These are extraordinary times and your history is worth saving! We are now witnessing a unique historical moment as our community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Berks History Center wants to preserve your story.
While we can’t preserve everything, we are interested in collecting personal accounts, observations, images, sound and/or video files throughout this challenging time. Once we are able to open our doors, we hope to collect objects, diaries, documentaries, and more relating to our community’s unique experiences during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Please take a moment to share your stories with us. A selection of material submitted may be shared through the BHC media accounts and submitted stories will be preserved in the BHC collections for future generations.
The Berks History Center is pleased to announce that its “Berks History for Victory” project has grown thanks to $1330 in support from The Friends of Reading Hospital. Launched on April 13, 2020, Berks History Center’s “Berks History for Victory” campaign aims to promote community food security through the revitalization of historic victory gardening in Berks County.
First initiated as an educational campaign and digital storytelling project on the Berks History Center’s website and social media platforms, “Berks History for Victory” will take root in the City of Reading with the installation of a demonstration victory garden at the Berks History Center. In addition to building a “living exhibit” on the grounds of the BHC museum, funds from The Friends of Reading Hospital will also supply city residents with Victory Garden “Kick-Start Kits,” which include vegetable starts and bilingual educational pamphlets that share the history behind victory gardening as well as practical information for starting a vegetable garden at home.
Weather permitting, the BHC staff will break ground on Friday, May 1, 2020, installing the new demonstration victory garden on the lawn of the BHC museum. In the case of rain, the garden will be installed the following week. Updates and the installation process will be documented and shared on social media. The BHC invites the community to follow along @berkshistory on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
City residents interested in kick-starting their own victory garden at home can pre-register online for a “Berks History for Victory Kick-Start Kit.” Supplies are limited and kits will be reserved on a first come, first served basis. The kits include vegetable starts as well as bilingual educational pamphlets. Soil for container gardens will be available on site but are not included in the kit. The BHC encourages registrants to bring their own containers, anything from coffee cans and 5 gallon buckets to traditional gardening pots to fill (self-serve) for their home container gardens at the time of the pick-up.
Online registration opens on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 and reserved kick-start kits will be available for pick-up at the Berks History Center on Monday, May 11, 2020. Two pick-up methods will be available to ensure safe social distancing: Walk-up registrations will be distributed at the BHC museum at the corner of Spring and 2nd Streets, and a drive-through pick-ups will be available the same day in the BHC parking lot, located at 160 Spring Street.
The “Berks History for Victory” initiative has grown in collaboration with Reading’s Victory Garden Task Force and a growing number of community partnerships. The task force’s “Cultivating Community” victory garden project, led by Councilwoman, Lucine Sihelnik, will distribute complete container gardens to District 1 on Monday, May 11, 2020, the same day as the “Berks History for Victory” kick-start kit giveaway.
The Berks History Center has also partnered with the Reading Public Library to increase accessibility to information about home food production and the history of victory gardening in America. Through its Overdrive platform, the Reading Public Library has compiled a unique selection of digital books that can be accessed online by digital library card holders: https://bit.ly/BH4VGardenBooksTo request a digital library card visit https://bit.ly/GetCardedToday
Muhlenberg Greene Architects, Ltd. (MGA) have also joined the movement to promote historic victory gardening for food security in Berks County. On their 100th Anniversary this year, MGA’s experienced architects will be putting together a set of plans for raised garden bed planters, which they will distribute to the public along with a series of “throwback” social media posts, sharing historic garden designs from some of the community’s most popular built residences built by MGA.
Other partnerships in the county-wide victory gardening initiative include: the City of Reading, DS Smith, Reading’s Environmental Advisory Council, Berks Nature, the Berks Conservation District, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Berks County Master Gardeners.
Home gardeners and institutions alike are welcome to join the movement by sharing resources and stories on the “Berks Victory Gardeners” Facebook page and follow along on Instagram @BerksVictoryGardens Further collaborations are expected to grow, as the Berks Victory Gardeners invite all citizens, community organizations, and businesses to get behind the revitalization of historic home food gardening.
