Although some obviously modern timber structure features are immediately visible in this prototype of an Emmental farmhouse, the essential parts of the original structure are preserved. In its original location, Eggiwil in Emmental, the estate to which the house belonged is known by the name «Grosstanne».
This multi-purpose building from one of the characteristically isolated farms of the Upper Emmental was formerly located at an altitude of 890metres above sea level. All dwelling and farming functions are united under its great gable roof.
At the time of dismantling, the roof of this house in frame and plank construction was still fully preserved except for the full hip at the back of the house, which had probably been removed in the late 19th century in order to lengthen the roof ridge. Since the original state could still be clearly determined, when the farmhouse was re-erected in the Museum it was decided to reconstruct the work areas as well as the rows of windows on the floor housing the living quarters accordingly.
The kitchen located between the two parlours on the gable side, with its two open-hearth fireplaces, was used in this form until 1974! The steep stairs in the kitchen lead up to a balcony running round three sides of the house which provides access to a hidden storeroom and a built-in grain storehouse. The presence of the latter suggests that, in the 17th century, cereals were still cultivated, even at this altitude. Agriculture in hilly Emmental was actually long dominated by crop-growing and not, as one might think, by stock-breeding and dairy farming.
In Emmental in the 17th century, two new economic activities began to develop along-side the traditional subsistence farming. These activities, which brought the region a period of economic prosperity that in some cases lasted for more than 200 years, were linen weaving and the export of the famous Emmental cheese. The Eggiwil farmhouse is a part of the rich architectural heritage of that period.
After the disastrous famine of 1817 cereals began to be replaced by the potato, which peasants had hitherto viewed with scepticism.
Until the beginning of the 19th century the production of Emmental cheese, which has developed into a culinary trademark, took place almost exclusively on alpine pastures looked after by cowherds known as «Kuhern». However, trade in the cheese, a product much in demand both in Switzerland and abroad, remained almost entirely in the hands of rich valley farmers and townspeople.
The loom set up in the cellar is a reminder of the former importance of linen weaving as an additional source of income for the peasant household.
The cheese storehouse from Wasen BE (No. 352), which complements the farmhouse from Eggiwil, is typical of its region of origin.
Care of the elderly in the Emmental – the «Schleiss»
There is a special reason for the presence of two fireplaces in the kitchen, namely that one of them belonged to the «Schleiss». The «Schleiss» agreement laid down the terms under which the successors to the farm were obliged to feed and house the older generation. Contrary to common belief, the separate «Stöckli» as a dwelling for the farmer’s aged parents was a relatively late development. The quarters defined in the «Schleiss» agreement (shown in grey on the houseplan) were generally located in the main house where the living quarters were divided between young and old into two separate areas. The kitchen was used communally, although each party had its own fireplace, in order to reduce conflicts surrounding the hearth.