John Hess Sells Millbach

National Registry Property Brings $215,000

November 10, 2017

The largest part of the “House of the Miller” of Millbach is thought to have been constructed in 1752. Now, 265 years later, a new chapter begins. “I thought it was time to move on,” explained owner Earle “Chip” Henderson. I am now 80, and not in good health, and have opted to put things back into circulation.” On Oct. 28, John Hess of the John Hess Auction Group sold the Millbach property, along with a 95-lot catalog auction.
Situated in Millcreek Township, Lebanon County, Pa., near Schaefferstown, the postal address for Millbach is Newmanstown. In the mid-18th century, it was Heidelberg Township, Lancaster County. The property is of limestone and sandstone construction, likely done in four phases. The grist mill’s three-story structure was built into the bank for utilization to process and offload. Two surviving date stones bear the dates “1752” for the house and “1784” for the mill.
Originally owned by German immigrants George (1706-91) and Maria Catarina Miller (1711-87), it was only in 1753 that the property and land (144 acres) were transferred from George to the couple’s son, Michael. According to family lore and backed up by estate records and deeds, George left Maria Catarina for a servant girl and moved to Rowan County, N.C. Michael was 21. He would expand the property, construct a new grist mill, add a sawmill in 1777, and, shown through tax records, become a very wealthy individual. Michael’s wife was Maria Elisabeth Becker. The couple had 10 children. Michael died in 1815.
Along with the Millers, the Illig family also played a prominent role in the property’s history and that of the surrounding area. A descendant, Carrie Grim’s (1880-1951) mother was an Illig, and her father, a Batdorff. Buried in Millbach cemetery at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, prominent local residents include Miller, Illig, Grim, Batdorff, Seltzer, and Smith.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Carrie Grim operated an antiques shop in Millbach. It was Grim who sold the property’s interior woodwork in the early 1920s. Among the first things discussed about Millbach today occured during this time period, when members of the DuPont family funded the bulk of its interior being removed for the present-day Philadelphia Museum of Art. “The house was cannibalized with woodwork such as doors, floorboards, staircases, trim, etc. going to the museum,” said Henderson. Today, the kitchen with walk-in fireplace make up a Pennsylvania German period room at the museum. The period room was done in time for the Sesquicentennial International Exposition of 1926, when a World’s Fair took place in Philadelphia celebrating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the 50th anniversary of the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
When Carrie Grim died in 1951, the property and 51 acres went to her great-nephew, Hugh Lewis. Her estate records show the price being $10,000.
The Henderson auction was not the first on-site sale at Millbach for local collector Fred Buch, who, as a boy attended Carrie Grim’s estate sale in 1951. “She handled a lot of glass and china. I was about 12 years old and had taken an interest in china. At the sale, I bought a Historical Blue Staffordshire sugar bowl by Woods for $20, which I still own,” said Buch.
Yale University School of Fine Art graduates Richard Flanders Smith and his wife, Joane, both grew up in New England. Rich Smith, a vice president of product styling and design at Armstrong Industries, was also a photographer and an antiques dealer. The couple owned Millbach in the 1970s and built a house and various outbuildings on land directly across the street and next to the cemetary. Among the buildings was a reassembled old log house from York County. Rich died in 2001, and Joane in 2010. “We set-up the foundation in the year 2000 when I acquired the property from Rich Smith,” said Henderson. “Rich installed the track lighting on the ceiling of the rooms to better light his photography and antiques.”
Intertwining domestic and industrial spaces is an Old World tradition and interesting feature of Millbach. A significant example of surviving 18th-century Pennsylvania German architecture, Millbach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Chip Henderson had contractors visit the museum for dimensions and had some partial restoration done. “We tested the lintel beam at the museum, which was determined to be white oak.” Lintel beams reside over the hearth (fireplace) in a kitchen. “We found a log down South, due to not finding one large enough in the northeast. It weighed 3 tons, and a Lancaster County company carved and finished the beam. It ended up being 3,500 pounds.”
Chip and wife Yvonne have owned and restored several historic properties, including nearby Charming Forge, which the couple still owns. Today, they reside in a retirement community in Lititz. Over the past 17 years, mostly the past decade, Chip has assembled a regional study grouping of material, some associated to Millbach itself. The Oct. 28 auction consisted of a 95-lot catalog including Stiegel-type glass, Pennsylvania coverlets, 24 blanket chests, an important shrank, tables, chairs, beds, and benches, among other things. The cataloged portion began at 10:30 with online bidding via Live Auctioneers. Uncataloged material sold at 9 and in the afternoon following the cataloged items. The real estate was sold at noon. There was no buyer’s premium and no sales tax. The auction was unreserved.
