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: The Reed Clock Dated 1704 June 15, 1943

The Reed Clock Dated 1704    June 15, 1943

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago a huge time-piece began to tick off the minutes and hours; these grew to days, months, years and decades. Two centuries passed; wars began and ended; the Duke of Marlboro, Frederick the Great, Napoleon and others flitted their little once on this troubled planet; American was born, grew to titanic strength and girded herself to bring her light of liberty to a war torn world, and still the Reed family clock in Stouchsburg ticked on and on. Today it is still marking the mortal’s concept of time, ticking away the minutes and striking the hours as it has done for generation after generation of the descendants of Leonhart Reed, Tulpehocken pioneer.

Proud of his handiwork, Jacob Gorgas, clockmaker, inscribed his name and the date in the brass face of the clock. There is no mistaking the figures which spell out 1704, an ancient date indeed for any relic in America.

We cannot help but wonder whether there is another object in all America of greater antiquity, still performing the purpose for which it was originally designed.

In addition to his name and the date, the craftsman cut scrolls into each corner of the metal face of the clock and flowers are depicted in the field which forms between the numerals. The clock does not show a moon, as many of the old grandfather’s clocks do, but the date of the month is shown.

The huge case of the clock is made of solid walnut wood and the pieces are joined by wooden pegs. The time-piece stands seven and a half feet high.

The present owners of the clock are Mr. and Mrs. John Reed, of Stouchsburg. Mrs. Reed as well as her husband is a lineal descendant of the early Reeds of Tulpehocken. The clock came into their possession through Mrs. Reed’s parents, Frank B. Reed, and his wife. These people, in turn, inherited the clock from their parents, John S. Reed. The complete line of ownership is not known exactly, but it is known that the relic stood in the original Reed homestead near Stouchsburg, as long as the memory of man and tradition can establish. It was removed from the old homestead in 1908.

Book Review: Manhattan Railway Company

Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903; by Peter Murray Hain; published 2011 by McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson: North Carolina; ISBN 978-0-7864-6405-0; 7 inches x 10 inches hardbound; 163 pages, black and white images.

“…No other railroad system in the world, great or small, carries so many passengers and probably none other carries them so safely….  In the 16 years that Colonel Hain [was in charge], the roads carried 2 ½ billion people, and not one passenger has ever been killed in a train on the system.” – Railway Gazette, May 15, 1896 in an editorial regarding Frank K. Hain’s death.

Like some people in Berks County, who have never ventured outside the county boarder to visit Philadelphia, not every New Yorker has traveled to “the City”.  I however, have made several trips to NYC to visit my best friend, and anyone who has ever gone there used the “trains” at one point or another.  Passengers relying on the mass transit system of trains (the terminology used for the Subway), cross-town busses and taxies have probably put very little thought into its development.  In Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903, author Peter Murray Hain chronicles the birth of the elevated railway in Manhattan from a succession of failed companies to the conglomeration of tracks united under the Manhattan Railway Company, which went from receivership to a successful corporation, until it was replaced by the Subway (the last elevated car stopped running in 1958).  Juxtaposed against the rise of the Manhattan Railway Company is the story of Frank K. Hain, who rose through the ranks, starting with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to become the General Manager and Vice-President of the Manhattan Railway Company. Born in 1836 in Stouchsburg, PA, Hain’s life, while difficult, was extraordinary.  As an engineer, Hain served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.  His ship the U. S. S. Iroquois, after barely escaping fire from the C.S.S Louisiana is credited with capturing New Orleans in 1862.  Through hard work, foresight and luck, Hain met and became friends with Jay Gould and landed the job and responsibility of running the then failing Manhattan Railway Company.  Under Hain’s determination and dedication, the company rose to prominence and Hain and his wife rose as well and became part of the elite society in New York City.  While his status within the company came with certain obligation, Hain never got caught up in the lifestyles of the rich and famous and worked hard to keep his working class passengers safe and moving through the City.  Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903, is a story of constant struggle and defying adversity in order to succeed during a time when the world was modernizing in a city that is never satisfied and constantly on the move.  This is a must read for anyone interested in the rise of mass transit transportation.

