On the 10th of August, 1913, Daniel K. Hoch, then county controller of Berks, was the main speaker at a community picnic which was held in Kutztown Park. After complimenting those who were responsible for saving the beautiful grove, which had been threatened by the woodsman’s ax, the speaker contrasted this foresighted action with the manner in which the city of Reading was neglecting Mt. Penn. At that there were a number of sand quarries operating on the western slope of Mt. Penn. Scar on the mountainside were daily becoming larger. Mr. Hoch roundly condemned this, and called upon Reading to emulate Kutztown by acquiring the mountain and annexing it to the beautiful Penn Commons, which it adjoins.
During the following week there came to the controller’s office a modest individual, a deputy in the office of the clerk quarter sessions, a resident of Lyons, Pa. His name was Solan L. Parkes. Mr. Parkes said:
“I read your address in the newspaper and the thought occurred to me – why not organize a Berks County Conservation Association?” Mr. Parkes pointed out that such an agency might be the means of saving Mt. Penn.
The idea gripped Daniel K. Hoch. Together the two men discussed preliminary plans to organize a conservation organization. A public meeting was called to which all interested persons were invited. At that meeting Johnathan Mould, a retired merchant of Reading, was elected as president, Mr. Parkes as executive secretary and Mr. Hoch as treasurer. Later the interest of Mr. Herman Roeper was enlisted and he became treasurer.
The new organization was launched, formally, at a meeting held at the Pagoda. Many persons who were prominent in the forestry service of the state and nation attended the first meeting. As an outgrowth of this of this meeting it was decided to plant several hundred seedlings of pine trees on Mt. Penn. The state reforestation service supplied such seedlings then, as now, free except transportation costs. The members of the new organization spent a number of backbreaking hours on the slopes of Mt. Penn planting the young trees. Unfortunately the weather became very hot and dry and the the trees withered and died. The Mt. Penn project had to be postponed.
Meanwhile Mr. Parkes conceived the idea of reforesting the Antietam watershed. Mr. Emil L. Neubling, superintendent of the Reading Water Department, approved of the idea and permission was granted by the city council.
Parkes knew the value of publicity; he planned to get the planting done in a way that would attract public attention. He sought the aid of Miss Mary H. Mayer, the principal of the Reading High School for Girls. Miss Mayer agreed to permit the girls do the planting, providing they could be transported to the spot and brought home again.
Now it became necessary to enlist the cooperation of the traction company. Again Mr. Parkes suceeded.
On the Day of the planting there were lined up on Penn Street three of the large ope trolleys then in use. In great glee the high school girls boarded the cars and traveled to Stony Creek. From that point Mr. Parkes headed a parade along a shaded road which led to Antietam.
Into small holes, which had been dug previously, the girls inserted the tiny seedlings, patting the ground around the roots with their hands. It was an inspiring sight to watch the young people help to build the future. Thousands of seedlings were planted that day.
The little twigs seemed to appreciate the distinction of being planted by pretty vivacious lassies. To show their appreciation they soon took root. The splendid forest surrounding the lake today, is the result. Many of those high school girls are now mothers, and some of them have taken their children to Lake Anteitam to show them the results of their efforts.
To further the movement Mr. Neubling started a tree nursery at the head of the lake were thousands of seedlings were propagated and, from there, transplanted to the hillsides
Other areas in Berks caught the tree-planting spirit. Fleetwood and other Berks boroughs planted trees near their resevoirs. At Bethany Orpans home and at Topton the children have planted trees which have become splendid forests today. (To Be Concluded)
Students from the Reading High School for Girls planting seedlings at the Antietam Watershed. Holes were dug before the planting.
Another view of the planting of the Anteitam Watershed.
Tree Nursery at the head of Antietam Lake.
Image of Lake Antietam prior to planting.
More recent image of Lake Antietam post planting.
All images courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Archival Note: Girls from the Reading High School started the planting on the east slope by planting 5,000 trees in 1915. In 1916 770 students from the Girl’s High School and 220 Boy Scouts planted 50,000 white pine. A total of 2000,500 trees planted on the Antietam Unit cost the city $45,943.16. Source: Reverse of photo 8,904 in the Photograph Collection of the Historical Society of Berks County.