Why Berks History Matters to Me: A Letter from a Former Intern

 

MackenzieScreenShot1.png

Dear Fellow Members and Friends of the Berks History Center,

Admiration. Curiosity. Gratitude. These are the feelings that capture the essence of my experience with the Berks History Center. In the fall of 2016, I had the pleasure of working alongside seasoned museum professionals at the Berks History Center (BHC) museum. As a junior at Albright College, I interned at the BHC and helped with their collections management initiative, which involved inventorying more than 28,000 items in the collection. From textiles to furniture, to posters and machinery, my eyes were exposed to more curiosities than I ever could have imagined. Some days I felt like Abigail Chase from the film National Treasure, holding the Declaration of Independence and eager to uncover the detailed history woven into its fabrication.

Despite being a South Jersey native, I developed a sincere admiration for the Berks County artifacts we inventoried. Each had a place in the museum and I wanted to know how and why all of these items were collected, and how they contributed to preserving the legacy of Berks County.

On one of my first days at the museum, I learned about the mystery of the Chippendale chairs. There was a rumor that the chairs belonged to the former Pennsylvania governor, Joseph Hiester. My supervisor, BHC Curator Brad Smith, said that he wanted to find out if the legend was true. So we began our quest with several visits to the BHC Research Library and the Berks County Courthouse.

It was from those visits that we discovered the legend was true!

Thanks to the curiosity of our team, we located the original acquisition documentation for the chairs, which traced the lineage to the former governor. I felt like a museum detective and only wanted to explore more mysteries!

Screenshot_20180929-102610
Photo: Mackenzie inventorying items in the BHC Museum Collection.

After getting a taste of curatorial research, my admiration for Berks County history grew exponentially. I wanted to know things like: why the collection held so many fire company artifacts; how a Conestoga wagon got into the basement; and how so many valuable things had been acquired.

I discovered the answers to these questions and more through persistent research and constant support from the BHC’s talented and supportive staff.

As more information was uncovered, I realized that I was beginning to help preserve the legacy of Berks County. It wasn’t until my last few weeks at the BHC that I noticed how much gratitude I felt for the collection, its keepers and its scholars.

In the winter of 2017, Brad asked me and fellow intern, Erin Benz, to present our findings at a community event at the BHC. Through this experience I understood that I had the potential to grow as a museum professional.

After presenting some of my favorite paintings from the collection, I was told by an attendee that one of the works was improperly labeled. I was grateful to this community member because I learned that historical organizations like the BHC rely on input from the local community to accurately preserve and interpret local history.

IMG_7122
Photo: (left to right) BHC Intern, Erin Benz; BHC Curator, Brad Smith, BHC Intern, Mackenzie Tansey; Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

When I left my internship at the BHC, I knew it wouldn’t be a final farewell.

The BHC is a place I admire for both its collection of artifacts and its dedicated staff and volunteers. It’s also a place where curiosity is welcomed and shared among scholars and a place I’m grateful for because it’s where I discovered my passion for collections management.

The BHC has the power to ignite a fire of curiosity in community members of all ages and backgrounds. That fire found its way into the heart of this Albright Lion from New Jersey and I believe it can touch the hearts and minds of many more to come!

This year I’m giving back to the place that supported me by making a $100 donation.

Please join me today and share your gratitude to the BHC by donating any amount you can to support this vital community treasure. Click here to donate online or you can mail your support to 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

The BHC continues to find innovative ways to preserve history while educating and inspiring the citizens of Berks County and beyond. Your strong financial support is vital to ensuring that it can continue to do just that. Thank you for your help.

With gratitude,

signature

Mackenzie Tansey
2016 Berks History Center Intern

Advertisements

Berks History Center to Open 100 Year Old Time Capsule on the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice

WWI_Nov10_WebBanner

The Berks History Center will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day on November 10, 2018 with World War I & Berks, a day of programs and events, including a time capsule opening at the Berks History Center, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

Please join us for a day of education and entertainment as we commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. The day will begin with two consecutive programs that explore the challenges and triumphs of the Great War through the eyes of a local WWI soldier with presentations by William Richardson as he reads and interprets his father’s WWI diaries. From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I will begin at 10:00AM and will be followed by Part II at 12:30PM.

