The Historic Egg Hill Church

After more than 30 years, I finally found the historic Egg Hill Church and photographed it.

The story begins in the late 1970s when it appeared the church was going to be torn down. The CDT was filled with stories and photographs about the church and I set out with my first single lens reflex camera (a Minolta) to record the church before it disappeared.

Mind you, the best photographs had already been done by Dick Brown, then the lead photographer for the CDT, who is still an active  photographer and whose work is exhibited at, among other places, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. One of Brown's most dramatic photographs looks up the road to the church.

Lo those many years ago, I never found the church. Fortunately for me, the church was saved and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Inspired by some Facebook friends, I decided to try again. This time, though, I had Google maps and a GPS to guide me and it was an easy find, even though the church is on a dirt road named Egg Hill Road off Skunk Road off Sinking Creek Road.

Now I know why Dick's most dramatic shot looks up the road. The church is on the crest of a hill and backs onto woods and leaves you little room to photograph from the high angle. Besides, on the low side there's a cemetery and capturing a tombstone or two in your photographs makes for a better shot.

The church is not as elegant as I remember it from Dick's photographs. It needs paint  and the property is now surrounded by an inelegant chain link fence. There are gates to let you inside the perimeter, although I took one of my better shots from the low end outside the fence and managed to keep the fence out of the frame. When I processed my photos, I converted them to black and white, which seemed to fit the mood of the foggy day.

I'm going to return when autumn's colors dominate and shoot again. Two of my current photos are in my online gallery.


The State's Oldest Barn

The state’s oldest barn can be found in Chester County. It has been there, according to research, since 1753.  There is a gable stone that says 1724, but the owner believes that comes from a barn that previously occupied the site and was incorporated into the new barn. The date stone in the brick farm house says 1724.

Unlike most barns that survive today in Pennsylvania, this one is a one-level barn or a ground barn. And unlike most barns in Pennsylvania, this one is of English ancestry rather than German. And the owners, Wynne and John Milner, keep Sicilian donkeys as pets.

A tornado heavily damaged one side wall and the roof and that required major repair. The owner managed to salvage some of the original rafters and shows them to visitors. The rebuilt wall faces the road and contains a single door. Its opposite side has two single doors while the wide sides of the barn have double doors, which are built to accommodate wagons. The inside has lofts on both sides which are accessible by portable ladders. Typically, in the German barns, ladders were built in as part of the internal structure.

Primary ventilation is provided on all sides by slits in the stone walls that are narrow on the outside and wider inside, reminiscent of a design found in military forts and castles.

According to Gregory D. Huber, a barn historian, remnants of older barns exist around the state, but not in the condition of this one. Huber determined the date of the current barn by testing one of the original rafters, using a process called dendro-dating. Think tree rings.


The Updike Barn

Many readers of John Updike know that Updike used pieces of his life in his fiction. One particular short story that interests me is "Pigeon Feathers," which was inspired in part by a barn on the Updike farm in Berks County.

Updike lived for years in Shillington just outside of Reading. But at some point his mother wanted to move to the farm near Morgantown, south of Reading. She had grown up there. And so Updike spent about four years there before graduating from high school and going to Harvard.

Mrs. Updike continued to live there until her death in her 90s at which time Updike sold the farm. It was purchased by Emerson and Marlene Gundy. Emerson is Updike's second cousin; their grandmothers were sisters. Gundy and Updike were school mates and Gundy recalls the boys being driven to school by Updike's father.

The short story deals with a young person's questions about death. In the story, he, with his Remington .22 rifle, is sent into the barn to shoot pigeons. "A barn, in day, is a small night," Updike wrote. Of course, he had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the darkness before he could begin shooting the pigeons, who would gather at one of the two round gable vents "about as big as basketballs."

The barn was built in 1840. I'll save the rest for the book Pennsylvania Barn Stories, which is proceeding slowly.