Bacon Stone of Albany Township, Berks County
Andreas Hagenbuch and his family arrived in Albany Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1738. Here, they established a homestead along with a new life in the American colonies.
Albany Township is situated within the rolling foothills of the Blue Mountains, which form the northern most border of Berks County. The geology of these mountains has lent itself favorably to the building of stone structures within the region.
In the 18th century, establishing a homestead was a gradual process playing out over many decades. After arriving on their land, a family would set up a temporary shelter using whatever resources they had on hand. One could imagine the Hagenbuchs first living in a lean-to or canvas tent.
The next step was to construct a more permanent dwelling. Typically, this was a log house. Lumber was plentiful in the region, and the land needed cleared for agriculture anyway. Andreas would have built a log home and lived in this during his lifetime.
Unfortunately, the log house that Andreas built is no longer standing on the homestead property. A future article will propose theories and evidence of what may have happened to it.
By the 19th century, the families living in Albany Township had grown wealthier and more prosperous. Many began to replace log structures with more robust masonry ones. In Albany Township, families often chose a specific, local stone to build with – bacon stone.
As the name suggests, bacon stone is a type of rock whose brown, white, and pink colored stripes mimic the appearance of bacon. Bacon stone, while not a formal geologic designation, is used by local residents to describe this commonly seen building material.
Michael Hagenbuch (1805-1855) was the great grandson of Andreas and the last family owner of the homestead. In the early 1850s, he had numerous structures built on the property using bacon stone. These included a two-story house, summer kitchen, and large barn. All are still standing today.
Albany Township’s bacon stone is quarried locally from rocky outcroppings in the Blue Mountains. The stone’s unique colors and patterns can be attributed to the minerals and geologic formations which helped create it. Bacon stone is composed of layers of colored sandstone. Within this can be seen minerals such as quartzite and feldspar, which give some parts of the stone a unique shimmering texture.
Geologic maps show that the Blue Mountains pushed up and exposed the complex sandstone layers of the Shawangunk Formation. This is the likely source of local bacon stone. The lowlands of Albany Township, comprised of the Martinsburg and Graywacke formations, have different geologic traits. The Martinsburg Formation is primarily shale, while the Graywacke is mostly a deep gray sandstone. Interestingly, an occasional gray rock can be found intermingled with the lighter bacon stones at the homestead.
Bacon stone is still quarried in Albany Township today, near where Sand Springs Lane ends at the base of the Blue Mountains. Not surprisingly, this is very near to land which the Hagenbuch family once owned. Both Michael Hagenbuch (1746-1809) and his son Jacob (1777-1842) acquired mountain land in the vicinity.
Without a doubt, these land acquisitions were done to gain access to the natural resources held on the mountain. Such resources included both lumber and stone for building. One can imagine the Hagenbuchs carting stone a half mile from the mountain to the homestead.
It’s important to note that the Hagenbuch homestead isn’t the only property containing structures built of bacon stone. For example New Bethel Church, where the Hagenbuchs of Albany Township attended, is also made of this prominent local material.
New Bethel Church’s stone sanctuary was completed in 1853, only two years after the two-story stone house was built at the Hagenbuch homestead. Knowing this, it might be said that Albany Township experienced something of a bacon stone boom in the mid-1800s. Many of the structures from this time may even have been built by the same mason.
Bacon stone is one of those unique pieces of local history that seems to have little relevance beyond the tiny corner of Berks County where it is quarried. However, for Hagenbuchs this stone provides more than just a connection to a place. It brings color to the past and helps tell this family’s story.