Berks History Center Accepts New Time Capsule to be Opened in 2119

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On December 13, 2019 at the Berks History Center’s Incorporation Day Birthday Bash event, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the organization’s original incorporation date, BHC Trustee and 150th Anniversary Co-Chair, Floyd Turner presented a newly assembled time capsule that will be added to the BHC museum collections and opened 100 years from now.

About 120 people were in attendance at the event, which featured light refreshments and a casual happy hour with longtime friends and supporters of the Berks History Center.

Proclamations were presented acknowledging the Berks History Center’s contributions to Berks County by the Senate of Pennsylvania by Senator Judy Schwank, the PA House of Representatives by Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone, and the City of Reading by City Councilwoman, Donna Reed. Also in attendance were Craig Lutz on behalf of Senator David Argall; Bill Royer on behalf of Pennsylvania State Representative Ryan Mackenzie; and Berks County Commissioner, Kevin Barnhardt.

At 6:30pm Floyd Turner presented the time capsule to Executive Director, Benjamin Neely, who accepted the materials into the BHC’s care. The time capsule will be preserved in the BHC museum collection with instructions for it to be opened on December 13, 2119, 100 years from today on the organization’s 250th birthday.

“After opening the World War I time capsule last year (on November 28, 2018 at the Berks History Center), I thought it would be a good idea to put together a time capsule in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Berks History Center,” said time capsule organizer, Floyd Turner. “I wanted the project to be a surprise but exactly how to do it and what to put into such a time capsule proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. I didn’t want to be the sole arbiter of the contents so I reached out to a number of people to ask for their contributions and let them make up their own mind regarding what they’d like to contribute.”

Contributors to the Time Capsule Include:

  • Cheryl Allerton (BHC Trustee)
  • Alexis Campbell (BHC Associate Director)
  • Corrie Crupi-Zana (Author/Historian & BHC Trustee)
  • Vicky Heffner (BHC Education Curator)
  • Matthew Jackson (Classic Harley Davidson & “Crazy Hot Dog Vendor” for the Reading Fightin’ Phils)
  • Robyn Jones (Berks County Living Magazine)
  • Linda Kelleher (Reading City Clerk)
  • Christian Leinbach (County Commisioner)
  • James Michalak (BHC Board President)
  • Lori Muhlenberg (BHC Trustee)
  • August Reichardt (Mission BBQ)
  • Mike Reinert (WFMZ Channel 69 News)
  • Judy Schwank (Pennsylvania Senator, 11th District)
  • Crystal Seitz (Berks Visitors Bureau)
  • Floyd Turner (BHC Trustee)
  • Patricia Vasquez (Community Development Coordinator for City of Reading)
  • Jennifer Winchester (Mission BBQ)

Incorporated on December 13, 1869 as the Historical Society of Berks County, the BHC is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in Pennsylvania. For a century and a half the goal of the BHC has remained consistent; to preserve the history and heritage of Berks County and to inform, educate and inspire our community regarding that history.

The Berks History Center thanks the many businesses in our community who helped to make BHC’s 150th Anniversary celebrations possible through sponsorship support:

  • Berks Packing
  • Conrad Weiser Society, C.A.R.
  • Faye & Co
  • Its A Gift
  • M&T Bank
  • Oakbrook Brewing Company
  • Pagoda Skyline
  • Pennwyn Motor Inc
  • Poore Group of Morgan Stanley
  • Security First
  • South Berks Association of Retirees
  • Stokesay Castle
  • Strausstown Rod & Gun Club
  • Sweet Streets
  • The Tillman Team of Remax
  • Thompkins Financial
  • Tom Smith, Retirement & Medicare Specialist
  • Tom Sturgis Pretzels
  • Victor Emmanuel II Beneficial Society
  • White Star Tours
  • Wyndam Advisors

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A New Homcoming for Old Glory

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In the winter of 2016, BHC Trustee Rick Polityka uncovered a history mystery. After a series of serendipitous events,  Rick unearthed the history behind an early 1900s sled, or  tiller known as Old Glory, that was hidden away in the basement of the Northeast Taproom in Reading, PA. The tiller, which is believed to be over 100 years old, has made its way to a new home: the Berks History Center.

At 19 feet long and over 300 pounds, it is hard to believe that this artifact had gone unnoticed for so long. On November 30, 2019, a crew of 11 volunteers met at the Northeast Taproom to retrieve Old Glory from its hiding place. After a short time and a lot of muscle power, the behemoth tiller saw the light of day for the first time since the dawn of the 20th century. Thanks to Orth’s Towing, Old Glory was transported to its new home at the Berks History Center.

While the efforts to move Old Glory were great, the stories behind this artifact were well worth the work. In his research, Rick discovered that Old Glory was one of many tillers that coasted the streets of Reading in late 1800s and early 1900s. “Coasting” down popular sledding slopes, such as Chestnut, Buttonwood, Elm, Greenwich, Spring and Robeson streets, was a favorite winter pastime in the City of Reading.

As for Old Glory,  up to 20 children could fit on the sled, which could travel up to 65-70 mph, with no way of stopping it. Tillers provided an entertaining yet dangerous thrill for children and adults alike and the phenomena was commonplace until several serious accidents caused authorities to start cracking down on the activity. By 1925 tillers were rarely seen on city streets. Old Glory was involved in an accident with an 8 man tiller at the intersection of 11th & Chestnuts Sts. on February 16, 1916. It has sat in the basement of the Northeast Taproom at 12th & Robeson since – until last week when it was moved to the Berks History Center.

A Note from the Berks History Center:

A lot of research went into discovering the story behind this and other tillers in the winter of 2016-2017 by the tiller team of Charlie Adams, Corrie Crupi, Sharon Merolli, Jon Showers Jr., Dave Kline, Richard Polityka and Michelle Napoletano Lynch. A huge thanks to all these fantastic #BerksHistoryBuffs for making this story come alive. Also a big thanks to all the folks who volunteered to move Old Glory to its new home at the Berks History Center, including Orth’s Towing!

Joanna Furnace: The Lost Years

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Illustration of Joanna Furnace from the 1876 Atlas of Berks County. Berks History Center Research Library Collection.

Following his service as a colonel in the Pennsylvania Militia during the American Revolution, Thomas Bull joined three other men to acquire land in Berks County’s Caernarvon and Robeson Townships where they established an iron furnace named Joanna, after the wife of one of the partners. Thomas Bull served as the first ironmaster, and as his partners soon died off, he became the principal owner of the furnace. His daughter Elizabeth married John Smith, a life-long Berks County ironmaster who later purchased his father-in-law’s interest in Joanna furnace, eventually becoming the sole owner.

In 1833, John Smith’s son Levi Bull Smith, a Reading lawyer, became the sole owner of Joanna Furnace.  The furnace and adjoining property was then inherited in 1877 by his son Levi Heber Smith, a Civil War veteran, who took over as ironmaster until his death in 1898, when the furnace was shut down permanently.

At some point before Bethlehem Steel purchased the Joanna Furnace property, another business set up shop there to make leather goods. According to this 1949 Philadelphia newspaper, the owner had a surprising family connection to Joanna and when they were visiting the area, they asked someone at the Historical Society of Berks County for directions.

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Hello and Farewell: New Leadership at the Berks History Center

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New Executive Director of the Berks History Center, Benjamin Neely

The Berks History Center (BHC) is pleased to welcome its new Executive Director, Benjamin Neely, from the Adams County Historical Society. Ben was selected for the position upon the retirement of the BHC’s previous Executive Director, Sime Bertolet.

“After a rigorous search and screening process, the BHC Board of Directors is confident in our selection for the next Executive Director,” says Board President, Jim Michalak. “Benjamin Neely is a qualified museum professional who will bring many years of experience and a fresh perspective to the Berks History Center.”

Benjamin Neely has been a museum professional since 2005.  With a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the State University of New York at Oswego, Ben completed his graduate work at Shippensburg University where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Applied History.  During his time as a graduate student, he began working for the Adams County Historical Society as the Collections Manager and was the lead historian during the development of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum.  Ben was the Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society for the past 7 years.  He supported the Adams County community through his service on numerous committees and boards.  Ben has supported the museum community at the state level through his service as a board member for PA Museums, an organization that advocates for government support for Pennsylvania’s museums and organizes conferences to support continuing education for museum professionals.

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Director Emeritus, Sime Bertolet Retired in July 2019

After 13 years of service to the BHC, previous Executive Director, Sime Bertolet, retired in July 2019. Bertolet left the organization with a comprehensive strategic plan that will support the new director’s efforts to lead the BHC.

“I am incredibly proud of the work that we have accomplished over the past 13 years. We couldn’t have done it without the help of our dedicated staff, volunteers, Board of Directors, our members, and of course, the generous businesses and organizations who have supported the mission of the BHC,” says Bertolet. “I feel truly blessed to be a part and to be a leader of this organization that will soon celebrate its 150th Anniversary. More importantly, I am honored to have served as the Executive Director of the organization that preserves and shares our Berks history. My decision to retire came after much reflection and thoughtful consideration. In the end, I determined that it is time for the next generation to assume their leadership role. I have no doubt that Mr. Neely will do a great, and better job, than I have done.”

