5 Reasons You Should Go on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour

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1. It’s an Adventure

The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is a map to your local history. Discover historical treasures right in your own backyard and travel through 4 different time periods along the way! As you drive through the rolling hills of Western Berks you will spend the day escaping into Berks County’s bucolic vistas and exploring the past. The map is already drawn for you. Just jump in the car and drive!

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2. Be a Nosy Neighbor (Without Actually Trespassing)

Ever drive past an old house or a gorgeous estate and wonder what it’s like inside? The 4 Centuries Tour is your chance to see what no one else has seen! Step inside private homes and secluded mansions to explore what life is like on the inside.

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3. Discover Your Berks History

Expand your knowledge of local history firsthand. Learn what it was like to live in Berks County in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries and uncover the architectural marvels of the 21st Century. All in all, you will drive away with an appreciation for the unique legacy of Berks County.

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4. Make Connections

Fall is the time for fun with friends. The 4 Centuries Tour is a chance to try something different. This day-long adventure is an exciting way to connect with your local history while sharing the fun with your closest friends. With over 400 people in attendance, who knows, you might even meet some new people along the way!

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5. Support the Preservation of Your Berks History

We know that you care about preserving Berks County’s history. So do we! The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is the Berks History Center’s annual fundraiser that celebrates the efforts of local property owners, who work to preserve your local history. We invite you to join us as a tour-goer to appreciate our county’s historic legacy and support the Berks History Center’s efforts to preserve your Berks County’s history in the BHC museum and research library.

Explore the architectural treasures of 12 historic properties in Heidelberg Townships tomorrow on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour!
Tickets $35.00. Click here for more information or purchase tickets the day of the tour at:
Wernersville Train Station located at 20 E. Penn Avenue, Wernersville, PA 19565.
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Hidden in Heidelberg: The Wernersville Train Station

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Trains have held a certain magic for many people. Train stations, too, for their arrivals and departures to new, exciting places. All of this nostalgia can be seen and savored at the restored historic Wernersville Train station.

Built in 1927, to replace an earlier station, the little used and dilapidated granite and limestone building was rescued and restored by the Heidelberg Heritage Society.  The restoration is authentic; fortunately, the Society was able to secure such items as the original water fountain, Men’s and Ladies’ room signs, and mail wagon.

The first train of the Lebanon Valley Railroad of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad ran from Reading to Lebanon in 1857; the first passenger train from Reading to Harrisburg in 1858. The establishment of this busy railroad ushered in the successful development of Wernersville and the south mountain resorts.  By 1941, passenger trains were making 26 stops a day!

With the ascendency of the automobile, train travel declined and passenger railroad service at the Wernersville Station terminated in June 1963. What we have now is a beautifully restored train station that brings back all the history and memories of railroading days.

The Wernersville Train Station is one of twelve historic sites on the 2018 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour, which will explore the architectural treasures of Heidelberg Townships including South Mountain Resort area, Robesonia Furnace Historic District, and Charming Forge Mansion, Boarding House & Village.

Thank You! A Message from the Director

 

Dear BHC Members, Friends and Berks County History Enthusiasts,

Happy Holiday! I derive no greater sense of satisfaction than when I get to say thank you; that is my most rewarding duty as the director of the Berks History Center (BHC). When I am afforded that opportunity it’s generally because someone or some organization has supported the BHC, allowing us to continue to fulfill our mission to preserve your #BerksHistory. For that reason, I am devoting this special blog article to thanking all those who have supported the BHC in so many ways.

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Lori J. Johnston from Thompkins VIST Bank presenting us with EITC support for the Berks History Center’s Educational programs.

I will begin by thanking those companies that support the BHC through the Pennsylvania Commonwealth’s 2017 Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, otherwise known as EITC. With the funds provided through the EITC program the BHC installed new exhibits, developed new educational programs, as well as provided transportation for approximately 6,000-7,000 school children from the Reading Area School District, and other districts around Berks County, to visit our museum and learn about the rich cultural heritage of their community. The kind of support necessary to bring those students to the BHC wouldn’t be possible without the EITC support we receive. With that said, I wish to thank East Penn Manufacturing, Tompkins Financial, M&T Bank and BB&T Bank for the EITC Grants they have made available to the BHC!

