Before the “White Man” — The Longhouse and Other Stories of Shelter

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Three college friends originally from Lancaster County explore the Longhouse with me in June 2015.

This building is called a longhouse. Though it’s new — just recently built at the Hans Herr Museum — in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, it represents a restored memory of many similar dwellings 1550-1700.

Before the “white man” came to the place we call Pennsylvania, the longhouse was the prevailing way to shelter families. You lived together with your people.

My original ancestor in this country, Christian Hirsche (Hershey), docked in Philadelphia in 1717. His land was purchased from Quaker William Penn, who had a dream of a “peaceable kingdom” in America. Quakers and Mennonites did not see themselves as conquerors. They wanted to live quietly, worship without persecution, and subdue the land. They accomplished their goals. They built dwellings that started not with trees but with the earth itself. The arch cellar was the first step. You built it to shelter your own family unit.

But what about the woodland families that lived in longhouses? Within fifty years, the Conestoga, Lenape, Delaware, Nanticoke, or Susquehannock Indian tribes either moved on, died of diseases, were murdered by vigilantes like the Paxton Boys, or were removed to the West.

All, that is, except for two elderly Conestoga Indians named Michael and Mary. After the Indian massacre of 1763 by the Paxton Boys, they were hidden in an arch cellar by Christian and Anna Hershey. Michael and Mary remained with the Hersheys until they died. Their graves, are the only Indian graves marked in all of Lancaster County and perhaps all of the colonies.

Christian and Anna were my great-great-great-great-great grandparents.

Their son Benjamin built this house, using the plans and technology developed in Switzerland and Southern Germany, the places from which the Hersheys came:


Photo provided by Joanne Hess Siegrist

When I look at these two houses, the longhouse and the limestone house, I see two cultures, two places of spiritual and physical sustenance. Americans have told themselves stories that made the supplanting of native cultures by Europeans seem natural, just, and inevitable. Today descendants of both groups are beginning, at long last, to recognize the need to heal from the wounds caused by these stories and the violence that enforced them.

I chose to give the royalties from my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World to the Longhouse Project, a cooperative effort of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, the Hans Herr Museum, the First Nations People’s Circle Legacy Center, and individual descendants of local Native Americans.

More than two hundred and fifty years ago, Michael and Mary were sheltered in an arch cellar that probably looks a lot like this one. We know this happened because two graves with sandstone markers still exist and because the Colonial Assembly noted the harboring of two Indians by the Hersheys. A website set up to gather stories of the Susquehannocks also lists Michael, Mary, and the Hersheys.


Two friends descending the arch cellar steps on a recent visit to Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast, the house where I grew up, not far from the place where Michael and Mary are buried.

Do you know the stories of the Native Americans of your area? Do you have a metaphorical or real arch cellar — a place of shelter for your family or for others? How have you attempted to repair old wounds?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elaine Nissley on July 30, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for this post, Shirley! Where is this house? Is it outside of Manheim,? It looks like one I go by fairly regularly.
    Are your Hersheys related to Mrs. Noah Hershey Kreider? Perhsps you know, but the Kreiders have a very lovely, informative plaque about the Hersheys at the end of the lane to the Hershey homestead on Indian Village Rd.

    • shirleyhs on August 5, 2015 at 12:33 am

      Yes, Elaine, this middle photo is the Noah Kreider house. I didn’t know his middle name was Hershey. That probably means he probably is related to me also. I have a picture of the date stone on that house that says it was erected by Benjamin Hershey in 1791. I’d love a photo of the plaque on Indian Village Road if you think about it the next time you pass it.

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry it took so long for me to respond. I had to dig it out of my archives when I got home. The new website still has a few bugs. I’ve also been traveling, so that’s part of the problem also. Hoping to get a few tweaks next week.

      • Elaine Nissley on August 6, 2015 at 4:07 pm

        Thanks for your reply! Mrs. Noah Kreider was a Hershey before she was married, and what they call the Kreider Homestead (on Indian village Road) was actually the Hershey Homestead, acquired by Noah and Mary Hershey Kreider from Mary’s parents in the 30’s, I believe.

        • shirleyhs on August 6, 2015 at 5:46 pm

          Very helpful information, Elaine. You are helping me piece together the puzzle of how the Hershey family migrated from the Marietta Pike (now Conestoga Gardens) to the Manheim area and eventually to what I call the Home Place in BLUSH. I’d love to visit this house/plaque/graves next time I’m in Lancaster County.

  2. Marylin Warner on July 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    The interwoven stories are beautiful, Shirley. I have seen only one Long House, and I was on a college trip in Pennsylvania. But In Kansas, southeast of Topeka, I also visited a big old farm house preserved as a museum. In the dining room, behind the heavy china cabinet, a wall opening slid back, and runaway slaves hid there until it was clear to move on to the next location. In front of the house was what is left of a huge hanging tree where slaves and their protectors were both hanged after being caught. Our country’s history is painted with sad but also hopeful stories of protecting others.

    • shirleyhs on August 1, 2015 at 12:02 am

      Marylin, thank you for offering this story of shelter in the midst of so much oppression. We need to know about the bravery of the few so that we can live with the question of how we may yet be benefiting inadvertently from the suffering of the many.