The BHC Board of Directors thanks Sime Bertolet for his years of service to the organization and for all of his accomplishments. Upon his retirement, the BHC Board will confer the title of Executive Director Emeritus on Bertolet. Bertolet’s accomplishments cited by the Board include:

  • The acquisition and renovation of the BHC’s Research Library, the Henry Janssen Library building located at 160 Spring Street;
  • the 75th and 80th Anniversary Celebrations of John Phillip Sousa’s last act as a conductor here in Reading, PA;
  • exhibits such as Beer & Pretzels Berks County Style, Berks County Long rifle and Gun makers, I Have Dream, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and the Magical History Tour, a cultural and musical happening;
  • the 2010 American Alliance of Museums Institutional Museum Assessment Plan;
  • two revisions of the BHC Bylaws and the implementation of board term limits;
  • the 2013 rebranding initiative from The Historical Society of Berks County to the Berks History Center;
  • the 2014 Strategic Plan and the 2019 Strategic Plan facilitated by Shultz & Williams;
  • the 2017-2018 Collections Management Initiative and its recognition by the PA Museums’ Institutional Achievement Award

 

New Exhibit to be Unveiled at 150th Anniversary Kick-Off Celebration Event

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The Berks History Center is pleased to announce the grand opening of 150 Objects of Berks History, a new temporary exhibit that celebrates 150 years of preserving Berks County’s history at the Berks History Center. The exhibit will open during the Berks History Center’s 150th Anniversary kick-off celebration, the Charter Day Jubilee, on July 12, 2019 from 6pm-9pm, located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601.

Since 1898, the Berks History Center (BHC) has been dedicated to building a groundbreaking collection of artifacts, artwork, manuscripts and library materials. Today, the BHC’s diverse holdings feature more than 20,000 objects related to all facets of Berks County’s rich heritage. Curated by BHC Curator, Bradley K. Smith in honor of the organization’s 150th Anniversary, 150 Objects of Berks History will showcase 150 rarely-seen items from the BHC collection that tell compelling stories of Berks County’s unique past. Thanks to a generous donation by the Focht Family Foundation, the BHC’s Palmer Gallery was newly renovated for the exhibit opening.

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“This exhibit showcases an assortment of obscure artifacts that were discovered during the Collections Management Initiative, along with select items from our library collections,” says exhibit curator, Bradley K. Smith. “Because of the breadth of materials in the BHC collections, it was a challenge to select only 150 objects. However, each object helps to tell an important story about Berks County’s history, including stories about its people, its unique sense of community, its industries and commerce, its notable connections to national events, and of course, its commitment to valuing and preserving history.”

The opening of the new 150th Anniversary exhibit coincides with a historic milestone for the organization: the Charter Day Jubilee marks the anniversary date of when the organization’s charter was first signed in July, 1869. We invite you to join us for the opening of 150 Objects of Berks History at the BHC’s 150th Anniversary kick-off event, the Charter Day Jubilee, which will be held from 6-9pm in the BHC Museum.

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Party like it’s 1869 and enjoy an evening of enchantment and entertainment with BHC’s special “museum theatre” featuring historical characters and storytellers throughout the museum. Berks historical figures such as Widow Finney, Rhea Duryea, and George Durell will come alive and share their Berks history in the 13 galleries and exhibits of the BHC museum. Participants will also enjoy hors d’oeuvres, a champagne toast, a silent auction, special guests, and musical entertainment. A cash bar featuring a specialty “throwback” cocktail menu will be provided by Pollen Consolidated. Participants will also have an opportunity to enjoy BHC’s exclusive 150th Anniversary beer, brewed by Oakbrook Brewing Company.

Tickets to the 150th Anniversary Charter Day Jubilee are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or click here to purchase online. Food, musical entertainment, a champagne toast, admission to the museum theatre and the 150 Objects of Berks History exhibit are included in the cost.