313 officers 1918 (1)
Photo: William Emanuel Richardson, front row, far left, without a hat, with 313 Machine Gun Battalion, shipboard on the Mercury, on his way to France in 1918. The officer sitting next to him, Lt. Parsons was killed in the Meuse Argonne fighting. From William F. Richardson.

Presenter, William F. Richardson is the son of William Emanuel Richardson, who served in the Great War. Richardson will read and interpret his father’s journal entries in a dramatic presentation that demonstrates the realities of the WWI experience. Richardson is a Berks County native and now lives in Golden, CO. Richardson’s father, William Emanuel Richardson, was born in Berks County in 1886. William’s extensive diaries and writings during this period reveal a profound patriotism, a hopeful idealism, and a keen understanding of the context and background of events as they unfolded. They also reveal a young man’s search for both adventure, and romance.

Admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Parts I & II is $5.00 for members and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Both programs are included in the admission price.

IMG_0245.jpg
1918 Time Capsule that will be opened on November 10, 2018

At 6:00pm the Berks History Center will reveal the contents of a 1918 Time Capsule during an unveiling ceremony. The Time Capsule Opening Ceremony is free to the public.

The day will conclude with a special performance by the Reading Choral Society. The Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert begins at 7:30pm in the Berks History Center Connor Auditorium. The concert will pay homage to Reading’s Liberty Chorus, which was founded in 1918, and will feature music popular during the era of the Great War.

Tickets for Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert are $5.00 for member and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Tickets must be purchased in advance and do not include admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I & II. Call 610-375-4375 to purchase tickets.

RCS Concert WWI_WebBanner

Launched in November 2017, the World War I & Berks project, was a year-long commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of World War I that examined Berks County’s contributions to the Great War and the effects the war had on our local community. The World War I & Berks exhibit, located in the Berks History Center’s Palmer Gallery, tells how Reading and Berks County responded to the nation’s call to arms with a remarkable eagerness to serve and unwavering patriotic displays. Additional stories about World War I were shared throughout the year on the Berks History Center’s blog and social media. Program attendees are invited to tour the World War I & Berks exhibit along with all of the other galleries and exhibits in the museum.

The Phenomenon of the Liberty Chorus

- 14082 - Bandstand 97-39
Bandshell Pavillion in City Park, c. 1918, BHC Research Library Collection

The Great War was a constant exercise in patriotism for the citizens of Reading and Berks County. Citizens were asked to support the war effort through Liberty Loan drives, which were followed by Red Cross drives and ongoing petitions to purchase War Savings Stamps. Meanwhile, the YMCA and YWCA required more young men and women to do their part in the name of victory for the soldiers fighting overseas. Amidst all these demands for local citizens to fulfill their patriotic duties, leaders in Berks worked tirelessly to keep the spirit of patriotism alive in Berks County. And thus, the Liberty Chorus was born.

On July 17, 1918 a meeting was held in the Chamber of Commerce to organize committees and appoint lieutenants to arrange community sings throughout the summer. The meeting consisted of leading musical representatives from the Reading Rotary, the Penn Wheelmen, the Kiwanis Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and other musical organizations.  The lieutenant’s role was to recruit choir singers and musicians to create a community singing chorus to lead the community in popular war songs. They believed a singing community would never know the burdens of war.

Reading had a reputation for its excellent singers and strong church choirs. Reading also had a prize-winning choral society under the direction of Edward Berg. With this rich history in organized singing, the Liberty Chorus was formed on July 18, 1918 with a membership of 350 men who were ready to keep the fires of patriotism burning in Berks County. The men present at the meeting that night could not have envisioned just how popular the Liberty Chorus would become.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 18 Jul 1918, Thu

The Liberty Chorus was headed by “sing leader” George F Eisenbrown. Before the American entry in the Great War, Eisenbrown was busy developing Muhlenberg Park, Illustrious Potentate of the Rajah Temple, and was partnered with his brother Charles in the family business, Eisenbrown Granite Works (P.F. Eisenbrown & Sons).

