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:

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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:

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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: 

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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Berks History Center Awarded the PA Museums 2018 Special Achievement Award

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The Berks History Center is pleased to announce that PA Museums, Pennsylvania’s statewide trade association serving museum professionals and institutions, has awarded the Berks History Center (BHC) an Institutional Achievement Award for the BHC’s Collections Management Project.

Each year, PA Museums recognizes the special achievements of museums and historical organizations in Pennsylvania. The PA Museums Institutional Achievement Award distinguishes the BHC for establishing and maintaining standards of excellence in the BHC Museum. The award specifically recognizes our Collections Management Project, an initiative that aimed to inventory, organize, and evaluate the BHC’s entire collection of museum artifacts.

The project began in August 2016 when Bradley K. Smith, former Senior Curator of the Pennsylvania State Museum, was contracted to undertake the project through generous support from the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and other friends of the BHC. The project involved several phases beginning with an inventory of the entire collection, a process that took several months and revealed nearly 30,000 artifacts.  The inventory was followed by a justification process, which compared the inventory records against catalog, accession, loan, deaccession, and other institutional records. The project was completed with a reconciliation phase, which sought to review the discrepancies uncovered during the justification process in an effort to solve problems.

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Curator Bradley K. Smith and Intern Erin Benz conducting the inventory in the BHC Museum

The BHC’s Collections Management Project was one of several institutional leaps at the BHC in recent years and the initiative now serves as a springboard for ongoing improvements in the BHC’s collections management practices. Curator Bradley K. Smith, now a full-time staff member at the BHC, is establishing full physical and intellectual control over the BHC’s collections. In other words, we are improving the knowledge of exactly what artifacts are in the collection, where they came from, how they were used, and where they are currently stored.

As explained by Bradley K. Smith, “The Berks History Center has been collecting historic artifacts for more than a century. Preserving these artifacts for present and future generations, and making them available to the public, is a critical component of our mission. Completing the Collections Management Project enhances our ability to realize this facet of our mission, and it will facilitate the creation of richer exhibits, programs and publications. We take our role as community stewards very seriously, and we consider it an honor to be recognized by PA Museums for our efforts.”

By conducting a collections management initiative in the BHC museum, and subsequently in the BHC Research Library archives (2019), the BHC will be fully equipped to share Berks County’s most important history with our community. Getting our collections organized means that we can tell more accurate, relevant stories about the history that matters most.

“We are very excited about this award and we are proud of the work that Curator Bradley K. Smith, his volunteers and the BHC staff have done on this project to be recognized by our peers in the museum profession. We couldn’t have achieved this award without the support of the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “We are deeply grateful for the Trust’s commitment to our mission for preserving Berks County’s historic legacy.”

The PA Museums Institutional Achievement Award will be presented to the Berks History Center at the PA Museum’s Annual Conference on April 15, 2018 in State College, PA.

pamuseums

About PA Museums

PA Museums is Pennsylvania’s statewide trade association serving museum professionals and institutions. Based in Harrisburg, PA Museums was founded in 1905 and during its long history was known as the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies and the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations. PA Museums creates and supports the museum community in Pennsylvania through advocacy work, professional development programs, information sharing, and an annual awards program to recognize exemplary work in the Commonwealth.

Taproom Treasure: Uncovering Old Glory

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When Rick Polityka first caught a glimpse of the front cover of The Historical Review of Berks County (Vol. 82. #1, Winter 22016-2017) he had a nagging suspicion that he was looking at something familiar. The photo, depicting a vintage winter scene, captured a number of adults sitting upon a large sled. In this particular issue, the editor of The Review, Charles J. Adams III, had called for readers to assist in identifying the location and date of the photograph, a mysterious item from the Berks History Center’s research library collection.

After some contemplation, it finally hit him. He had seen this sled before! Not only in the photograph, but he had actually seen this artifact up close and in person! He wasn’t entirely sure his hunch was accurate. However, he was curious enough to investigate the mystery.

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Rick called a few friends and headed to one his favorite local watering holes, The Northeast Taproom. There, with the permission of the owner, Rick and his friends ventured down into the dark, dusty basement of the Northeast Taproom. Sitting along the wall, covered in dust and boxes, Rick uncovered a very large sled, 19 feet in length.

This exciting discovery was just the beginning of Rick’s journey uncovering the history and mystery behind what we now know to be, “Old Glory,” the hand-built, Berks County tiller from the early 1900s. Rick wrote about his adventure and research in an article that will be published in the Spring 2017 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County. 

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The name “Old Glory” can be read on the face of the sled.

To read Rick’s entire story and research about Old Glory, subscribe to The Historical Review of Berks County. Copies of The Review can also be purchased in the Berks History Center Museum Store.

Rick Polityka is a local history enthusiast,  lifelong Reading resident, and a long-time member and volunteer at the Berks History Center.

Scull Map from the Museum Collection

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In 2015, staff of the Berks History Center discovered an extremely early and original map of Pennsylvania, published in 1759 by Nicholas Scull, II (1687-1761).  Scull was the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until 1761, and his 1759 map of Pennsylvania is considered by some historians to be the first map of the entire colony.  Of interest is the Northwest border of Berks County: since none had been established, none is shown.  IN 1770, Nicholas’ grandson, William Scull, published an updated version of his grandfather’s map.  During inventory work completed in 2016, staff found an original copy of this map as well.

Humidity And Your Documents

The most frequent question I get is: How can I preserve and save my family documents.  I will often ask questions to try and figure out the current condition to make recommendations.  My basic recommendations are:  1. Unfold the documents and store flat.  Documents tear along fold lines.  Unfolding these documents, will take the stress off of the fold.  2. Do not store archival material in direct sunlight.  The UV light will cause the documents and photographs to fade.  3.  Do not store artwork, documents or photographs on outside walls.  Outside walls have the most contact with outdoor temperature fluctuations and will expand and contract depending on the weather conditions, causing your material to expand and contract.   4.  Do not store your documents in attics or basements, because of the lack of control over temperature and humidity and risk of flooding.  Too much humidity can cause mold growth and too little humidity can make archival material brittle.  Both accelerate the deterioration of archival material.   5.  If your documents are rolled and maintain their tube-like shape, do not unroll them.  Unrolling them will cause them to break at stress points along the roll.  The documents will need to be humidified and once relaxed, can then be viewed.

Rolled Document
This is a rolled document before humidification.  You can see where the document has started to tear along the roll.  You can also see where the donor, at one point, tried to tape the tears to keep the document from breaking.  Please do not tape your documents.  The adhesive will add to the deterioration of the document.
Broken Photograph
This photograph has broken apart along the fold and is now in multiple pieces.  Curiosity got the best of the donor of this image.  When the first section broke off, he continued to unroll the image to see it in its entirety.  As a result, the image is in multiple pieces and cannot be put back together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I started working here, I made the recommendation that documents could be humidified in a steamy bathroom.  After a couple of long hot showers, the documents would begin to relax and then could be better handled.  I made that recommendation, because I had tested it in my bathroom when I was living in New York.  It worked great; until this past winter.  The Henry Janssen Library is climate controlled, up to a certain point.  During the winter the boiler is turned on and, in theory, I should be able to build up humidity in our humidifier.  We use the double garbage can method, with distilled water.  However, this past winter, nothing I did could get enough humidity into the chamber to humidify some tightly rolled documents.  As a last resort, I took them home to use my trusty bathroom method.  The bathroom humidification chamber didn’t work and I ended up bring the HJL’s humidification system home and finished the project.

I learned that the effectiveness of building up enough humidity in a bathroom, in order to hydrate documents is determined by the size of the bathroom.  My bathroom in Gibraltar is twice the size of my old one in New York and has a window.  Since the room is larger, it takes more steam to fill and less time for that steam to dissipate than in a smaller more compact space.   The documents were not getting enough time to soak in the moisture.   I forgot history preservation is also about physics.

In an ideal setting, including the Henry Janssen Library, all archival material would be stored in an area lower than 68 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity between 30-50% with very little fluctuation.  Unfortunately, the recommended storage conditions are not the ideal living (or researching) conditions.  Fortunately for the “Do-It-Yourselfers” following the recommendations above will set you on the track toward preservation.

For more information on how you can humidify your documents, please check out this article “Practical Considerations for Humidifying and Flattening Paper” by Stephanie Watkins, found at: http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v21/bp21-15.pdf, or other resources through Google.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center states that temperature and humidity control is vital to the preservation of archival material because unacceptable levels cause the deterioration of the material.… Heat accelerates deterioration: the rate of most chemical reactions, including deterioration, is approximately doubled with each increase in temperature of 18°F (10°C). High relative humidity provides the moisture necessary to promote harmful chemical reactions in materials and, in combination with high temperature, encourages mold growth and insect activity. Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in winter in centrally heated buildings, may lead to desiccation and embrittlement of some materials.  …Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are also damaging [because] …they respond to diurnal and seasonal changes…by expanding and contracting. Dimensional changes accelerate deterioration and lead to such visible damage as cockling paper, flaking ink, warped covers on books, and cracked emulsion on photographs. – www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/2.-the-environment/2.1-temperature,-relative-humidity,-light,-and-air-quality-basic-guidelines-for-preservation