First promoted during WWI and again during WWII, Americans were encouraged to support the war effort and produce their own food by planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, churchyards, city parks, and playgrounds. Today, the BHC is seeking to revitalize this historic practice in order to build community and increase food security in Berks County.
The BHC invites families in Reading and Berks County to join them in their campaign to promote food security during the COVID-19 pandemic by learning about the history of victory gardens and growing their own gardens at home, wherever possible.
Drawing upon information from their collections and additional historical research, the Berks History Center (BHC) will embark upon an educational campaign and community story-telling project to promote home gardening for food security in Berks County and beyond. The initiative focuses on the revitalization of historic victory gardens, providing both the historical context and practical information for home-scale food production.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will launch digitally on Monday, April 13th on the Berks History Center’s social media platforms and will feature home gardening techniques for both urban and suburban residents as well as the national and local history behind victory gardening. Homeowners and renters alike are encouraged to participate and share stories about their victory gardening efforts using the hashtag #BerksHistoryforVictory
Currently closed to the public as ordered by Governor Tom Wolf and the PA Department of Health, the BHC has continued its operations remotely, employing all staff for the duration of the shut-down. Although many day-to-day roles involve interacting with visitors, the BHC quickly re-strategized after closing in March and developed creative ways to continue serving their community in a time of need.
“Despite losses to a significant portion of our revenue stream, our team has been able to adapt quickly, developing creative solutions to allow the organization to retain staff and continue fulfilling our mission,” says Executive Director, Benjamin Neely.
In the first week of the shutdown, the BHC launched “Berks History at Home” an educational resource page on the BHC website. The page allows families to explore Berks County’s history digitally with entertaining videos, a wealth of stories and articles, and a variety of resources and learning activities for families including downloadable coloring pages, junior historian prompts and more. Additional content is being released on the Berks History Center’s social media channels.
Reading Times, April 22, 1918
Reading Times, April 22, 1918
As state-wide stay at home measures were implemented, the BHC looked to the history books and discovered that in times of crisis, the American people, and more specifically the people of Berks County, have always been ingenuitive, adaptive, and overwhelmingly generous.
“In the past, producing food at home was an act of national solidarity in times of crisis, collectively taking the strain off of the American food system during the great world wars. Today, with uncertainty in our future, we can look to the lessons of the past to get us through this difficult time,” says Associate Director, Alexis Campbell.
“Gardening can be daunting for some, but we hope to demonstrate that home food production is both possible and fun, not to mention therapeutic. Even if you only grow one potted plant, we hope that gardening at home will be a source of inspiration and comfort, connecting you to the past and uniting our community in troubled times.”
First promoted during WWI, Americans were encouraged to produce their own food by planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, churchyards, city parks, and playgrounds.
At that time, the City of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start victory gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Stirling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.
Victory Gardens were again promoted by the U.S. government during World War II complementing a country-wide Food Rationing Program in 1942. Victory gardens were widely promoted during 1943 through 1945. However, once the war ended, so did government promotions and America’s reliance on victory gardens.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign is primarily a digital learning experience, with historic images, stories and instructional videos released on social media. Two BHC staff will provide video-journals of their home gardening efforts. The BHC hopes to expand the program, by installing a small demonstration garden and living exhibit on the grounds of the BHC museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. However, plans to do so are tentative and dependent on the status of the state-wide stay at home order.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will complement a “Victory Container Garden” initiative led by District 1 Councilwoman, Lucine Sihelnik. By joining Sihelnik’s District 1 Victory Container Garden taskforce, the BHC will work to cultivate the community food system during the outbreak. Further collaborations are expected to grow, as the BHC and the task force encourage all citizens, community organizations, and businesses to get behind the revitalization of home food gardening.
“Victory Gardens are a positive way to feed our community, inspire stewardship, and are fruitful economically,” says Councilwoman Sihelnik.
The BHC invites families in Reading and Berks County to join them in their campaign to promote food security during the COVID-19 pandemic by learning about the history of victory gardens and growing their own gardens at home, wherever possible.
