Farm-Fresh: Farmers’ Markets are a Berks County Foodway Tradition

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Photo: Model of Downtown Reading, Berks History Center Museum. Photo Credit: John Secogies

One of our favorite things about living in Berks County is the abundance of local farmers’ markets that sell local, fresh produce and meat.  The history of fresh markets in our area is long-standing and dates back to the original deed from Thomas and Richard Penn, which proclaimed that two fairs be held each year on June 4 and October 22. The Clerk of the Market was directed to erect as many stalls as necessary at the two markets on Penn Street, which operated weekly. The open air markets, erected in the 1840’s on Penn Square, were torn down in 1871. In the following years there were as many as 10 neighborhood market houses, each an elaborate structure.

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Penn Square Market Buildings, looking West on Penn from 6th Street, circa 1870’s. From the BHC Library Photograph Collection.

The Crystal Palace Market on Penn Street took its name from the famous building at the World’s Fair of 1871. The South Reading Market House, considered one of the finest buildings in Reading, was built by Francis B. Shalters, the owner-editor of the Reading Times.  The window on the north side resembled a rose, similar to those found in a cathedral. The iron columns supporting the first floor porch were the original posts from the second market pavilion on Penn Square, built in the 1840s. An arson fire in 2005 collapsed the structure, which had stood for 135 years. Another fine market was the Northeast Market House at 9th and Buttonwood Streets. It was built in 1874 by the Reading German Building and Savings Association. The building was known in the 1920’s as the Eagle Market, then owned by Jesse Hawley, publisher of the Reading Eagle.

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In addition to seasonal open air markets like the Penn Street Market and the West Reading Farmers’ Market, Berks County has three large operating indoor farmers markets. Built in 1934 by Harold B. Ludwig (and later run by his son Ted), the Shillington Farmers Market was once an old cement block factory with a cement mixer in the middle of the building. The restaurant was added in 1948 as a lunch stand for market customers, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda, and later hot roast beef sandwiches. The Farmers Market moved to a new location on Summit Avenue in Shillington in 2001. Hamid Chaudhry purchased the market from Jim Daley in 2017 (Daley is part of the family that had operated the Market since its opening). Today a Wawa occupies the original site at Museum Road and Route 724.

In 1946, LeRoy J. Weist and his wife Mary purchased 30 acres of farmland in Leesport. At first they thought about building homes, but they needed a place to sell their livestock. In 1947, they opened the Leesport Market Auction. In 1985, third generation owners Woody and Bill Weist took control and changed the name to the Leesport Farmers Market. The market has been opened year-round since 1947 and features cooked items and fresh produce. The flea market stands have been around since the beginning, but by the 1970’s, they became a large part of the business. There was a midway-like quality to the place, with entertaining pitchmen like Bernie Cohen who auctioned off just about anything out of his truck.

The Fairgrounds Farmers Market has an interesting history. It was once part of the Reading Fairgrounds Complex, established in the late 1940’s after the War Department relinquished control of the property. The first market building, mostly wooden, was located behind the back stretch of the racetrack and was built in the early 1920’s for fair and merchant displays. Back then some businesses sold goods out in the open. In 1969, a huge fire destroyed 3/4 of the market building, although the market was back operating the following Saturday. By then stock car races were promoted at the adjacent track. In 1970 the Fairgrounds Market, Inc. opened the new Reading Fairgrounds Market just north of the original structure. By 1980 the racetrack was replaced by the mall and owned by Albert Boscov. The size of the market increased to 50,000 ft and, in 2000, the former banquet facility reopened as an annex. In addition to fresh goods there are non-food vendors, a barbershop, wine retailer and several stands of antiques and collectibles. The market is open three days a week with 64 proprietors and up to 5,000 shoppers.

 

Bibliography:

Joseph N. Farrell, “Regal Relics,” Reading Eagle, September 5, 1979.

Jeff McGaw, “New Life for Shillington Farmers Market,” Reading Eagle, May 18, 2017.

Irvin Rathman, “Reading’s Market Life – a Brief Scrapbook,” 1980 (F10 MA Rathman 1980).

“A Scrapbook  on Berks and Lebanon Counties, PA,” Vol. 1.1 (F10 AG).

BHC Library Vertical File on the Leesport Farmers Market, VF F10 MA-29.

BHC Library Vertical File on the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, VF F11 MA-5.

