History of the Knauss Homestead

The Heinrich Knauss House is a locally significant example of what is commonly referred to as a Continental House or Continental log house type. The house is an exceptionally well-preserved example of this culturally identifiable Germanic floor plan, designed with an internal chimney and distinct room arrangement.

While containing the essential features of the common three-room Continental House, this house is a common variation of the house type in that it contains a smaller vestibule like fourth room creating a transition room for guests and adding to the privacy of the living quarters for residents. The house preserves important 18th century features including original finishes, flooring, sashes, doors and a foil complement of associated trim and wrought iron hardware.

Knauss Homestead Exterior

Heinrich Knauss House History

In 1777, Heinrich Knauss, son of villager founder Sebastian Knauss, built the Knauss House on a two hundred acre parcel of land purchased by his father in 1747 (Barba). Since its construction in 1777, the Knauss House remained in the family for 158 years, being passed down to a family member upon the death of the previous Knauss owner.

Mary Ellen Knauss owned and lived within the house the longest of any family member. She was eighteen when she moved into the house in 1866 and died when she was eighty-seven, a total of sixty-nine years of occupation; her death in 1935 marked the end of Knauss ownership.

A majority of changes to the property have been dated to the 1930s and 1940s, possible shortly after the Knauss family relinquished ownership of the property. These changes include the infilling of the fireplace, the addition of countertops, cabinetry, and sink in the kitchen area, and addition of the gable door hood on the northwest façade.

Under the ownership of Verna Mareks beginning in 1935, the Knauss House also received the addition of a modem bathroom on the second floor. Sometime between 1935 and 1970, an oil heating system, enclosed screen porch along the south façade, and a new exterior chimney along the center of the north façade were installed. Around this time, all first floor interior doors and trim were stripped of paint and several plaster ceilings were removed to expose the floor joists, likely as part of a misguided effort to restore the house to its earlier look.

Continually occupied up until 1970, the building stood vacant for 37 years. The house originally resided on the outskirts of the village, but has since been incorporated into the Borough. As a result of the village’s expansion, the original Knauss holdings of 200 acres has dwindled to 15.39 acres, with the house functioning as a historic house museum set within the Knauss House Emmaus Community Park.

During a limited restoration of the house in 2002-2003 under the auspices of the Knauss House Preservation Society, the dilapidated mid-20th century screened in porch was removed and several interesting original construction details were uncovered during pre-restoration physical investigations. It was determined that the building was originally designed to be protected by clapboard as evidenced by clay chinking without a protective lime coating and by the original rose headed nails that secure original furring boards. Additionally, cut off joist extensions above the main entrance indicated that the main door was originally protected by a gabled door hood, while mortises in the gable logs documented that gable pent roofs protected the end walls of the building.

Within the interior, the stone kitchen fireplace had been filled with a modem brick fireplace insert during the mid-twentieth century. The modem brick insert was removed as part of the restoration to re-establish the original design of the fireplace. Investigations found that there is no evidence in the rear wall of the fireplace of the requisite holes for stoking and ventilating the typical Germanic stove associated with the Continental house type. These holes were required for inserting fuel and ventilating smoke from a five-plate stove traditionally located in the room opposite the rear wall of the fireplace. It was concluded that Knauss had abandoned the traditional five-plate stove in favor for a more modem and efficient six or ten-plate stove that utilized the recently developed stovepipe to ventilate directly into the chimney.

Within the second floor hall, the opening forming the firebox and the hearth may date to the mid-20th century as it is likely that the bedroom opposite the hall was also heated only with a six or ten plate stove, with the stove pipe venting into the chimney stack above the mantle in the bedroom.

Knauss Homestead Hearth

Architectural Significance

The Knauss House is locally significant as embodying the distinctive characteristics of the Continental House plan, an important and distinctive building type found primarily in 18th century Pennsylvania.

Erected in 1777, the Knauss House stands as one of the best-preserved examples of the Continental House plan in the Lehigh Valley during the Moravian period. The Knauss House contains many of the major features of the Continental log house typology as described by Bob Bucher in his 1962 study “The Continental Log House” in Pennsylvania Folklife.

