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GermanFest on tap: New event will showcase valley's old traditions

Gae Ward  stands inside the outdoor kitchen
Gae Ward, of Kinsale, stands inside the outdoor kitchen on the grounds of the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum in Toms Brook. The group is planning a GermanFest for Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Chester Ramey III sits on top of an old tanner's wheel
Chester Ramey III, of Winchester, GermanFest chairman for the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum in Toms Brook, sits on top of an old tanner's wheel at the Keller Homestead, which includes 392 acres in Toms Brook. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Jessica Wiant - jwiant@nvdaily.com

TOMS BROOK - What do Patsy Cline, the Civil War's Battle of Toms Brook and, for that matter, half the residents of the Northern Shenandoah Valley have in common?

They all have ties to the same family tree, say members of the board for Hottel-Keller Memorial Inc.

And perhaps no place is more significant to the roots of that tree than the 392-acre Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum off Back Road, west of Toms Brook

It's only fitting then, that around those three seemingly separate themes the group is basing its first-ever GermanFest there on Saturday.

The term "Germanic" includes people with heritage from any of the several European regions that spoke the German language, which included parts of Northern Italy, Austria and some parts of France, but primarily Germany and Switzerland, said Chester Ramey III, the manager of the festival.

The English called these people Dutch, museum director Gae Ward explained.

The Germanic people had their own distinctive language and folk ways, she said, and they brought with them an "innate, in their genes, love of the land."

They came to the Shenandoah Valley, Ramey explained, because its geography reminded them of their homeland.

They were known for conscientious farming methods, according to Ward. They used each part of a pig, Ramey said as an example. That's how scrapple, a valley tradition, came about.

They oftentimes relied more on their own family members than slaves for farm work, too, board members explained, so they tended to have large families with many children.

And they became interconnected with each other through marriages.

"They didn't go far to find their mates," Ward said.

That may be a main reason that the Hottel-Keller group can claim they are related to half the people in the valley -- or at least those with Germanic surnames like Funkhouser, Zirkle, Crabill and Sheetz.

When you start looking into your genealogy you find more relations than you would have guessed, according to board member Shelly Good-Cook.

"Once you start digging you never know what you're going to find," she said.

The storied property first served as the home place to George Hottel as well as his sister, Barbara, and her husband, George Keller. The 390 acres stayed in the families until they were eventually deeded to the memorial foundation several years ago.

The group operates the open-by-appointment Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum and had talked about the possibility of a GermanFest for several years, board members explained.

September proved to be the perfect timing for many reasons, said Ramey.

There's the fall color on display all along the ridge, for one thing, he said. September is also the month Patsy Cline was born, the month of the Battle of Toms Brook -- which took place on a large swath of the Hottel-Keller property -- and September also marks the anniversary of the day Johannes Hodel (Hottel), the father of George and Barbara Hottel, immigrated to the new world, according to Ramey.

Each detail of this festival was selected carefully to have a tie to the families or Germanic tradition.

Because Cline's heritage traces right back to the Hottels and the Kellers, GermanFest will feature a performance by Cline impersonator Liz Ruffner.

The rest of the entertainment proves relevant as well. The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps will kick off the festival by marching onto the grounds and performing in one of the lower fields, according to Ramey. The corps patterns itself after circa 1781 Continental Army musicians -- which will pay homage to those in the families with revolutionary ties, according to Ward.

The event will also feature a 12-piece German band. But beyond just entertainment, GermanFest promises several educational opportunities as well, including a first-person interpreter portraying Lord Fairfax and guided Battle of Toms Brook walking tours.

Karen Good-Cooper will conduct a presentation on the lifestyle of early settlers and several crafters will demonstrate Germanic traditions like spinning and weaving.

Fresh bread baked in a reproduction outdoor oven will be available along with many other traditional foods. Even a beer garden, featuring Yuengling, America's oldest operating brewery founded by a German immigrant, will stick to theme.

Because the Hottel-Keller group is a nonprofit, and because it is responsible for so much property, the group has a responsibility to involve the public, Ramey said, so they would like to make GermanFest an annual tradition -- even working it up to a two-day event in the future.

For now, the group will be happy to break even, he said, and spread the word a little bit about the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum.

"No one knows we're back here," he said.

GermanFest will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum at 11523 Back Road, Toms Brook. Admission is free but there is a $5 parking fee per vehicle. People who sign up to volunteer at the event will get free parking, food and a commemorative T-shirt. For more information, go online to www.germanfestva.org.



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