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Hotel Jonas' historic oven finds a new home

  • LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Pat and Ernie Foucault, members of the Polk Township Historical Society, were on hand to record the removal of a 250-year-old bake oven from the back of Hotel Jonas.
    LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Pat and Ernie Foucault, members of the Polk Township Historical Society, were on hand to record the removal of a 250-year-old bake oven from the back of Hotel Jonas.
Published March 19. 2010 05:00PM

The Polk Township Historical Society "baked" up a little a history of its own this week.

After several years of consulting, planning and raising funds, the Jonas Bake Oven has been moved to its new home at the West End Fairgrounds.

Linda Snyder of Jonas, a keeper of her family's history, says the bake oven, made out of native stone held together with lime and sand, was once used to bake the bread and meals served at the old stagecoach inn located on Route 534 and Jonas Road, across from her home. It 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.

The oven is estimated to be over 250 years old. Linda considers it to be a family heirloom. Her great-grandfather, Jonas Snyder bought his first tract of land of 120 acres from a Mr. Singmaster for $400 in 1859. It remained in the family for the next 100 years or so.

Today, Linda, Ralph Snyder's daughter, owns 120 acres and the barns across from the hotel.

The present owners, Mike Pandolfo and Al Cantiello, purchased the hotel in October 1999. The name Hotel Jonas was chosen. After extensive renovations it was reopened on Dec. 16, 1999.

Linda has spent much of her life trying to preserve the heritage of Jonas Mountain and Jonas. Several years ago, she learned that the owners of the hotel were considering tearing down the bake oven after a fire destroyed the structure around it. Linda was spurred on to have the bake oven removed. She remembers watching her grandfather and uncle using it to bake bread and apple butter. She believes it is a valuable educational tool and could be used to continue demonstrating the lifestyle of our early descendants, like the one at Quiet Valley. She believes with the development of Monroe County, its living history is rapidly disappearing and would love to see as much of it preserved as possible.

She brought it to the attention of the Polk Historical Society, of which she is a member, hoping they would want to preserve this bit of history for future generations. They embraced the idea and set out to acquire it.

"It took a period of time to reach an agreement with the owners, who are donating it to the Polk Township Historical Society and PTHS is very appreciative of, getting a $20,000 grant from Monroe County Commissioners, and doing a whole lot of fundraising to get enough money for the project," says Norman Burger, president of the Polk Township Historical Society.

After five years, PTHS finally has seen this project come to fruition.

In a very delicate operation, Wolfe House and Building Movers of Bernville, arrived Monday, March 15 and began digging down to the oven's foundation, about four feet. Then it involved installing beams under the oven and wrapping it tightly before they could actually lift it and put it on a tractor trailer truck.

About 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the truck moved the oven to its new site in front of the West End Fair's museum, but not without a small glitch. A few fence posts had to be removed to swing the trailer around the front entrance off Fairgrounds Road.

The bake oven is poised over the spot it will finally rest on, waiting for a concrete block foundation, which Burger and his brothers, Donald and Harvey, will lay. Then a 16-foot by 24-foot concrete block-wall building will be constructed around it to preserve the oven.

"The original building it was housed in at Jonas was mortise and tenon joints and we would have loved to recreate that type of building. But to meet current fire codes, the walls have to be a fire-rated wall of two hours," says Burger.

Burger says they are about one third of the way to seeing the project finished.

It is hoped, by PTHS and the West End Fair directors, that the bake oven will be ready for its debut at this year's 2010 West End Fair.

"We are very excited about preserving this important piece of West End history. We are hoping to be able to fire it up and demonstrate how bread and other things were baked in the 1700s when the oven was built," says Pat Foucault, PTHS treasurer.

"We're hoping to serve freshly baked bread from the oven to fairgoers," says Burger.

"It'll be a good thing to have it here," says Donald Everett, WEF president.

As he stood watching the work being done by Wolfe House and Building Movers, he adds, "I'm amazed at all the work it is taking to get it placed."

Burger says it cost $24,000 to have it moved and the whole project will cost approximately between $35,000-40,000.

The PTHS received a $20,000 grant from Monroe County Commissioners and PTHS did a lot of "Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising," says Pat Foucault.

Every year it has a Big Yard Sale in May, a quilt show in June and a basket social in November.

"And we receive donations," says Pat.

She and her husband, Ernie Foucault, have been members since 2002 and became very involved in trying to preserve the bake oven. They have been recording each phase of the move on camera.

She was on her way to Jonas to photograph the oven's journey when she saw it coming down Route 534.

"I cried. It was just an emotional moment to seeing it finally happen," she says.

As she stood watching the work of it being ready to rest on its new foundation she says, "I couldn't be happier. I love it. I feel like a Mother Hen."

Linda arrived at the site late Wednesday afternoon. When she saw her "baby" safely at its new home, she cried. Then she went around and hugged everyone, from Wolfe's employees to PTHS members to WEF members, thanking each one.

She feels good knowing this historic bake oven will be around for generations to come.

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