The photos are in reverse order. Numbers in the article below refer to the pictures.
PO 20 - A wooden letter “K' and the date, also in wood, of 1899 high in the front gable of the C.R. Kehler house in the village of Kehler.
PO 19 - Etched glass window over the front door of the C. R. Kehler house.
PO 18 - H.H. Geist had this house constructed across the street from his store. Nearby resident Rick Stehr said the clay for the bricks, and the temporary wood-fired kiln used to fire them, were located down along the Mahantongo Creek at the site of a modern irrigation pond.
PO 17 - A letterhead from H. H. Geist indicating his mercantile and business interests. Courtesy of the Rev. Carl Shankweiler.
PO 16 - A rare, hand-canceled post mark from the Kehler post office, showing the return address for the general store of postmaster H. H. Geist. Courtesy of the Rev. Carl Shankweiler.
PO 15 - The former Kehler post office and general store.
PO 14 - The finished building.
PO 14 C - A photograph of Brosius with his wife, Jane, daughter Minnie,
and son Charles, a rare example of a photographic image to go
with related documents that are 120 years old. It is also rare to see a doll
in a family photograph, in this case Minnie is holding a porcelain
doll, possibly from Germany, as Germany was a major exporter
of porcelain dolls to the United States at that time.
Courtesy of Ken Fetterolf.
PO 14 B - A 1903 postcard sent from Philadelphia to Haas. Courtesy of Rebecca Dietrich and Ken Fetterolf.
PO 14 A - A 1901 receipt from the Haas post office. Courtesy of Rebecca Dietrich and Ken Fetterolf.
PO 13 - New windows, new doors, new wood siding.
PO 12 - Building a new and higher roof to provide more headroom upstairs.
PO 11 - The final moments before setting it down, with Glendon High and Johannes Zinzendorf jockeying it into position.
PO 10 - Jim Novinger gently lowers the general store into place.
PO 9 - Backing in at the Hermitage.
PO 8 - Crossing the countryside.
PO 7 - Heading up Mill Hill Road.
PO 6 – The general store suspended in the air. We weren't sure it would stay intact after being lifted up.
PO 5 - With the asphalt siding and the roof removed, the building box is ready to be taken away.
PO 4 - The interior with its original shelving. The post office section was long-gone by the time we moved the structure.
PO 3 - A tin hood and bricked iron kettle base indicates the basement was once used for butchering. The quality and age of the stone work indicates the cellar may have been used for an earlier building.
PO 2 - The Haas general store and post office in “as found” condition.
PO 1 - “The Rough and Ready general store with owner Mr. Minnich.” From the Faye A. Kopp Photograph Collection of the Mahantongo Heritage Center.
A Tale of Two Post Offices
by Johannes Zinzendorf
By the late nineteenth century, practically every village of any size in the area had its own post office. These were not stand-alone buildings like modern post offices, but were typically located inside the local general store. A surprising number of them are left today. There's the stone building at Leck Kill that was Geist Store well into the 1990s. In fact, the original post office was still in the store, a kind of small wooden closet, with a door, a small desk, a small counter for transacting business, and lots of small, envelope-sized cubicles into which sorted mail was placed to the right recipient.
The Rough and Ready general store and post office, though greatly modified, remains as well, and there is even a rare period photograph of the interior showing its owner, Mr. Minnich, standing in front of shelves loaded with canned goods, and glass bottles of condiments, including the ubiquitous Heinz catsup.
At the upper end of the valley, the villages of Haas and Kehler also had combination general stores and post offices and they also remain: the Kehler store at its original location, while the Haas post office was moved, intact, to the Hermitage a mile west from the village.
It was a comment by Haas resident David Knerr that resulted in saving the village's combined general store and post office. I work with Dave on the Hepler Reunion committee, and with a shared interest in local history, he told me the original post office was still standing across the street from his house.
Intrigued, I visited the building that I had passed, literally, hundreds of times over the past thirty years without even noticing it. In my defense, I will say that it sat back a hundred feet from Creek Road in a stand of evergreen trees. It also was not the kind of early valley log or timber-frame structure that we had been moving to the Hermitage.
