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Berks

Destroyed farmhouse was scene of famous event

Oley Twp. building became renowned in 1809.

Farmhouse was scene of tragedy

OLEY TWP., Pa. - Fire destroyed a historic farmhouse in the 5000 block of Oley Turnpike Road in  Oley Township, Berks County Saturday night.

"This is also one of Berks County's oldest, historical structures," said Merra Lee Moffitt, who grew up in the home.

The stone mansion was built in the late 1700s. According to the Berks County Historical Society, the property was owned by the Snyder family.

Nestled off of Oley Turnpike Road, it was a place few had heard of and even fewer had seen.

But that changed in February 1809.

"It put this place on the map," said George Meiser, a historian.

It put Oley Township on the map, and in the headlines when Susanna Cox, a young servant who lived and worked there, did the unthinkable.

The 24-year-old unwed mother brutally killed her baby boy to avoid public scrutiny.

Historian George Meiser describes the gruesome murder.

"She killed her infant son by thrusting a wad of tow down his throat," Meiser said.

Just days after the baby was born, his body was found in a building near the home.

Cox was charged, tried, and later convicted. But it wasn't just the baby's death that caught the hearts of people across the state.

Four months after the murder, Cox was publicly hanged.

"It was always rare for a woman to be executed…The crowd that gathered for that was enormous. One old source says 20,000," Meiser said.

That was the last time a woman ever died like that again in Pennsylvania.

"What made her rather famous, was she was the last woman publicly executed in PA," Meiser said.

Meiser said Cox was later buried by her brother at an undisclosed location, to prevent her body from being dug up.

According to Meiser, her skeleton was recovered in 1905.

The Kutztown Folk Festival puts on a reenactment of her execution every year.


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