Lebanon Valley Railroad Bridge by John Heyl Raser

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Reading and Berks County have a rich railroad history. This circa 1875 oil painting by John Heyl Raser (1824-1901) depicts the original Lebanon Valley Railroad bridge where it crossed the Schuylkill River and the Union Canal at Reading. Opening in 1858, the Lebanon Valley Railroad became a subsidiary of the Reading Railroad, and a lucrative route connecting Reading with Harrisburg. John Heyl Raser was a native of Alabama who moved to Reading in 1851 and became particularly well known for his landscape paintings. He exhibited his works at a variety of venues including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Are you a fan of railroad history? Berks History Center’s Second Saturday program on April 8th will focus on the Northern Central Railway and its role in the Civil War. Join us for Scott Mingus Sr.’s talk, Soldiers, Steam & Spies: The Northern Central Railway in the Civil War 

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Scholla: The Hills of Wernersville

The Hills of Wernersville

The late Heywood Broun, columnist par excellence, devoted a column in October, 1934, to a rhapsody on Wernersville, Berks County, PA. He had sought the lofty elevations that rise above the Lebanon Valley, as an escape from the sordidness of mankind, and there he dwelled in rapture, for a short while, at least. Into his daily column he poured the emotions that overwhelmed him. Let him say it in his own inimitable way.

“What wouldn’t I give right now for a platter of corned beef and cabbage!” Broun was hungry and the kitchen in Wernersville had closed for the night. “I could have done with a chicken sandwhich. The night watchman though he could manage it for me but it turned out that he did not know his Wernersville.”

“Yet whatever misgivings I may have had about primitive life in Pennsylvania were riddled by the morning sun. Home was never like this. In the foothills they wash and launder the air, and the sky is spread before you like pale blue pajamas neatly folded on a bed. October trees make Spanish shawls seem to be repentance raiment. White houses and red roofs stand upon the hills and some sort of purple flower seems to be persisting.”

“Maybe there is something in this nature business after all. I must look into it for there I gawked at meadows and plowed fields more fair than many of the faces which I hold reasonable dear… But I am all for another spree. We can never be young more than once and if I choose to get addled with ozone whose business is it?”

“A morning in the country delivers me over to my chief vice, which is sentimentality. . . But when the hills are green and rolling it is difficult not to fall into the frame of mind of thinking that some of the people you loathe and despise are essentially better than you have been willing to admit. The earth looks so good that you forget errors.”

“You may look to the hills and be half-way persuaded to become a mystic. But across the greenest valley there will rise the turrets of the factory, mill or foundry. You need not to go more than a little distance to see the scars of squalor. It is a swell world on a fine clear morning, but what a mess mankind has made of it.”

View from Penn Werner Hotel Balcony. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
View from Penn Werner Hotel Balcony. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Heywood Broun. Journalist.
Heywood Broun. Journalist.