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 Hosts Premiere of Groundbreaking Book: Working Girls

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The Berks History Center and Glitterati Publishing invite you to an exclusive, first-time ever presentation and book signing of Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892, The Secret Photographs of William Goldman by Robert Flynn Johnson on Monday, September 10, 2018 at the Berks History Center, 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. The program will begin with a reception and book signing at 5:00pm followed by a presentation by the author at 6:30pm.

Working Girls is a historical, artistic and sociological interpretation of the personal collection of 19th century professional photographer and Reading native, William Goldman. In his program, author and Curator Emeritus at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Robert Flynn Johnson, will detail his research and how he came to unearth the collection of more than 200 vintage photographs that artistically capture a group of women who lived and worked at a brothel in Reading, PA.

 

The Berks History Center is honored to host this premiere event, which precedes the official book launch and exhibition opening that will be held later that week in New York City, NY. The launch of Working Girls will be held at Rizzoli Bookstore in NYC on September 12, 2018, and the opening of an exhibition of the William Goldman photographs will be held at the Ricco / Maresca Gallery,  W 20th St  in Chelsea, NYC on Sept 13, 2018.

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In the book, Johnson, a noted photography curator, uses these photographs to detail their historical and sociological importance in the history of photography, alongside essays from feminist scholars Ruth Rosen and Dennita Sewell that provide an insightful historical overview of these images in context of the period in which they were taken.

“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to share Johnson’s groundbreaking book and photograph collection with Reading and Berks County,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “While the focus of the book explores and interprets both the artistic vision of photographer William Goldman and the lives and historical context of the women in the photographs, we feel as though Working Girls has unearthed an unseen aspect of Reading and Berks County’s story that was previously lost to history. As the stewards of Berks County’s heritage we believe it is our duty to provide a space for all facets of Berks County’s history to be explored and discussed.”

Working Girls is the result of over a decade of research, which began when the author first visited an art fair and became captivated by the beauty and originality of a group of 19th century photographs of women. Curious to know more about these women, Johnson began an investigation into their origin, authorship and purpose.  However, it wasn’t until 2015 when Johnson’s research led him to the Berks History Center, after he discovered a photograph of a woman posing with a copy of the Reading Eagle. Berks History Center Research Library staff, along with local historian George M. Meiser IX, assisted Johnson with his research.

The cost of the Working Girls program is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Reservations are recommended as seats for this exclusive program are limited. Due to subject matter and content, this program is age restricted to 18 and older. Call 610-375-4375 to reserve your seat or click here for more information.

The cost of Working Girls is $60.00. The Berks History Center is accepting pre-sales for the hardcover book, which will be available for pick-up on September 10th from 5:00-8:00PM during the program and following the event during regular museum hours. Call 610-375-4375 to order a copy of Working Girls.

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.

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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.

Casseroles, Jell-O Salad & Other Treats from 1968

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The perfect dish for a perfect casserole! The Pyrex casserole dish pictured above was passed down to Archivist, Stephanie Mihalik from her grandmother. The red and yellow floral and bird motif is called the “Friendship” pattern and was available from 1971 to 1974. Stephanie mostly collects the “Amish Butterprint” or “Golden Butterfly” pattern, but she was happy to inherit this family heirloom into her Pyrex collection.
Casseroles are still part of our everyday American cuisine. However, these “one pot meals” were wildly popular in the 1960s and 70s. “The Hungry Doctor” was written by the Woman’s Auxillary to the Berks County Medical Society, Pennsylvania and was published in 1968. In this vintage cookbook from the Berks History Center Research Library collection, we found a number of casserole recipes including: Hot Chicken Salad, Noodle Pudding a la Crystal, Shrimp ‘n’ Noodles, and Swedish Hamburger Casserole.

 

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WRAW’s Fabulous Forty

 

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Today, local radio station WRAW, channel 1340 AM, is a Spanish language station that specializes in a range of modern Latin American music. This new format reflects recent demographic changes to the Reading area.

Back in the 1960s, WRAW sounded much different. The station broadcasted in English and played a broad selection of the popular music of the day. What were the popular songs in August? The Berks History Center library houses an extensive series of weekly top forty lists played by the station.

In August of 1963 Dean Martin’s ballad “Everybody Loves Somebody” was the number one song. In 1966, Napoleon XIV’s psychedelic “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” occupied the top spot. Cream’s rocker “Sunshine of Your Love” hit number one in WRAW’s Fabulous Forty on August 11, 1968. In the last year of the century, “Soul Deep” by the Box Tops went top. It is clear that from ballads to energetic rock, these end of summer playlists reflected the changing musical landscape of the 1960s. 

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.

What’s Cooking in Berks in 1979?

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What’s Cooking St. John’s? published in 1979 by members of St. John’s Church Reading. BHC Research Library Collection

Throughout 2018, the Berks History Center is getting a taste of local history with the Berks County Foodways project. As we explored the eating habits and culinary practices of Berks Countians, we have had a chance to sample the diverse flavors of Berks County from pig stomach to spanikopita. This month, as we approach the Berks History Center’s 6th annual fundraiser – the Magical History Tour concert on August 18, 2018 – we began to wonder about the culinary delights of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  So BHC Archivist, Stephanie Mihalik, turned the archives and dug up some groovy treats from the Berks History Center Research Library collection.

