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Berks County Project - Family Matters

The history of this home located in Berks County, Pennsylvania revolves around farm, family and children. The story begins in June of 1736 when Henry Spingler submitted an application for a land warrant in 1736 for 200 acres in Tulpehocken Township.

The application, which is dated June 3, 1736, notes that Henry has “been about 18 months settled” on the land. The resulting survey yielded just over 211 acres in Tulpehocken and Bern Townships. This parcel was part of Lancaster County at the time.

An original deed on parchment from Henry Spingler hangs in the Bernville Area Community Library. The deed details the Spingler’s initial land claim in 1736 and the subsequent parceling of the land through 1758, the year that Lenni Lenape warriors attacked and killed families near Bernville.

This land was subsequently resurveyed and 185 acres were patented to Philip Kline in 1805. The name Kline is also found as Klein. We will use the spelling of Kline for simplicity in this document.

The connected warrantee map[i] at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission shows Philip’s tract. Shown as number 98 below, it consists of just over 185 acres and is called “Philipsburg”.

The original patent notes that Henry Spingler had settled on the land, but it is not clear where his residence stood, and Henry is not noted in early tax records. A Peter Spengler is found on the 1788 tax rolls in Tulpehocken as a single freeman[ii], it is conceivable that Peter is a relative of Henry’s. It is also unclear when Philip settled on the property. Philip Kline, Sr. was born in 1742 in New Jersey. He married Elizabeth Corbman in 1771. Eleven children were born to their union, the last being Philip Kline, Jr in 1782. Elizabeth died in 1787 and Philip, Sr. died in 1815. They are both buried in the Kline family graveyard in Bernville.

Philip appears in the tax rolls for 1783 and is recorded as having 1 house and barn, and is taxed on 160 acres, 3 horses, 4 cows, and 5 sheep.

He is found again in the 1787 Pennsylvania Tax and Exoneration lists[ii] residing in Tulpehocken on 150 taxable acres valued at 300 (presumably pounds), with 2 horses valued at 12 (pounds), and 3 cows valued at 4 and 10 pounds.

According to the deed transfer from Philip Kline, Sr. to William Kline in 1835 that will be subsequently discussed, Philip Sr. conveyed his lands to his son, Philip, Jr. when the property was resurveyed in 1804.

Philip Kline, Jr. was born in Tulpehocken in 1782 and lived his entire life there. He married Maria Elizabeth Staudt in 1802. Philip, Jr. and Maria Elizabeth had five children:

Daniel S. 1800-1888

William S. 1805-1873

Anna Maria 1806-1858

Elizabeth 1811-1842

John S. 1812-1884

It is interesting to note that according to the birth dates of their children, Philip and Maria’s eldest, Daniel, was born two years prior to their marriage. This is highly unlikely given the deep religious roots of the Kline family, and is likely due to genealogical error.

Philip is enumerated in the 1810 Census with:

  • 1 male under 10 years

  • 2 males between 10 and 16 years

  • 1 male between 26 and 45 years (presumably Philip himself)

  • 1 female under 10 years

  • 1 female between 10 and 16 years

  • 1 female between 26 and 45 years (presumably Philip’s wife Elizabeth)

It is noted that the ages of the children by 1810 do not match with the ages of the children as recorded in the Census. It is conceivable that there were other children living with the Kline’s at the time of the Census as the 1830 Census for their household lists 4 adults and 8 children.

A newspaper article dated August 13, 1833 describes the destruction of the Kline’s barn. The article could have been written by a lightning rod salesperson!

Philip and Elizabeth sold 86 acres of their property to their son William Kline on April 1, 1835 for $2433.37 and half cents. This deed also stipulates that William “keep in repair sufficient bridges at his own expense for the use of Philip Kline”. The deed also discusses additional uses Philip wished to retain: the “free liberty to enter over the above tract of land to take the water out of the creek erect a dam and dig a race for a well”, and dictates that William be paid “$50 for each and every acre taken up by the race or dam”.

William’s mother, Maria Elizabeth Staudt died in 1840 and his father, Philip, Jr. died in 1838. They are both buried at the Old Bernville Graveyard.

William Staudt Kline was born in 1805 and married Margaret Wagner (born about 1813 to John Jacob Wagner and Margaretha Klopp) around 1833. They had eleven children in 20 years. William, age 45, is found in the 1850 Census living with Margaret, age 37 and nine of their children from infant to 17 years of age:

Adam, age 17

John, age 15

William, age 13

Sarah A., age 11

Matilda, age 9

Eliza, age 7

Rebecca, age 5

Ellen, age 3

Philip, age 7 mos.