John Hess and his staff do a good job with on-site sales. Hess held a successful on-site auction on Sept. 28, 2013, at the Stiegel-Coleman/Elizabeth Furnace mansion. The Millbach sale was held under a large tent. Preview took place both in Millbach and in the large barn across the street during ideal warm fall weather and clear skies.
The uncataloged portion included a large antique Wedgwood china service used by the Hendersons at Charming Forge. It was sold in pieces. A soup tureen brought $100 to the trade. Books, catalogs, glassware, and household items were also sold.
Lot #2 in the catalog was a wrought-iron fireplace crane mounted on a base, which went for $1,000. A Buckley and Brooke cast-iron stove from Hopewell Furnace sold for $450, and a red-painted doll cradle for $190. There were 21 lots of various Stiegel-type glass, enamel decorated, etched, blown, colorless, and cobalt. The vast majority was in very good condition. A cobalt blown footed master salt sold for $475; a polychrome enamel decorated blown mug, $275; and a polychrome enamel decorated cologne bottle sold for $850.
A rare four-color crib-size coverlet signed “David Yingst, Lebanon, 1854” realized $2,200, yet it was furniture that made up the bulk of the sale. A very early paint-decorated Berks County black unicorn chest ranked among the rarest in the group. It had last sold a decade ago, pre-recession, at Pook & Pook, to Greg Kramer for $22,230. This time it brought $10,500, again to Kramer, and underbid by West Chester, Pa., dealer/collector Jim Burnett. A paint-decorated Lebanon County chest with three arched tombstone panels on front and worn ogee feet sold for $2,900, and an excellent paint-decorated Dauphin/Lebanon County chest dated “1832” and also with three tombstone panels on front, on bracket feet, sold to a collector for $21,000. It had an elaborate compass star and stamped floret decoration and diamond border on a vibrant orange paint-decorated ground. Another chest, this one attributed to Bechtelsville (western Berks County), with sponge paint-decoration, two large hearts on front, and “Isaac Bechtel 1771,” brought $5,000 to a collector.
The Lebanon County shrank was among the stars of the group. It had a broken arch pediment and central carved shell, block and triangle dentil molding along top, and raised panel doors with cut corners. The cut corners are believed to be a regional characteristic unique to the Millbach area, circa late 18th century. The shrank had a desirable, very old dry surface and sold for $40,000 to a collector from Maryland. It once belonged to well-known Maryland collectors M. Austin and Jill R. Fine. An early local walnut chest with raised panels with the same cut corner feature on panels as seen on the shrank realized $3,250. “It was my favorite chest,” stated Henderson. It had sold for $6,435 at the Dr. and Mrs. Donald Shelley sale held at Pook & Pook in 2007.
At noon, John Hess sold the real estate and 13.1-acre parcel. He announced that the proceeds were going to various charitable organizations. When asked if he was dissolving the Millbach Foundation, Henderson said no. “The foundation will continue. It will remain a standing foundation, yet it no longer owns the property. I still own and direct the foundation, which can distribute funds at the foundation’s discretion to like-minded organizations.” When asked if any easements have ever been placed on the property, Henderson stated no. “The new owner can do whatever they want with it; however, the property cannot be demolished,” according to Henderson. The Millbach Foundation divested in other assets besides the real estate. A mix of the antiques were listed and owned by the foundation. The auction was held on behalf of both the Millbach Foundation and Chip and Yvonne Henderson. A young couple had interest in the property with the idea of holding events such as weddings, but real estate developer David Charles of Millersville, Pa., was the buyer at $215,000. The buyer does not have immediate plans. As written on the sale bill, annual real estate taxes are $2,625 and school taxes, $8,306. The property contains an apartment, which Henderson renovated.
Millbach, settled by German immigrants in the 1720s, is among the earliest communities in the Tulpehocken Valley. Nearly 300 years later, parts remain an isolated enclave. The 21st century is creeping in, however. A factory-scale turkey farm is currently under construction in the adjacent field, and several miles toward Shaefferstown, gas pipeline is currently going in. Much of the land north and also east toward the mountain remain relatively undisturbed and seem like a time capsule to the Illig and even Miller era. It will be interesting to see what is next in store for this historic building and surrounding area’s storied history. We will have to wait and see.
To learn more about the sale, call John Hess Auction Service at 717-664-5238 or 877-599-8894.


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