In 1915, the Justice Bell travelled on a flatbed truck to all 67 counties in the state of Pennsylvania with its clapper stabilized, not to ring until women were given the right to vote. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the Justice Bell will ring loudly when it is at the Berks History Center, starting on March 10, 2020 through April 7, 2020.
We invite the press and the general public to visit the Berks History Center, located at 940 Centre Ave., Reading, PA 19601, to enjoy the traveling exhibit of the Justice Bell from March 10, 2020 through April 7, 2020 during regular museum hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10:00am-3:00pm and Saturdays, 9:00am-3:00pm.
Admission is $7.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors, $4.00 for children under 10, and free for members of the Berks History Center.
The public is also invited to view the Justice Bell at the Berks History Center on March 14, 2020 at 10:00am during “Votes for Women,” the kickoff event of the Berks Suffrage 2020 Centennial, a county-wide, non-partisan celebration of the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote.
Admission to the program is $8.00 for non-members and $5.00 for members.
Transported from the Brandywine River Museum, the Justice Bell will arrive at Berks History Center on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. The bell will remain on display at the Berks History Center until April 7, 2020, when it will be moved to another county. While the Justice Bell united the women of the early 20th century in their desire for the right to vote, today it will unite the people of Berks County with other counties in Pennsylvania during its state tour on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
The Justice Bell will serve as an educational centerpiece at the Berks History Center museum during National Women’s History Month and will help to kick-off the Berks Suffrage 2020 Centennial on March 14th. The Justice Bell demonstrates the diligent efforts of suffragists, not only in Berks County, but in the state of Pennsylvania and beyond.
“We are very excited to be hosting the Justice Bell at the Berks History Center,” remarked Executive Director, Benjamin Neely, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our community to participate in a state-wide initiative that celebrates Pennsylvania’s unique contribution to the suffrage movement.”
Owned and transported by the Justice Bell Foundation, the visiting Justice Bell is a replica of the original Justice Bell, which is currently preserved in the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge National Park.
According to the Reading Times, the original “Other Liberty Bell” first visited Berks County on October 13, 1915, when it was met by a group of Berks County suffragists led by Mrs. Emily Habel in Adamstown. The bell also made stops in Shillington, downtown Reading, City Park, Friedensburg, Yellow House, Boyertown, and Hereford.
The Justice Bell’s 2nd visit to Berks County was made possible from the generous support of the Berks Women’s History Alliance and their tireless volunteers.
For an in depth look at the Justice Bell’s history, Executive Director of The Justice Bell Foundation, Ms. Amanda Owen, will provide a 45-minute presentation of rare photos that document the inspiring story of women’s fight for the vote and how the justice bell became an icon of the Women’s’ Suffrage movement on March 28th at 10:00am at the Berks History Center.
Admission to the program is $8.00 for non-members, $5.00 for members and includes free admission to the BHC museum. Light refreshments will be provided.
In anticipation of the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage Movement in America, a group of nonprofits, educational institutions and individuals formed the Berks Women’s History Alliance to provide a framework for Berks County’s celebration of 100 years of women having the right to vote.
Under the banner The Berks Suffrage 2020 Centennial, the Alliance promotes activities and exhibits of its member groups, encourages widespread community participation, and provides networking opportunities for interested organizations and individuals.
On December 13, 2019 at the Berks History Center’s Incorporation Day Birthday Bash event, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the organization’s original incorporation date, BHC Trustee and 150th Anniversary Co-Chair, Floyd Turner presented a newly assembled time capsule that will be added to the BHC museum collections and opened 100 years from now.
About 120 people were in attendance at the event, which featured light refreshments and a casual happy hour with longtime friends and supporters of the Berks History Center.
Proclamations were presented acknowledging the Berks History Center’s contributions to Berks County by the Senate of Pennsylvania by Senator Judy Schwank, the PA House of Representatives by Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone, and the City of Reading by City Councilwoman, Donna Reed. Also in attendance were Craig Lutz on behalf of Senator David Argall; Bill Royer on behalf of Pennsylvania State Representative Ryan Mackenzie; and Berks County Commissioner, Kevin Barnhardt.
At 6:30pm Floyd Turner presented the time capsule to Executive Director, Benjamin Neely, who accepted the materials into the BHC’s care. The time capsule will be preserved in the BHC museum collection with instructions for it to be opened on December 13, 2119, 100 years from today on the organization’s 250th birthday.
“After opening the World War I time capsule last year (on November 28, 2018 at the Berks History Center), I thought it would be a good idea to put together a time capsule in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Berks History Center,” said time capsule organizer, Floyd Turner. “I wanted the project to be a surprise but exactly how to do it and what to put into such a time capsule proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. I didn’t want to be the sole arbiter of the contents so I reached out to a number of people to ask for their contributions and let them make up their own mind regarding what they’d like to contribute.”
Patricia Vasquez (Community Development Coordinator for City of Reading)
Jennifer Winchester (Mission BBQ)
Incorporated on December 13, 1869 as the Historical Society of Berks County, the BHC is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in Pennsylvania. For a century and a half the goal of the BHC has remained consistent; to preserve the history and heritage of Berks County and to inform, educate and inspire our community regarding that history.
The Berks History Center thanks the many businesses in our community who helped to make BHC’s 150th Anniversary celebrations possible through sponsorship support:
The Berks History Center (BHC) is pleased to welcome its new Executive Director, Benjamin Neely, from the Adams County Historical Society. Ben was selected for the position upon the retirement of the BHC’s previous Executive Director, Sime Bertolet.
“After a rigorous search and screening process, the BHC Board of Directors is confident in our selection for the next Executive Director,” says Board President, Jim Michalak. “Benjamin Neely is a qualified museum professional who will bring many years of experience and a fresh perspective to the Berks History Center.”
Benjamin Neely has been a museum professional since 2005. With a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the State University of New York at Oswego, Ben completed his graduate work at Shippensburg University where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Applied History. During his time as a graduate student, he began working for the Adams County Historical Society as the Collections Manager and was the lead historian during the development of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum. Ben was the Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society for the past 7 years. He supported the Adams County community through his service on numerous committees and boards. Ben has supported the museum community at the state level through his service as a board member for PA Museums, an organization that advocates for government support for Pennsylvania’s museums and organizes conferences to support continuing education for museum professionals.
After 13 years of service to the BHC, previous Executive Director, Sime Bertolet, retired in July 2019. Bertolet left the organization with a comprehensive strategic plan that will support the new director’s efforts to lead the BHC.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that we have accomplished over the past 13 years. We couldn’t have done it without the help of our dedicated staff, volunteers, Board of Directors, our members, and of course, the generous businesses and organizations who have supported the mission of the BHC,” says Bertolet. “I feel truly blessed to be a part and to be a leader of this organization that will soon celebrate its 150th Anniversary. More importantly, I am honored to have served as the Executive Director of the organization that preserves and shares our Berks history. My decision to retire came after much reflection and thoughtful consideration. In the end, I determined that it is time for the next generation to assume their leadership role. I have no doubt that Mr. Neely will do a great, and better job, than I have done.”
The BHC Board of Directors thanks Sime Bertolet for his years of service to the organization and for all of his accomplishments. Upon his retirement, the BHC Board will confer the title of Executive Director Emeritus on Bertolet. Bertolet’s accomplishments cited by the Board include:
The acquisition and renovation of the BHC’s Research Library, the Henry Janssen Library building located at 160 Spring Street;
the 75th and 80th Anniversary Celebrations of John Phillip Sousa’s last act as a conductor here in Reading, PA;
exhibits such as Beer & Pretzels Berks County Style, Berks County Long rifle and Gun makers,I Have Dream, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and the Magical History Tour, a cultural and musical happening;
the 2010 American Alliance of Museums Institutional Museum Assessment Plan;
two revisions of the BHC Bylaws and the implementation of board term limits;
the 2013 rebranding initiative from The Historical Society of Berks County to the Berks History Center;
the 2014 Strategic Plan and the 2019 Strategic Plan facilitated by Shultz & Williams;
the 2017-2018 Collections Management Initiative and its recognition by the PA Museums’ Institutional Achievement Award
The Berks History Center is pleased to announce the grand opening of 150 Objects of Berks History, a new temporary exhibit that celebrates 150 years of preserving Berks County’s history at the Berks History Center. The exhibit will open during the Berks History Center’s 150th Anniversary kick-off celebration, the Charter Day Jubilee, on July 12, 2019 from 6pm-9pm, located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601.
