The land was originally obtained by the Hottel and Keller families, German immigrants, in the 1700s through multiple land grants from Lord Fairfax. They were among the first settlers in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Nestled against Little North Mountain, the museum is a working farm near the village of Mount Olive. The beautiful setting isn’t the only thing that sets GermanFest apart from a typical street fair according to Karen Cooper, President of the SGHM.
“Because we hold the festival on a farm, we have plenty of room to bring in work horses, oxen, rare sheep and chickens. Visitors can see antique farm equipment in action and take free rides on the horse wagon or ox cart. They can also watch the horses doing regular farm chores like plowing and mowing. Observing it is entertaining and educational, and the kids love petting the animals!”
Local farmer Richard Sickles is coming back with his working draft horses and antique farm equipment. Last year he brought a pair of baby oxen called “oxen in waiting”. The wait is over because this year they are old enough to be yoked and they will pull an ox cart in which small children can ride. Richard is also bringing something so special and rare it is on the Endangered Species List! When the settlers arrived in Jamestown they brought farm animals including a variety of sheep especially prized for its wool. For centuries they lived together on Hog Island in the Chesapeake Bay until a Hurricane in the early twentieth century threatened the island. The people abandoned the island, leaving their animals behind. Over the years the sheep reverted back to a feral state and today there are only about 300 descendants of those original “Hog Island Sheep” left in the United States, which is the reason they are listed as an Endangered Species. You can see and pet some of them at GermanFest.
The SGHM farm didn’t escape the ravages of the Civil War. In October of 1864, George Armstrong Custer, under the command of Major General Philip Sheridan, came calling with the Third Cavalry Division, and marched north along Back Road as part of the Burning of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. When they arrived at the property now known as the SGHM, they found the young widow Lydia Borden Keller. She had lost her husband just a few weeks prior to “brain fever” brought on “in an attempt to save his apple crop for grinding in a hand mill, and pressing out its cider in a hand press” according to son, William Jacob Keller, as found in family records. The Widow Keller certainly pled for her barn to be spared, but to no avail. She had no way to know that her barn was merely one of the 2,000 that Sheridan would report destroyed by mid-October, along with 70 mills, 3 iron furnaces, and several railroad buildings. Union troops also destroyed thousands of bushels of wheat, oats, corn, and various other plantings, as well as herding away thousands of sheep and cattle. The Keller House still stands today and serves as a central landmark at GermanFest thanks to the Widow Keller’s heroic efforts. By laying wet quilts against it to extinguish the sparks that had flown off the nearby barn fire, she saved her home, and our heritage from complete destruction. Since approximately 200 acres of the SGHM property was in the core of the Toms Brook battlefield, a National Park Ranger from the Cedar Creek Battlefield will be on hand at GermanFest to talk about the Battle of Toms Brook.
Other historical displays and skill demonstrations will include
- Local Historian John Adamson will be on hand answering questions about his Valley long rifle display
- History will come alive with a Confederate Soldier encampment. You may even run across a Yankee!
- Ferrier Don Ober will be on site shoeing horses
- Blacksmith Dewey Baker will demonstrate his skill at the forge
- A group of ladies with spinning wheels and drop spindles will show how wool and vegetable fibers such as flax were transformed from raw material into yarn for knitting and weaving. Weavers will make rag rugs on the room-sized antique loom. There will be an antique sewing machine demonstration
- The basket ladies will be back again weaving baskets, caning chairs and selling their wares
- The Massanutten Antique Tractor and Gasoline Engine Club (MATGEC) exhibit various examples of gasoline driven tractors and pieces of machinery, as they parade several times during the day. MATGEC’s Doug Bromley brings a 30-passenger “people mover” to transport attendees from one side of the farm to the other. People who prefer to walk can follow the signs and take a leisurely stroll on the meadow path that connects the two sites.
- Many other experts will be around the farm to answer questions about the central chimney at the Hottel House ruins, 18th Century Hottel Spring House, the old barn loom, the Keller Summer Kitchen and the Keller Loom House and more.
Several live musical acts will play throughout the day on the stage located in the Beer Garden. Cathy Kerns will begin the day with a tribute to Patsy Cline. Cline, a native of Winchester, had success on both the country and pop charts in the 1950’s and 60’s and was one of the first country singers (male or female) to have a crossover pop hit when “Walkin’ After Midnight” reached No. 2 on the country chart and No. 16 on the pop chart. The Hottel and Keller families are maternal ancestors of Patsy Cline. Kerns, who also serves as the DJ for the festival, spins typical OktoberFest tunes between acts, producing a lively atmosphere.
Local Blue Grass group Uncle Dave and the Whippersnappers will be on stage around lunch time. Dave Kyger is a ninth-generation descendant of German immigrant Christian Geiger who came to the New World on the Charming Nancy in 1737. He has been involved with Bluegrass and Country Music for more than forty years. This group of neighbors and family will leave you entertained, amused, and laughing with their hard driving banjo and fiddle tunes! The group is comprised of award winning banjo player Jack VanOrden (age 17) who started playing the banjo and guitar when he was ten years old and who has recently been recognized as a great singer; Dave’s thirteen year old daughter Kaley, who has played onstage with Rhonda Vincent and is a promising young fiddler; and Uncle Dave’s Finnish wife, Pirjo Nylander who rounds out the band on the bass fiddle. “Who knows maybe the Old Marine Drill Instructor might even get up and do one of his crowd pleasing numbers!” said Dave Kyger, referring to Jack’s dad, George VanOrden.