Still, Bro. Christian and I had been looking for a new exhibit building and when I looked inside, I saw its walls were lined with shelves. Oh yes, I thought, this will do nicely.
The building was in dilapidated condition, having been used many years for storage. Owner David Kehler was glad to let the building go for salvage as he wanted to get rid of it.
The cut stone used in the basement indicated the possibility that it was actually older than the store above it. Knerr said the Hepler family, who owned much of the area at that time, had its own stone mason, so perhaps an earlier foundation was reused. A round, tin hood in the ceiling of the basement, with a chimney pipe leading to the outside, and a brick stove base for a cast iron butcher kettle, showed the basement was used for butchering at one time.
Many generations of bats had lived within the frame walls, and we got buckets of fertile guano for the garden, all nicely dried.
What wasn't dry was the interior board ceiling and floor, because the asphalt roof had evidently leaked for decades, but rotted wood can be replaced.
We decided to move the building intact on a flat-bed trailer, except for removing the roof so it would fit under electric and phone lines. We hired Jim Novinger of Herndon, a skilled crane operator, to lift the structure and place it on a flat bed trailer. Glendon High, of Pitman, and his cousin Skylar High, brought the building to the Hermitage, where Novinger set up his crane again and set the building onto its new foundation.
After that, it was a process of rebuilding the roof, making the side walls two feet higher than they originally were, to provide more head room and exhibit space upstairs. All new plates, the long side beams into which the rafters are placed, and all new rafters, were installed and then a new metal roof was put on. We completely replaced the old, rough-cut exterior boards with new, locally-sourced, fourteen-foot pine boards supplied by Leck Kill saw miller Eugene Heim. We planed them smooth first before installing them, to give the building a more finished look and that would be easier to paint.
We found tongue-and-groove ceiling boards and hardwood flooring to replace rotted sections, and we completely replastered the interior as most of what was still on the walls when we got the building fell off during the jostling to the Hermitage, and the remainder was a dreary and dirty shade of gray.
Bro. Christian built new letter cubbies for the restored post office area at the back of the building, and even has a newly made Haas stamp (from Ukraine, of all places) to postmark letters and cards.
Finally, the building was completely restored, complete with wood frame windows salvaged from a demolished house in the area, and painted. It will be available for tours by appointment beginning in June.
There are only two known documents that are related to the Haas post office, so it evidently was not a busy place. The first is a receipt for a registered letter mailed by E. W. Brosius on February 19, 1901 and signed by postmaster D. H. Smith, postmaster at the time. The letter was sent to Rockford, Illinois.
PO 14 A
According to Dave Knerr, Daniel Smith - a great-great-grandfather -was the last postmaster. The post office remained in business until April 30, 1909, when service moved to Pitman.
The second document is a post card mailed from Philadelphia, with a Philadelphia postmark, and addressed to Ellsworth Brosius.
Both of these documents have also come down in the family, with Ellsworth being the great-grandfather of Rebecca Dietrich, and the great-great-grandfather of Ken Fetterolf. According to Ken, Ellsworth was a farmer, a sawmill operator, and a township supervisor, and so a man who could certainly need to send certified mail.
PO 14 B
PO 14 C
There is no known postmark from the Haas post office, though one may exist.
Long-time philatelic expert, the Rev. Carl Shankweiler of Valley View, has a reference book for all the post offices in the state, and it shows that the Haas post office was opened on June 22, 1883, with J. Geist as postmaster. He probably operated the general store as well, which may also have opened in 1883.
Interestingly enough, the Kehler post office also opened on June 22, 1883 and its postmaster was H.H. Geist, surely related in some way to J. Geist at Haas. He also operated the general store, whose building still remains. The Kehler post office was closed just slightly earlier than the one in Haas, on March 31, 1909, evidently in some kind of consolidation of service to Pitman where, fortunately, it has remained.
