Special Recognition to Be Awarded to the Boyertown Area Historical Society


Contributing to this article were Lindsey Riegner Mason, Lesley Misko, and Jane Stahl

Learning that the Boyertown Area Historical Society has been named for Recognition at the upcoming Citizens of the Year event is a big deal for Society treasurer Luann Zambanini. “I’m super excited that we’re getting this recognition. It’s showing me that all the hours we dedicate to the society and all the events are being seen and appreciated by folks in the Boyertown area. We are all very grateful.”

“We have so many good people in Boyertown who are eager to preserve Boyertown’s history; everybody gets that,” explains Rachael Kehler, president of the Boyertown Area Historical Society since 2020. Rachael has watched the Historical Society’s progress since she became involved seven years ago, expressing pride that it has come so far.

“The society has reached out into the community much more in recent years,” notes Luann. “Our board is very active and supportive, making all our events possible.”

“The community is noticing what we’re doing,” Rachael adds. “The positive attention through this Special Recognition is really nice.”

Taking on the 2023 Halloween Parade and the purchase and revitalization of Bahr’s Mill are two of the Historical Society’s most recent projects that have garnered the community’s attention and appreciation.

“The parade is a beloved tradition that unifies families and friends together for a spooky good time, and enhances community spirit,” Lindsey Reigner Mason explains. “When it looked like the Parade was not going to happen this past year, we stepped up and took it over; we couldn’t let this special parade just end,” Rachael offers. “We have the infrastructure, the volunteers, the community’s faith and trust. There is evidence that the parade began in 1912, making it possibly one of the oldest ongoing parades.”

Just several years ago, the Historical Society made a leap of faith in purchasing and restoring Bahr’s Mill but has already paid off its loan. “This mill is not run-of-the-mill; it’s unique,” Rachael notes. The mill was closed during World War II, but the equipment and original water wheel remain.

Volunteers are working with the Society in planning events at the Mill; grants, donations and supporters are sought in efforts to preserve the structure itself and offer programs and events to the public free of charge.

In the midst of those major projects, the restoration of the Historical Society’s home has been a priority. Rachael states “I am proud to say that the society has fundraised and made all the exterior repairs to our building. It feel good to know that we are able to fix our beautiful building in this historic town.”

In 1903, George Unger and his family moved into their new Queen Anne style Victorian home, known as “one of the finest residences in the lower end of the county.”

In 1921, following the death of his wife, Unger sold the property to the newly-formed Roman Catholic parish, St. Columbkill’s to use as their first church. The church building was improved many times. A major addition to the church was completed in 1953.

Photographs sourced from
The Pictorial History of Boyertown (2006)

In 1974, the church sold the property to the Boyertown Area Historical Society for its Museum and Library. (Details provided by Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.)

“My goal as president is to fix our historic building, to date we have fixed the exterior and the leaks, painted the facility, and repaired the sidewalks. We’re about ready to work on the interior—with special attention to the museum area so that we can be fully open to the public,” Rachael adds.

“Luckily, my husband is into historic restoration. He’s restored a covered bridge, for example. He’s a history guy; fortunately, history is something we both enjoy. And when the Harners [Margaret and Carl] were doing ghost walks, my husband even became one of the tour guides.”

Founded in 1972, the mission of the Boyertown Area Historical Society states, “To collect and preserve historically significant items and information from the Boyertown area past while enabling this history to be enjoyed and studied into the Boyertown area future.”

Their major fundraising event is the annual Belsnickel Craft Show. This popular juried event has showcased handcrafted artisan work with no commercially or mass-produced items for 52 years while "spreading holiday cheer and celebrating Boyertown’s cultural heritage," notes Lindsey. 

Adding to the holiday festivities is the Society’s Historic Holiday Tour that has become the kick-off to Boyertown’s festive Christmas holiday celebrations. The Tour invites visitors to experience the magic of the season through guided tours of historic landmarks and decorated homes.

Photographs featuring homes on the 2009 Holiday Open House Tour: Shannon and Andy Powers, Marianne and Frank Deery, Margaret and Carl Harner

Plus, in recent years, the Society has hosted the annual New Year’s Eve Bear Drop, a whimsical and iconic tradition marks New Year’s Eve in Boyertown with joy and excitement.

Artist Julie Longacre painted the Bear Fever bear who stood guard at the Boyertown Area Historical Society before moving inside. 

“Recently, the Society hosted a pop-up exhibit at Chestnut Knoll showcasing a collection of vintage wedding dresses, offering a glimpse into the past and celebrating the traditions of Boyertown,” Lindsey continues. 

In addition to its major projects, the Society facilitates a variety of changing exhibits and events including ghost walks in October and metal detecting events that attract people from “all over to dig up history and preserve it,” Rachael notes. "During COVID, when many people couldn't be close together, Rob Theisen, a great fundraiser, came up with the idea. They’ve found metal tins, coins from 1600s, Tootsie cars that were popular before Matchbox cars," Rachael shares.

The Boyertown Community Tractor Show, a free event celebrating the area’s agricultural heritage and encouraging community members to enjoy displays of vintage tractors and farm equipment, fosters a deeper appreciation for Boyertown’s agricultural roots.

The Historical Society is run by a board of 12 members that Rachael describes as “a great team.” “Everyone enjoys coming to meetings; we have a great time collaborating. Everyone’s voice and opinions count.”

“More than just a repository of historical artifacts, the Boyertown Area Historical Society serves as a vibrant center for community engagement, fostering a deeper appreciation for the area’s legacy and ensuring its preservation for generations to come,” Lindsey concludes.

While a lot of credit is given to Rachael and her husband for their creativity and energy, Rachael points to the mix of members and volunteers for the renaissance of the Historical Society. ““We have a good board. We have a good mix of men and women, as well as older and younger people. Our older board members know the organization's history and what has and hasn’t worked. They are wise, and we have our younger board members who bring in new ideas and have the energy to pull them off. You need a good mixture to be able to rely on one another’s strengths.”

Luann adds, “We are always open to new members! Members receive a bimonthly newsletter of upcoming events. We have a program once a month that is free to our members, but the community is more than welcome to attend any and all these programs for a modest fee. It’s amazing the things you learn!

“And the society is always open and appreciates receiving donations of any type of Boyertown area history. So, if you are moving, decluttering, or cleaning out someone’s house, keep us in mind for anything related to Boyertown. Our mission is to save the history of the area for future generations. It’s an exciting time to be a member of the Boyertown Area Historical Society.”

Kim Frain agrees, saying, “I am so happy for the society receiving this recognition. They have worked so hard the past few years to step up their game. They’ve come up with many exciting events for families and history buffs.

“Plus, they’ve done an unbelievable job in fundraising efforts needed for the challenging work upgrading the historical building itself as well as documenting every item in their collections with exceptional care and attention to detail. They are definitely a hardworking, dedicated group!”

In celebrating the Boyertown Area Historical Society through this year’s Special Recognition Award, the Citizens of the Year committee acknowledge the Society' determination in always looking for ways to preserve the town’s history and the pride they exhibit in doing so.

* Lindsey Riegner Mason is a 2001 alum of Boyertown Area Senior High. Lindsey served as Director of the Boyertown Community Library from 2012-2015 when she became a librarian in the Reading School District. Since 2021, she has held the position of Southern Middle School Librarian in the Wilson School District. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Lindsey was named the 66th Annual Boyertown Area Citizen of the Year, and honored in a "virtual ceremony." She lives with her husband, Corey, and has four stepchildren. She is active on the fundraising committee of the Boyertown Community Library and the conference committee for the Pennsylvania School Library Association.

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