Susan Miers Smith: Berks Places: Plowville a slice of Americana in Robeson Township
Jan. 24—Berks Places is a recurring feature that will focus on small villages and census designated places throughout the county. History, nostalgia and local voices will shed some light on the quaint nooks and crannies of our area. Additional historical photographs accompany the online version of the articles.
The village of Plowville in Robeson Township in southern Berks County takes its name from the hotel that was established there in the 1800s and featured a drawing of a plow on the signboard, according to local historian George M. Meiser IX.
Meiser also explained that there are early references to the village with the British spelling, Plough, which was on an early sign there.
"For the record, some 19th century documents refer to the hamlet as 'Plow Tavern' rather than Plowville," Meiser wrote in Volume 14 of the book series "The Passing Scene," coauthored with his wife, Gloria Jean Meiser. "The original Plough Tavern was a log structure that stood on the west side of Route 10. John Kerling is credited with opening it. William Witman was innkeeper in 1805. ... George Coleman established the stone tavern across the road around 1839. Peter Schweitzer bought it in 1840 for $3,500. From 1854 until his demise in 1865, Absalom Eshelman was the owner. His son Moses continued the enterprise until his death in 1885. Augustus Eshelman worked at the hotel for much of the time Moses owned it and apparently bought the business after his death."
Augustus worked at the hotel from around 1865 until his retirement in 1900. Harvey Witwer was the last owner, from 1900 to Prohibition.
The former stone hotel still stands on the corner of Route 10 and Buck Hollow Road at 4406 Morgantown Road and is a residence today.
"The general store was across the street from the hotel, but down just a little bit, heading back toward 724, maybe 400 or 500 feet," Meiser said during an interview last week.
In a photo Meiser recently snapped, a 1773 date plaque can be seen on the building, which was news to him. The building also was home to the Plowville Post Office from 1884 to 1911.
The other, and arguably best known, landmark in the village is Plow Church, which is officially known as Robeson Evangelical Lutheran Church. The original, smallish brownstone church has been expanded several times over the years and the complex at 3520 Plow Road includes a parsonage and preschool and an adjoining cemetery with graves dating to the 1700s.
The cemetery also is the final resting spot of Linda Grace Hoyer Updike and Wesley Russell Updike, the parents of author John Updike. Linda Updike was born in and died in a Plowville farmhouse nearby.
Meiser recalled an interesting tidbit about Plow Church from the early 1900s.
"They wanted to have gold striping from the front of the church on the left side above the wainscoting, up around the windows, across the wainscoting up across the next window all the way around to the back door, across the back, then down to the front and ending at the first window closest to the altar," Meiser said.
The church hired well-known religious artist Berthold von Imhoff to do the work. The German-born artist lived in Berks County from 1900 to 1914 and then moved to Canada.
"No sooner had they finished, there was a lightning strike and the lightning hit one of the gold strips and burned all of them off the wall," Meiser said. "That's a famous story. I wish I would have been there to watch that. Those who saw it stood in awe of the lightning strike."
John and Jean Guiseppe have lived across from Plow Church for 37 years and in Plowville since 1975.
John was a new teacher in the West Chester School District when he and Jean were looking to purchase their first home, and price was a key factor in their search bringing them to Plowville from Honey Brook, Chester County.
"To buy a home in the mid 1970s, interest rates were extremely high," John said. "I think the going interest rate was around 14-15%, something like that, for a mortgage. Finding something we could afford was obviously a concern."
Prices were cheaper in Berks, and they were able to negotiate a mortgage for "only" 13% from Elverson Bank, John said. They lived along busy Route 10 for a decade and then moved to quieter Plow Road in 1985.
Most importantly, John said, they moved right across the street from the Plowville Athletic Association field, which would become a large part of their lives.
"It was a neat place to raise kids, and the friends we made, we made through baseball," John said.
As a teen, John had taken the field in Plowville as a visitor from Honey Brook. Then his and Jean's four children played there and now his grandkids swing bats and throw balls there.
"And I oftentimes look as I sit on the railing watching the kids play and I watch the other games as well, and I look out over a beautiful view and you think to yourself, this is Americana, without any question," John said. "It is a throwback."
Not much as changed in Plowville the Guiseppes said.
Route 10 is still busy with traffic, and Stampede Barbecue moved into the village at 4372 Morgantown Road in 2017. The restaurant is schedule to reopen Jan. 26 after a closure for an addition and renovations.
Jean noted that nearby Weaver's Orchard has grown significantly.
"Weaver's Orchard was a godsend during COVID because they were the first to establish that you could do curbside pickup," Jean said. "They were there for us and they have grown to be quite an establishment."
"There's no significant changes we can see," John said.
When they go down to watch a baseball game they still partake of the offerings at the snack bar that was there when the Guiseppe children played.
"We had a great deal of fun as we worked in the snack bar, and there is a little sign now above the service window that says 'The infamous Plowville Snack Bar,' and when I first saw that, I said 'Do you know who made it infamous?" John said. "It was us when we were here. We used to have such a great time with our music blaring. And most people would say it was the greatest cheeseburger in the world served there."
The Guiseppes, both 76, say they want to stay in Plowville as long as they possibly can. They've made modifications to their home to allow first-floor living if the two stories they have ever become too much for them as they get older.
They are sticking with their slice of Americana for the long haul.