The story of Heller Homestead is based on Johan Michael Heller’s ambition to create his farmstead for sustenance, and the sawmill for his livelihood.
Four existing and original structures remain at the Heller Homestead: Michael Heller House (c.1751), the Widow’s House (1850), an original Root Cellar, and remains of 2.5-story stone barn (c.1751). Traces of the first sawmill exist as stone ruins along present-day Creek Road.
The Heller Homestead is located approximately 1/2 mile west of Route 412 and Water Street in Hellertown, PA, at 1890 Friedensville Rd, Bethlehem PA.
On June 28, 2010, the National Park Service listed the Michael & Margaret Heller House (Heller Homestead) in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.
For everything you ever wanted to know about the Michael Heller Homestead and its history, look under the section additional information on the homestead below.
Constructed of native limestone, the two-story structure is an example of a late 18th and early 19th century farmhouse built in this region.
German-born Johan Michael Heller, “Alt Vater,” like most immigrant Germans arriving in Pennsylvania, was quick to understand the value of the land he purchased because of its rich natural resources, including limestone, naturally present in Saucon Valley's geological makeup, which afforded a permanent building material and, once “burned” in limekilns, enabled powdered limestone to enrich the soil. The forested region supplied settlers with a ready supply of lumber and fuel.
Michael’s father, Johan Christoph, built his family’s log home“Delay” in Seidersville. The structure was built in the Germanic style, that is, constructed with the chimney in the center of the dwelling. This allowed a central source of heat to radiate into the rooms toward the exterior walls. It wasn’t until Irish and Scottish house builders settled in the region that architecture featured chimneys at the gabled ends of their homes. As elder German immigrants died, regional architecture outdated the old methods of building and the German style died out with them.
Michael Heller’s stone house featured this “new” style of architecture: a symmetrical facade of five double-hung windows across the second floor, and a front door in the center on the first floor. Matching chimneys on the roof line at the gables completed a sense of balance.
The small windows called for thin mullions to hold glass panes in place. The first floor windows were protected with solid plank shutters; they also kept heat inside during winter months and the rooms cool in summer.
During the Colonial period, fire originating from the hearth was feared by many home owners. Ovens were built in out-kitchens for this reason. In time, as fears lessened, the kitchen was added to the main house. In all cases, however, the fireplace and bake oven were always positioned on the exterior wall, opposite the main house. This addition gives this period’s home its distinctive “el” shape.
Remaining to this day is the original dentil molding, which can still be seen beneath the roof at Heller House. This restrained decoration gives texture to the fascia which would otherwise be plain.
Heller House was the birthplace of fourteen Heller children. When Michael Heller “Alt Vater” died in 1803, the Homestead went to his fourth child, son Michael, known as “Creek Mike” because of the proximity of his house to Saucon Creek. He operated a sawmill nearby on Creek Road which was water-powered by a race originating from Saucon Creek.
When“Creek Mike” died in 1828, it was apparent that all of the Heller children had moved beyond the Homestead to pioneer their own lives thus leaving behind Heller Homestead’s architectural legacy to history and chance.