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Pitching In & Going Without: Patriotism in Berks County during the Great War

By May of 1918, the citizens of Reading and Berks County were confronted with the realities of war on a daily basis. The war itself may have been fought on foreign soil, but its presence was felt intimately at home. Whether in the form of food rationing, loan drives, or new recruits leaving for camp in preparation for the battlefields of France, the never-ending sacrifices of war had a huge impact on the citizens of Berks County.

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Reading Times  May 1, 1918, Cole Watson

The Third Liberty Loan Drive was nearing its completion when the last fight card of the season was scheduled by Cole Watson’s Athletic Club at The Auditorium on April 30th.  At the event, patrons were greeted by Sergeant Manning Grimes of Providence R.I., a wounded soldier who returned from France and made his pledge to the patrons that buying Liberty Bonds will help our boys beat the Kaiser. This was the first time boxing patrons were solicited to purchase Liberty Bonds, and the 1,000 patrons responded with bond purchases in the amount of $9,000.

In addition to raising funds, the people of Berks County were accustomed to going without in a time of war. Citizens were already rationing food on pork, meat and wheat-less days, and by the end of April 1918, the Food Administration introduced a 90-day pastry abstinence, which went into effect on May 1, 1918. The pastry abstinence was enacted to conserve flour shortly after Food Administrator Davies battled with Reading bakeries over the price of bread.  The city of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start war gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Sterling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.

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Reading Times  · April 24, 1918

Local media encouraged citizens to do their part and get on board with the war effort. A story appeared in the Reading Times about a much-married slacker who was arrested in Reading and returned to York. Paul Sweitzer, alias George Krause, was arrested for failing to register with his draft board in York. City detectives ran down a series of clues on Sweitzer, who married 16-year-old Augusta Hunf of Reading four years prior. The two lived with Hunf’s parents until they ran away, dressing his bride as a man as they hopped freight trains toward Pittsburgh. They were attacked by tramps out west, where Sweitzer shot one of the tramps. Sweitzer spent 6 months in jail for the shooting, and police sent his wife back home. When Sweitzer returned, he took out an $1,000 insurance policy out on his wife. He then made a concoction for his wife, which made her deathly ill. Sweitzer then disappeared, as his wife was saved by means of a stomach pump from his deadly act. Two years later he published accounts of his fake death. Believing Sweitzer was dead, Hunf later married another man. Sweitzer then married again under the name of Krause. Reading police learned of Krause from his second wife, Mary Phillips. The two had lived in York and then Reading when police were on the lookout for a slacker named Sweitzer. Phillips became suspicious and reported her husband to the police, when they discovered his hidden identity.

On May 18, 1918, 2,000 women marched in the Red Cross March of Mercy, which kicked off the nation’s hundred million drive for the Red Cross, with Berks County’s quota at $150,000. Over 6,000 people marched in the parade, with Ernest J. Poole as chief marshal of the parade. The parade consisted of 5 divisions that formed in City Park and included Red Cross workers, students from the girl’s high school, fraternal organizations, loan workers, civic organizations and students from the boy’s high school. The parade began at the head of Penn Street, marched down to 4th Street and counter-marched to 10th Street before dispersing at Franklin Street. Miss Catherine Gilbert, who dressed as Miss Liberty for the Boy Scouts Liberty Loan parade in April, exchanged her Liberty costume for a Red Cross outfit for this parade.

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Red Cross March of Mercy Parade Reading, PA from the Collection of Berks History Center

Gilbert had just finished up touring the county as Miss Liberty for the War Savings Stamps drive. She then began a week long 90-mile tour of Berks County for a series of open air meetings dressed as a Red Cross Nurse. The tour would leave Reading each evening at 5:30PM, making multiple stops along each route.  The drive had the presence of a British and French soldier, who had seen much service in Europe.  The soldiers attended meetings during the day in Reading and accompanied Miss Gilbert on the evening tours in the county. The evening tours ended with destinations in Boyertown, Hamburg, Birdsboro, Kutztown and Womelsdorf. In each instance, the tour was met with large gatherings, including parades through Hamburg and Boyertown, which were led by the local Boy Scout troops. The drive started on May 20, 1918. Typical of Berks County’s patriotic response for a drive of any type, the county doubled its quota, raising $300,000 for the Red Cross drive. The Wolfinger Knitting Mill went over the top by contributing 100 percent by May 18th, doubling their quota of $195 and thus receiving a 100 percent flag with a gold star.

