Back to School in Berks

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial Celebrations, Berks County Historian George Meiser IX released a map highlighting various historic buildings and locations all around the County. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Historical Society of Berks County staff members, Ted Mason and Pegi Convry, went out to document the places noted on the Meiser Map—especially since some were no longer standing. Over the past year, our Archives Assistant, Samantha Wolf, has processed the materials that Pegi and Ted created. In honor of the new school year, Sammy put together some of the school buildings that were listed on the Map and photographed by Ted Mason and Peggy.

*It should be noted that these descriptions come directly from George Meiser’s map, so the buildings may have been altered further or are no longer standing in 2018.*

 

Amityville One-Room Schoolhouse, Amity Township:

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View of Amityville Schoolhouse

According to George Meiser: “Amityville was a one- room school built in 1869; for 30 years it was the largest/most expensive rural school in Berks (prior to the 1899 Green Terrace School in South Heidelberg Township). It was used for over 50 years. People came from all over to see it. Professor J.C. Halloway had Amity Seminary in it during summer months years ago. It is a brick building, and is now used as a dwelling place (as of  1976).”

 

Epler’s One-Room School – Bern Township:

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According to George Meiser: “Epler’s was a one-room school. It is an attractive stone construction that is in well kept condition. It has been moderately modified and is now used as a dwelling place.  Note the datestone on the front of the building. The school shut in 1931.”

 

Jacksonwald One-Room School – Exeter: 

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According to George Meiser: “Jacksonwald One-Room School was built in 1870.  After its closing it was still used periodically for classes as a novelty. As of the 1980’s it was used as a museum. It was also part of the school districts property. It is a brick building that is in well-kept condition. It is unknown what the current use of it is.”

Note: The Jacksonwald Schoolhouse was moved to a new location (about 120 feet from its original spot) in 2011. Click here learn more about the school.

 

Stouchsburg Academy – Marion Township:

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View of Stouchsburg Academy

According to George Meiser: “Stouchsburg Academy was established in 1838. It ran for almost 40 years and is located at 43 Main St.  It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sally Boone School – Oley Township:

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View of Ruins of Alleged Sally Boone School

According to George Meiser: “The Alleged Sally Boone School is an ancient looking stone building that is unfortunately falling to ruin. It has been closed for around 100 years. It was located at ‘Hoch’s Corner.’”

 

Two-Story Frame School – Upper Tulpehocken:

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View of a Two-Story School

According to George Meiser: “The Two-Story frame school ran from 1899-1932. It was unusually large and had many windows for a school during the time. It had one big room on each floor; graded. It is on the corner of Main St and East Ave. It is now used as a dwelling place (as of 1976).”

 

Sources:

George Meiser’s Bicentennial Map of Berks County

BHC Library’s AC 98 Bicentennial Historic Sites Surveys Collection, processed by Samantha Wolf, 2017-2018.

 

Information compiled by BHC Archives Assistant Samantha Wolf.

A Cure for a Cut: PA Dutch Folk Medicine

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When we think about Halloween today, witches are one of the iconic figures of the holiday. Part of that image is the boiling cauldron, where the witch makes preparations for her spells and conjures up many of her evil potions. While the image of the witch is often viewed as frightening, real-life folk medicine has a long history in Berks County.

Often called “Pow-Wow,” this practice can resemble our modern conceptions of witchcraft. What if you lived in Berks County or another Pennsylvania Dutch area and you accidentally cut yourself? A document in the Berks History Center collection, and written in Pennsylvania Dutch, offers an answer. It reads:  “press the thumb on the wound and say that I should not die and the wound should not bleed, nor swell, nor fester until the mother of God bears her second son, until all the water flows up the mountain.” With this little “spell,” and a bit of pressure on the wound, the bleeding was supposed to stop. The BHC Library contains other documents on Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine and folk religion.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

Summer in Berks: Andalusia Hall & Park

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Andalusia Hall & Park started as a farmhouse owned by the Maderia Family. Around 1865 they converted their home to a summer boarding house. Its location across from Charles Evans Cemetery, along what is now Centre Avenue, made it easily accessible for locals and visitors. Later owners converted it to a public house and park. One owner, Julius Hertwig, built a 2,000 seat bandshell in the lower area of the property. The Ringgold Band alternated with other local artists to play two to three concerts per week. There were also facilities for banquets and theatrical performances. In 1891, James H. Sternbergh purchased the property and tore down the Hall and park facilities to built his mansion, which is now the Stirling Guest Hotel at Robeson St. and Centre Ave.
 