The Berks History Center’s 150th Anniversary is supported by a number of Berks County businesses who recognize the importance and value of historical preservation in Berks County. The Berks History Center would like to thank its 150th Anniversary sponsors:

  • M&T Bank
  • Conrad Weiser Society, C.A.R.
  • Faye & Co
  • Oakbrook Brewing Company
  • The Tillman Team of Remax
  • Stokesay Castle
  • Pagoda Skyline
  • Tom Smith, Retirement & Medicare Specialist
  • Wyndam Advisors
  • White Star Tours
  • Poore Group of Morgan Stanley
  • Tompkins Financial
  • Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission

Remembering D-Day 75 Years Later

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“Emotions and reactions ran the scale through excitement, apprehension, solemnity and immediate speculation…” as news of the D-Day invasions spread through Reading and Berks County 75 years ago today. D-Day was the start of Operation Overlord, the Allies’ assault on the Germans and the Western Front. Hearing the news of the invasions, many Reading residents (of all faiths) came together to pray for those involved. Today we remember all of the men who landed on those beaches or who were dropped behind enemy lines, not knowing what would happen next. We especially are thinking about the thousands of men who didn’t even make it to solid ground that day.

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This photo and article were published in the June 13, 1944 edition of “Reading Newsweek,” which was published weekly by the Reading Eagle Press and distributed to Berks County service men and women by local industries. The papers were later printed in two bound volumes.

Berks History Center Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary

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The Berks History Center (BHC) invites you to celebrate its 150th Anniversary this year, starting with its kickoff event, the Charter Day Jubilee on July 12, 2019 from 6:00-9:00pm at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA.

Incorporated in 1869 as the Historical Society of Berks County, the BHC is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in Pennsylvania. For a century and a half the goal of the BHC has remained consistent; to preserve the history and heritage of Berks County and to inform, educate and inspire our community regarding that history.

Today, the BHC welcomes over 6,000 visitors, including students, homeschoolers, senior groups, and more. To maintain the archives and museum collection and provide access to visitors, a small, professional staff is aided by dedicated volunteers who give thousands of hours of assistance simply because they’re passionate about Berks County’s history. In addition to its staff and volunteers, the BHC’s efforts are supported by a committed membership exceeding 1,200.

BHC tells the stories of Berks County’s history through its research library and museum collections, some of which are displayed in 13 newly renovated galleries and exhibits including the Trades to Industry Room, Transportation Room, PA German Room and Building Berks exhibit. The continuing efforts to improve our stewardship of Berks County history were recently recognized by PA Museums, Pennsylvania’s statewide museum association, with an Institutional Achievement Award.

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“The BHC is very proud to have served the citizens of Berks County for 150 years and we excited to celebrate this milestone with our community, says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “This year we are hosting several special programs and events to commemorate our anniversary that will educate, entertain and inspire our friends.”

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The first major event celebrating the BHC’s 150th Anniversary will be the Charter Day Jubilee on July 12, 2019 from 6:00-9:00pm at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA. The event commemorates the day The Historical Society of Berks County was organized in July 1869 and will serve as the kick-off to the BHC’s anniversary year. The Charter Day Jubilee is a community celebration where participants will enjoy historic reenactors, hors d’oeuvres, live music, a champagne toast, and a cash bar in the BHC Museum. Food and bar service will be provided by Pollen Consolidated. Tickets to the jubilee are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or visiting berkshistory.org/event/jubilee

Also, please join us for the Hidden Treasures of the Oley Valley Tour on October 26, 2019 from 1:00-4:00pm, located at 3098 Friedensburg Rd, Reading, PA 19606. This unique historic house and property tour seeks to recreate the early pilgrimages of the Historical Society. Participants will have the rare opportunity to explore the historic Reiff Farm and the newly renovated Hartman Farm on a special property tour, which includes a visit to Berks County’s oldest tree, the Sacred Oak. Locally produced refreshments will be included. Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or visiting berkshistory.org/event/hiddentreasures

The Incorporation Day Birthday Bash, which will be held on December 13, 2019 from 5:30pm-7:30pm, will celebrate the date the Historical Society was incorporated in 1869. Please join us for a good old-fashioned birthday party at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. Enjoy birthday cake and other refreshments with longtime friends and supporters of the BHC. During this event the BHC will be recognized for its contributions to the community. This event is free to the public but reservations are required. Please call 610-375-4375 to RSVP.

The BHC will also hold a special Gala Dinner Fundraiser, to wrap up the organization’s anniversary celebrations in 2020. The details of this event, including location and date, are to be determined.

Other 150th Anniversary activities include:

  • Special 150th-Related Second Saturday Programs
  • Special Membership Offers throughout the Anniversary Year
  • A Special 150th Anniversary Craft Beer Brewed by Oakbrook Brewing Company
  • A New Exhibit Opening in July 2019: 150 Objects of Berks County’s History