Jere Edwards had just completed his Sunday lectures at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium on the war and the conditions our soldiers experienced at the front. The lectures were well attended. Edwards, the General Secretary of the Reading Y.M.C.A., left late in 1916 to work with the International YMCA in Cairo, Egypt and operate a service hut in France. He returned from Europe in November 1917.

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Reading Times · May 01 ,1918

With all the happenings around Reading and Berks at this time, from food rationing and war gardens, loan drives, Red Cross parades and tours, war lectures at the Y.M.C.A., or slackers being picked up for failure to register to their draft boards, the citizens of Reading and Berks County never wavered in their commitment to their patriotic duty. At the time, reports were coming back of casualties to U.S. soldiers, who were fighting at the frontlines. Letters would appear in the Reading Times from a soldier “somewhere in France” telling of life in the trenches. The reality of the Great War left six Berks County soldiers in graves in France and one at the bottom of the Atlantic, all at the hands of the enemy. Others had died from disease. Memorial Day in 1918 had a very solemn meaning for the citizens of Berks.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

Roped into Berks History: Uncovering the Thomas Jackson Letters

“He’s was like combination of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore – a powerful commentator on life at that time.” – John Paling on his ancestor, Thomas Jackson

It all began with a small family heirloom. At the time, John Paling didn’t know anything about the letters or his great-great uncle, Thomas Jackson. But Paling’s persistent attitude and fascination with history has lead him from Oxford, England to Gainesville, Florida to Berks County, where he uncovered enthralling stories about an idealistic Reading businessman, the struggle for abolition during the Civil War, what life in Reading was like when Lincoln was shot, and much, much more!

After more than decade of research and correspondence with Berks History Center staff and others here in Reading, Paling visited the Berks History Center last month (click here) where he was able to connect with the people who have helped him along his journey. Here is his story!

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John Paling during his visit to the Berks History Center in March 2018

What started out as an unwanted responsibility has turned into a major fascination with the history of the American Civil War and an unknown relative’s passion to see slavery abolished. By chance, a battered metal hat box that had been passed down through my family for 150 years, finished up in my hands upon the passing of my mother. It contained an unsorted trove of old letters, many near impossible to decipher but clearly important enough so that what was clear was that “somebody” (not me for sure) should take a look at them and try to make sense of all the contents.

I have spent over 10 years trying to give them away to that “Somebody” who would put in the hours and hours necessary to transcribe and correlate them and also take them off my hands and store them somewhere for posterity. Also, if appropriate, I hoped that “Somebody” would use them as the basis of some historical research papers and maybe, even a book.

Once again, I totally failed in my intentions.  Instead, I turned out to be the “somebody” who has dedicated over a decade of my life to researching the letters; The Library of Congress (click here) has become the organization that “took them off my hands” and where the original documents are now safely curated: And the book about Thomas Jackson is still to be written.

In brief, Thomas Jackson (click here) was the son of a seemingly uneducated English rope maker who was a passionate admirer of America. So much so that his father could not be suppressed from advocating that the American colonies be given their independence – not a popular position to advocate in the days of George III. As a result, he was pilloried three times and finally imprisoned for a year to shut him up!

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Rope Samples from the Thomas Jackson & Sons rope company, newly accessioned to the BHC Museum Collection

The young Thomas Jackson was radicalized about America as being the most perfect country from the time he sat on his father’s knee. When he was 22 years old, he came over to America and struggled to start a rope making company in Reading, PA. Not long after his arrival, when he visited Richmond to get supplies, he was appalled to stumble across a slave market and witness the more obvious degradations of slavery.  These experiences so conflicted with his idealized image of America that he became a fervent abolitionist and started to write powerful, first-hand accounts about the civil war and the cruelty of slavery and sent them back to his relatives in England with the request that they get them published in English newspapers. His intended strategy seems to have been that he wanted to ensure that citizens in that country would not be disposed to allow the British politicians to support the Confederacy- and hence slavery –  even though their economy was hurting from the massive shortage of cotton supplies.

The full story of Thomas Jackson has many twists and turns and would even make a good film script about the power of passion and the costs that can come with a dedication to a cause that many locals did not support. But by the time of his death he was much respected and lauded by his local community. The local newspaper reporting his funeral quoted. “On the coffin rested a cross of flowers and a wreath placed there by prominent colored citizens in acknowledgment of Mr. Jackson’s devotion to the colored race and opposition to slavery.”