  3. JOYCE MECK on July 30, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    My son’s farm near RTE 419, Womelsdorf has a ground level arch cellar dug into the hillside. The house that Jeremy and Kacie Hershey Meck live in was built in 1747. I wasn’t aware that the arch cellars were the first house for the families. How we’re THEY built?

    • shirleyhs on August 5, 2015 at 12:38 am

      Hi, Joyce. Wow. Not many houses are as old as 1747. Your son and his wife are carrying a lot of history in their daily life. I’ve never seen an arch cellar built into the hillside instead of under the house. Interesting.

      The arch cellar was the deepest part of the house and was dug out by hand. We estimate that the Home Place arch cellar (illustrated above)might have been built in 1735.

      Thanks for this comment.

  4. Marian Beaman on July 30, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    We have found many arrow-heads on our family’s property in Conoy Township, Lancaster County, one area where the Susquehannocks (a branch of the Iroquois) settled. I sensed that Daddy always had a reverence for this native American Indian tribe probably because of their deep, shared respect for the land.

    You are to be commended for donating your royalties for this worthy project. Not surprising though: That’s who you are!

    • shirleyhs on August 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Thanks, Marian, for your words of support. And for your story about your dad. I can tell you appreciated his interest in Indian culture. Perhaps it helped you see him outside the role of father and disciplinarian?

      We were never lucky enough to find arrowheads. I remember following the plow in hopes of doing so.

  5. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on July 31, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I love that you are delving into the place BLUSH proceeds go to and the reason behind choosing the place.

    Have you seen the “Doctrine of Discovery” from west coast Mennonites?

    • shirleyhs on August 1, 2015 at 12:09 am

      Thank you, Dolores. It’s been fun to give to a project and watch it materialize in the same time frame of the book’s launch and subsequent conversations. This past June was the first time I got to visit inside. Very impressive.

      Thanks for the video. I’m at a writers conference right now and can’t watch, but I will. Looks fascinating.

  6. Elaine Mansfield on July 31, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    This gave me goosebumps, Shirley. I live in the Finger Lakes of NY, also Longhouse Country. So little remains here, although there are some Seneca Indians on land north of me. Not many and they do not thrive. There was so much butchery and madness. I’m grateful to know your family protected as they could. Thanks also for donating your proceeds to this foundation. Vic donated his advance for his last book to the Office of Tibet.
    Thank you for sharing this mix of family and regional history. You’re so good at this.

  7. shirleyhs on August 1, 2015 at 12:13 am

    Elaine, I’m so glad you resonated with this story. And you would enjoy a visit to this impressive longhouse if you ever get to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Yes, there was butchery and madness. And the few instances of shelter do not compensate. But they do light a lamp of hope.

    Vic had a huge heart, I can tell. It doesn’t surprise me that he contributed his advance, and I am glad that his books are one of many ways his life continues after his death.

  8. indy on August 5, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    What an interesting story! My great, great, great Grandmother was a full blooded Native American. And I have the sugar bowl she carried with her on a wagon train to the Midwest from Virginia. But that is all I know about her. I’ve been fascinated with the Native American culture and plight since I was a young child. Thanks for sharing this!

  9. Arthur on May 4, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Visited graves of Michael and Mary today. I am a native Lititz resident,born here 1955.Only now discovering my history. Am enjoying the journey. The gravesite is deteriorating a bit. Two stones dislodged laying on top of ground, correct positions still evident. The grass over the graves is overgrown and patchy with a good many thistles,dandelions and other weeds. Think I may ask the Kreiders if they will allow me to improve current condition of the lot. Reset stones properly/accurately,lay down a border, and some appropriate ground cover or wildflowers? Hope they will approve. I also took photos of graves and large bronze plaque mounted on large limestone base/pillars at end of homestead driveway. However, do not know how to forward on this site. I am somewhat technically challenged. Hope to hear from you.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 4, 2016 at 7:16 am

      Thank you, Arthur! I’m sure the Kreiders will appreciate your desire to help. What would you like to forward?

  10. Arthur Young on May 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Photos of current condition of gravesite and bronze plaque. Thought you asked for that earlier in your blog. Also,are you related to Sue Hershey? We were in same class at Warwick.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 4, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Sue and I are sisters! Unfortunately it isn’t possible to add photos to comments. Thanks for the offer. I am hoping to visit this grave myself in early June.

  11. Arthur Young on May 11, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Good news. Susan Bell at Kreiders Farms has given permission for me to maintain gravesite on old homestead. They are considering erecting a flag there that can be seen from a new silo/tower. This 100 foot observation tower is across the road next to milking building and on the bus tour of Kreiders 2500 acre agricultural operation. Michael, Mary and the Conestoga’s will be receiving a little more recognition. I am thankful.

  12. Melodie M Davis on June 15, 2021 at 6:28 am

    Thanks for referring me here, Shirley. I’m sure I missed it the first time. Interesting!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2021 at 7:26 am

      Thank you for reading, Melodie. The story will continue, I am sure, as research and awareness increase.

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