Do you remember any of these party favorites? The members of St. John’s Church in Reading, PA compiled this recipe book in 1979. We found that gelatin was a common ingredient in dishes from the 1970s, such as this recipe for crab mousse:

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Also, canned goods were wildly popular and were common ingredients in both party fare and daily lunch menus. Other fun finds included recipies for ham-liverwurst rolls and liver cheese spread.

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This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Through a Soldier’s Eyes: The Realities of the Great War

IMG-3475The swell of patriotism in Reading and Berks County in 1917 made the war theatre attractive to many young, impressionable men, who were called by their country to fight for freedom. At the time, activities on the home front were entirely focused on bringing a swift and decisive victory in France for our soldiers in the trenches. Countless loan drives helped to pay for the war and the citizens of Reading and Berks County pitched in to support our troops overseas. Meanwhile, new recruits departed as heros from the Outer Station with community celebrations, parades and music.

Surrounded by a community spirit of patriotic duty, young men from Reading and Berks entered the army by volunteering or draft, eager to be a part of the action. The young men who became the American Expeditionary Forces couldn’t wait to make folks at home proud. Unfortunately, what they discovered in Europe were conditions that were unimaginable. They quickly exchanged the romanticism and excitement of the war for a life wrought with hunger, fear and uncertainty.

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The soldiers who left Reading on August 25, 1917 became a machine gun company for the First composite National Guard attached to Company I. The company, which was comprised of soldiers from 26 states, departed from Mineola, NY and eventually saw action in France. The following excerpt is from the diary of Samuel Cole of the 125 Infantry, written on the Champagne Front. Cole was a Michigan native, but his account of what life was like during battle is powerful and moving. Many of Cole’s diary entries were matter of fact, detailing when he wrote letters, played a ballgame (Company I vs headquarters), and bunk fatigue. Other entries were duty-driven, describing his service: “hiked to reserve positions – weather hot, worked on barbed wire, saw aero plane battle, piece of shrapnel comes close. Rifle range – Faber, Cavanaugh, Willis, McCarney and I have beer party under tree.”  Yet other entries spoke of hunger and survival, boiling potatoes the size of marbles with small red beets and scavenging for food for days.

When action occurred, such as the conflict at Ferme de Ferret, Cole’s diary entries were lengthy and detailed. Cole vividly recounted days of fighting and the horrors of his experience. He even pasted additional space in the diary to include all the details of the day. The following is a portion of the entry by Cole on the activities he experienced on July 29, 1918:

We go over the top at 2:30 pm, see men get up from hillside ahead and go uphill. We cheer them on. Machine gunners tell us they are Germans, and we are front line. We crossed wheat field from St. Martins Road under heavy barrage, jump across the Oureq River and are ordered up Hill 212. The boys complained about the heavy packs and we were all carrying them. Told them to take them off. We started up the hill in the open. Found Van Wert and some others wounded. Corp. Wojciechowski called to me “lets give them hell Cole”. I shouted back “I’m with you we will show them”. The next time I looked, when he threw up his hands and whirled around shot through the forehead. He was a good friend of mine and a fine chap. It made me so mad I could have taken on the whole German Army. It was a sight I have dreamed about many times since. By the time we reached the top, there was only Smally, Dombrowski and myself out of the eight that started. Dombrowski got a bullet through the groin and crawled back down. Smily had a 20 shot Schechout French automatic Rifle, no extra clips. He went back down to find a rifle, never saw him again. The tallest cover I could find were weeds 3” high, kept down flat. Corp. Bancroft, company runner, crawled up, inquired of Captain Crabb. Reversed my position, laid on my back. Told him on the left somewhere, while we were talking, a shell exploded up front and my left foot went numb. Told Bancroft I was hit, probably by dead shrapnel. He left to look for Crabb. I waited a while, and I decided as I was alone on the extreme right of our unit, I better go back and come up farther on the left where our boys were. Started back bullets flying overhead, got partway down hill and shell exploded to right. Another and another, each one coming closer, the last one dropped 100’ to my right.  Shells started falling to my left coming closer each time. The last one dropped about 50’ away. I could see the jagged fragments of the shell as it exploded, the butt end sailing over my head. Was I ever scared. Up to now I was mad, now I was mad and scared. I went on down the hill, always stopped, took off my shoe and poured the blood out.

The machine gun division mentioned in Cole’s diary entry most likely included the soldiers from Reading. From J. Bennett Nolan’s “The Reading Militia in the Great War” A Divisional Citation of Major-General Charles T. Menoher states:

“Fresh from the battlefront before Chalons, you were thrown against the picked troops of Germany. For eight consecutive days you attacked skillfully prepared positions. You captured great stores of arms and ammunitions. You forced the crossing of the Oureq. You took Hill 212, Sergy, Meurcy, Ferme and Serenges by assault. You drove the enemy, including an Imperial Guard Division, before you for a depth of fifteen kilometers. When your infantry was relieved it was in full pursuit of the retreating Germans and your artillery continued to progress and support another American division in the advance of the Vesle.”

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The price of victory was steep for the young men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces. The combination of shell explosions, gas and gun fire made the wide-eyed soldiers hardened by death of friends, wounds suffered in battle, hunger, and the basic will to survive.

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.