Remembering the Reist Museum

By on October 9, 2019

There are many special buildings in Lititz. Filled with countless history, they stand as a reminder of our storied past.

While most have continued to sit proudly for hundreds of years along Main or Broad streets, there are many others which are unassuming, and tucked away along the back roads and alleys of the area’s neighborhoods.

One such building is situated next to Leaman Street in downtown Lititz, and served a very unique purpose approximately 100 years ago. It was a museum of learning, all curated by local resident Nathan “Dad” Reist.

It all began in 1903 when Reist purchased six books by author Horatio Alger. From there, his collection grew, eventually swelling to 7,000 bound volumes. A school teacher for most of his adult life, he also served as the unofficial town librarian &tstr; his students, as well as the general public — were invited to borrow books from his massive library on the honor system.

Inside the museum, you didn’t have to look hard to also see locally-dug arrowheads, fossils, and an immense stamp collection totaling 12,000 items. There were also mineral samples, seashells, spinning wheels, and an entire room filled with nothing but ancient Native American pottery.

The former location of Nathan Reist’s museum in downtown Lititz. Photo by Cory Van Brookhoven.

There were also insect specimens like beetles, eggs, butterflies, and over 100 taxidermy birds as well as other stuffed creatures. Suspended from the rafters was also a trapeze and crossbar for Reist’s students to enjoy.

At the very top of his museum was a small observation window. Here, Reist had a telescope set up so his students could go stargazing during clear summer nights.
Reist was also an accomplished photographer, and housed a collection of some 2,000 glass plate negatives featuring images he snapped all over Lancaster County.

It was all part of an immense educational collection that took the beloved educator 70 of his 85 years to bring together.

Adorning the outside of the property were many unusual plants and flowers which he also cared for. Reist’s Japanese Magnolia flowers were especially in abundance. There was also a rare Kentucky coffee tree which he was extremely proud of.

Nathan Reist. LNP archives.

After Reist’s passing in 1940, his entire collection went up for auction. Many items ended up at local institutions like Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area, Franklin & Marshall College, and Lititz’s first rec center.

Although the items were now scattered, it was clear that these artifacts would continue to inspire new students in many places.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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