Shankweiler has a canceled envelope from Kehler in his collection, and it was canceled simply by writing the village name across the stamps. Shankweiler said this practice was common in small post offices that didn't deal with a lot of mail and, therefore, the postmaster didn't have to spend money to buy a hand stamp and ink pad, which would be faster and more practical in a post office that handled a larger volume of mail. Below the handwritten name of Kehler is the date of the cancellation, 11-10-98, or November 10, 1898.
H.H. Geist used the return address section on the envelope to advertise his business. It says he was a “Dealer in Dry Goods, Notions, Boots, Shoes, Hats, Caps, Groceries, Provisions, and Merchandise Generally. Sewing Machines a Speciality.” And the address is simply, “Kehler, Schuylkill County, PA.”
Those items neatly summarize the contents of practically every general store in the area. The reference to sewing machines is interesting because in the 1990s, then-owner John Heim took us through the store, used only for storage at that time, and actually gave us a treadle Singer sewing machine that was still in the building and, possibly, an unsold remnant of those offered by Geist.
H. H. Geist had other business interests as well, as indicated by a letterhead in the envelope that is also in Shankweiler's collection. It says, “Office of H.H. Geist, Dealer in General Merchandise, Shipper of Butter, Eggs and Farmers' Product, Shipping Station, Ashland Station.” This letterhead was mailed in the envelope and was addressed to a Jonas Knoll of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. In the letter, Geist orders a washing machine “with extra good casting and woodwork” for which he encloses a check for $12.50. He requests Knoll to send it to Ashland Station, one of the closest railheads to the upper Mahantongo Valley and where it seems that Geist had another office. It is not known whether this washing machine was for Geist's home or something to be sold in his Kehler store.
Geist lived across the road, in a two-story brick house, one of the few at the upper end of the valley.
The village was named for another local entrepreneur, C. R. Kehler. Rick Stehr now lives in Kehler's elegant late-Victorian home. Kehler had his name etched in glass above the front door.
There is also a wooden cutout of the letter “K” high in the peak of the front gable, and a date, also in wood, of 1899.
Kehler owned and operated an extensive butchering and meat operation in the village. However, it was the livestock operation – Stehr said there were extensive animal pens for both cattle and hogs – that gave the village its earlier Pennsylvania Dutch name of Kelvaschtettle, or Calf Town.
However, H.H. Geist was not the last person to operate the general store. Stehr said his grandfather, Earl Stehr, operated it for some time after World War II. Following a mining accident, Stehr found factory work in Philadelphia during the war making precision machine parts and moved his family there. After the war, Stehr and his family returned to Kehler, which was when he, for some time, reopened the store, continuing to sell general merchandise and also cut hair, though Rick Stehr emphasizes it was not a regular barber shop. Earl Stehr also sold cigars there, and Rick recalls that, as a boy, his father, the late Albert Stehr, and other lads would steal cigars and smoke them.
Once, Earl saw the boys riding a mule and later told them it looked to him like the mule was smoking going over the hill.
Rick Stehr said his father later returned to machine work in Philadelphia, and other local men went down there with him, like the late Ralph Hepler, who eventually bought the brick house of H. H. Geist in Kehler. The men would stay in Philadelphia during the week and come back on the weekends. Eventually, Earl Stehr retired from the plant.
During the years the general store was closed, the building itself was used for potato storage in the cellar and an adjacent building constructed for that purpose, and even turkeys were raised on the second floor.
Pitman native Jim Hepler recalls playing pool as a teenager in the store in the late 1960s, when Bill Heim, whose father John Heim owned the building by that time and who lived next door, found a pool table and set it up the former store. So the building resounded to a call rare in the Mahantongo Valley of “Rack 'em up!” Hepler emphasized that the building was not a pool hall as such, but simply a place to hang out.
Today, the building is used for storage by Walter Rebuck, who was raised by John Heim.
Eventually, as with many other businesses in the area, general stores found it impossible to compete with larger operations outside the valley who could offer greater variety at better prices. People's driving habits also changed drastically as everyone had a car and it became increasingly easier to go out of the valley for supplies. Nowadays, of course, many of our purchases are delivered to us.
The restored Haas post office and general store will be available for tours by appointment at the Hermitage beginning in June.