After a busy career as a biologist, and later, a filmmaker for the Wildlife Film Company, John Paling has spent his retirement uncovering the secrets of Thomas Jackson’s letters. As an Ambassador for Thomas Jackson and the Curator of the Thomas Jackson Collection of Civil War letters, Paling has compiled a comprehensive digital directory for the letters, making them publicly available to researchers and history enthusiasts. The Thomas Jackson letters are now being preserved in the Library of Congress where the letters will be the subject of 3 major projects. To learn more visit thomasjacksonletters.com

A League of Her Own: Ruth Kramer Hartman

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Photo: Society For American Baseball Research Biography project

Ruth Hartman…her name always brings a smile to my face. Chances are you’ve heard about her also. She was born in 1926, the oldest child of Annie and John Kramer. When her dad won the Irish Sweepstakes, he went from being a mechanic to being an innkeeper. He bought the Leinbach’s Hotel which was in Bern Township. It was in a cow pasture across from the inn where she learned to catch a softball and field grounders that her dad hit to her. In 1940 her dad bought the hotel and taproom called The Rising Sun in the northeast part of Reading near the Reading Railroad repair shop and 11th and Pike Playground. At age 13 Ruth was a regular there playing baseball with the older boys. She began playing on girls’ teams and  her teams were very successful with her on the pitching rubber. No one could believe where all the power in her 5’1″, 110lb. frame came from!

Following graduation from RHS in 1942, she went to East Stroudsburg State Teachers’ College to become a physical education teacher. Her only outlet for softball was intramural teams, but the problem was no girl could catch her pitching! So the men’s team selected a male to be her catcher. There were special rules: he could not bat, could not run the bases or throw out runners. The last rule was not a problem since she struck out everyone- there were never any base runners! This situation was not popular with the girls, Ruth, or the male catcher. So Ruth was allowed to play on the men’s team! She was so proficient as a pitcher that her male teammates gave her the nickname “Rocky” because she threw like a rocket.

In the Spring of ’46, a scout for the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) saw her play and offered her a position. She played second base for the Fort Wayne Daisies and pitched some batting practice, but never pitched in a game. Her favorite friend was Faye Dancer, who in the movie, A League of Their Own, was “All the Way May”, played by Madonna. Her favorite experience was during the Game 7 Playoffs. The Daisies were ahead of the Chicks 1-0 in the last inning. The Chicks had one out and a gal on 2nd. There was a line drive hit to Ruth- she jumped up and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove, tagged 2nd for a double play and the Daisies won the league championship! That was her last play in the AAGPBL. She did not return for the next season because she wanted to finish her degree.

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Immediately after graduation she began her 36 year teaching career in the Reading School District. She coached volleyball, track and swimming. She also played on several fast-pitch softball teams around the PA area. In 1976 she began girls’ softball at RHS. Over 18 seasons, her teams were 217-73 and won 2 Berks County Championships, 3 District Titles, and were twice PA State Runners-up.

After retirement from coaching and teaching, she began to raise and breed Corriedale sheep on her farm in Limekiln. As you may know, her sheep were named for Phillies baseball players. In 2003, Baseball Charities, dedicated to giving financial support to area youth baseball and softball programs, created the “King of Baseball Town” award, presented annually to a resident of the Reading area who has made a lifetime contribution to baseball or softball. Ruth was  the first woman to receive this award in 2008. Ruth said, “I want to be Queen!” And so Baseball Town had its first Queen! Next she became Queen of the Corriedales when she earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top sheep breeders. In 2006 she won the “National Corriedale Breeder of the Year” award as well as the Grand Champion Title that year in North America.

I remember the first time I met her. It was at a Berks County Commission for Women dinner at the former Moselem Springs Inn. Ruth was the speaker. I didn’t know much about her back in the late 80s. A League of Their Own came out in 1992, and Ruth hadn’t talked much to anyone about her experiences in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). As she walked to the podium, she dropped her papers and scooped them up and said,”I don’t really need these anyway!” And she didn’t! She was an excellent speaker and story teller. She said.” I always wanted to be the best; when I played baseball, I would push myself; when coaching, I was demanding of my players; and even with my sheep, I still always want to be the best.” I met her again about 20 years later and she remembered that dinner at Moselem Springs. Truly, she was in a league of her own.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #6

In 1962, I wrote a novel, Silent Spring, an expose’ on the dangers of the pesticide, DDT. I was a Pennsylvania native. Who was I?