What began as a summertime experiment became a local phenomenon. Within a few weeks of their first sing at the 7th and Laurel playground on July 23, 1918, the Liberty Chorus had stoked the fires of the Reading’s patriotic spirit, making them a popular attraction in the community. They performed before crowds of 15,000 on Sundays in City Park. This was significant at a time when 19 men could be arrested for violating the Blue Laws for playing baseball.

Whether it was a pre-planned community sing or an impromptu appearance to celebrate good news from the Western Front, the Liberty Chorus made themselves available whenever the need to promote patriotism arose.  One such instance was a Sunday night/Monday morning gathering in front of the Berkshire Hotel. Despite unfortunate timing and weather, the Liberty Chorus sang their hearts out and led a parade of 5,000 citizens in joyous celebration through the rain-soaked streets of Reading (more on this topic in a future article).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

After the war, their popularity didn’t diminish, but their role in the promotion of patriotism drew to a close. Their performances were less frequent but still popular among the community. The Liberty Chorus was scheduled to lead a Christmas Carol sing-a-long on Christmas Eve in Penn Square, only to have it cancelled due to rain. Later they performed to honor the late, former President, Theodore Roosevelt at the Rajah Temple and they set an attendance record at the Colonial Theatre. Their last performance was on June 3, 1919 at the Auditorium on South 5th St to welcome home Company A, a fitting farewell to Reading’s Patriotic Singers.

On November 10, 2018, the Reading Choral Society will be bringing the sound of the Liberty Chorus back to life when our 1918 time capsule will be opened at the Berks History Center. The Reading Choral Society will be performing popular songs sung by the Liberty Chorus during the Great War. Click here for more information on this historic event. (for more on the Liberty Chorus, see the Historical Review of Berks County, Winter 2017-2018).

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. 

The Future of the Berks History Center: A Message from the Director

bhcbuilding

Introduction & Mission:

Recognized as the Official Historical Society of Berks County by the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, the Berks History Center (BHC) has been a bedrock institution in Berks County since its founding in 1869. Throughout its 149 year history, the Berks History Center has been and continues to be committed to collecting and preserving Berks County’s historic legacy. The BHC is the organization the citizens of our community turn to when they want to connect with their home, their community and their history.  Our commitment to protect and care for our invaluable collections, preserves the unique identity and character of our community. The BHC believes this is our role and value to the community we serve and are honored to provide this leadership. We seek to preserve the past, yet we understand that in order to do so for generations to come, our organization has and always will continue to evolve. And, while the future organization may look different from what it is today, the most important thing is that the BHC remains viable to continue its mission to preserve Berks County’s heritage.

Over the past fifty years, many events and trends have changed our society, impacting our community in many ways. These transformations have had a profound effect on all aspects of our lives, including the operating efficiencies of the BHC. Furthermore, the BHC faces a number of challenges within its current operating model that threaten the sustainability of the organization. The purpose of this report is to demonstrate how these changes have affected the BHC, what we have done already to address these challenges and how they will direct the work of the BHC board and management as it develops a sustainable business plan for the future.

Changes & Challenges

Over the past 20 years, a significant factor that has affected the BHC has been the attrition of the World War II Generation, who, unlike more recent age groups, were a generation of “joiners.” Unfortunately and inescapably, a large segment of the “Greatest Generation” has died, resulting in a major decline in the membership ranks of many organizations like the BHC. As a result of this decline, a significant portion of one of the BHC’s largest revenue streams has been lost. Today, the BHC has a membership community of about 1,250 (large by the standards of historical organizations) and we are fortunate to have many Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and even Millennials among those members. We are thankful to all of our members who continue to support the BHC each year. However, this number is more than fifty percent less than what it was a decade ago; in 2006, the BHC had a membership of 2,700. Fortunately through the efforts outlined in the Accomplishments & Achievements section further along in this document, the BHC’s membership has stabilized over the past 18 months. Additionally, the World War II Generation had amassed significant financial assets and was very generous in remembering and supporting the BHC with their estates. Nevertheless, this type of generous giving has also declined in recent years.

Another significant challenge has been the de-emphasis on history as a part of the core curriculum offered in schools today. The lack of concentration on history education does little to instill a sense of importance for the subject that would otherwise carry forward in a student’s later life and nurture their appreciation for local history. Also, due to lack of educational funding for school field trips and extracurricular enrichment, the BHC’s school visitation has declined over the years. Currently, an average of 3,000 school children, mostly from 3rd and 4th grades, visit the BHC every year, a number that is significantly less than in years past.

IMG_0937.jpg

While changes in educational standards have weakened the BHC’s community value as an educational institution, increased access to information in the digital age has also impacted the BHC. The change in the way we access information via the internet has been positive and transformational in countless ways, increasing the availability of educational resources exponentially. However, increased access to electronic information has also proven problematic for libraries and archives such as the BHC’s Henry Janssen Research Library. What was once proprietary information at the BHC, and significant revenue, is now free for the taking with a “click” of a mouse and the amount of materials available online grows daily. As a result of this quickly changing environment, the BHC can no longer rely on library access fees as a significant source of earned revenue.

In addition to decreased opportunities for earned revenue, the BHC’s business support base has dramatically declined through the relocation and erosion of businesses in Reading and Berks County. While the BHC is supported by a number of loyal local businesses, the overall availability of local business support through sponsorship, membership, and advertisement dollars has significantly declined. What was once a thriving business community, our region has suffered a striking loss of businesses that were “Berks-based.” Many of the businesses that remain in Berks County today are headquartered elsewhere and do not possess an understanding of, or appreciation for, the heritage that is unique to Berks County and what makes our community special. This loss of local business support coupled with the attrition of the generous givers of the World War II Generation has stunted the philanthropic support once given to the BHC.

Lastly, one cannot ignore the demographic and cultural changes that have taken place within the City of Reading and Berks County over the last 40-50 years. As the population has changed from predominantly European caucasian to a multicultural mix, the BHC has struggled to make the changes necessary to reflect the shifting cultural norms and interests of the current population. Overall, this shortcoming can be observed in every aspect of the organization, including the content of the museum and research library collections. Due to past collecting practices and trends, cultural norms, and the general nature of how artifacts come to be regarded as important to preserve, the BHC collections do not reflect the experiences of many of Reading and Berks County’s current populations. Furthermore, the BHC’s membership and visitation tends to be predominantly white, middle class, as does the staff and board, leaving out a large portion of our community. In the face of changing demographics in Berks County, in order to remain viable and relevant to the current and future populations of Berks County, the BHC needs to creatively adapt by planning for accessibility and inclusiveness.

Accomplishments & Achievements:

JS9_0339.jpg

Despite the challenges the BHC has faced over the past 30 years, it has also made significant strides. In more recent years (the last 36 – 48 months), the BHC has been aggressively proactive in planning for the future sustainability of the organization. Starting in 2014, the BHC has renovated, or created entirely new exhibits in all of its galleries in the BHC Museum. This is a major departure for the institution, where in the past, exhibits would routinely go unchanged for 25 years or more. Concurrently, repairs and updates were made to the interior of the BHC’s Museum galleries through funding received from generous friends and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, a funding stream that the BHC began accessing in 2013.

Also, in 2014, the BHC began introducing exhibits and programs that interpreted more recent subjects in history, resulting in increased community interest and engagement. Exhibits such as Magical History Tour: A Cultural and Musical Happening spawned the inception of what has become one of the community’s largest attended musical events: the Magical History Tour concert! Since it began in 2014, all 6 Magical History Tour concerts have been attended by an average of 1,200 people. The event has a dedicated following and Magical History Tour Pt. VI on August 18, 2018 will continue this excitement. Simply put, Magical History Tour is an event the people of Reading and Berks County don’t want to miss.

Using valuable feedback from our members, volunteers, and patrons, the BHC increased the number and improved the content of our programming and bus trips. By providing programs that engage the interests of our patrons as well as creating programs that reach our target markets, the BHC is building its following, increasing attendance, enhancing revenue, and expanding the reach of its brand in the community. The BHC bus trips are incredibly successful and have resulted in many new memberships.

In 2015, after thoughtful consideration, the BHC made the difficult but necessary decision to divest itself of the Hendel House. While the Hendel House remains a significant historic architectural structure in the Center Park Historic District, the property did not further the mission of the BHC and maintenance of the building exhausted significant financial resources our organization needed for its operations.

20160902_102710.jpg

As we took stock of the financial sustainability of the organization, we also assessed our preservation efforts in our museum and research library. In 2010 and again in 2016, the BHC installed new high-density shelving in the BHC Research Library, providing safer storage and increased access to a larger portion of the Library collections. At the same time, additional high-density shelving was added to storage areas in the museum. Later in 2016, the BHC embarked on a collections management project that aimed to inventory, organize, and evaluate the BHC’s entire collection of museum artifacts. This process took 16 months, revealed nearly 30,000 artifacts and resulted in the deaccession of artifacts that did not fit the mission of the BHC. The process of deaccessioning is now ongoing. Through the generous support of the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and other friends of the BHC, the project was completed at the end of 2017 and has improved the BHC’s knowledge of exactly what artifacts are in the collection, where they came from, how they were used, and where they are currently stored. The project was recognized as an organizational milestone by PA Museums in 2018 with an Institutional Achievement Award that distinguished the BHC for establishing and maintaining standards of excellence in the BHC Museum. By tending to our collections through these initiatives, the BHC is upholding its responsibility to care for and protect the artifacts and documents that embody the historic legacy of Berks County.

With the addition of enthusiastic and professional staff members the BHC has created a positive culture of teamwork, persistence, and a “can do” attitude, which has gone a long way in helping the BHC to achieve its goals. The BHC staff and their volunteers are becoming experts in teamwork. With positive leadership and a culture of esprit de corps, the Berks History Center has become a creative, collaborative work environment. The cultural changes that have taken place at the BHC were fueled by a shift in leadership and policies on the Board of Directors. Term limits were established and new board members have infused the BHC with fresh ideas.

Finally, in the past two years, the BHC has innovated the way that we connect with our community, including our members, patrons, sponsors, and partner organizations. Through a branding assessment and strategy, the BHC has made a significant effort to establish and elevate BHC’s brand identity by becoming more consistent in our branding efforts and building better relationships with the people who support us. For example, we reviewed and revised our membership benefits, along with our membership management systems, to better serve the people who support the BHC. We implemented a communications and social media strategy that prioritizes engagement and utilizes feedback from our members, patrons and followers. Due to these efforts the BHC has built a significant following and is now better recognized throughout the community. The BHC has experienced approximately a 35% increase in attendance at its 2nd Saturday Programs, a regular attendance of 1,200 participants at its annual Magical History Tour Concert and 400-600 participants at its annual 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour.  While more work needs to be done, all of these accomplishments, as well as our rebranding efforts have brought about greater engagement with BHC’s constituents and laid the foundation for a brighter, more sustainable future as a public trust intended to serve the entire community.

IMG_1407.jpg

The trustees, staff and volunteers at the BHC have worked hard to make real, effective change within the organization and many of their endeavors have been revolutionary in the overall direction and viability of the institution. All of these combined Accomplishments & Achievements have contributed to reducing the structural deficit of the BHC operating budget by 60% and while this is a good start, the BHC board and staff are continuing their work to formulate a business model that is viable, relevant and ensures future sustainability. However, even with these efforts underway, the BHC currently faces a number of hurdles that need to be addressed in order for the organization to survive. In addition to the changing cultural climate of support and membership that was outlined in the first four pages of this paper, the BHC is challenged by a number of issues on site. With each passing year, the perception of safety (real or imagined) seems to be more of a concern for those who visit the BHC. Combined with the challenge of limited parking, this attitude inhibits the BHC as a user-friendly destination. The BHC facilities are aging and in need of significant repair and retrofitting. The BHC museum building was constructed over 90 years ago out of solid concrete, making the structure a challenge to retrofit or adapt for multiple usages. The BHC buildings are also in need of new mechanical and HVAC systems and do not have the appropriate climate control or fire suppression systems necessary for protecting the BHC’s precious collections.