German Band, Rhythmus Strasse, is back by popular demand to finish off the day. They first developed their German program at the request of a JMU Dance professor who needed a live band to accompany the German folk dances her students were performing and have now been playing together for more than 25 years. Attendees can look forward to hearing traditional OktoberFest favorites!
Bring a blanket or chair and plan to sit by the stage, or mingle under the fest tent where you will find several rows of tables and chairs. “The festival tent in the Beer Garden provides people a place to sit while eating” said Chester Ramey, GermanFest Planning Committee member, “but it would be a good idea for folks to bring their own lawn chairs since seating is limited and we expect a large crowd”. As far as what is not allowed, the list is short but it includes carry-in food and beverages. “Please note that pets are absolutely prohibited at GermanFest except certified assistance animals. People should definitely bring cameras as there will be many opportunities to take photos, and we love when people upload them to our FaceBook page.” said Ramey. Find it by searching GermanFestVA on FaceBook and tag photos with the group’s newly registered hashtag #GermanFestVA.
GermanFest welcomes back Dixie Beverage back as a fifth-time gold level sponsor serving Yuengling Beer. “I’m often asked why GermanFest serves American Beer and I tell people it’s because Yuengling was founded by a German-American immigrant and is the oldest brewery in America. That fits our German-American Heritage festival theme perfectly.” said Shelly A. Good-Cook, Planning Committee member. “That said, we aim to please so last year we added Spaten to the line-up, which is the most well-known beer from OktoberFest in Munich.” In addition to beer and wine, GermanFest is adding Hard Cider for the first time this year, which has always been a staple for Germans but has recently gained mainstream popularity. “The Hottel’s and Keller’s who once lived on this property grew and sold apples and pressed it into hard cider, so we are bringing back the family tradition.” said Good-Cook.
Hungry festival attendees can look forward to typical German fare served out of two German food stands by third time GermanFest food vendor Village Market Bistro, an European Restaurant from Winchester. They’ll be plating up crowd favorites such as bratwursts, knockwursts, sauerkraut, Wiener schnitzel, beef goulash, Bavarian pretzels, and a mouth-watering braised pork shank that will make you glad you came! Those looking for American food won’t be disappointed with multiple vendors offering items such as burgers, dogs, pizza, BBQ, steak sandwiches, soft serve ice cream and shaved ice, strawberry shortcake, and kettle corn and pork rinds, and more! Local Boy Scout Troop 63 will be back dishing out dutch-oven baked fruit cobblers and ice cream.
Craft fair vendors will also be on hand to tempt you to buy something pretty, something tasty or something they have crafted with their own hands. They’ll have items such as spice rubs and marinades, local honey, homemade soap, candles, hand carved wood items, period clothing, jewelry, woven items, wreaths, bird houses and a variety of other items to help you get an early start to your holiday shopping. Anyone wishing to purchase booth space must contact the group in advance as walk on exhibitors are not accepted.
The event is billed as a rain or shine event, although it will not be held in an absolute all-day down pour. Despite experiencing weather challenges in each of the first four years, GermanFest has averaged more than 1,400 people per year. Festival organizers believe with good weather they will cross the 2,000 mark, and hope this will be their “Goldie Locks” year with sunshine and warm, but not hot temperatures. An announcement will be posted on their Website on the day of the festival if the event is threatened by foul weather.
GermanFest is family friendly. “In addition to the 30 passenger people mover to transport people between the two sides of the farm, the Massanutten Antique Tractor & Gasoline Engine Club will be back free with the Barrel train ride that is such a hit with the kids. There will also be a variety of games and the very popular Pan Mining for gemstones which we had for the first time last year. The children will be able to get their faces painted and pet and interact with the farm animals-they will love it!” according to Ramey.
Activities and events are subject to change.
GermanFest remains a great value with admission at only $5 per person and children under 12 free.
For more information on the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum’s GermanFest including the schedule of events and photos from previous years, log on to www.GermanFestVA.org or visit the FaceBook group “GermanFest VA”.
The Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum is owned and operated by Hottel-Keller Memorial, Inc, (HKMI) a non-profit organization.
The Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum, which encompasses a 392 acre homestead set on two adjoined sites, contains historic buildings, and a variety of artifacts such as household implements, furniture, tools, historic documents, and other items related to the history of the property and the people who lived there from the early 1740s until 1984, collects, preserves, and displays artifacts related to the Valley’s Germanic people. We are dedicated to public understanding of the Germanic Heritage of the Great Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We –
- maintain and exhibit our original Germanic homestead
- collect, demonstrate, and document artifacts of everyday life
- collect and share stories of the Germanic lifestyle
- continue to expand our genealogical data of Germanic settlers in the Shenandoah Valley
For more information on the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum or HKMI log on to www.hottelkeller.org