Their 10th child, Issac was born in 1851 and their 11th child, Amanda Margaret was born in 1853.

The Klein children were enumerated at two houses in the 1860 Census. Sarah, Matilda, Elizabeth, Isaac, and Amanda are shown living with their parents while siblings Rebecca, Ellen, and Philip are living at the next house with their older brother John and his family.

The Census record for John Kline’s household includes the name of a monthly laborer, Jonathan L.B. Reber. A signature found by the current homeowners on a beam in the stone portion of the home appears to match Reber; it is certainly conceivable that Reber had a hand in construction projects at the house. Jonathan Levi Bender Reber was born in 1840 and served as a Sargent in the Army in the Civil War.

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Number: M123; Record Group Title: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Record Group Number: 15; Census Year: 1890

A map of the area from 1860 (below) shows the Kline families (Wm. Kline and John Kline) living on the Little Northkill Creek.

William’s wife Margaretha (Margaret) died in May 1871 of a “body inflammation”. Her death notice indicates she had 33 grandchildren[i], a testament to the strength of the Kline name!

William died in March 1873 without a will. Their youngest child, Amanda was a minor, albeit 20 years old. Court records indicate Amanda chose John Stoudt as her guardian[ii]. John was likely a relative of Amanda’s grandmother Maria Elizabeth Staudt (also Stoudt). William’s sons Adam and John, along with Henry Wenrich drafted the Estate papers, which contain transactions from 1873 to 1875. Among the transactions, we find $6.70 paid to Johnathan B. Miller. This name will appear again in the deed trail. It appears improvements were being made to the property between 1873 and 1874. The estate papers list payments to the following[iii]:

February 16, 1873 Francis R. Kirst, painting $30.00

April 4, 1873 Francis R. Kirst, painting $78.59

April 6, 1873 John Stoudt, lumber $17.97

November 18, 1873 John Wentzel, plastering $13.50

January 19, 1874 Catherine Kiebach, stove $24.96

February 17, 1874 Samuel Hicks, mason work $3.50

April 1, 1874 John C. Kline, wood $18.38

April 4, 1874 Jacob S. Werner, repairing $25.25

April 6, 1874 W.B. Keisherer, tailorwork $25.95

April 28, 1874 Albert Kline, wood $3.00

According the next deed transfer, William’s estate fell into the hands of Jacob Blass and Jacob P. Snyder. Jacob and his wife, Rebecca assigned their rights to the property to Henry R. Lutz on March 10, 1879. Jacob Blass had died (will 2-27-1860) and appointed Jacob Snyder as executor of his estate. This complicated transfer ends with Henry R. Lutz assigned to sell William Kline’s property.

Lutz sold the property at public sale on November 2, 1879 to Adam W. Heck for $5870.61. Adam W. Heck was born in 1844 in Pennsylvania. He married Sarah Ann Klopp (1841-1925) [ii]. They had three children: Mary Margaretn (born 1878), John Daniel (born 1879), and Anna Rebecca (born July 1881).

Adam only owned the property for 2 years, he died suddenly “after a comparatively short illness” in June of 1881 at the age of 37. Sarah was pregnant with their third child, Anna Rebecca, when Adam died.

Adam’s widow, Sarah, appointed Adam Minnich (her brother-in-law) and William L. Klopp (her brother) as administrators of the estate.

(photo) William L. Klopp, age 75, 1906

The estate papers for Adam Heck include a Statement of Real Estate. This document provides a detailed description of the property as it was in 1881:

“The improvements consist of a two story frame house, a two story stone house, a swiss barn, wagon shed, pig stye, summer house, and other outbuildings – a good orchard, 5 or 6 acres are meadow land”.

The estate papers also include an inventory of Adam and Sarah’s possessions. A full inventory was taken, along with a separate inventory of the items Sarah chose to keep. The estate papers also include a detailed disbursement of items, listing the names and purchase price of various items.

Transcribed: “Inventory and Appraisement of the goods and chattels, rights and credits, which were of Adam W. Heck late of Jefferson Township in the county of Berks, taken and made in conformity with the above deposition.”

It is clear from this inventory that the farm was well equipped with both machinery and animals, and that the fields contained most of the Heck’s wealth.

Adam’s widow Sarah retained the customary $300 worth of possessions.

Adam Heck’s property was sold by his administrators Adam Minnich and William L. Klopp to Johnathan B. Miller for $6188.93 via a deed dated April 1, 1882. The property now consisted of 94 acres, 78 perches. Jonathan Miller also purchased a second tract of land containing 8 acres, 133 perches in the same deed. This tract is conveyed with the parcel where the house stands until the 1950s.

