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.
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.
It was August, 1917, and the first contingent of selected servicemen were leaving Manheim, Lancaster County to report to Camp Meade for induction into the Army. Friends and relatives clustered about them on the platform of the Reading Railroad station, giving their heroes-to-be an enthusiastic send-off.
William Haas paid little attention to the cheers and farewells that were being uttered. Instead he craned his neck, trying to peer over the crowd, as if he were looking for someone who ought to be there.
Minnie Burkholder had planned to go to the station to add her fond goodbye to the boys and to embrace her sweetheart, Bill, right there where all could see. That is Minnie had planned it, before old Susan Gork, the town gossip, had paid a visit to the Burkholder home. Now it was different! She would not be ashamed before the eyes of the townspeople. Bill had been untrue, so Susan had reported, and, girded with the sword of the righteous, she had come directly to Minnie to tell her so.
Black smoke poured from the stack of the locomotive. A hiss of steam, a shriek of a whistle and rolling wheels and Bill Haas was off to the wars. Minnie sobbed and bitter tears of remorse and wiped them away with a brush of resolution.
Bill Haas was a man of pride. His fiancée had proclaimed to the world that his going away was no concern of hers. Everyone in Manheim and for miles around, would know that Minnie had not come to the station. Should he write and learn the reason for absence. He did, but there was no reply. Could mutual friends intercede? They tried but they were always met with stony indifference. The Leviathon carried the distraught soldier to exciting scenes. Brest, Mons, Chateau-Thierry, Sedan, the Armistice. In April 1919, the huge Leviathon was bringing Bill home again.
Old Susan was visiting at the Burkholder home, chattering like a crushing machine in a stone quarry:
“I guess, Minnie, you will be glad when Bill gets back?”
“Please, Susan, let’s not talk about that.”
“Why Minnie, you ain’t still mad at him yet, are you? Not over that little fib I told you before he went off.”
“Fib?” demanded Minnie. “Then it wasn’t true?”
“Ach No! I just made it up Minnie.”
“After all these months Oh! – a torrent of tears washed away her indignation.
Bill is coming home, yes, but Bill is proud. Certainly she could explain, but would Bill listen to an explanation I private when he had shamed him in public? Perhaps he no longer cared. How should she tell the world that she was still in love with him and tell it to Bill, too, without forcing herself upon him.
The long terrace which led to the porch of the Burkholder mansion was being spaded for new sodding. Minnie watched the gardener at work, leveling the lawns with an iron rake. Suddenly she approached the work man and ordered:
“Sam, leave the lawns to me from now on.”
The Reading Company locomotive puffed its way into the Manheim station in early May of 1919. When the train halted a khaki-clad Bill Haas alighted and began his walk on the last lap home from the wars. His route took him along the street which the Burkholder Mansion stood, Looking up at the house he was surprised to see the terraces completely bare of grass. Only in the center was there anything that was green.
There, formed in the shape of letters spelling “Welcome,” the returned soldier saw the green plants of blossoming Sweet Williams.
Only then was Bill aware that people were following him and others were watching him.
Sam, the gardener, came up to the soldier and whispered.
“That means you.”
Bill mounted the stairs – door was opened – but that is all that the world may know, except that they live happily, together, ever since.