Though it was dotted with villages like Tuckerton, Temple, Laureldale, and Rosedale, Muhlenberg Township’s population of 1,676 in the 1860 census grew to only 2,069 by the 1900 census. Small housing development in the 1920s and 1930s exploded into an all-out suburban housing boom in the years following World War II. The small villages found themselves overlooked by unincorporated subdivisions like Riverview and Muhlenberg Parks, College Heights, Wedgewood Heights, Whitford Hills, Rivervale, and Hyde Villa. The baby boom of the mid century created the need for more schools, culminating in the large academic campus containing the consolidate grade school, and middle and high schools situated on the Muhlenberg-Laureldale border.
Fifth Street Highway became the major retail strip, beginning in the late 1950s, with the original Muhlenberg Shopping Center and now boasting strip malls from the far northern section of the township south to the city line. An effort is currently underway to revitalize struggling sections of these malls including the now nearly vacant, 37-year-old Fairgrounds Square Mall.
Manufacturing also took hold as much farmland was rezoned for light industrial with many warehouses built and businesses established. The farms, including the last two surviving Reed farms on Tuckerton and Stoudt’s Ferry Bridge roads, became apartment and housing developments. Still, despite the proliferation of mid- to late-20th century and 21st century houses, there remain, in the ancient corners of the township along the waterways that the Lenni Lenape once occupied, homes that existed in the colonial era and that would inspire the renowned native artist Christopher Shearer in the late 19th century through the early decades of the next.
During WWII, The Reading Eagle published weekly newspapers and sent them to Berks Countians serving overseas. Did you know that another group of local residents created their own publication to send to Berks natives during the war? The Berks History Center is fortunate to have many of these monthly newsletters in our Research Library collection!
When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, a non-profit organization called the The United Service Organizations (U.S.O.) was founded at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. The organization’s purpose was to boost morale of troops fighting in World War II. Shortly after the war began, a group of citizens from Berks County decided to enclose a note to servicemen along with the stationary provided by the U.S.O. The group invited local servicemen to write to them in order to keep up with news from home.
The response was overwhelming, so D.R. Shenton and Claire Henry decided to start a newsletter that could be mass produced, instead of writing to each soldier individually. They called it “The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces.” Shenton acted as editor and Henry kept up with correspondence as secretary. Their first official newsletter went out on September 1, 1942. Each newsletter included news about local events, the merits of local soldiers (Lt. General Carl Spaatz’s name appeared often) and a special sports section.
Local organizations, like churches, clubs, and unions could sponsor copies of the newsletter to send out to their members. Henry wrote to a friend in England that the newsletters and other correspondence were constant work, however the men seemed to enjoy them and appreciate their work. Letters steadily came in from Berks County natives expressing their thanks—most of their correspondence also included change of address information so they would continue to receive the latest news. The Writers’ Service continued sending newsletters, at least until V-J Day in August 1945. There is no record of The Writers’ Service in any local publication, including the Reading Eagle or The Historical Review of Berks County.
Claire Henry, secretary of The Writers’ Service, was an antique collector and antiques dealer. She corresponded with friends in England, often about the latest piece they found in London, and if she wanted them to send it to her in Pennsylvania. One of her shipments in 1942, was sunk by enemy fire while sailing across the Atlantic. Claire noted how disappointed she was that good antiques ended up on the ocean floor. Henry lived in West Lawn, a suburb of Reading. Her sister, Margaret Henry Moeller, stayed with Henry while her husband, A.R. Moeller, served in the war. It is likely their mother and sister lived there as well. Henry died at the age of 101, in 1995. According to her obituary, she lived in Indiana for many years, where she ran a ceramics shop, before returning to Berks County.
D.R. Shenton went on to act as co-editor for The Historical Review for over ten years. He never wrote an article about his work on the newsletters. He died on May 9, 1962.
AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection, which contains these materials, is available to use for research at The Berks History Center Research Library.
Article Written & Researched by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik.
It is not uncommon to find letters written during wartime–either in archival collections or in personal collections kept within the family.
During World War II, you might have received or sent a letter in the “V-mail” (“Victory mail”) format. Letters were written on special paper and then microfilmed to reduce space. The microfilm rolls were shipped and reproduced at another location, and then delivered to the intended recipient.
Although traditional first class mail was preferred, over 1 billion pieces of V-mail were sent and received during WWII! We have a few pieces of V-mail in the Berks History Center’s Research Library. The letter pictured above was written to thank a local group for producing newsletters and sending them to Berks servicemen around the world.
(V-mail letter, Berks History Center Library, AC 80)
Researched & Written by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik