Carl Snyder, 83, has a farmer's weathered face. His thin lips can be set in a straight line, his square chin cementing an image of determination. His roots here go deep. His family came to Lynn Township toward the end of the 1700s and lived through the French and Indian War, the most dangerous conflict ever in the Lehigh Valley.

Snyder once farmed more than 700 acres of prime Valley land, but his holdings have diminished, giving up ground to houses for another generation of immigrants.

  • Also
  • Area it covered: All of present-day Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wayne, Pike, Sullivan, Wyoming and Susquehanna counties and part of Schuylkill, Columbia, Bradford and Lycoming counties.
    Estimated population: 4,000-6,000 people, most of them in the Lehigh Valley; in Valley today: 618,200.
    Density in Valley: six or seven people per square mile; today: 852.

    Sources: Lehigh Valley Planning Commission; U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Photo: Log cabin
  • Photo: Open hearth
  • Photo: Carl Snyder
Although he yields to the changing times, Snyder has a passion for the past and has been instrumental in preserving a glimpse of what life was like in the Lehigh Valley when the Indian war parties raged.

In 2001, he bought the neglected Zeisloff house, built in the 1730s, and had it moved about two miles from Zeisloff Road to Ontelaunee Park, where it is maintained by the Lynn-Heidelberg Historical Society.

Two holes in the walls of the historic house open onto a different way of life.

''This is a soul window,'' Snyder says as he pulls out a plug of wood about a foot square from a first-floor bedroom wall. ''When someone died, you pulled it out so their souls could escape and find their way to heaven. It's an old Pennsylvania German belief.''

Climbing to the attic, he points out one of two small openings: ''This is a gunsight peephole. They were so they could shoot down on the Indians.''

Carving out the Valley

Like many immigrants since, the early settlers in the Lehigh Valley were drawn to America by the promises of a new land.

For the settlers, Pennsylvania was prime real estate. The 40,000 square miles King Charles II gave William Penn in 1681 became one of Britain's most profitable colonies.

The mostly German and Scotch-Irish immigrants, many of them farmers, came to work the fertile soil after Penn's sons began deeding Valley land in 1728.

New England's soil was rocky and hard to farm. In the hot, humid colonies of the South, a swampy coastal plain blocked access to the land. But Penn's province was so rich it was known as ''fat Pennsylvania'' — the ''best poor man's country.''

The colony had a deep harbor that would become the port of Philadelphia, a long waterfront along the Delaware River opening onto fertile, gently rolling farmland. It had plenty of room for expansion to the north, where the Lehigh River met the Delaware.

Penn's Woods appealed to those who wanted better economic opportunities and escape from the European conflicts of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

A member of the Society of Friends, a Quaker, Penn had been expelled from the Anglican church for his beliefs about direct experience of a peaceful God. A pacifist, he had been arrested for refusing to swear allegiance to the king. He promised freedom of religion to anyone who came to Pennsylvania.

The first counties, formed from land Penn obtained by signing treaties with the local Indians, were Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. The first European settlers to take his offer were English and German Protestants, Quakers, Mennonites and Dutch Anabaptists.

A steady stream of Dutch, German and Swiss farmers, laborers, trade and craftspeople arrived by wooden sailing ship, braving a crowded, uncomfortable and potentially deadly passage that lasted nearly two months to dock at Philadelphia or Chester.

This group came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, or the Pennsylvania Germans, although at the time there was no country called Germany. What they left were 300 little kingdoms or principalities, small countries each run by a king, lord or prince.

Drawn west to Lancaster County's fertile limestone soils and underground springs, ''the Germans have been known as the superior farmers of the Colonial era in Pennsylvania,'' says Timothy Essig of the Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster County.