(From the BHC Library’s Photograph Collection)

Rulers of the Roost: Reading’s Most Prominent Social Club

 

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Photograph of the Stammtisch located on the Second Floor of the Berks History Center Museum

Why is this table so special to Berks County’s unique history? The “Stammtisch” was a centerpiece of the “Tafelrunde auf Kuechler’s Roost,” a club of German businessmen who met regularly at Kuechler’s Roost on Mt. Penn. Jacob Kuechler, pictured in the painting hanging above the table, was  known as the ‘hermit of the mountain’. He was a spirited character who lived on Mt. Penn on what is now List Road. His “Roost” was one of many stops along the Gravity Railroad where crowds would gather to enjoy delicious fare and libations.

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The 2nd Kuechler’s Roost – Postcard from the BHC Research Library Postcard Collection

The Originators of the club took an interest in Kuechler’s Roost and organized in 1907. Founding members included Ferdinand Thun, Henry Janssen, Gustav Oberlaender and Robert Carl Rahn. They met every Saturday afternoon for literary sessions followed by supper, sociability, and singing. They gathered in a unique corner room where the chief piece of furniture was a large round table, commonly known in Germany as the “Stammtisch”

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The table and chairs were designed and executed by Robert Carl Braun and were produced at Louis Heilbron’s furniture store and factory at 940 Penn Street. The table was saved when the Roost was destroyed by fire on July 4, 1919 and is now on display in the BHC Museum.

Play Ball! – Baseball Town Reading, Pa

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Reading Police Department “Base Ball” Team Photo, 1924 (From the Homan Collection, BHC’s Research Library)

For baseball aficionados, nothing says spring as much as the words “Play Ball!” Reading, Pennsylvania has a long history in baseball, dating back to 1875 when the Reading Actives organized one of the first professional minor league teams.  Playing the game at what is now 17th and Perkiomen Avenue, players wore no gloves or other protective equipment.

Over the decades there were changes in both teams and leagues beginning in 1890. The names of the teams included the Coal Heavers, the Pretzels,  the Coal Barons, the Marines, the Aces, the Keystones, the Chicks, Brooks the Indians and the Red Sox. The various leagues Reading teams played in included the Atlantic, the Tri-state, Middle States League, Union Association, International, New York-Pennsylvania, Inter-State, and Eastern.

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The Reading Actives (From The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 8, no. 4, 1943)

From 1907 until 1941, Reading professional teams played at Lauer’s Park Stadium at 3rd and Elm Streets. 1919 to 1932 were great years for the International League- but not for the Reading team, which only posted winning records in two seasons during that time, before the team moved to Albany. During the 1922 season the Reading Aces, later called the Keystones, were managed by Charles Albert “Chief” Bender, who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is credited with inventing the slider.  In 1929, George Quellich, playing for the Keystones, set a professional baseball record that still stands: 15 hits in 15 consecutive at bats.

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A Game at Lauer’s Park (From the Photograph Collection, BHC’s Research Library)

Poor attendance caused teams to leave Reading, on a number of occasions. Following the departure of the Brooks at the end of the 1941 season, and the demolition of Lauer’s Park in 1943,  Reading was without a team or stadium until  construction of a new stadium-  Reading Municipal Stadium (now First Energy Stadium)- was completed in 1951. The first ball was tossed out in the new park on the date of its dedication, July 15, 1951, for a game between two local American Legion teams. Professional baseball did not come to the stadium until the Reading Indians of the Eastern League began play there for the 1952 season. In 1957 the Indians were league champs. Notable Reading Indians players included Rocky Colavito, Herb Score, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Roger Maris.

Concession stand items from the 1955 Reading Indians:

  • Hot Dogs                        .20
  • Coca-Cola                       .10
  • Cracker Jack                  .15
  • Y-B Cigars                      .10 +  .25
  • Cushions                        .25  (Rented only)

The Indians left town after the 1961 season and were replaced during the 1963 and 11964 seasons by a Red Sox farm team. When the Red Sox left town after the 1964 season, the Indians returned for the 1965 season, but left town after the season ended. The revolving door was a result of low attendance at most games with only a few hundred fans.

The Philadelphia Phillies then moved their AA franchise to Reading, beginning play in the 1967 season as the Reading Phillies. The relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies has continued for more than 50 seasons, even after the Reading team changed its name to the “Fightins” a few years ago. Among the notable future major leaguers whose names appeared on  Reading’s  roster are Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Greg Luzinski,  Willie Hernandez, Ryne Sandberg,  George Bell and Marlon Byrd.

The state’s approval in July 1973 of the sale of beer at the stadium helped turn things around financially for the franchise, along with the Phillies. Crowds increasing dramatically as improvements and repairs throughout the stadium were made, including construction of a roof over the grandstand, installation of individual seats which replaced wooden benches, a beer garden, several picnic and buffet areas, a swimming pool, and a new video scoreboard. The team was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, and is the oldest team in the Eastern League to play in their original city with the most seasons under their original name. Reading and Philadelphia Phillies are tied for the longest affiliation in minor league baseball.