Based on his research and expanded by numerous additional scholars, the principle features of the Continental log house include “a central fireplace usually with a five plate stove, a three room floor plan organized around the fireplace and an off-center front door which leads directly into the kitchen with a door on the opposite end leading into the rear of the house” (Bucher, 14).

Other key features sometimes found in the Continental House include vertical siding incorporated in the gable, insulation in floor joists and a kicked roof. These traits were first noticed by Edwin G. Brumbaugh in his 1930 work entitled “Colonial Architecture of the Pennsylvania Germans” and later addressed by Robert C. Bucher. Both Bucher and Brumbaugh restricted this typology to strictly vernacular log structures.

It was not until 1968 that Henry Glassie expanded the definition and characteristics to include other building materials such as stone and frame (Glassie,33). The purpose of Classic’s redefinition of the Continental House was to demonstrate that the plan and the use of the space within the building defined the type, not the materials. The Continental House type focuses on the floor plan organized around an internal chimney and can be constructed with a variety of materials and construction techniques and can include variations of the basic floor plan.

The most common form of the Continental House, and that documented by Bucher, is a three-room structure constructed of hewn logs with either dovetailed or V notched comers. Comer post and plank construction as in the Knauss was less common with factwerk (exposed braced post and beam construction) possibly the least common construction method.

Stone houses of the Continental House type are well represented today largely due to the excellence of construction and the use of more durable building materials. Variations in the number of rooms include smaller two-room houses such as the 1730s Abraham Rittenhouse House in Philadelphia and Montgomery County’s four room Henry Antes House.

The four-room Millbach House in Lebanon County originally was designed with a vestibule-like fourth room similar to that of the Knauss House.

Although Bucher includes reference to a five-plate stove in his characterization of the building type, the use of a five-plate stove was not essential to defining it; however, the positioning of the fireplace and chimney is central to the definition and was a direct result of the use of this type of heating device typically incorporated into Germanic houses up to the 1770s.

Henry Mercer’s research in the late 19th and early 20th century concluded that the manufacture of five-plate stoves almost immediately ceased in 1765 with the nearly universal introduction of the ten-plate stove in Pennsylvania. This is home out by the fact that few, if any, five-plate stoves survive from after the mid-1760s (Mercer, 86). The superior draught of the new six and ten plate stoves substantially improved efficiency in combustion, which resulted in controllable and much higher temperatures to more effectively heat a room with less fuel.

The six- and ten-plate stoves were freestanding within the room and could be placed in many locations adjacent to the fireplace, limited only by the length of the stovepipe available to vent the stove. Common locations for the placement of these new stoves included within the fireplace where the pipe vented directly up the flue, in front of the hearth where the stovepipe would enter a hole constructed in the masonry above the mantle or in the traditional location in the stube. The use of the more modem stoves in the Knauss House does not affect the typological classification of the house; rather, it demonstrates that Knauss embraced current heating technology within a traditional Germanic home.

Additional features that identify the house as a Continental House type include the offset door leading into the kitchen with a door on the opposite end leading to the rear of the house. In the Knauss House, as in other four-room variations, the primary door does not lead directly into the kitchen but accesses a vestibule-like chamber providing access to the second floor as well as the primary first floor rooms. The opposing door to the rear of the house is still present.

Knauss Homestead Bedroom

Comparable Examples

Several early houses survive to document the early buildings in and around Emmaus. These include the 1734/1748 log Shelter House and 1760s stone Barba residence. Preston Barba’s “They Came to Emmaus” provides documentation on other important structures within the borough. All of these buildings, despite varying construction material, conform to the Continental House typology. Two of the early log buildings survive while all of the stone structures of this early period, with the exception of the Barba House, have been demolished or excessively altered. In the immediate area, the Knauss House stands out from these other buildings as a result of its integrity.

While representative examples of Colonial period construction has been well documented throughout Pennsylvania, examples of the Continental House with comparable preservation of original features are few. Outside of the village of Emmaus, numerous buildings exist that offer comparison to the Knauss House. Few documented comparable buildings survive in the Lehigh Valley, but many survive in the surrounding counties of Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery, and Berks.

One of the earliest and best-known Continental Houses is the Hans Herr House in Lancaster County. Built in 1719, the Hans Herr house is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Pennsylvania. The house has a late-medieval appearance, especially noted in the steep roof and small windows.

Sandstone, dressed with quoins, was the chosen building material for the Herr house. The interior of the Herr House reflects a four-room floor plan similar to the Knauss House, with the first floor focused on the use of the jamb stove in the stube,. The front door opens directly into the kuche, and the backside of the kuche is portioned to create a multipurpose room called a kammerli. In the Herr House there is no rear door, and the stairs to the basement are accessed through the kammerli. The second story of the Herr House is designed as a double attic or having two full floors in the garret.

Despite these differences the Herr House layout is comparable to the Knauss House. A major difference occurs in the integrity of these two buildings. The interior of the Herr House is missing many of the original partitions, and the winder staircase has been altered although the comer cupboard most commonly associated with this Germanic building type is still intact within the Herr House. The Knauss House is a modest building of its time and shows no sign of ever having built-in cupboards.

Major distinctions between the Knauss House and the Herr House include the early date of the Herr House, construction materials, double attic and variations in the floor plan. While both houses employ a four-room plan, the placement of the fourth rooms is simply a different variation to the thee room plan. The additional room in the Knauss House serves as a vestibule to separate visitors from the working kitchen area rather than as a simple utilitarian room as in the Herr House.

Another example of the Continental House is the Bertolet-Herbein House now located on the Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro, Berks County. Built in 1735, the log house is an early example of the Continental House type, here of a one-story variation. Unlike the Knauss House, the Bertolet-Herbein House is constructed of exposed logs with no evidence of having been originally protected by clapboards. The first floor layout of the cabin is similar to the Knauss House except for the number of rooms. Here the stair to the upper floors is within the kitchen while in the Knauss House it occupies the identical location but is partitioned from the kitchen. The Bertolet-Herbein House was also designed in conjunction with the internal chimney supporting the use of the jamb stove in the stube.

Another Continental House dating from an early period is the National Historic Landmark 1735 Henry Antes House located in Upper Frederick Township in Montgomery County. Henry Antes was successful in business, politics, religion, and intellectual pursuits and the home he chose to build reflects his worldly success. The Antes house also employs a four-room floor plan organized around the internal chimney with a jamb stove and many of the key features seen throughout the Knauss House. Reflecting Antes’ worldly success and public standing, these features are more substantial and costly than those in the Knauss House.

Building material and height are two major differences between the two structures. The Knauss House does not contain any of the built-in cupboards that the Antes House displays. Another difference between the two structures is the Antes House employs a double attic similar to the Herr House. Unfortunately, the original fireplace of the Antes House had been removed and then restored, while the Knauss House still preserves its original feature. Even though the Knauss House is of a later vintage, the basic elements of the style seen in the Antes House are extremely comparable to the Knauss House.

The Henry Walter House in West Cocalico Township, in Lancaster County was constructed in the late 1750s. Limestone is employed in the design of this two story banked structure. The interior floor plan is the typical three-room floor plan with only one entrance door providing access. Similar to the Knauss House, the Walter House was altered during the 1920s during the Colonial Revival era. Despite these changes the overall Germanic floor plan and features are apparent in both structures. The Walter and Bertolet Houses represent modest versions of the style while the Antes and Herr represent high style examples.

The Knauss House is significant as an example of a well-preserved Continental House type and is representative of what had been a common building practice in the Germanic tradition throughout Pennsylvania from the early settlement period in the late 17th century up to the 1770s. During the third and fourth quarters of the 18th century, German inhabitants began to embrace English building practices and modem technology and the internal chimney and off set doors that identified the distinctive German cultural building tradition rapidly gave way to gable chimneys and more formal symmetrical designs. The homes of the first and second-generation Germanic settlers were no longer distinguishable from their counterparts from the British Isles and a distinctive American architectural vocabulary was established ending the construction of the unique Continental House.


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The Knauss Homestead is at 152 East Main Street, Emmaus, PA. Click here for Google Maps directions.