Iroquois Nation.”
Weiser’s accomplishments and the work that led to the creation of a state historic site in the 1920s are interpreted in three buildings on the pastoral 26-acre park. But I was most curious about the homestead itself. A 1-1/2-story stone single-story stone home with period furnishings, it’s among the smaller structures on the property. The words on a plaque on the corner of the house made us smile, particularly the part about his burial spot, which he shares with family members “and a number of friendly Indian chiefs.”
I had to rein in my disappointment after reading some of the other literature, which openly questions whether it truly was Weiser’s home.“We’re not a 100 percent sure,” Otto says. “We know he lived on this property from 1729 to about 1750.” But there are references in Weiser’s journal about razing a log house and paying for bricks for a little house on the property, he says. And the original, weather worn gravestones of Conrad and his wife are on a knoll near the home
Besides his role as an Indian interpreter, Weiser served as a magistrate, judge and military officer in the French and Indian War and found time to establish the City of Reading and Berks County in 1752. A religious man and spiritual seeker who spent several years at the Ephrata cloister during his Indian negotiations, Weiser’s oldest daughter married the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America.
“It’s a worthwhile visit to come here and get reacquainted with this influential Pennsylvanian and enjoy the park,” Otto says.
After spending some time at his home turf in the Tulpehocken Valley, I couldn’t agree more, and also with the words of George Washington “posterity cannot forget his service.”
Learn More about Conrad Weiser Homestead hours and events.