Since 1898, the Berks History Center (BHC) has been dedicated to building a groundbreaking collection of artifacts, artwork, manuscripts and library materials. Today, the BHC’s diverse holdings feature more than 20,000 objects related to all facets of Berks County’s rich heritage. Curated by BHC Curator, Bradley K. Smith in honor of the organization’s 150th Anniversary, 150 Objects of Berks History will showcase 150 rarely-seen items from the BHC collection that tell compelling stories of Berks County’s unique past. Thanks to a generous donation by the Focht Family Foundation, the BHC’s Palmer Gallery was newly renovated for the exhibit opening.
“This exhibit showcases an assortment of obscure artifacts that were discovered during the Collections Management Initiative, along with select items from our library collections,” says exhibit curator, Bradley K. Smith. “Because of the breadth of materials in the BHC collections, it was a challenge to select only 150 objects. However, each object helps to tell an important story about Berks County’s history, including stories about its people, its unique sense of community, its industries and commerce, its notable connections to national events, and of course, its commitment to valuing and preserving history.”
The opening of the new 150th Anniversary exhibit coincides with a historic milestone for the organization: the Charter Day Jubilee marks the anniversary date of when the organization’s charter was first signed in July, 1869. We invite you to join us for the opening of 150 Objects of Berks History at the BHC’s 150th Anniversary kick-off event, the Charter Day Jubilee, which will be held from 6-9pm in the BHC Museum.
Party like it’s 1869 and enjoy an evening of enchantment and entertainment with BHC’s special “museum theatre” featuring historical characters and storytellers throughout the museum. Berks historical figures such as Widow Finney, Rhea Duryea, and George Durell will come alive and share their Berks history in the 13 galleries and exhibits of the BHC museum. Participants will also enjoy hors d’oeuvres, a champagne toast, a silent auction, special guests, and musical entertainment. A cash bar featuring a specialty “throwback” cocktail menu will be provided by Pollen Consolidated. Participants will also have an opportunity to enjoy BHC’s exclusive 150th Anniversary beer, brewed by Oakbrook Brewing Company.
Tickets to the 150th Anniversary Charter Day Jubilee are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or click here to purchase online. Food, musical entertainment, a champagne toast, admission to the museum theatre and the 150 Objects of Berks History exhibit are included in the cost.
The Berks History Center’s 150th Anniversary is supported by a number of Berks County businesses who recognize the importance and value of historical preservation in Berks County. The Berks History Center would like to thank its 150th Anniversary sponsors:
The Berks History Center (BHC) invites you to celebrate its 150th Anniversary this year, starting with its kickoff event, the Charter Day Jubilee on July 12, 2019 from 6:00-9:00pm at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA.
Incorporated in 1869 as the Historical Society of Berks County, the BHC is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in Pennsylvania. For a century and a half the goal of the BHC has remained consistent; to preserve the history and heritage of Berks County and to inform, educate and inspire our community regarding that history.
Today, the BHC welcomes over 6,000 visitors, including students, homeschoolers, senior groups, and more. To maintain the archives and museum collection and provide access to visitors, a small, professional staff is aided by dedicated volunteers who give thousands of hours of assistance simply because they’re passionate about Berks County’s history. In addition to its staff and volunteers, the BHC’s efforts are supported by a committed membership exceeding 1,200.
BHC tells the stories of Berks County’s history through its research library and museum collections, some of which are displayed in 13 newly renovated galleries and exhibits including the Trades to Industry Room, Transportation Room, PA German Room and Building Berks exhibit. The continuing efforts to improve our stewardship of Berks County history were recently recognized by PA Museums, Pennsylvania’s statewide museum association, with an Institutional Achievement Award.
“The BHC is very proud to have served the citizens of Berks County for 150 years and we excited to celebrate this milestone with our community, says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “This year we are hosting several special programs and events to commemorate our anniversary that will educate, entertain and inspire our friends.”
The first major event celebrating the BHC’s 150th Anniversary will be the Charter Day Jubilee on July 12, 2019 from 6:00-9:00pm at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA. The event commemorates the day The Historical Society of Berks County was organized in July 1869 and will serve as the kick-off to the BHC’s anniversary year. The Charter Day Jubilee is a community celebration where participants will enjoy historic reenactors, hors d’oeuvres, live music, a champagne toast, and a cash bar in the BHC Museum. Food and bar service will be provided by Pollen Consolidated. Tickets to the jubilee are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or visiting berkshistory.org/event/jubilee
Also, please join us for the Hidden Treasures of the Oley Valley Tour on October 26, 2019 from 1:00-4:00pm, located at 3098 Friedensburg Rd, Reading, PA 19606. This unique historic house and property tour seeks to recreate the early pilgrimages of the Historical Society. Participants will have the rare opportunity to explore the historic Reiff Farm and the newly renovated Hartman Farm on a special property tour, which includes a visit to Berks County’s oldest tree, the Sacred Oak. Locally produced refreshments will be included. Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375 or visiting berkshistory.org/event/hiddentreasures
TheIncorporation Day Birthday Bash, which will be held on December 13, 2019from 5:30pm-7:30pm, will celebrate the date the Historical Society was incorporated in 1869. Please join us for a good old-fashioned birthday party at the Berks History Center Museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. Enjoy birthday cake and other refreshments with longtime friends and supporters of the BHC. During this event the BHC will be recognized for its contributions to the community. This event is free to the public but reservations are required. Please call 610-375-4375 to RSVP.
The BHC will also hold a special Gala Dinner Fundraiser, to wrap up the organization’s anniversary celebrations in 2020. The details of this event, including location and date, are to be determined.
If someone were to ask me of a specific place that has positively influenced my life, I would not hesitate with my response; that place is the Berks History Center.
Only a few short years ago I had absolutely no idea as to the direction for my life. I had tried different majors in college, and while I watched my friends graduate and start their careers, I still searched for my calling. I had only a few classes left to take when my world was turned upside down; my fiancé was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. At twenty-three years old, I never imagined I would live through something like that with my best friend. Suddenly, my “lost” feeling was buried under sadness, anger, and fear for what we had to face. It was not an easy road, but, after receiving treatments and encountering countless blessings, he has been in remission ever since.
Perhaps the most influential lesson I took away from these two years of illness is that our time is never guaranteed. I found a new appreciation for the simplest things, and wanted to make a difference for myself and the people surrounding me. Knowing how fragile time is, I wanted to be sure I was serving a greater purpose…but how?
My answer came when I made a spontaneous visit to a local museum. While walking through one of the exhibits, I experienced an overwhelming certainty that I was meant to work in a museum; it was a true “calling.” This ultimately led me to the Berks History Center because, unlike other organizations, the BHC provided opportunities for me to experience hands-on collections work.
I remember vividly my excitement when I first saw the collections storage area. The elevator door opened and I saw row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves that housed the many wonderful treasures of Berks County! Suddenly, I wanted to know what everything was, who these objects once belonged to, and what that person’s life had been like.
Since that day, the experiences I have gained at the Berks History Center have only assured me that I am where I should be. BHC Curator Brad Smith mentored me on the many facets of what a museum career is all about. He patiently explained various processes, trained me in proper collections care and handling, and included me in research opportunities uncovering the fascinating stories of Berks County.
One such story involved two large and somewhat awkward statues of Mozart and Shakespeare. Brad and I wondered why the BHC had accepted such objects decades earlier, since neither Mozart nor Shakespeare have anything to do with Berks County! Through some detective work and archival research we were able to document that these statues once adorned the exterior balcony of the Grand Opera House on Penn Street. I was delighted to be involved in research that proved these statues were, in fact, wonderful treasures from the county’s history and belonged in the BHC’s collection!
