"The biggest day of my life was the day they moved the bake oven from the Hotel Jonas," said Linda Snyder of Jonas as she welcomed visitors on opening day of the 89th West End Fair in Gilbert.
As she stood next to the historic bake oven in its new home in front of the West End Fair museum, one could sense her feelings of relief that not only a piece of her own family heritage has been saved but also a piece of local history. This is something she has been working toward for 10 years, with the help and dedication of members of the Polk Township Historical Society.
It is believed that the Jonas Bake Oven was built around 1790 as part of a stagecoach stop. The small hotel fed and lodged travelers while teams of horses were exchanged. There was a sawmill, an apple orchard and a small stream with a dam that powered the sawmill.
Linda Snyder's ancestor, great-grandfather Jonas Snyder, purchased the hotel and 120 acres in 1859. She can recall her grandmother, Anna Christman, making chicken and waffle dinners at the hotel for a 100 people. The outdoor bake oven was still used to make pies and bread at that time.
She believes the bake oven has historical value to the community because so few of these large pieces have survived. It is made out of native stone held together with lime and sand and is somewhat unusual in that it is a perfect example of a fireplace and bake oven. The fireplace was where large cauldrons hung to make meals, with the bake oven behind it.
She credits Gary Oiler, well-known for his pursuit in preserving local history, for his opinion that it should be saved. Oiler is a retired Bangor Junior High School teacher who taught arts, agriculture, and horticulture and is one of the founders of Quiet Valley Farm Museum, a well-known and respected historical site in the Poconos. The Farm has an outdoor bake oven and uses it to demonstrate how bread was baked in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 2005, the Hotel Jonas owners, Mike Pandolfo and Al Cantiello, considered expanding the kitchen which would have meant demolishing the oven. Snyder brought it to the attention of the Polk Township Historical Society and they asked the owners to not destroy it and asked permission to remove it from the premises. In 2005, an arsonist set fire to the building that housed the oven. The owners decided to donate the oven to PTHS and PTHS began looking for a new home for it.
Finally in 2009, an agreement was made between the owners and the West End Fair Association for the oven to be moved to a site next to the Fair's museum.
In March 2010, Wolfe House Movers excavated around the oven's deep foundation, tunneled through it to insert steel I-beams, jacked the oven to allow for creation of a ramp to place a trailer under it and transported the 65,000 lb. oven down Rts. 534 and 209 to the fairgrounds. It was postponed over a concrete pad in front of the Fair's museum. Then the current president of PTHS, Norman Burger, and his two brothers, Donald and Harvey, went to work and built a four-foot concrete block foundation for it to rest on, removing the I-beams one at a time.
A concrete block building was constructed around it with a post-and-beam roof to house it.
"This would not have gotten done in time for this year's fair without the Burgers. It should last another 200 years," said Snyder.
The project is not complete.
"This is just the beginning," said Ernie Foucault, a PTHS member, who, with his wife Pat, also a member, have been recording every step of the move and has assisted in the new structure's construction.
PTHS plans to have the oven fully restored, with the mortar joints being replaced with burnt limestone, sand and clay, and laying fire brick on the floor and up the sides. The damaged dome needs to be reconstructed and the two chimneys rebuilt, all of which will need funds to do so.
Under the leadership of then PTHS president, Roger Christman, PTHS applied for and received a $20,000 grant from Monroe County in 2006 to make it possible to remove the bake oven to its present site. They are now asking for donations and hope to raise the funds to make the necessary restorations and to face the concrete block structure in stone.
The ultimate goal of PTHS is to be able to demonstrate to the West End Fair public how the bake oven was originally used and once again, bake fresh bread and make apple butter.
But for this year, visitors to the fair can stop by and view the Jonas Bake Oven up until Saturday, Aug. 28. There are posters showing how the oven was moved from its former home at Hotel Jonas to the West End Fair. Members of the PTHS will be on hand to answer any questions.
"I am super happy to see it moved. I'm super happy to see it here. And I will be super happy to see it operational. Hopefully next year," said Snyder.