Water, Water Everywhere

It is no joke.  Berks County is flooded.  Rivers, streams and creeks exist where none existed in years.  As I was trying to zigzag my way home last night, trying to locate a road that was not closed, I started thinking about Disaster Recovery.  Not because I would have to undergo a recovery, but mostly because I kept thinking that, NO ONE ever thinks about Disaster Recovery until you are trying to scrap your family photo albums up off the basement floor into a garbage bag.  Being prepared and taking a few steps can help save your history.

First and foremost, important legal documents like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, family death certificates, passports, insurance policies, deeds, wills and probably a few other documents that are escaping me, should be stored in a Fireproof and Waterproof safe.  Many of these items, while some are replaceable and expensive to do so, are important enough to need following a crisis.  Keep them in a safe (no pun intended) location that is easily accessible.

If you have a basement, no matter how hard you try, items end up being stored down there.  If it floods, it is recommended that items be stored away from the walls in the middle of the room and raised up.  It is probably best to think of the last time your basement flooded, how far the water entered the room and how high up and start from there.  If items need to be stored on the floor, invest in Rubbermaid boxes with sealable lids.  Cardboards boxes are no match for water, but plastic will keep items dry and safe, and possibly float, which could be a bonus.  If your family photographs, life boxes or anything important is stored in the basement, plastic is the way to go.

Now, while the intricacies of a Recovery are to difficult to explain here, there are certain actions you can take to save items that were damaged:

MOST IMPORTANT: if your basement is now a swimming pool, keep in mind that there are electrical conduits around and probably breaker boxes.  If you cannot get your electricity shut off, DO NOT enter the water.  You will have to wait until the water recedes.

Documents, books, and photographs, are, believe it or not, in a semi-stable environment until the water starts drying.  For some items, there is nothing you will be able to do to recover them completely.  However, for the most part, these items sometime acclimate to their surroundings, until they change again.  The BIGGEST threat to all these items is not the water, but the mold that will ensue if you cannot cool and dehumidify your basement quickly and completely.  All the statistics on mold indicates that is forms and spreads within 24 hours.  I have seen it start forming and spread in less than 12.  Mold is the biggest destroyer of all items.  Combating that is a top priority because it is also a serious health issue!  Keep the air circulating for constant motion and drying purposes.

Documents and photographs can be recovered through air-drying.  Photographs need to be separated; the emulsion used in their manufacturing process, will turn sticky and once these items dry together, you will not be able to get them apart.  Once separated you can clothes pin them onto a line to air dry.  Documents, depending on weight of the paper when wet, can also be air-dried, or laid out on the floor.  Typically, in the library setting, we use blotting paper to assist in the “wicking” processes.  Paper towels should work.

However, Kitchen Paper Towels will not work.  This is important.  Manufacturers have designed them to lock moisture in and hold it in.  Paper towels, like the brown ones, that dry easily and do not have moisture lock are preferred and do work best.

Books tend to be a bit more difficult in the recovery process.  Improper handling of books can cause their spines to break and fall apart.  Books, like George M. Meiser IX, and Gloria Jean Meiser’s The Passing Scene, which are glossy coated, need to be treated carefully.  The pages of glossy covered books, needed to be interleafed with wax paper BEFORE the drying process starts, or the pages will stick together, and you will not get them apart.  For non-glossy format books, interleaving paper towels and standing them, wet side down will help gravity pull the water from the book.  Leave a portion of the paper towel around the edge of the book so when the water is wicked to the end, it can air dry and pull more moisture out.  When the bulk of the water is out, you might need to weight it down to finish the drying process, or you can end up with a book double its original size.

Wet items in frames need to be carefully removed from the frame so the item does not stick to the glass, rip apart and dries thoroughly.

These are just a few tips.  If you require more professional assistance, you can contact:

Berks Fire and Water Restorations, Inc. – http://bfwrestorations.com/

For professional archival assistance:

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts – http://www.ccaha.org/

and I like to give a shout out and mention the following organizations who assisted me in a library recovery 4 years or so ago:

The Northeast Document Conservation Center – http://www.nedcc.org/home.php

Document Reprocessors – http://documentreprocessors.com/

If at any point you have questions, please call the Historical Society, I will do my best to help point you in the right direction.  Stay Safe and Dry Berks County!