The Berks History Center has been a place of growth and discovery for me. I have learned my calling and passion in life, and I could not feel more blessed for the opportunities I have been given. Over the course of the past year I have seen how valuable this institution is to others as well. I see the interest and awe on visitors’ faces as they walk through the exhibits, or join us for our many educational programs. The BHC is a place where community members feel welcomed by the helpful staff; where 5,000 local school children can learn many fascinating stories of our county’s past that shaped us into the diverse and enriching community we are today. Truly, it is a place where many different people learn and flourish.
Unfortunately, the Berks History Center receives very little government funding and depends primarily on public support. We operate through donations from members like you. This year, I am donating $50, but gifts of all sizes are needed and greatly appreciated. Please join me today in support of this institution that, throughout its 150-year history, has preserved the rich heritage of Berks County, and means so much to me and our community. Click here to support the Berks History Center today!
Meet Richard Peal – a new member to the Berks History Center. Richard has dug up an unusual way of connecting with the past! He calls himself “Man of Dirt.”
It all started back in the 70’s when Richard worked as a lineman for what was then, N.J. Bell. He was setting poles with a crew along the railroad in Metuchen, NJ when out of the hole popped a fully-intact bottle, which was inscribed: Thomas A. Edison Special Battery Fluid. This was the first bottle that Richard took home and put on a shelf in his garage. Over the years, while working for the telephone company, quite a few more bottles came home and were put on the shelf in the garage.
In the late 90’s Richard was still working for the phone company, which is now Bell Atlantic. He had a different job at the company when he was working on a road widening project on Route 9 in Lakewood, NJ. One of the contractors was digging up the road and bottles just started flowing out of the ground! It turns out that Route 9 went right through what used to be part of an old Lakewood dump site. Knowing that Richard kept the bottles, the contractor gave him the “go-ahead” and Richard began bringing home truck loads of glass bottles every day. What started as an accidental bottle collection suddenly became serious business! With his first born son in tow, Richard began digging for bottles regularly and in 1999 he went to his first bottle show in Toms River, NJ.
Later Richard became a member of the Jersey Shore Bottle Collectors Club, and by 2002, he was running the bottle show. Richard ran the show for 10 years until he moved to Exeter Township in 2013. And that’s when his interest in Berks County’s history began.
“There’s no sense in collecting Jersey bottles out here, so I changed it up and I now collect Reading Glass,” says Richard. “Currently, I do 10-12 bottle shows a year and I am always looking for something new to add to the collection.”
When it comes to local history, Richard’s glass collecting hobby has led him down a number of rabbit holes, so to speak. Richard recently visited the BHC Research Library to dig further into the history of Reading Glass Works. He discovered that there were 2 companies. The first, Reading Artistic Glass Works, operated in the 1880s and specialized in art glass. The other business, which manufactured bottles and jars, ran from about 1889 to the 1920’s along the canal at Franklin Street and River Road in Reading.
At the Berks History Center, we have members of all types – Some members love the Revolution, Civil War and other American history, while others are avid genealogists and enthusiastic collectors. Some of our members favor the history of their borough or township and others simply enjoy reminiscing about Berks County’s extraordinary past. While your reasons for being a member to the BHC are as varied as the artifacts in our collections, we all share one common passion: a love for Berks County’s history.
That’s why we think it’s so important to share YOUR Berks history. This year, we would like to change things up a bit! We would like to create more opportunities for you, the members, to share your stories with one another. Instead of writing about what WE are doing at the Berks History Center in this column, we hope to share YOUR stories about YOUR Berks County history.
If you are a member of the Berks History Center and would like to share a bit about your particular passion for Berks County’s history in The Historical Review of Berks County, please contact me, Alexis Campbell, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether it’s a hobby of collecting, an interesting family history or just your enthusiasm for a particular subject, we want to share your Berks history!
Written by Communications Director, Alexis Campbell. Originally published in Spring 2019 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County