Mystery Woman #5 Answer 

Georgia O’Keefe

An Athlete, an Educator, & an Inspiration: Grace AsBerry Jones

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Photo: Grace AsBerry Jones being inducted to the Southwest Jr. High Hall of Fame, Belongs to Hallie Vaughan

I probably chose today’s woman for two personal reasons. The first is that I spent 35 years teaching elementary students, just like she did. The second is because of my love of basketball, which she also had. I remember Grace AsBerry Jones. When I was playing basketball at Wilson, she occasionally refereed our games. She was one of those referees that you didn’t even raise an eyebrow to, let alone your voice! She was tough, but fair. It wasn’t until much later that I learned of her struggles to overcome racial discrimination and her outstanding commitment to the education of children.

Grace was born in West Reading. She was one of seven children and attended Tyson Shoener Elementary School, Southwest Junior High School and Reading High School, graduating with Merit in 1954. She was accepted and planned on attending one of the State Teachers’ Colleges for Health and Physical Education, but because she was an African American, she was not permitted to live in its dormitories. During this era, college students majoring in education were required to pass swimming tests. At her first choice of schools, Grace would not have been allowed to swim in the college’s pool facilities, but would have had to swim at the YMCA for African Americans. She decided to matriculate at East Stroudsburg, where racial discrimination was not such a problem.

Grace played field hockey and basketball while at East Stroudsburg where she was captain and leading scorer of her field hockey team as a senior.  Grace was named to the All Collegiate field hockey team three of the four years she played. She started at guard on the basketball team where her nickname was “the Rock of Gibraltar” for her defensive prowess. She became the first African American to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at East Stroudsburg.

When Grace graduated, she applied to and became the first African American teacher under contract in the Reading School District. After earning her Master’s Degree from Temple University in Guidance, Grace also became the first African American guidance counselor in the Reading School District. In approximately 1968, she became principal at the Lauer’s Park Elementary School, marking the first time in ninety years that the Reading School District hired an African American to this position. She also served as Principal at Amanda Stoudt Elementary and 13th and Union Elementary. While at Amanda Stoudt, her work in early childhood education was rewarded by several grants being awarded to the Reading District. Her efforts brought national recognition to the Reading Schools in 1993. That year she received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Award and the Bethel A.M.E. Service to Mankind Award. It must have been quite a thrill for her to receive the Key to the City of Reading and to have February 20th of 1993 named as Grace AsBerry Jones Day!

Even after her retirement from teaching she remained active especially in her interest in children and education. She was an assistant Sunday School teacher at Zion Baptist Church, she was an adjunct professor at Albright where she supervised student teachers in elementary education, and she was a guest lecturer  at Kutztown and Temple Universities. Grace was involved in the Reading Senior High School Alumni Association and started a chapter of the East Stroudsburg University’s Alumni Association in Berks County. She gave the winter commencement address at ESU in 2003, about a year before her death in 2004. How lucky are the hundreds of Reading children who were influenced by her teaching, counseling and leadership as school principal! Grace must have endured great scrutiny throughout her teaching career, with being the first person to overcome racial barriers in the Reading School District. We educators should be very proud of the exemplary life of service that she lived.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #5

I painted persimmon colored poppies, calla lilies and cow skulls. Even with failing eyesight I waited and sculpted until my death at age 98. Who am I?

Mystery Woman Answer #4

Julia Ward Howe

Paving the Way for Women, Up & Down Duryea Drive: Rhea Duryea

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Rhea Duryea, BHC Museum Collection

When I began my “career” as a docent at the Berks History Center, I learned about a young woman named Rhea Duryea. She was pictured in the museum’s Transportation Room. If you’ve been there, you know there is a Conestoga Wagon, a Horse Car, and a Duryea Phaeton car. When I was searching for a woman from Reading to portray in the DAR’s Famous Ladies’ Tea, I decided to find out more about Rhea. She was born in 1885 in Peoria, Illinois, but moved to Reading when she was 14 years old because her father, Charles, brought his Duryea Power Company to Reading. From 1900-1911, automobiles were manufactured here. Rhea was the oldest of the four children who lived first on Spruce Street and later moved to Douglass Street. Charles encouraged Rhea and her sister, Grace, to be involved in whatever interested them, not in just what was expected of a woman of the 1900s. Rhea grew up learning all about motors and bicycles and cars and how they ran!

