2011-09-08 / Local & State

Stoltzfus Descendants Restore Amish Homestead

By Tom Infield
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – You don’t have to spend much time in Amish country to notice the name Stoltzfus.

It is everywhere.

There’s Stoltzfus Meats in Intercourse. Stoltzfus Furniture in Bird- in- Hand. Stoltzfus Woodwork in Gap.

Stoltzfus & Sons Builders in Kinzers. Sylvan Stoltzfus Builders in Paradise. Larry L. Stoltzfus Fencing in Strasburg.

On and on.

One-quarter of the 30,000 Amish people in Lancaster County – plus a fair number of non-Amish folks – bear the name Stoltzfus (pronounced Stoltz-foos).

Nearly all are said to be descended from one man, Nicholas Stoltzfus, a sort of Amish Adam who emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1766.

For the past dozen years, a group of Stoltzfus descendants has been laboring to restore his house, discovered along the Tulpehocken Creek on the site of a former Amish settlement in Berks County. Last occupied in 1988, the house was overgrown in poison ivy and was set for demolition.

In a very unusual manner, some Amish – a horseand buggy people who pretty much keep to themselves – have joined with non- Amish Stoltzfus descendants in a public campaign to raise money for the restoration.

The Nicholas Stoltzfus House Preservation Committee has registered itself with the IRS as a nonprofit group. It has a fundraising brochure and a website, nicholasstoltzfus.com.

At the close of 2009, the group had received $190,000 in public support over the previous four years, according to its most recent tax return posted on the Web by GuideStar.org, which monitors charities.

Sam Stoltzfus, an Amish historian, said many Amish youth – like youth in the larger culture – have lost touch with their history.

“And I think it’s very important that we remember our heritage,’’ he said, standing in a straw hat at a screen door on his farm in Gordonville.

Stoltzfus, who said Nicholas Stoltzfus was his “seventh great-grandfather,’’ has joined in the effort to restore the house – a startand stop project that has depended not just on cash but also on the availability of volunteer labor.

A major step was taken in July with an Amish- style barn-raising.

The interior of the house has pretty much been fixed up, but it isn’t yet open to the public. Tens of thousands of dollars still need to be raised to build a caretaker apartment in the barn, and to open a climate-controlled “heritage room’’ for artifacts.

Some in the Amish community are leery of the project, seeing it as overly prideful.

“The Amish strive to be humble people and not make a big deal about any one person,’’ said Zachary Stoltzfus, a project backer whose grandfather left the Amish church in the ‘50s and founded Stoltzfus Meats.

But Sam Stoltzfus said he pays no heed to doubters, who he believes are few, anyway.

“It doesn’t matter what project it is – no matter what merit it has – there will always be people who oppose it,’’ he said.

Donald Kraybill, an Elizabethtown College professor and author of the book The Riddle of Amish Culture, said the Amish – an Anabaptist separatist group – began coming to America in 1737.

Nicholas Stoltzfus was hardly the first. But his name was unique.

His family was Lutheran; and when he converted, he came alone.

He also happened to have some very prolific offspring, whose surname began branching up in the genealogy of a vast majority of the eastern Pennsylvania Amish.

A high percentage of Lancaster County Amish also have King, Smucker, Fisher, and Beiler ancestors – all the names of other early settlers.

Stoltzfus descendants restoring Amish ancestor’s house In Berks, the Amish community is nearly extinct today. But it numbers 5,500 families in Lancaster County.

Other Amish communities in other areas – the Amish have spread to 28 states – have other common names, Kraybill said. But in Lancaster County, he said, Stoltzfus is by far the No. 1.

“Ninety-eight percent of the (Amish) population is descended from Nicholas Stoltzfus,’’ said Ben Riehl, an Amish farmer near Intercourse. “If he hadn’t made the decision to move over here, we’d probably still be in Europe.’’

Paul Stoltzfus Kurtz, a retired Elizabethtown College professor who has helped lead the house restoration, said that 98 percent number might be an exaggeration – but only a slight one.

Kurtz, a Mennonite who is descended “four ways’’ from Nicholas Stoltzfus, estimated “there could be 1 million descendants of Nicholas Stoltzfus living today,’’ worldwide.

That’s how fast families multiply, generation to generation.

While modest, the Amish are eager to remember where they came from, Kurtz said. Many have charted their family history back to the emigration from Europe.

“They feel responsible for the heritage that has been given to them, not to lose it,’’ he said.

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