As a non-profit, educational institution, the Hummelstown Area Historical Society relies on the generous support of individuals, businesses, foundations, and local and state governments to fund our programs.
The property at 32 West Main Street has had many changes through the years. An original log structure was replaced by a stately frame home in 1908. In the back yard, there was a large barn, outhouse, tool shed, and vegetable gardens. The side yard was used for games, entertaining, and raising flowers. By 1922 a garage was added for the family automobile.
The barn, as well as two neighboring barns, burned. The gardens became smaller, and were eventually planted with grass as vegetables and fruits became available in local stores or from door to door vendors. In the 1950’s, an addition was built to the main house for professional offices. New flower gardens and decorative and shade producing trees were planted. The outhouse was removed after a bathroom was installed in the garage. Dog pens were installed and an outdoor shower was built. Children now used the whole yard for play except those areas where adults with increased recreational time devoted themselves to growing roses and other flowers. But by 2000, the backyard was rarely used. The trees had grown so tall that the sun was blocked out. The yard was also overgrown with shrubs and ivy that were in need of pruning.
The Historical Society decided “to restore” the backyard. The Deimler Backyard was created in 2012 to provide an area for events staged by the Historical Society and other community groups and to improve access the to the Society’s offices and library at 32 West Main Street. Projects included building a new sidewalk, grading to improve drainage, and re-sodding lawn. Original plants and shrubs thought to have been planted by either the Mariani or Brightbill families, former residents of the house, were retained. They include the following plantings:
Cedar Trees are used for construction, firewood, and even to ward off insects. The lush green foliage of cedars was intended as a backdrop for colorful flowers and shrubs, as well as to provide shade to the garden visitor.
Elderberry leaves were used to make tonics to “settle the stomach”. The berries were also used to make wine, tea, and jam. The berries have been used by members of the Society to make jam. Years ago, the branches were used for knitting needles, stakes, and water witches.
White and Purples Lilacs were planted to attract birds and provide floral cemetery memorials. The lilacs in the Deimler Back Yard were originally planted near the former barn and outhouse so the scent of the flowers would mask obvious odors. In 1767, Thomas Jefferson recorded the planting of lilacs in his garden book, and in 1785, George Washington noted that he had transplanted lilacs in his garden.
Spiderwort Plants produce a pink, white or purple flower that opens in the morning, and closes in the afternoon sun. Native Americans used the bush to treat stomach ailments.
Hydrangeas became popular because the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition celebrated the culture of the Orient. Fresh or dried hydrangea blooms were used in the home decorating. Native Americans and settlers used the root as a diuretic, the bark to ease muscle sprains and burns, and leaves in a tonic to treat kidney problems.
English Ivy was planted as a ground cover and to provide an English cottage feel to a property. English Ivy was brought to the United States by colonists around 1727. The extract from ivy leaves is thought to help ease breathing for those with asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease.
Rose of Sharon is popular because of its religious association. The Rose of Sharon was used as a name for the infant Christ by English poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) in his poem "To His Savior, a Child: A Present by a Child." Herrick borrowed the term from the King James Version of the Bible where the flower is referred to in the Song of Solomon. The blooms were thought to provide an Asian ambiance to a Victorian garden.
Spice Bush – The spice bush is a deciduous tree. The leaves, as well as ripe fruit pods, produce an aromatic scent, hence the name. The twigs were used by Native Americans to treat colds, dysentery, and parasites and improve circulation. Dried leaves were used as a substitute for allspice by early colonial cooks.
Original Plants and Shrubs
The Deimler Backyard also features many new plantings in the beds that were created during the reconfiguration of the yard. These plants originally grew in other Hummelstown area yard and they have historical legacies or stories. Like treasured antique furniture or china in the Society’s collection, these plants and shrubs have a heritage that reflects the customs and lifestyles of Hummelstown area families. They include the following plantings:
Tea roses were a popular flower in gardens at the start of the twentieth century. They were very fragrant and bouquets were displayed in fashionable homes. The tea roses in the Deimler Backyard are a tribute to deceased Society member Dale Ibberson.
Euonymus was planted at the new State Capitol in the mid- 1920’s. The lush foliage was often used in flower arrangements and as a backdrop for other plants in a garden. Cutting were taken and brought to Hummelstown in 1970’s – and from those original shrubs, new cuttings were rooted and now planted at the Deimler Backyard.
Iris grew along the Union Canal at the Keller Farm. The iris with their long flowering beards are an old variety, rather than a hybrid. The flower takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, which is also the name for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris . Rhizomes of the German Iris are traded as orris root and used in perfume and aromatherapy and in medicine as a sedative. Bombay Sapphire gin contains flavoring derived from the bearded iris.
Witch Hazel was a popular remedy for many maladies due to poor diet. The leaves and bark produce an extract to treat skin conditions, calm the itch of poison ivy, heal insect bites. and as a remedy for other skin ailments. The shrub’s twigs were used as diving rods. Witch refers to “wiche” or plant in Old English.
Peonies were a popular flower in Hummelstown because they are a perennial blooming at the end of May which could be used in Memorial Day parade floats and to decorate tombstones. The peonies originally grown in the backyard property were removed temporarily during the grading, and then replanted on the property.
A second variety, the Oriental Peony, with its distinctive feathery leaves was originally planted in 1918 on the Deimler cemetery plot in the Hummelstown Cemetery. The beauty of the peony flower has inspired both eastern and western world artists in their paintings, porcelains, and tapestries. Pioneer gardens included peonies for their medicinal value, rather than their aesthetic presence.
Curly Ivy is distinctive with leaves that are lighter in color and curlier than English Ivy. As a legacy plant, this ivy has moved among gardens. The ivy was originally grown at the Mckee family residence on Second Street in Harrisburg. Cuttings were planted at the family’s cabin along the Susquehanna River in Dauphin. Cuttings were then moved to 113 East Main Street in 1976, where they grow today. New cuttings were rooted and planted at the Deimler Backyard in 2014.
Boxwood lined the rear sidewalk at 113 East Main Street, the Dr. Thomas Fox Home. George and Kathryn Sandel took cuttings from the bushes before they were ripped out in the 1950’s to create a parking lot. The boxwood thrived at the Sandel home on Railroad Street. The Sandels gifted a bush to the Seiberts when they restored the property. Cuttings from that bush were subsequently rooted and are now planted in the Deimler Backyard.
The Day Lilies are from the Parish House cemetery. Chad Lister read that at one time day lilies were planted in the cemetery to help keep the weeds under control and avoid the need to mow the grass around the tombstones. Today, only a few plants remain in the cemetery. This particular lily was also nicknamed “outhouse lily” because of where it was frequently planted.
Mint was more than a common ground cover in earlier centuries, it was used for sachets, teas, and for medicinal purposes. Ancient Romans and Greeks used mint to flavor cordials and fruit compotes and also for baths and perfumes. . In colonial homes, mint was brought into the home as a room deodorizer.
Anenomes with their delicate cup shaped blooms were popular in gardens with a country cottage themes. The flowers were thought to protect against disease and illness and to ward off evil and ill wishes. The name is from the Greek word meaning wind flower. The flower’s natural reaction of closing at night and opening in the morning was thought to symbolize the anticipation of a future event. The flowers are from the West Main Street garden of Donna Reeder.
The Red Poppy, or Flanders’ Poppy, is the international symbol of remembrance. The poppy was said to be the first plant that grew in the war damaged area of Normandy during World War I. Today the poppy is the memorial flower of the American Legion and is a symbol of support of veterans when worn on Memorial Day. The Society’s poppies originally grew on the Cassel farm on Hoernerstown Road in a wooded area known as the picnic grounds.
Legacy Plantings for the Deimler Backyard
As additional plants with an historical heritage are identified, they will be planted in the Deimler Backyard. They include Lilies of the Valley from an East Main Street property and ferns from the High Street home of a former manager of the Brownstone Quarry.