Based on the newspaper account of the sale, Adam Heck owned several properties in Bernville and beyond.

As for Sarah and her children, they were enumerated in the 1900 Census in Reading. Sarah is 59 years old; Mary, age 21, is working in a Candy Factory; John Daniel, age 20, is working at “lathing in a shoe factory”; and Anna Rebecca, age 18 is engaged in “book folding”. One can imagine the difference between life on the farm and life in the city.

Jonathan Brossman Miller was born in Bernville in 1841 to Samuel Wagner Miller and Sarah Brossman. He married Eliza Louise Dondore in 1863. Johnathan and Eliza moved into the former Heck home with their 7 children in 1882. Two additional children were born afterwards. The Miller children are as follows:

Sarah Lydia (b. 1865)

Harry Grant (b. 1867)

Benjamin Franklin (b. 1870)

John S. (b. 1872)

Catherine E. (b. 1874)

Amelia I. (b. 1876)

Mary M. (b. 1878)

James Garfield (b. 1882)

Emily N. (b. 1885)

Johnathan is noted as a merchant in the deed describing his purchase of the property in 1882. Johnathan B. Miller grew up in Bernville and assisted at his father, Samuel W. Miller’s mercantile through his childhood and later became a partner in the business. An account of Johnathan Miller’s life and business written in 1909 extols his virtues as a community leader:

“He carried on what was known as the “model store” at Bernville, and his establishment was reputed to be the most up-to-date mercantile house in Berks county outside of Reading. His business was also the largest in the county outside of Reading, and he employed six clerks regularly, with two extra on Saturdays, retaining the general oversight of the business himself. He was always solicitous for the comfort and welfare of his employees, and his store was not only run in a business-like manner but well appointed, being heated with steam, which was also supplied to the adjacent dwelling, and having the illuminating plant on premises…Mr. Miller conducted his mercantile business on a cash basis, having made it a principle to buy and sell for cash in early life. For over a quarter of a century, he maintained his standing as the foremost business man of western Berks county...For ten years he had a large branch store at Lebanon, Pa, which was conducted under the firm name of J.B. Miller & Sons. He established the Bernville creamery and the bakery, and in his active years was a large real estate dealer in that borough.”

The Millers owned the two tracts for 10 years and sold them to J. Franklin Groff for $8000 on March 31, 1892.

The Groff’s time on the property was short, J. Franklin died on March 24, 1893. His death notice[3] states he was the treasurer of the school board and was survived by his wife and four children, Howard, Sallie, Annie, and Agnes. He was buried at Christ Little Tulpehocken Cemetery in Bernville.

J. Franklin was born in Bernville in 1836 to John and Anna Maria (Filbert) Groff. He married Henrietta Leiss (b. 1841) daughter of David and Anna Maria (Bright) Leiss. The newspaper notice of Groff’s death indicated he had four children survive him. J. Franklin and Henrietta actually had a total of 7 children[4]:

Emma Rebecca was born in 1863

Sallie Ann was born in 1864

Howard L was born in 1866

Annie Amelia was born in 1868

Mary Agnes and Agnes Mary were born in 1873

Agnes Emma was born in 1879

Tragedy struck the Groff family in December 1876, prior to their move to our subject property, when three of their daughters died within a span of 8 days. Emma Rebecca died at the age of 13 and twins Mary Agnes and Agnes Mary were 3 years old. Church records and the Reading Times[5] indicate the girls succumbed to diphtheria.[6] The article about the Groff family indicates three more members were ill with the disease. The twins would account for two members; therefore, it appears one member of the family survived the disease. Newspaper accounts of that time reveal the ravages of the disease in Berks County.

J. Franklin and his wife had another daughter, Agnes Emma after her sisters. Agnes would have been 12 or 13 when her family moved into our subject home. Agnes Emma (Groff) Brown, undated photo below.

After J. Franklin’s death, his wife Harriet (a form of Henrietta) and his son Howard were left to settle the estate. The documents associated with Groff’s estate are voluminous, and recount a complicated settlement involving portioning of acreage to be sold to repay debts, and the appointment of guardians for the minor children. A portion of his property was put up for public sale on December 9, 1893. Agnes Groff, the youngest child was appointed a guardian, Moses Schaeffer. Jonathan B. Miller (the property’s previous owner) appears in the estate records.

