Himmelberger Homestead to Tani Kennels

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This is another installment in the “Before Blue Marsh” series, where I explore the remains of various properties that were razed in the 1970s to make way for the Blue Marsh Lake Project. See more here.

Himmelberger Homestead
1967 Vintage Aerial of the property

My trekking has taken me to the remains of a farm that once sat at the end of Tulpehocken Drive. The farm once encompassed over 80 acres spanning both Penn and North Heidelberg Townships. The deed indicating a messuage (buildings) on the property date back to a David Himmelberger who likely built the beautiful fieldstone home and barn during his ownership between 1835-1863. After David’s death the property was inherited by son Adam. It is worth noting that Adam sold 15 acres off this property to James Deppen and Isaac Gruber in 1865. This leads me to believe this sale might have been the beginnings of Gruber Carriage Works, which was near Mount Pleasant. Not to be confused with a separate Gruber family business, the Gruber Wagon Works which began in 1882 less than a mile away from this property. This farm would change hands eight times between the Himmelberger family and the Army Corp of Engineers in 1975; ultimately doomed to be razed as part of the Blue Marsh Lake project.

Himmelberger Homestead
Steps to the depths in 2024 – only visible when the water is drawn down in the winter months

Some other owners during its history included Jacob Speicher, a member of the Speicher family, who owned several other farms in the area. Also Adam Heck, who passed to son Conrad Heck and furthermore to Fred and Sara Kendall. In 1960 the final owners, Emile (who went by middle name John) and Esther Asfeld purchased the property. Here they established Tani Kennels, where they bred and trained bird dogs; specifically Labrador Retrievers and English Pointers.

Found on site – what I believe is a bird dog bell – Used to track the location of a dog when it is out in a field

Mrs. Esther Asfeld established a flower shop around 1965 in nearby Bernville with partner Mrs. Robert Ebbert of Fox Lake.

Emile Asfeld died in 1968 when he lost control of his vehicle traveling on Route 343 near Fredericksburg and was thrown from it. The Reading Eagle article about Emile’s death mentioned before settling in Berks in 1956 he was the owner-operator of a New York import-export firm, and more recently engaged in the importation and sale of foreign firearms. Asfeld also served as a Japanese translator during World War II. Definitely seems like an interesting character. Mrs. Asfeld sold the property and its 83 acres to the Army Corp of Engineers in 1975 for $136k.

Himmelberger Homestead
1967 Vintage aerial with labels indicating the remains
Himmelberger Homestead
Stairs, foundation and Stone wall (foreground) in 2024

Below is an aerial comparison of the farm in 1958 when it was owned by a man named Richard Bertolette. The “now” view is via Google Earth Satellite view from February of 2018. The remains I have photographed above are visible in this satellite view, including the stairs, square garage foundation along with debris from the barn and kennel structure. These remains are only visible between November and April when the lake is drawn down five feet. As you can see from the compare, the area where the farm house stood is covered by water regardless.

Pictured above is an exposed pipe with water still flowing. I am guessing this is from a spring which fed the small pond in front of the kennel – ultimately flowing into the Tulpehocken Creek. Now it feeds Blue Marsh Lake.

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Paul Miller
Paul Miller
4 months ago

This was an interesting property that the Asfeld’s had at the end when the dam was built. Finding the dog bell was a lucky find! The James Deppen mentioned that acquired property may have been Dr. Deppen, involved with Grandview Sanatorium. The Deppen’s owned the nearby farm and also involved with the private Deppen Cemetery nearby which was moved to the Berks Heritage Center when the dam was built.

Berks Nostalgia