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She is probably best known for being her father’s test car driver–at age 15! In 1901, when she had mastered the skill of successfully cranking the drive shaft, she was often seen driving her dad’s three or four wheeled vehicles toward Mt. Penn. At Mt. Penn she would then drive the car up Mt. Penn Boulevard (now known as Duryea Drive) and back down again. Her dad would not agree to sell a car unless the car could be successfully driven up and down the hilly and winding road now known as  Duryea Drive. Not many women drove cars (or were thought of as being physically able to) because of several reasons: it was difficult to crank the drive shaft, which could take  two minutes or more of strenuous cranking; there was no steering wheel, you had to steer by using a perpendicular tiller located between the two front seats; with one hand, you had to steer, set the clutch, and throttle the motor! Make sure you check out the Duryea vehicle in the  BHC Museum Transportation Room. You could sit on either side of the tiller in the front and of course there were no speed limits or rules. Her biggest problem on the road were the horses, that would balk and refuse to move when she was near them in a car!

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Rhea Duryea on a Duryea automobile. BHC Museum Collection. 

Rhea was unafraid to try things that were not the “norm” for a woman of that time. She graduated from  Ursinus College in 1908, where she sang, acted in plays and was the manager of the women’s basketball team. She became a teacher and author of several books about genealogy. Rhea was a woman of many firsts: the first baby to be carried to the top of the Washington Monument; the first teenaged girl to drive a car; the first woman named to the Ursinus Board of Directors. She served in that capacity from 1926-1969! I could not find out much information about Rhea after she left Reading and got her degree. I know she married, rather late in life, to a man from Philadelphia, whose last name was Johnson. As far as I could find out, she had no children. I even had to ask an Ursinus alumnus to help me find out anything about her later life. I do think that Rhea was a woman of many interests and dreams. She helped pave the way for women to step out of their comfort zones and experience new opportunities that previously had been unheard of for a woman.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #3

I was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. I was appointed by President Reagan in 1981. Who am I?

Answer to Mystery Woman #2

Wilma Rudolph

Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

During the month of March (National Women’s History Month) I will be posting a blog on some of the women of Berks County. I hope I will be choosing some women that will be interesting to you and you may find them as amazing as I do. Also, I will include a Mystery Woman of the Week for you to read and test your knowledge.

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Photo: DineIndie.com

Have you ever eaten at The Speckled Hen? For the longest time, historians thought that this log cabin had been the home of Sarah Finney, better known as Widow Finney. Later it was determined that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today.

Sarah was born about 1685 in Philadelphia, to what we might call “well-to-do” parents. She married Joseph Finney and the two of them decided to make a life of their own as homesteaders near the ford in the Schuylkill River along what was called the Perkiomen Path. They had two sons, Sam and John and two daughters, Rebecca and Anne. Joseph planned a plantation with fruit trees and for two years, Joseph and Sarah and their sons and daughters worked tirelessly to clear the land, and make a home for the Finney family. Unfortunately, Joseph died in 1734 only a few years after making their homestead. Not long after that, Sam and John died also.

Making a life in the wilderness was no easy task! So Sarah was left along the frontier, with her two daughters. Her family wanted her to come back to Philadelphia and live there with them. Whether she was stubborn or determined, I’m not sure, but she decided to stay at their homestead. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the land they had worked so hard to settle. Her home became a haven and rest stop for travelers, hunters, trappers and Native Americans as they walked or rode along the Perkiomen Path. Sarah always had fresh bread, soup or stew on the hearth for those who stopped in. And, oh yes, her pies were made with the fresh fruit from the orchard! Occasionally, a traveler might spend the night.

Her homestead was so well-liked that the area which today is Reading, was once known as The Town of Widow Finney! For more than ten years Sarah welcomed and chatted with Conrad Weiser, Mordecai Lincoln, Joseph Hiester and the Lenni Lenape Indians. She said she got along better with the Lenni Lenapes than she did with Thomas and Richard Penn and Thomas Lawrence! She felt that they represented land hungry businessmen! They owned the property adjacent to hers, and had mapped out a city plan and they were after her prime property. Sarah died in December of 1743 and the deed to the property went to Rebecca. Through the use of clever land agents and surveyors, the Penns were able to recover the prominent site from the widow’s heirs and build their town at the best location. And, the rest, so they say, is history!

 

Mystery Woman of the Week (Watch for the answer in my next blog)

I was the first female doctor in the US, graduating from Geneva College in 1847, even though my acceptance there was considered to be a joke!

 

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County.