Staycation in Berks with Roadside Attractions

Staycations have become increasingly popular with Americans as the trend to buy and consume locally continues to grow. A quick Google search revealed a number of lists that offered possible local vacation spots in the greater Reading area. While all are open today, many of these spots have been around for quite a while.

Crystal Cave.JPG
Item from BHC Library’s Berks County Collection (LC 32).  

Found in the Berks History Center Library is a series of brochures from the early 1960s. Each brochure gave a short history of and advertised a local attraction that you can still visit today. The first is a 1964 brochure for Crystal Cave in Kutztown celebrating the underground attraction’s 93rd anniversary in 1964.

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The next pamphlet contains information about one of the more eccentric and unique attractions in the area. Roadside America, in Shartlesville, houses a large collection of miniature models in a large building that opened to the public in 1953. Farms, coal mines, towns, and trains are all painstakingly recreated in miniature inside this local attraction.

If life size trains seem more appealing, then the final brochure in this series is for you. It advertised rides on the WK&S train line in Kempton, Pa. According to the brochure, the track on the line dates from 1871. The train still carries passengers along this section of track today. In addition, the railway occasionally offers themed tours and events during the ride. Why go away when you can experience short vacations near home at these historic Berks County attractions!

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

Something to Ponder

I am currently reviewing the Board Minutes for the Historical Society in order to develop a better understanding of the 143-year history of the Society’s library. While reading, I came across an interesting passage.

BACKGROUND: April 12, 1870.  The corresponding secretary Henry M. Keim read a letter during the board meeting from a Mr. W. C. Reikel of Bethlehem making “inquiries in reference to the Leinbach Family in Oley Township, Berks County, and asking assistance in his effort to investigate its early history.”  In an effort to assist Mr. Reikel, the Board moved to form a committee consisting of Mr. Daniel Ermentrout (Member of the Finance Committee) and Society Vice-President Jesse G. Hawley (better known for owning the Reading Eagle at the time) to gather the information and send it to Mr. Reikel.  Neither of them actually sat on the Library Committee mind you, and I do not believe they had a librarian at the time.

SIDE NOTE: This request today would still be complicated.  With the amount of history stored in the library on the Leinbach family alone, a researcher would need to be more specific in this request.  In all actuality, if this request came through email, I would immediately reply sending information regarding our Genealogical Services and request that they be more specific.  What family member are you looking for?  Do you roughly know the dates of your ancestors?  What are you trying to prove or disprove?  We at the HJL deal in primary resources and we cannot “perform” original research.  In 1870, this request was made more complicated by the fact that the library was still in its infancy.  The “Oley/Leinbach” Committee (a term I dubbed) did not have access to the wealth of information at our fingertips.  I believe this is why the committee was formed.  If we had to have, a committee formed every time a research request comes in, researchers would never get their information in a timely manner.

Back to the matter on hand.  While I am sure Mr. Reikel received a very thorough report from the Oley/Leinbach Committee, it is what is written in the Minutes that struck me as odd.  “The committee appointed at last meeting to obtain information concerning early settlements in Oley Township in this county, through Daniel Ermentrout made a partial report, stating that the committee together with several members of the society had visited Oley Township and had been received very pleasantly by the inhabitants there of, especially by Mrs. Dr. P. G. Bertolet who gave into the hands of the committee some very valuable documents to be returned to her after inspection by the society….”  The Minutes go on to explain that the committee will present a full report, once their investigation is finished.

At a glance, this paragraph, matter of fact points out that after a trip to Oley, the committee gathered some information and that after their research had concluded would present their results to the board and Mr. Reikel.  However, when I really looked at it and then showed it to my Assistant Archivist Lisa, we thought it funny and strange.  First, we were surprised that twice they mentioned that Oley was part of Berks County, as if that might have been questioned.  Second, we pictured this small group of Reading Businessmen, dressed in white suits with white safari hats, trekking through the wilderness of Berks County with their sabers and muskets, being led by a guide, not knowing what to expect.  We imagined them getting to the Oley Township line and actually being greeted by the “inhabitants” and welcomed into the township and fed tea and cookies. Then we started wondering if this small committee had a previously bad experience, such as say maybe in Bern Township, where the inhabitants could have met our brave group of explorers at the township line with pitchforks and torches?  In all seriousness, I wonder how long it took them to get there.  They did not have cars and I imagine the Oley Turnpike was not paved and really rough in spots.  I wonder if any of them had been to Oley before.  Better yet, did they get lost on the way?

Ok, I have a very active imagination; especially on days spent reading mundane works like Board Minutes.  Regardless, of their trip, the Oley/Leinbach Committee set the stage for research and soon after other Township Histories were being generated and presented at the Board Meetings.  Eventually these works were gathered together and became the Transactions of the Historical Society, which eventually led to the Historical Review of Berks County, our quarterly journal.  Pretty neat when you think about it?!?

I am not a Librarian

Do not get me wrong…I totally respect Librarians and what they do.  But, as I tell all my volunteers (who 2 1/2 years later still refer to me as a librarian) I cannot catalog a book to save my life.

I am an Archivist.  I do not work for a university or a corporation.  I work for an Historical Society.  And, in the historical society world, I am the Indiana Jones of the paper.  We do not get the same accolades or recognition as our counterparts the curator, who work on exhibits and handle 3-d objects.  Instead, we work diligently, finding, organizing, describing and making accessible primary resources for historians and researchers.  Personally, Archivists have the better job.  We are charged with holding history in our hands.  From the Declaration of Independence to a letter written by a soldier, these items make us who we are and help tell our history.  Without documents, history would just be a story told to promote or disprove an event.

So, even though I run a library, I am not a librarian.  I am one of thousands responsible for preserving history for future generations.