An inventory of the estate was drawn:

Transcribed Estate of J. Franklin Groff 1893

A Widow’ Appraisement filed on April 29, 1893 contains the items Harriet retained from the estate:

After the lengthy and complex court proceedings, the property was sold at public auction in October 1894. Note the considerable decrease in value of the property.

Adam S. Klee was the highest bidder at $5269.26 for the house and two tracts of land. The house was conveyed with 94 acres, 78 perches; a second tract containing 8 acres, 133 perches was also conveyed on July 20. 1895. Adam Klee was born in Lower Heidelberg in 1844. He married Mary Susanna Reedy (b. 1847) in 1866. They had three children, the oldest of whom, Amelia Kate Klee (1867-1909) married Howard L. Groff, the only son of J. Franklin and Harriet Groff, in 1885.

Adam and Mary Klee owned the property for less than one year, selling the house and two tracts of land to Pass Oxenrider of Dayton, Ohio on March 28, 1896.

Passwell (“Pass”) Oxenrider was born in Pennsylvania in 1841, he married Catherine “Katy” Kling in 1876[14]. According the 1900 Census[15], Catherine was born in Germany. The Oxenriders were enumerated in Jefferson County with seven children:

Jesse M, age 20

Percival, age 17

Kate, age 15

Lillie, age 14

Lulu, age 9

George, age 6

Harry, age 5

All of the children are recorded as having been born in Ohio.

Pass farmed the land until he and Catherine conveyed the property (containing the same two tracts of land) to Edwin D. Kline on March 27, 1915 for $5250. It appears the couple moved to Ohio, and Pass died shortly after the sale, on May 21, 191. Catherine’s 1939 obituary[18] describes her as a “lifelong resident of Dayton”, however, we know that she lived in Berks County from 1896 to 1915.

Edwin Daniel Kline was born in Jefferson Township in 1882, to Ezra and Matilda S. Kline. He married Anna R. “Annie” Stoudt, daughter of Franklin C. and Ellen Stoudt in 1904.

Edwin and Annie had a son in 1906, but he died the same year. They had no additional children.

Edwin (age 37) and his wife, Annie R. (age 39) are shown living alone in the 1920 Census[22].

Edwin is enumerated in the Pennsylvania Triennial Farm Census[23] (line number 24 in excerpt below) as living at RD 3 in Bernville, he is recorded as owning the property (vs. renting). His household is comprised of one male and one female over ten years of age. His property is recorded as follows:

104 acres total

90 acres for crops

16 acres for grain

18 acres for wheat

20 acres for oats

2 acres for irish potatoes

18 tame hay

12 apple trees

4 pear trees

3 horses

2 mules

(total of 5 working stock horses and mules)

11 milk cows

2 cattle

2 sows

21 other swine

A curious transfer occurs in 1934. Edwin and Anna Kline conveyed the property to William A. (Edwin’s brother) and Sallie A. Kline on March 27, 1934 via an unrecorded deed. William A. and Sallie A. transferred the property back to Edwin and Anna Kline the same day for $1. Little more was discovered about Edwin and Annie Kline.

Edwin and Anna retained ownership of the property until 1951 when they sold the house and two tracts of land to Solly and Hildegard Gernsheimer for $10,000.

Solly was born in 1912 and served from 1941 to 1945 as a Staff Sargent in the Army’s 880th AAA Gun Battery in World War II. He and Hildegard Simon were married in 1946. Hildegard’s parents, Karl and Selma Simon and sister Ilse (age 15) were killed in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 1943. Hildegard and her older sister, Ruth, had escaped from Europe via the Kindertransport train, which the Jewish Federation had organized to take children away from Nazi Germany. Hilde and her sister found their way to America in 1944, and Hilde met Solly in New York in 1945.

Solly and Hildegard lived on the farm, which they call “SolHil” with their twin sons Jeffry and Jack (born in December 1946) and daughter Sharon. A 1956 article indicates the Gernsheimers had a tenant living with them.

Hildegard transferred ownership of the house and surrounding 4.13 acres to her sons Jeffry and Jack on December 24, 1987, after Solly’s death. The twins operated Partners Design, a very successful graphic design business founded in 1971 from the house. The brothers retired from their graphics company in 2015 and the property was put up for sale.

The current owners purchased the house, outbuildings, and two tracts of land on December 29, 2016. They and their six children are working to restore the former business to a family home and farm. They consider their home a family legacy and envision it being passed down through generations of their own family, much as it had been passed through generations of the same family through most of its history. They join a legacy of families who raised large families (a total of 64 children since the 1700s!) and farmed the land in a desire for the simple life in the country.

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