In the 18th century, rural Pennsylvania wasn’t an easy place to live. Established settlements were scarce, and the fear of attacks by Native Americans was constant (if ultimately unfulfilled). But for settlers looking for safety, there were places that could provide food and shelter. Nearly a decade before the Moravians started their famous community at Bethlehem, settlers 10 miles south erected their own place of sanctuary. Built around 1734, the Shelter House—from the German zufluchtshaus—now stands as the oldest continually occupied structure in the Lehigh Valley.
The medieval-type log building was constructed along a well-traveled path traversing South Mountain, on the outskirts of what would become Emmaus. Originally conceived as a refuge in the event of violence, Shelter House evolved into a place for settlers to get much-needed rest, food, and drink as they staked their claim in the area.
Today, the Shelter House stands as a local landmark. The building was restored in the 1990s, and it serves as a pristine example of early 1700s German construction techniques, including the technically demanding “Dutch notch” style. The roof is supported by 16 hand-hewn triangular joists, and the original chinking between the oak and chestnut logs consists of mud, straw and horse hair. The Shelter House is home to one of the area’s largest collections of period-style furniture and household items.