In 2001, the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania dedicated a new museum wing to its building. Even with this addition, SLHC’s board realized that the institution was running out of space. Nearly twenty years later, SLHC has completed another extensive construction project, which won a 2020 Montgomery Award for planning and design.
The Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center tells the story of the region’s Pennsylvania Germans who fled Germany in the 1730s for religious freedom. According to Dave Luz, SLHC’s Executive Director, Emeritus, the institution recognized the need to expand in order to continue telling this story. “If we wanted to continue to fulfill our mission, which was to preserve the heritage of the Schwenkfelders and the Upper Perkiomen Valley, we needed more space,” Luz said in a video by the Montgomery County Planning Commission. “Our archives and storage facilities were just jam packed filled, and things were still coming in on a regular basis.”
The new 38,000 square-foot addition increases SLHC’s exhibition, education, storage, and research space by 50 percent. The two-level space includes a temperature and humidity-controlled room for archival storage, space for storage and preparation of exhibition furniture, and two new exhibit spaces– The Schultz Rural Life Gallery and The Kriebel Rural Entrepreneurship Gallery– large enough to house farm equipment and a Conestoga wagon.
Another important component of the project was the reconstruction of an 1826 Pennsylvania bank barn. The barn was donated by the Seipts, a local family who have been involved with SLHC for generations. Vern Seipt, chair of the Building Committee, explained that his family donated the barn because it represents the way life used to be in the area. “A farm family spent so much time in the barn. And this barn happens to be old enough to date back to the early 1800s and really represents the Pennsylvania German design that was so common in this area,” Vern Seipt said.
The Seipt family barn was dismantled in November 2019, and reconstruction was completed at SLHC in summer 2020. The completed reconstruction made use of 70 percent of the original interior timbers, so that visitors still get the feel of being inside a nineteenth century barn. At SLHC, the barn serves as an area to teach visitors about feeding animals, storing crops, and milking cows.
Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center’s addition project was recognized by the Montgomery County Planning Commission with a 2020 Montgomery Award. SLHC received this award for “preservation of community heritage, context-sensitive design, and a successful long-term planning process.”
The Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center is currently open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday.