Schneider Haus Stories

While Schneider Haus National Historic Site has previously focused on one year of the history of the site we are currently working on a long process of researching and working with community members to expand the narrative and accurately reflect the history of our site and its many untold stories. We welcome feedback from community members. If you have anything to share please contact us at schneiderhaus@regionofwaterloo.ca

Who Were the Schneiders?

Joseph Schneider, his wife Barbara and their four children arrived in what is now Waterloo Region in June 1807. They were among a small group of rugged settlers who trekked to the new frontier from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in search of good farmland. What they found was an intimidating landscape of uncleared bush and swamp.

Bolstered by their Mennonite religion and helped by their closely knit society, they quickly adapted to their new life. By 1816, Joseph had built a sawmill and a substantial Georgian-style wood-frame home for his growing family. He had cleared a road - called Schneider Road - through the bush to link his farm with the Great Road from Dundas. It was at this intersection that a town gradually grew up, eventually becoming Kitchener.

By 1834, Joseph's youngest son and namesake, Joseph Eby Schneider, was married. His wife Sarah moved into the house and she and Joseph eventually took over the operation of the farm and mill. Old Joseph and his wife Barbara both died in 1843. By then, Joseph E.'s family was growing and his business was thriving. By 1856 there were eight children living in the house ranging in age from two to 18 years. It is the life of this second Schneider family, pictured right, that plays itself out in the restored historic house today.

The 1850s were a prosperous period for the Schneiders. With the arrival of the railroad, the town of Berlin (now the city of Kitchener) flourished and many more goods and services became available. The difficult first years of settlement soon faded into memories.

Much has changed since the 1850s. The Schneider's original 448 acre farm has shrunk to less than an acre. Victoria Park occupies the land where the saw mill once stood. And Schneider Road is now Queen Street.

But the house that Joseph built still stands beside the creek (now underground) and the farm kitchen still hums with activity throughout the changing seasons.

 

painting of schneider haus

Schneider Family

schneider Haus

Schneider Haus History

Built in 1816, the house is the oldest surviving building in Kitchener.

A local landmark and Kitchener's oldest dwelling, the 1816 homestead was restored and furnished, then opened as a living history museum in 1981. The heart of the complex is a fine Georgian-frame farmhouse that was built by and was home to the area's earliest non-Indigenous settlers, Joseph and Barbara Schneider, Pennsylvania-German Mennonites.

Schneider Haus was restored and opened as a living history museum in 1981. Costumed interpreters represent life in 1856, which was when the second generation of Schneiders occupied the homestead.

The significance of the house to the city's heritage, and the persistence of many individuals, have shielded it from destruction. Since the city's founding, the house has witnessed - and helped shape - the community's development.

Beginning as a family home, transitioning into a rental property, a provincial historic site and finally a living museum, the house's survival has been dependent on the values of the growing community that surrounds it.

The survival of Schneider Haus can be attributed to the strength and character of each community and numerous individuals it has encountered during its 200 year history - from Pennsylvania-German Mennonites, to the city, region, and eventually the country.

 

Historic Photo of the Haus

Restoration of the Site

This prominent Kitchener building has undergone many changes since first being erected in 1816. By 1979, when the restoration process first began, the building had been converted into a duplex and its walls were layered with paint and wallpaper.

Through dedication and careful research, a team of historians, architects, archaeologists, volunteers, and craftspeople revealed the details of the house's earlier life. Structural changes that had been made in the 1840s and 50s are represented in today's interpretation of the historic homestead. By 1856, the Schneiders had replaced their open hearth with a modern cook stove, the kitchen had been expanded and a back porch added. On the exterior of the house, the original plaster siding had been replaced with weatherboarding.

Details of the renovation process are outlined in This Old Haus: A Place in Time by the museum's founding curator, Susan M. Burke, available in the museum gift-shop.

People working on restoration

This old haus book