Eleanor Bittle: 1st President of PWFS
& The Tape Lady
Eleanor Bittle has been a constant presence at the Farmstead since 1976 when she first visited the Farmstead during a Candlelight Tour and shortly thereafter offered her services as a volunteer. Eleanor became one of the first history interpreters to give guided house tours to visitors. One year later the Peter Wentz Farmstead Society was incorporated and the nominating committee chose Eleanor to be placed on the ballot for president. She served as the Society's first president for approximately three years along with James Kilgannon as vice president. During those early years Eleanor also served as coordinator for the Colonial Craft Camp, a task that paved the way towards her appointment in 1989 as Educational Coordinator with the county staff.
Eleanor has an interesting history prior to her involvement with the Farmstead. She began life as Eleanor Harley on her parent's farm in Northern Chester County. She will proudly tell you that she can trace her family back to Christopher Sauer, the 18th century printer from Germantown who produced German bibles, among other books. Eleanor's family moved to Pottstown when she was a young girl. Eleanor has been giving of her time and talents as a volunteer nearly her entire life. During World War II she served in the Navy WAVES (Women's Auxiliary Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1944 to 1946 as Petty Officer 2nd Class - Storekeeper in Disbursement. After the war Eleanor married Bob Bittle and eventually settled in Gilbertsville. She spent many years involved with Girl Scouts of America directing programs and activities for scouts before turning her educational skills towards historical interpretation and the Farmstead.
Of all Eleanor's many interests and abilities, one topic has become her trademark - the process of weaving linen tape on various types of tape looms. She first became interested in tape weaving in 1977, and since then she has pursued many years of research that has made her a leading expert on this early craft. Eleanor's first tape loom was one that her husband Bob made for her, a replica of an early loom. Bob continued to make both standing looms and box looms as Eleanor honed her skills as a weaver. Eventually she began acquiring antique looms from dealers and local auction sales. Over the years she has traveled extensively in search of looms and has acquired them from many different states. Eleanor tells one story about winning the bid on a loom at an auction where the auctioneer didn't have any idea what that contraption he was selling was. Eleanor knew!
She has amassed a collection of nearly 100 tape looms, box looms, standing looms, lap or knee looms, all shapes and sizes, some finely crafted, others just made from rough planks nailed together. Each one has a story and is lovingly preserved in her home, which has turned into somewhat of a museum. Eleanor, a.k.a., The Tape Lady, weaves beautiful tapes that have been used in many museum exhibits and can be found for sale in various museum shops.
Throughout the years Eleanor worked at the Farmstead she touched many lives in such a positive way, particularly those of thousands of school children who benefited from her tireless efforts to bring the past alive. Many of those children, now adults, continued on with a special interest in history thanks to the time Eleanor spent with them.
And many children and adults learned the skill of weaving and gained a wonderful insight into the production of linen from her patient instruction. Eleanor decided to "retire" in 2000, but that hardly slowed her down. She has continued her costumed demonstrations of tape weaving for both school groups and adult groups and she is still actively involved as a volunteer at the Farmstead. Her research on tape weaving and linen production continues.
Eleanor has tremendous knowledge and skills and amazing stories that she so willingly shares along with that wonderful twinkle in her eyes. Thank you, Eleanor, for the many years of devotion to the Farmstead and for all that you have given.