You may have noticed that my column in the fall issue of The Historical Review was devoted to the BHC’s Annual Report, and therefore, I was not able to personally thank those individuals and organizations that supported our two major fundraisers; the 2017 Magical History Tour Pt. V and 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. Like previous years, both were fun events that drew large crowds and demonstrated the strong community bonds the BHC engenders.

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A crowd of nearly 1200 enjoying the 5th Annual Magical History Tour concert!

The 2017 Magical History Tour Pt. V took place on August 19th and this year’s concert was the best attended to date with approximately 1,200 participating! There were eight great bands that played from 2:30p-10p making for an amazing happening! Keep in mind that the musicians in these bands practice countless hours, in addition to playing at the concert itself! All their time is donated and they receive no monetary compensation. That’s a big gift to our organization and all of us at the BHC are very appreciative. After all, without the musicians, what would MHT be? So, a big thank you “shout-out” to all the bands and musicians that played at MHT Pt. V; and an especially big thank you to Dave Kline who not only played at the concert, but also organized the entire music lineup which included:

  • Hot Ice
  • Dave Kline and the Review
  • MaKooch
  • Gary Melton & the Rock ‘N Soul Revival
  • Thunder
  • Pawnshop Bound
  • The John King Band
  • Judd Burkert

Musicians were not the only “rock stars” at MHT. There were many other organizations behind the scenes that helped make MHT a great fundraiser. I would like to identify them now and thank them for their support. Our MHT sponsors included:

  • Reading Eagle
  • WEEU
  • Pretzel City Productions
  • M&T Bank
  • Reinsel Kuntz Lesher LLP
  • White Star Tours
  • Penn Avenue Music
  • Fraser Advanced Information Systems
  • The Poore Group/Morgan Stanley
  • Land Displays
  • T102

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Now, we move on to the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. It’s hard to believe, but 2017 was the BHC’s 12th year as steward of the annual 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. This year’s tour was held on October 7 and featured the historical architecture of Muhlenberg Township. There were eight lovely properties and I thank all the homeowners and volunteers, without whom the tour couldn’t take place. I’d also like to thank all the tour-goers for supporting the mission of the BHC by coming out to enjoy the tour. As this is a real BHC team effort, I want to recognize all the BHC staff members and board volunteers for the great job they did and especially to Vicky Heffner for coordinating the homeowners, volunteers and pre-tour breakfast, as well as Alexis Campbell for the work she did marketing the event. I will also add that the BHC is very appreciative of the financial support from our 4 Centuries sponsors. We are highly reliant on our sponsors to make this event a successful fundraiser, so we can continue to carry out our mission to preserve Berks County’s history. I want to extend a sincere thank you to this year’s tour sponsors. Included in these ranks are our long time Signature Sponsor;

  • M&T Bank

and our Patron Sponsors;

  • Enersys
  • Herbein + Co.
  • The Highlands of Wyomissing
  • Kautter & Kelly Architects
  • Penske
  • William G. Koch & Assoc.
  • Xfinity

I also wish to thank Land Display for the in-kind work they provided for advertising the tour.

In conclusion, I must add that while we love hosting the Magical History Tour and the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour, I feel I must make you aware that the largest portion of public support that the BHC receives, is from its Annual Giving Appeal which goes out every year in October and again in mid-March. This October 2017 Annual Giving Appeal letter was written by Phyllis Kelly (thank you Phyllis!!) and is generally responsible for bringing in over $46,000 a year as it did in Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2017. Gifts to the Annual Giving Appeal are above and beyond individual and family memberships to our organization and are extra gifts given by members and benefactors that truly believe in the mission of the BHC and its importance to the community. To all who have given, thank you, we couldn’t survive without your support. To those of you who have not yet given, I ask and encourage you to dig down into that pile of mail you’ve been meaning to go through and find the BHC’s Annual Giving Appeal letter and make your contribution. Or you can click here to support the Berks History Center this year. All gifts are important and very much appreciated no matter what their size. Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Sime Bertolet, Executive Director

Memory Lane in Muhlenberg Township: The Muhlenberg Dairy

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In 1907, the dairy industry began to flourish in Berks County with a number of prominent dairy farms in Muhlenberg Township including Fairfield, Fink, Keystone, Luden, Muhlenberg, St. Lawrence, Dietrich and Clover Farms. The Muhlenberg Dairy opened its doors for operation as a manufacturer of dairy products in 1916.

According to a 2011 Reading Eagle article, Muhlenberg Township was “…a big area for milk delivery, with three major dairies working in neighborhoods along Route 61″ during the 1950s and 1960s. These three dairies were Muhlenberg Dairy, Clover Farms and St. Lawrence Dairy. Home delivery in Berks County ended in the late 1980s (according to the same article). Clover Farms, who bought the Muhlenberg Dairy in the 1980s, still operates on Rt. 61 today.

The Muhlenberg Dairy produced a number of dairy products including a popular Berks County treat called the Cho-Cho, a chocolate malt dessert. Cho-Chos have been popular in Berks County for at least 60 years and are a nostalgic reminder of a time when children relied on corner stores and the ice cream man to satisfy their summer sweet-tooth cravings. This old-fashioned treat was reinvented in 2006 at Intel’s Sandwich Shop in Muhlenberg Township by Randy Gilbert and Julie Sansary, who later established Julie’s Olde-Tyme Cho-Chos. 

 

 

The Reading Fair & The Reading Fairgrounds

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Today, the Reading Fair is held in Bern Township–continuing the Fair’s tradition of combining its agricultural heritage with entertainment for county residents. The purpose of the earliest fairs in Berks County was to bring farm goods to city dwellers. These fairs utilized the Penn Square Market Houses and occurred twice a year in October and June, starting in 1766 and continuing at that location until 1850.  A more modern fair on Penn Commons (City Park) existed from 1854 until 1887, attracting many excursion trains from Lancaster and Philadelphia due to its popularity.

A twenty-five acre plot on N. 11th Street in Muhlenberg Township, with good transportation connections, was purchased in 1888. (The creation of a new fairgrounds was caused by a controversy over the jurisdiction of common land in City Park.) Amusements and harness racing were eventually added. In its peak years, two hundred horses took part.

After twenty-five years, the fair was relocated to a new plot, also in Muhlenberg Township. The 1915 location featured exhibition buildings, a racetrack, a grandstand and a midway. In 1922, a theatrical unit was constructed and in 1947 a rollerskating rink was added. There were also beer tents. Auto racing was introduced in 1924 as a one day event at the yearly fair. Stunt driving was later added. By 1932, there were three stunt shows and sprint car racing. Weekly auto races continued until 1978. Everything imaginable could be found at the Fair!

In 1979, the property was sold for development and it became the home of the Fairgrounds Square Mall.

Sources:

Edwin B Yeich, “Reading Fairs-Then & Now” Historical Review of Berks County, Vol. XX July 1955, Number 4, p.98-117.

Carol J Hunsberger, editor, The Muhlenberg Story:A Township Evolves, 1851-2001, published 2001.

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

Muhlenberg Township: How Laureldale Retained its Sovereignty

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October 9, 1915 edition of The Reading Eagle from the BHC Research Library

Before becoming part of Laureldale, Laurel Hill was a Muhlenberg Township real estate development “on the trolley.” This 1915 ad from the BHC Research Library Reading Eagle Collection boasts electric lighting, beautiful views, 50 foot streets, and “mountain spring water piped all over the property.”

According the 2010 Census, some 3,911 people call Laureldale home. The petition to create the borough of Laureldale was made Feb. 29, 1929. Leading that effort was Frederick W. Shipe, a housing developer frustrated by the lack of side streets in the area (only Elizabeth and Bellevue Avenues were in decent shape) who had managed to see streetlight installed by 1924. In the petition to incorporate were the “villages and real estate developments” known as Rosedale, Belmont, Belmont Park, Laurel Hill, Rosedale Addition, Roselawn, and adjacent territory. President Judge Paul N. Schaeffer, on April 8, 1930, signed a decree making Laureldale the 29th borough in Berks County.

The sturdy mostly brick homes, duplexes, and singles in square or classic styles, dominated the original part of the borough. The borough name is credited to Clayton N. Fidler who combined the “Laurel” from Laurel  Hill and “dale” from Rosedale. It seems that Rosedale was the preferred moniker, but there was already a post office by that name in neighboring Chester County.

Excerpt written by Donna Reed