Library Etiquette, Part 2

As the summer research season starts kicking up into full swing, I thought I would first, refer you to my Post entitled Library Etiquette, on “pre-visitation” to an archival facility; and second prepare you for what is in store for when you get here.

PLEASE NOTE: If you will be visiting us briefly, please call ahead.  We can have your material pulled and ready for your arrival, which will cut down on time spent pulling your information.  In addition, never assume that your research will only take 10 minutes and bring your pets with you.  Our parking lot is not shaded, and we understand how quickly researchers can lose track of time.  We do not want anything to happen to your furry friend, while you are visiting us.  (And yes, this did happen on multiple occasions last year).  One last thing, many facilities, including ours will not allow new researchers in 30-45 minutes prior to closing.  We are not trying to be mean, it is a tool used to help the researchers currently at the facility check-out of the research room on time, with copies and research material in hand.

Visiting an archival facility is like visiting a grocery store; you need a plan of attack.  If you are like me, you can spend minutes, hours, or days developing your grocery list.  If you are also like me, you also forget to get about a quarter of what is on the list and end up with items that you did not need.  Regardless, planning, especially with the Weekly Advertisements, helps save money and time at the store.  Having a plan of attack for research is also a good idea.  Researchers LOVE to research.  How many times have you been sidetracked onto whole other topic because you read about something interesting? Next thing you know, it is Saturday at 4:00 and we are closing and you did not even find half of what you were really looking for.  It happens to the best of us…including me.  Remember: No, we will not give you just five more minutes, because we spend the remaining half hour of our day, preparing for the next, even if it is a Saturday.

By doing some “pre-research” before your visit, you can plan your attack, find the information you are looking for and hopefully leave enough time to research the stuff that catches your eye.  Pre-research beings on an archival website; where some institutions include finding guides to their collections.  Finding guides come in a variety of programs, from a Microsoft or PDF document to a keyword searchable database.  Whatever the format, these guides are designed to show you what is in the collection, and provide you with enough information for you to decide if the information will benefit your research.  These guides or indexes will not give you digital access to the actual document.  For that, you will need to visit the facility.  Some institutions, bigger institutions with a lot of financial support, will often post a collection online and in full.  The reality is this is only a small percentage, the rest of us do not have the financial backing or the labor to digitize our collections.  Personally, the fun is not in the clicking of a mouse, it is in the hunt through real paper.  It is also, why you can be sidetracked.

Doing pre-research will also familiarize yourself with your own research.  This will assist you in asking us what you specifically need for your research.  I cannot stress this enough: Please do not visit an archival facility and ask them for everything they have on such and such a topic.  For example: “I would like everything you have on Oley, PA” or I would like everything you know on the Weiser Family.”  It is much better for your research, and to receive material appropriate for your research to ask specific questions, such as: “When was Oley, PA founded” or do you have any genealogical materials specific to the Weiser Family that will help identify a date of birth for my family member?”  By asking a specific question, we can better target the information you need, so we are not wasting your time with something that is not helpful for what you are looking for.  In addition, be prepared to answer follow-up questions regarding your research.  Staff and volunteers will often ask questions to help narrow down the possibilities of reference material to better target the information.  If you are unclear in what you are looking for, these questions will help guide you and extract the information we need to provide you with the proper material.  Know what you want before arriving, it will cut out a lot of aggravation and speed up your researching process.

This also applies to email requests.  Believe it or not, most institutions will not answer research requests sent through email.  The standard response from us is, yes we have the information but you must submit an official request with the appropriate fees.  Rule of thumb, if it took you longer than 5 minutes to write your email and send it…it is most likely a request that you will be asked to pay for.  Please do not email an institution your entire life story to only ask if they can help find the date of your great-great-grandfather’s birth.  Email is a good communication tool for asking about hours of operation, or confusion regarding a finding guide, it is not a venue for original research.

Archival institutions are the keepers of primary documents.  And while we appreciate the vote of confidence, we are not experts on all things history or Berks related.  It is our job to provide you with the information you need to make your own conclusions.  We cannot perform original research.  We provide you with the tools you need to complete your own research.  We want you to have a fun and productive experience while visiting us.  We hope to see you all at some point over the summer!

Happy Researching!