The Michael Heller Homestead received certification on November 6, 1998, establishing eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). They indicated Heller Homestead “...locally significant as an example of an 18th century farmstead in Lower Saucon Township.”
On June 28, 2010, the Michael & Margaret Heller House (Heller Homestead) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, for its "architectural significance."
Saucon Valley Conservancy signed a 20-year lease with Lower Saucon Township, from July 1, 1994 to May 31, 2014, working in partnership to keep the buildings in Heller Homestead Park extant, accessible and maintained for educational purposes and the recreational needs of the community.
Michael Heller Homestead structures lie on a 2.2 acre parcel while 11.7 acres of wetlands along Saucon Creek are dedicated to open space and park lands.
Lower Saucon's Heller Homestead named to historic register Designation should help conservancy seek grants to restore stone barn, maintain homestead.
July 23, 2010|By Margie Peterson, OF THE MORNING CALL
Priscilla deLeon still gets choked up when she recalls the day the roof of the stone barn at the Heller Homestead collapsed after heavy rains in 1998, washing away a bit of history.
So the victories for historic preservation are especially sweet for the president of the Saucon Valley Conservancy, who is also on Lower Saucon Township Council. Last month, the Michael and Margaret Heller Homestead on Friedensville Road (Water Street) in Lower Saucon was named to the National Register of Historic Places, the township council announced Wednesday.
"I'm still pinching myself," deLeon said, adding that the designation was the result of 21/2 years of hard work by township officials, conservancy volunteers and local historians.
The designation should give the conservancy a leg up when applying for grants to restore the English Lake District stone barn and help maintain the 259-year-old homestead, she said. The homestead is owned by the township and leased by the nonprofit conservancy.
The conservancy, which is headquartered at the homestead, plans to hold a reception for the public there celebrating the register designation 7-9 p.m. Aug. 16. The site includes the Heller House, the Widow's House built about 1850, the root cellar and the ruins of the stone barn.
Hellertown was named for the Heller family but that's not what got the site on the register, deLeon said. The homestead dates to 1751, when Michael Heller bought 250 acres and built the original farmhouse. Heller reportedly served with Col. Anthony Lerch's Saucon Cavalry in the French and Indian War of 1756.
And Heller gets overall good marks for supplying Gen. George Washington's troops at Valley Forge with provisions when merchants stopped extending credit to the Army.
But that didn't land his house on the National Register either. The key to the designation, deLeon said, was the home's Colonial Revival architecture.
The late Stanley Yeager, a prominent local builder, remodeled the house in the Colonial Revival style for the Geyer family in the 1930s. The style is known for its distinctive doorways, staircases, woodwork and oversized chimneys.
"Apparently the state is interested in preserving the Colonial Revival movement," deLeon said.
Richard Geyer, who lived in the house from 1934 to 1941, remembers watching the stonemasons work on the renovation that his father, Walter, commissioned when Richard was a child. "The farmhouse at that time was pretty dilapidated and it was completely remodeled," said Geyer, 83, of Hellertown.
"You couldn't beat it for a place to grow up for boys," he said. "We lived along the creek."
The builder's daughter, 83-year-old Isabel Yeager Bauder of Hellertown, said she was proud that her father's work played a role in getting the homestead on the National Register. She said he employed eight carpenters and her grandfather was the cabinetmaker.
"Most of them were Pennsylvania Dutchmen and they spoke High German," she said. "They were wonderful craftsmen."
The homestead is part of the 15-acre Heller Homestead Park and is along the township's portion of the Rails to Trails project that will connect Hellertown to Coopersburg by hiking and biking paths. The homestead's gift shop and art gallery are open 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and noon-3 p.m. Sundays. Tours of the buildings are available by appointment with the all-volunteer staff, deLeon said. The township has two other properties on the National Register — the Lutz-Franklin Schoolhouse and the Ehrhart's Mill Historic District.
DeLeon said such preservations efforts are important to teach people "a different way of life and how we evolved."
"Kids come to the homestead and just look at the beehive oven in the Widow's House or look at the ironing board and pick up the heavy iron" that had to be heated to iron clothes, she said. They see "the life of the settlers who founded our area."
"They're our past, so I just feel you need to respect the past to go forward," deLeon said.
Margie Peterson is a freelance writer.