Listed among the abandoned post offices of Berks County is the village of Basket. Before the days of the establishment of the Rural Free Delivery this little town on the border of Alsace and Ruscombmanor townships was an important spot on Uncle Sam’s map. Now the community is served by a rural carrier.
The township line separating Alsace and Ruscombmanor passes through the property of Milton Lorah, a veteran basket maker of Basket. The Oley township line is less than 100 yards to the east of the Lorah property. In this way we have tried to locate Basket for the youngsters who cannot remember the days before the post office was removed.
There are many example of the towns that have given their names to the product manufactured there. For example we have Cordova leather, Sheffield silverware, Damascus steel and many others. But one searches a long time to find the reverse situation, that of an industry giving its name to the town as basket weaving provided the name for the Berks village.
Reuben Reifsnyder, a one legged veteran of the Civil War, brought the trade of basket weaving to eastern Berks many years ago. Among those who served as apprentice to Reifsnyder was Milton Lorah, now a store-keeper in Basket with a sideline as a basket-weaver still practicing his trade. Basketmaking is a winter employment and Lorah uses the chilly months to ply his trade. He complains that he cannot make enough baskets to meet the demands of his customers.
One of the difficulties confronting basket-weavers nowadays is to secure the proper kind of raw materials. Lorah scorns to use oaken splints and concentrates entirely upon the making of willow baskets.
A desturctive insect has presented a serious threat to the willow-basket weaving industry in recent years. This insect stings the tender branches of the willow tree leaving a long black streak which mars the appearance of the whitish fibers and weakens their texture. Some willow trees are still insect-free and Lorah is continuously searching for unspoiled willow-whips.
The willows are cut in the spring, after the leaves have appeared. They are placed in water for a time and then peeled of bark and dried. In the process of drying they are turned several times to present all sides to the sun. The next step is to gather the reeds in bundles tied together with string: then they are stored for winter use.
The heavier reeds are used as stays and the “button” which is the beginning point of weaving a basket. There are 46 operations in the process of transforming a willow into a basket. The split willow is used only for the handles of baskets and for repairing damaged baskets.
Information supplied by Raymond E. Kiebach
The Berks History Center’s own education curator, Vicky Heffner, and her hand woven baskets.
For more information on basket making in Basket you can view: