In 1907, the dairy industry began to flourish in Berks County with a number of prominent dairy farms in Muhlenberg Township including Fairfield, Fink, Keystone, Luden, Muhlenberg, St. Lawrence, Dietrich and Clover Farms. The Muhlenberg Dairy opened its doors for operation as a manufacturer of dairy products in 1916.
According to a 2011 Reading Eagle article, Muhlenberg Township was “…a big area for milk delivery, with three major dairies working in neighborhoods along Route 61″ during the 1950s and 1960s. These three dairies were Muhlenberg Dairy, Clover Farms and St. Lawrence Dairy. Home delivery in Berks County ended in the late 1980s (according to the same article). Clover Farms, who bought the Muhlenberg Dairy in the 1980s, still operates on Rt. 61 today.
The Muhlenberg Dairy produced a number of dairy products including a popular Berks County treat called the Cho-Cho, a chocolate malt dessert. Cho-Chos have been popular in Berks County for at least 60 years and are a nostalgic reminder of a time when children relied on corner stores and the ice cream man to satisfy their summer sweet-tooth cravings. This old-fashioned treat was reinvented in 2006 at Intel’s Sandwich Shop in Muhlenberg Township by Randy Gilbert and Julie Sansary, who later established Julie’s Olde-Tyme Cho-Chos.
The Schuylkill Navigation Company operated from 1825 to 1917. The canal stretched from Philadelphia to Port Carbon a distance of 108 miles. Most of the traffic on the canal carried anthracite from the coal region to Philadelphia. There were 92 locks on the canal to overcome a 588 foot difference in elevation. There were numerous dams and locks in Berks County. Most were destroyed during the Schuylkill River reclamation in the 40’s and 50’s. Fortunately remnants of the canal survive to this day. Kelly’s Lock (pictured above) was located in Muhlenberg Township. One wall of the lock chamber survives to the present. River Road runs just behind the lock.
This picture from 1907 shows a canal boat in the lock chamber at Kelly’s Lock. The lock lifted the boats to 221 feet above sea level.
Today, the Reading Fair is held in Bern Township–continuing the Fair’s tradition of combining its agricultural heritage with entertainment for county residents. The purpose of the earliest fairs in Berks County was to bring farm goods to city dwellers. These fairs utilized the Penn Square Market Houses and occurred twice a year in October and June, starting in 1766 and continuing at that location until 1850. A more modern fair on Penn Commons (City Park) existed from 1854 until 1887, attracting many excursion trains from Lancaster and Philadelphia due to its popularity.
A twenty-five acre plot on N. 11th Street in Muhlenberg Township, with good transportation connections, was purchased in 1888. (The creation of a new fairgrounds was caused by a controversy over the jurisdiction of common land in City Park.) Amusements and harness racing were eventually added. In its peak years, two hundred horses took part.
After twenty-five years, the fair was relocated to a new plot, also in Muhlenberg Township. The 1915 location featured exhibition buildings, a racetrack, a grandstand and a midway. In 1922, a theatrical unit was constructed and in 1947 a rollerskating rink was added. There were also beer tents. Auto racing was introduced in 1924 as a one day event at the yearly fair. Stunt driving was later added. By 1932, there were three stunt shows and sprint car racing. Weekly auto races continued until 1978. Everything imaginable could be found at the Fair!
In 1979, the property was sold for development and it became the home of the Fairgrounds Square Mall.
Edwin B Yeich, “Reading Fairs-Then & Now” Historical Review of Berks County, Vol. XX July 1955, Number 4, p.98-117.
Carol J Hunsberger, editor, The Muhlenberg Story:A Township Evolves, 1851-2001, published 2001.
Before becoming part of Laureldale, Laurel Hill was a Muhlenberg Township real estate development “on the trolley.” This 1915 ad from the BHC Research Library Reading Eagle Collection boasts electric lighting, beautiful views, 50 foot streets, and “mountain spring water piped all over the property.”
According the 2010 Census, some 3,911 people call Laureldale home. The petition to create the borough of Laureldale was made Feb. 29, 1929. Leading that effort was Frederick W. Shipe, a housing developer frustrated by the lack of side streets in the area (only Elizabeth and Bellevue Avenues were in decent shape) who had managed to see streetlight installed by 1924. In the petition to incorporate were the “villages and real estate developments” known as Rosedale, Belmont, Belmont Park, Laurel Hill, Rosedale Addition, Roselawn, and adjacent territory. President Judge Paul N. Schaeffer, on April 8, 1930, signed a decree making Laureldale the 29th borough in Berks County.
The sturdy mostly brick homes, duplexes, and singles in square or classic styles, dominated the original part of the borough. The borough name is credited to Clayton N. Fidler who combined the “Laurel” from Laurel Hill and “dale” from Rosedale. It seems that Rosedale was the preferred moniker, but there was already a post office by that name in neighboring Chester County.
The story of Company A and Company I of Reading, Pennsylvania is a story that can easily become confused. Company I was organized in Reading in June of 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
During the Mexican Border crisis in 1916, the United States was tasked with capturing or killing Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa after he attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. Company I was part of the 117,000 National Guardsmen that were stationed along the Mexican–U.S. border. It was during this exercise that the Zimmerman telegram was intercepted. The interception alerted the U.S. government that Germany had encouraged Mexico to enter WWI on the side of the Central Powers, which eventually led the United States to enter the war against Germany.
Company A was part of the 4th Pennsylvania Infantry division, which had its roots in Company I. After being detached from the 4th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company I remained intact and established a machine gun company for the First Composite National Guard. Both Companies were stationed at the Armory on 325 Walnut St.
In an effort to make commanding officers strangers to the men they led, Captain Edward V. Kestner (originally Company A) and Captain Charles L. Miller (originally Company I) were ordered to exchange commands of their companies. Company A was to leave first, embarking on a journey to Camp Hancock in Augusta, Georgia to prepare the camp for the rest of the regiment. Company I was next to leave with its destination Mineola on Long Island, the mobilization point for 26 states that would compose the division heading to France.
Company A left Reading on August 20th 1917 to the grandest show of patriotism Reading had ever seen. A crowd estimated at 40,000 people lined the parade route as an escort marched from the Chamber of Commerce to the Armory, to meet the departing soldiers. The escort consisted of mounted policemen, Mayor Filbert, City Councilmen, The Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, members of the Reading Orioles and their visiting Orioles from Buffalo NY, the citizens patriotic committee and the Ringgold Band. Once they made their way to the Armory, the crowd was joined by Company I, who acted as escort for the departing Company A. The parade route ran up Walnut Street to 4th Street, down 4th Street to Penn Street, up Penn Street to 6th Street, and finally out 6th Street to the Outer Station. Thousands of American flags waved. Just about everyone had a flag to show their support.
The parade was met by the Reading Firefighters with all their apparatus on Penn Street. Once the parade emerged on Penn, the firemen sounded their sirens and rang their bells to the roaring cheers of the crowd. The square was a massive blanket of cheering with the farewell salute continuing until the parade left the square and made its way north on 6th Street. As a permanent daily reminder of the departure of Reading’s first troops for service in the war, an immense 24 foot flag was hung in the main dining room of the Mansion House on this day. Mansion House manager, Anson Christ said, “The flag will stay there until the boys come back home again for we know they will uphold the flag wherever they may be and we will be proud of them and thinking of them every day they are absent from Reading.” The raising of the flag in such a position followed a precedent at the Mansion House that dates back to the Civil War when a similar gesture was made in honor of the First Defenders in 1861.
Once at the Outer Station, the crowd from the parade swelled to the point where the station was overrun with a sea of humanity. The overflow crowd climbed roofs and boxcars to get their last glimpse of Company A. Officials kept the platform clear as the soldiers broke rank to spend their last minutes in town with loved ones. The scene as reported in the Reading Eagle was touching: mothers warmly embracing their sons as their fathers stood trying to conceal the pride that swelled inside them. Sweethearts smiling through tears as they took leave of their lover soldiers, pressing keepsakes into their hands to remind them that someone was home waiting for them. The train left the Outer Station at 4:15pm and headed to Augusta, Georgia.
Following the grand send off for Company A, Captain Kestner and Company I departed Reading on August 25, 1917 in total obscurity. The time of departure was never officially made public and the newspapers asked citizens to refrain from coming to see the soldiers depart. The company did not depart from the Outer Station as Company A did. They left on four Philadelphia & Reading Railroad cars that were located close to the Armory on North 3rd Street. The soldiers of Company I did not know what specific time they were leaving until Captain Kestner informed them at noon to say their goodbyes to their parents and loved ones. The company would leave Reading by 2:30pm. At the designated time, the company was called to order for final inspection by Captain Kestner. Then they marched out in rows of four, taking a short hike to the waiting rail cars on North 3rd street. By the time the afternoon Reading Eagle was delivered, the soldiers of Company I were headed on their 8 hour journey to Mineola, NY.
Article written & researched by Richard Polityka
Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.
When the United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, the nation was hardly prepared to wage war against Germany, the main force on the Western Front from the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria). The US Army was small and after the Selective Service Act of 1917, it drafted 2.8 million men into the service. The men drafted had to be trained before being mobilized to Europe, which didn’t begin to make its impact in Europe until the fall of 1917.
The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) began arriving in France in June of 1917. The first Americans to arrive in Europe to aid the Allies were not our military troops – it was the Doctors and the nurses of the American Red Cross. The doctors and nurses of the American Red Cross began their humanitarian mission as early as 1914 aboard a donated cruise ship painted white with a red cross that was recognized as a “Mercy Ship”. One Reading nurse, Emma B. Loose of 1442 Spruce Street, made the initial journey.
John Wanamaker donated 2,000 tons of food and clothing that left Philadelphia on the mercy ship “Thelma.” The Reading Times article described Wanamaker “cheering like a schoolboy” at the dock as the “Thelma” left port. By September 1915, public sentiment against the war closed the American hospitals, recalling the personnel back to the States. Some chose to remain and sign on with the countries they supported while in Europe. Once America entered the war, doctors and nurses were once again recalled to the battlefront.
Nurses from Reading arrived in Great Britain and France in May of 1917. Like the AEF, their impact was immediate and highly appreciated by the French and British. Carrie Albright of Reading wrote in a letter to her mother Mrs. Alfred S. Albright, of 635 Pear St., received on June 28, 1917 that she did not know her destination and could not reveal her location in subsequent letters for security purposes. Other Reading girls in Carrie’s unit Red Cross #10 were Misses Florence Burkey, Eva Gerhard and Emily Holmes. Three other Reading girls sailed in late June with Army base hospital 34. They were Mary L. Bonawitz, 615 Church St, Amanda I. Heistand and Mary K. Lotz. Misses Bonawitz and Heistand graduated from the Episcopal Hospital training school for nurses in Philadelphia.
Florence Burkey of 152 West Oley St. reported in a letter published in the Reading Eagle on July 10, 1917 of her 100 mile, 9 hour journey to her destination in France. She also reported that as a nurse, under English law, she was unable to give anesthetics to the patients. At the Reading Hospital back home, Florence was an anesthesiologist. On general duty, Florence worked very hard to the point of exhaustion on a daily basis. She was thankful for the opportunity to have close contact with the patients, describing them as brave and uncomplaining. She also described them as terribly wounded. It was her hope that the United States could stop the war so our soldiers can be spared from the horrible slaughter. Burkey served at base hospital #10 on night duty.
The Red Cross did not see the trenches in the Great War, but they were not far from it. The immediate aid in the trenches was performed by the military medics in the field, who transported the wounded to the front line casualty clearing stations or forward units where the Red Cross took over. Once there, the casualties were prepared for transport to base hospitals in the rear. The clearing stations and base hospitals were subject to enemy air attacks, with nurses suffering over 200 casualties themselves during the course of the war, with most casualties coming from disease. According to the “The Heroism of Reading & Berks County” published by the Reading Eagle, three Berks County nurses and one doctor died during the war. The casualties included: Nurse Eleanora Cassidy of 1045 N. 4th Street, Nurse Mary J. Scheirer of 1033 N 5th Street, Nurse Marie Hidell, and Dr. Ralph L. Hammond. All three passed on U.S. soil. The Red Cross nurses served in the Great War without rank or commission, something that changed by the next time the United states was involved in a world conflict.
Despite a lack of preparedness, the United States officially entered the Great War in April of 1917, providing support to our allies with troops which were desperately needed at the front lines.
The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), led by General Pershing, desperately needed training before they were deployed to the battlefields of France. The first wave of the AEF arrived in France by June of 1917, with their first involvement in the conflict occurring late in October 1917.
The first two companies from Reading to answer the call of duty were Company A and Company I, who left the city in late August 1917 to be stationed in France.. However, this Reading contingent did not see France until December 1917 and did not make it to the trenches until March of 1918 as part of the 42 Division (Company I).
Whatever training our boys received prior to embarking to France could have hardly prepared them for the horrors that trench warfare presented to the soldiers. The Berks History Center’s Museum collection helps to tell the story of their challenging experiences. Pictured above, these artifacts were some of the basic necessities of life in the trenches including: a complete mess kit with the name “Marks” carved into each utensil and the lid, a gas mask in a canvas bag, a gas mask container, a complete shaving kit and a trench checkers kit. Looking at each item paints a picture of life fighting in the Great War.
The first Reading casualty in the Great War occurred on November 20th, when Charles S Rissmiller, of 1321 Moss Street, who served in the field artillery with the AEF in France under General Pershing, was killed when a shell exploded near his station. When news reached his mother Clara Rissmiller at her residence at 1240 Clover Street on November 27th, Mayor Edward H Filbert ordered all flags to be flown at half mast for ten days in honor of the city’s first casualty.
Article Written and Researched by Richard Polityka