Muhlenberg Township: A Suburban Boom from a Pastoral Past

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from Map of Berks County from Actual Surveys published by H.S. Bridgens. 1860

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.

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Photograph of Rt. 12 bridge construction near Kutztown Road in Muhlenberg Township c.1970. BHC Research Library Collection

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.

Written by Donna Reed

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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. 

 

 

Muhlenberg Township: Kelly’s Lock

 

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The Schuylkill Navigation Company operated from 1825 to 1917. The canal stretched from Philadelphia to Port Carbon a distance of 108 miles. Most of the traffic on the canal carried anthracite from the coal region to Philadelphia. There were 92 locks on the canal to overcome a 588 foot difference in elevation. There were numerous dams and locks in Berks County. Most were destroyed during the Schuylkill River reclamation in the 40’s and 50’s. Fortunately remnants of the canal survive to this day. Kelly’s Lock (pictured above) was located in Muhlenberg Township. One wall of the lock chamber survives to the present. River Road runs just behind the lock.

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This picture from 1907 shows a canal boat in the lock chamber at Kelly’s Lock. The lock lifted the boats to 221 feet above sea level.

 

 

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