Conclusion:

In planning for the future, any decision must be grounded in a preliminary strategic/business planning session with staff, trustees, and members of the BHC community to better establish and define the BHC’s core values and identity. In addition, a thorough building assessment of our current location must be conducted concurrently with the strategic/business plan to determine whether or not the BHC’s current location is viable as a venue for the BHC of the future.

Having spent considerable time thinking about multiple options for the BHC, we believe working collaboratively with a consulting firm that specializes in museum and cultural organizations to achieve a sustainable business model is the BHC’s best course of action.  Integrating the corporate knowledge of the BHC Board and Management Team with the expertise of a well-regarded consulting firm, the BHC will determine the best direction for the future sustainability of the organization.

Carrying out a strategic plan and any course of action that follows will require significant capital and community support. As we move forward, one must keep in mind that the BHC is not simply another cultural organization within our community, but rather, a museum and research library that are unique in promoting the cultural and historic legacy of our county. If marketed correctly and structured as a tourist attraction with greater traffic, accessibility and parking capacity, the BHC could make a significant contribution to the economic development and promotion of our region by virtue of its potential as a tourist attraction that tells the story of Berks County. In order to take that approach the BHC will require a strategic planning document structured in a narrative format that can be used as a marketing tool to engage the support of the entire community, including Berks County residents, philanthropist and state and local government. The BHC leadership has determined that the best way to achieve the strategic framework/marketing document we described is with a firm that possesses expertise in this field. Therefore, after interviewing four organizations that hold the skill sets we deem necessary, the BHC Board and Management has decided to move forward and engage the consulting services of Schultz & Williams to work with our organization to produce this document.

2018AnnualReportGraphs

Sincerely,

 

Sime Bertolet, Executive Director

The Berks History Center’s Annual Report was originally published in the Fall 2018 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County

5 Reasons You Should Go on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour

CharmingCreekFarm_JS9_6774resize

1. It’s an Adventure

The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is a map to your local history. Discover historical treasures right in your own backyard and travel through 4 different time periods along the way! As you drive through the rolling hills of Western Berks you will spend the day escaping into Berks County’s bucolic vistas and exploring the past. The map is already drawn for you. Just jump in the car and drive!

BerryAcres_JS9_5219resize.jpg

2. Be a Nosy Neighbor (Without Actually Trespassing)

Ever drive past an old house or a gorgeous estate and wonder what it’s like inside? The 4 Centuries Tour is your chance to see what no one else has seen! Step inside private homes and secluded mansions to explore what life is like on the inside.

ConradWeiserHomestead_JS9_7171resizecrop.jpg

3. Discover Your Berks History

Expand your knowledge of local history firsthand. Learn what it was like to live in Berks County in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries and uncover the architectural marvels of the 21st Century. All in all, you will drive away with an appreciation for the unique legacy of Berks County.

IMG_2590.JPG

4. Make Connections

Fall is the time for fun with friends. The 4 Centuries Tour is a chance to try something different. This day-long adventure is an exciting way to connect with your local history while sharing the fun with your closest friends. With over 400 people in attendance, who knows, you might even meet some new people along the way!

img_2574.jpg

5. Support the Preservation of Your Berks History

We know that you care about preserving Berks County’s history. So do we! The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is the Berks History Center’s annual fundraiser that celebrates the efforts of local property owners, who work to preserve your local history. We invite you to join us as a tour-goer to appreciate our county’s historic legacy and support the Berks History Center’s efforts to preserve your Berks County’s history in the BHC museum and research library.

Explore the architectural treasures of 12 historic properties in Heidelberg Townships tomorrow on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour!
Tickets $35.00. Click here for more information or purchase tickets the day of the tour at:
Wernersville Train Station located at 20 E. Penn Avenue, Wernersville, PA 19565.

Hidden in Heidelberg: The Wernersville Train Station

WernersvilleTrainStation_resize

Trains have held a certain magic for many people. Train stations, too, for their arrivals and departures to new, exciting places. All of this nostalgia can be seen and savored at the restored historic Wernersville Train station.

Built in 1927, to replace an earlier station, the little used and dilapidated granite and limestone building was rescued and restored by the Heidelberg Heritage Society.  The restoration is authentic; fortunately, the Society was able to secure such items as the original water fountain, Men’s and Ladies’ room signs, and mail wagon.

The first train of the Lebanon Valley Railroad of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad ran from Reading to Lebanon in 1857; the first passenger train from Reading to Harrisburg in 1858. The establishment of this busy railroad ushered in the successful development of Wernersville and the south mountain resorts.  By 1941, passenger trains were making 26 stops a day!

With the ascendency of the automobile, train travel declined and passenger railroad service at the Wernersville Station terminated in June 1963. What we have now is a beautifully restored train station that brings back all the history and memories of railroading days.

The Wernersville Train Station is one of twelve historic sites on the 2018 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour, which will explore the architectural treasures of Heidelberg Townships including South Mountain Resort area, Robesonia Furnace Historic District, and Charming Forge Mansion, Boarding House & Village.

Back to School in Berks

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial Celebrations, Berks County Historian George Meiser IX released a map highlighting various historic buildings and locations all around the County. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Historical Society of Berks County staff members, Ted Mason and Pegi Convry, went out to document the places noted on the Meiser Map—especially since some were no longer standing. Over the past year, our Archives Assistant, Samantha Wolf, has processed the materials that Pegi and Ted created. In honor of the new school year, Sammy put together some of the school buildings that were listed on the Map and photographed by Ted Mason and Peggy.

*It should be noted that these descriptions come directly from George Meiser’s map, so the buildings may have been altered further or are no longer standing in 2018.*

 

Amityville One-Room Schoolhouse, Amity Township:

Amity 7_Amityville School.JPG
View of Amityville Schoolhouse

According to George Meiser: “Amityville was a one- room school built in 1869; for 30 years it was the largest/most expensive rural school in Berks (prior to the 1899 Green Terrace School in South Heidelberg Township). It was used for over 50 years. People came from all over to see it. Professor J.C. Halloway had Amity Seminary in it during summer months years ago. It is a brick building, and is now used as a dwelling place (as of  1976).”

 

Epler’s One-Room School – Bern Township:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

According to George Meiser: “Epler’s was a one-room school. It is an attractive stone construction that is in well kept condition. It has been moderately modified and is now used as a dwelling place.  Note the datestone on the front of the building. The school shut in 1931.”

 

Jacksonwald One-Room School – Exeter: 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

According to George Meiser: “Jacksonwald One-Room School was built in 1870.  After its closing it was still used periodically for classes as a novelty. As of the 1980’s it was used as a museum. It was also part of the school districts property. It is a brick building that is in well-kept condition. It is unknown what the current use of it is.”

Note: The Jacksonwald Schoolhouse was moved to a new location (about 120 feet from its original spot) in 2011. Click here learn more about the school.

 

Stouchsburg Academy – Marion Township:

Marion 4_Stouchsburg Acad.JPG
View of Stouchsburg Academy

According to George Meiser: “Stouchsburg Academy was established in 1838. It ran for almost 40 years and is located at 43 Main St.  It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sally Boone School – Oley Township:

Oley 16_Sally Boone Sch.JPG
View of Ruins of Alleged Sally Boone School

According to George Meiser: “The Alleged Sally Boone School is an ancient looking stone building that is unfortunately falling to ruin. It has been closed for around 100 years. It was located at ‘Hoch’s Corner.’”

 

Two-Story Frame School – Upper Tulpehocken:

Up Tulp 8G_2 story Frame Sch.JPG
View of a Two-Story School

According to George Meiser: “The Two-Story frame school ran from 1899-1932. It was unusually large and had many windows for a school during the time. It had one big room on each floor; graded. It is on the corner of Main St and East Ave. It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sources:

George Meiser’s Bicentennial Map of Berks County

BHC Library’s AC 98 Bicentennial Historic Sites Surveys Collection, processed by Samantha Wolf, 2017-2018.

 

Information compiled by BHC Archives Assistant Samantha Wolf.