Scholla: Building Towns in Berks

Building Towns in Berks

Most of the older towns of Berks County had their beginnings during the middle of the 18th century. Just as land hunger sometimes grips whole communities and sends land values into a spiral, so there are periods when people want to found towns. This is the account of the efforts to build three towns in Berks.

In 1756, the soldiers stationed at Fort Henry in Bethel Township planned to build a town near the spot where the Seven Star Hotel now stands on Route 83. It was to be known as Snavely, because the building lots were cut out of Hannes Schnabele’s farm. Twenty lots were surveyed and a quit-rent of seven shillings was fixed as the price. In a letter from Colonel Busse of Reading to Conrad Weiser, January, 1757, the information is supplied that the soldiers at another fort planned to lay out a town on Eperecht’s farm. We do not know where that was. Can anyone supply the information?

The third account has to do with the founding of Reading. Conrad Weiser, as one of the commissioners for the town to built on the widow Finney Farm (now Reading), had it as his duty to see to it that purchasers of lots erected houses upon them within the stipulated period of time. His methods were not always tactful but they got results. On March 16, 1752, Richard Peters informed Thomas Penn as follows:

“It is very fortunate that I gave the management of that town (Reading) to Conrad whose imperiousness has been of great service, for they build regularly, or if they don’t, or are in any way abusing, Conrad deals about his blows without any ceremony and down drops the man who dares to resist his ponderous arm. But with all I must say that it is guided by good sense and a necessary fortitude.

Along this line, it is interesting to note one of Weiser’s own statements in which he reveals his methods. Two men, Jacob Heller and Michael Greter, both for lot No. 310 in Reading. “I gave Jacob Heller the return,” says Weiser in a letter to Richard Peters, “and ordered him to go and get a patent or be kicked – which he would (have been), I was then quite out of humor.” Decidedly.

Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source:
Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source:

Scholla: Isle of Que by Arthur D. Graeff

Graeff , Arthur D Scholla: Isle of Que. Reading Times. 11/4/1940

The Isle of Que, situated near Selinsgrove, in the Susquehanna River was at one time the property of Conrad Weiser. There is an interesting legend connected with the transaction by which he became the owner. According to the tradition Weiser and his boon companion, the Indian, Schickallemy, were resting along the banks of the Susquehanna when the sachem broke the silence:

“Friend Conrad” he said, glancing at the musket which the white man carried, “I had a dream last night and I dreamt that you made me a present of that musket.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Weiser handed the weapon to the chieftan bestowing it upon him with an eloquent speech of presentation.

A few moments later Weiser spoke  to Shickallemy: “My good friend I, too had a dream last night.” And pointing to the Isle of Que, he continued: “I dreamed that you made me a present of that Island.”

Not to be outdone in gallantry Schickallemy at once agreed to the transfer of possession and Weiser became the owner of the Island of Que.

A few moments of silence ensued, when the Maqua chieftan spoke again: “Friend Conrad, Let us dream no more!”

Selinsgrove and the Isle of Que were originally settled by immigrants from Berks County who poured over the Blue Mountains and occupied what is now Snyder County before it was purchased from the Indians. The first settler of the region was George Gabriel.

The isle was the scene of the apprehension of one of the most notorious brigands of colonial times. Joseph Disenberry perpetrated many major crimes in the young settlement along the Susquehanna during the periods of the Revolutionary War. After running afoul the law it was his custom to taunt the officers who were trying to capture him. He took daring risks but somehow always eluded their clutches until in 1784 he was captured on the Isle of Que by a party which was led by George Kremer. This is the same George Kremer who 40 years later as a member of congress from Snyder County rose from his seat in the House of Representatives and delivered an address to that august body in the Pennsylvania German Dialect. John Randolph of Virginia, who delighted in delivering orations in Latin, rose to protest against the use of dialect in the halls of Congress. Kremer retorted:

“If the gentleman from Virginia is permitted to speak in a dead language, I should be permitted to speak in a live one.

A jury of 12 tried Disenberry. It included such famous Pennsyvania Germans of the colonial times as Peter Hosterman, Adam and Michael Groff, scouts. The sheriff was the well know Henry Antes. The verdict rendered was one of the most curious in legal history.

The prisoner was to have 39 lashes; stand in the pillory for one hour; to have his ears cut off and nailed to the post, together with a fine and imprisonment….. Bei ‘N Ewich Yaeger

Notes from the Archivist: The correct spelling of the thief’s name is Joseph Disberry. His intriguing story can be found in The Historical Record of Wyoming Valley Volume 8. pages 349-351. Edited by F.C. Johnson 1899. This book is available free online through google books.