History of a local landmark

By on December 7, 2011

CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN

Special to the Record

It is with great sadness that this month’s historical article will cover a house that is scheduled to be demolished. The McCall house, or more historically speaking, the Aaron Wissler homestead which stands on the property of John Beck Elementary school in Brunnerville.

The 9.9 acre tract of land which also included a barn and garage was purchased in October 2000 by the school. Mrs. McCall was still living at the property at the time, and was allowed to live there until her death. The McCall family moved there in 1971, purchasing the home from Amos and Katie Martin.

The barn was demolished in 2003, and in 2005 when Mrs. McCall passed, options were explored to convert the old home into an educational space that was to be used by the nearby school. In addition, a couple was interested in moving the house to another location which the school approved of, however, the task of moving the home was decided to be cost-prohibitive.

The Building and Property Committee then entertained the idea of having it serve as a storage site, which occurred from September 2006 to June 2011.

I want to make it clear that my intention of this article is not to lobby to save this structure, or to question the school board’s decision to demolish the house. I understand fully that due to fiscal responsibility, the house cannot stay. Rather, I will use my space this month to discuss the history of this house and the important resident of Brunnerville who built it.

This home, as the date stone on the back of the house reads, was built by Aaron and Leah Wissler in 1872. Aaron was born in August of 1832 in nearby Clay Township. Growing up, he learned the trade of farming at an early age from his father. In 1868, he moved to Brunnerville and shortly thereafter, purchased the Brunnerville Iron Foundry from the estate of Peter Brunner who first began the foundry and a machine shop at this location. On October 21st 1856, Aaron married Leah Keller and shortly thereafter, they started a family.

The barn on this estate was built in 1870, two years before the home. The back part of the home served as the summer kitchen and butcher house. There was also a bake oven there at one time. There are many iron grates and other items still attached to the house presently- all which were manufactured at the nearby foundry including the summer kitchen’s stove. Aaron Wissler also built the house next to it, towards John Beck.

In 1987, the roof blew off what was once Aaron Wissler’s house in a storm, and this incident made the front page of the Lancaster New Era. However within three days, due to the cooperation of the community, the roof was rebuilt.

There is an old Lancaster County tale that Manheim’s own Henry William Stiegel or the "Baron" as he is widely known, dealt with one of Aaron’s ancestors at one time. It is said that in the 1700′s, Stiegel bartered for some steer and wheat with Andreas Wissler, but did not have the money to pay for it. Instead, he put up his turtle shell cased gold watch for trade.

When Stiegel never came back to pay for his goods or to retrieve the watch, it eventually ended up in the hands of Aaron Wissler forty years later. Not knowing whose watch it was, Wissler took the watch to a local jeweler named Mr. Zahm and traded it for a more modern watch. Legend has it that Mr. Zahm, upon examining the watch, noted the initials "H. Wm. Stiegel" inside, along with an engraving of a rose. Not knowing who Stiegel was, Zahm melted the watch down immediately.

For a time, Aaron Wissler was also in business with John H. Keller at the foundry, but Keller retired in 1875, giving Wissler sole ownership. The foundry manufactured many items including pump-troughs, cellar grates, hitching posts, cook stoves, and various other iron products.

On July 31, 1898, a terrible fire broke out at the foundry in the planing room, and burnt it to the ground. Aaron rushed into the inferno and saved various log books out of the safe. Unfortunately, the building did not carry any insurance and damages were estimated at around three-thousand dollars. Displaying the hard working spirit, Aaron rebuilt the foundry at the same location within ninety days, and it was back to business as usual.

Aside from being Brunnerville’s iron master, Wissler also held many patents. These included many farm implements which made work easier and/or more stream lined and they proved to be very useful. He was also loved to write, and beginning in 1872, he kept a diary.

The diaries continued almost continually up until 1902. After a hard day’s work, Aaron would write down his thoughts from that day and would also include anecdotes concerning the weather, his business transactions, and life in general. He was a very religious man who would pray often at home and gave thanks and praise to his employees on a daily basis. All twenty-two volumes of his diaries are now in the possession of the Pennsylvania State Archives and are examined by the public often.

In 1905, Aaron Wissler became ill and decided it was time to retire and thus, sold the foundry to Frank Bentz that same year. Then on February 15, 1906, Aaron Wissler passed away at age seventy-three. His life was that of a hard working, God-fearing family man who loved his iron business and his community. He is buried in the Hammer Creek Mennonite Church cemetery, located right outside of Brunnerville.

Every time I drive past his former home in Brunnerville, I can’t help but think what life was like for not only him, but many of the hard working citizens of a much simpler time who helped shape Warwick Township. As I drive past, I can picture him in my mind sitting in a chair looking out one of the windows while writing in his diary. Perhaps he was tallying up the days invoices, or dreaming up a new patent?

We cannot save every old house; every place that used to be a corner store; or every casual landmark that was once important to someone many years ago. We can, however, study our past and learn from it as we approach the year 2012.

Let us welcome the upcoming year with new challenges, but be ever-mindful of the wonderful area in which we live. Lancaster County is so rich in history. I urge you in the coming year to go out and discover all it has to offer.

I wish you a very joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year! More WISSLER HOUSE, page A5

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