Sources and Further Reading:

Books:

  • Tales from Baseballtown: Vignettes from the Storied History of Baseball in Reading, Pennsylvania and Baseball in Reading: Images of Baseball (Arcadia Publishing, 2003) both by Charlie Adams
  • Reading’s Big League Exhibition Games (Arcadia Publishing, 2015) by Brian Engelhardt

Articles:

  • “Early Baseball in Reading,” by Bruce K. Gerhart, The Historical Review of Berks County 8, no. 4, 1943.
  • “Berks Players in Major League Baseball, Part I,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 31, no. 4, 1966.
  • “Berks Players in Major League Baseball, Part II,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 32, no. 2, 1967.
  • “A Reach Too Far- Reading’s Colorful Adventures In the International League,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, Vol. . 63, Issue 3 (1998)“The League that Failed,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County,64, Issue 2 (1999)
  • “Broadway Charlie Wagner’s Magnificent Obsessions.” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 64, Issue 3, (1999)
  • “Randy Gumpert’s Baseball Odyssey,”by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 70, Issue 3, (2005)\
  • “The Reading International League Baseball Team — 1919 to 1962,” by Jack Linton, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 55, no. 3, 1990.
  • “Reading’s First Two Pennants — Outlaw and Otherwise,” by Kevin Tully and Brian Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 80, no. 4, 2015.
  • “The 1926 Reading Keystones: A Season of Shame,” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 68, Issue 3, (2003)
  • “And in the Beginning of Baseballtown….” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 77, Issue 3, (2012)
  • “Before Screwball, Before Bucky, Before Quak, Before Blooper, and Even Before the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and Ruth & Judy, There Was Silly Phillie,” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 80, Issue 3, (2015)
  • “The World Heavyweight Chapmpion…At First Base in Reading?” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 81, Issue 3, (2016)
  • “The Night the Lights Were Lit at Lauers Park.” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 82, Issue 3, (2017)
  • “The Ever So Brief Reign in Baseballtown of the First Clown Prince of Baseball,” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 82, Issue 3, (2017)
  • “Baseballtown’s Time of Troubles: When Reading Lost Three Teams in Five Years.” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 78, Issue 2, (2013)
  • “The Days of Grin and Heck.” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 79, Issue 3, (2014)
  • “When the Big Leagues Came to Reading.” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 77, Issue 3, (2012)
  • “July 5, 1898: Miss Arlington Twirls for the Reading Coal Heavers,” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 76, Issue 4, (2011)
  • “Grand Dames of Berks County Softball,” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 72, Issue 2, (2007)
  • “Anything But a Bonehead: Fred Merkle’s Adventures with the 1927 Reading Keys,” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 71, Issue 2, (2006)

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia.  Thank you to Brian Engelhardt for providing additional research and information for this article.

The First Defenders: Reading’s Famous Response to the Civil War

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April 14th marks the 156th anniversary of the First Defenders’ response to Lincoln’s call to arms, following the attack on Fort Sumter. They departed Reading on April 16, 1861, arriving in Harrisburg that evening. The Ringgold Light Artillery, commanded by Captain James McKnight, was part of the Pennsylvania Companies.  The Pennsylvania Companies were mustered in Harrisburg before taking the Northern Central Railroad to Baltimore where they were met by angry, violent mobs.

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First Defenders Monument, Reading City Park from BHC’s Research Library Postcard Collection

Upon arrival in Washington, the Ringgold Light Artillery met with Lincoln and his party first as they were first to volunteer and leave Reading.Their assignment was to protect the White House and later Washington itself. They remained at the Washington Arsenal as guards until they were mustered out on July 23, 1861 where many joined other units.

 

Remembering the Great War and Its Effects on Berks County

 

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Photographs from BHC’s Research Library Photograph Collection

This week, many across the country will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany after it became apparent we could not avoid the conflict in Europe. Unfortunately though, “the war to end all wars” often takes a back seat in our collective memory. As the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, writes:

“In the shadow of World War II, the deeds and sacrifices of Americans in the Great War have sometimes been overlooked. This centennial commemoration encourages us to remember and rediscover their stores through the records they left behind.”

Archival Outlook, March/April 2017, page 13

To highlight the War’s effect on Berks County, we will be sharing stories and items from our collection each month on BHC’s social media and blog. Also stay tuned over the next nineteen months as we plan special programming at the BHC Museum and Research Library leading up the the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day in November 2018. To get things started we asked one of our Library Volunteers, Ruth Shaffer, to research the first few weeks of WWI and the effect it had on Berks County.

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Front page of the The Reading Eagle, April 6, 1917 –  Reproduced from The Reading Eagle/Reading Times Microfilm Collection at BHC’s Research Library

U.S. WAR WITH GERMANY BEGINS TODAY declared Reading Eagle headlines on Friday April 6, 1917. By the next day Reading was ablaze with red, white and blue banners and flags on street cars, automobiles, industrial plants, business houses and homes. War was the all-consuming topic of discussion. The Eagle bulletin board, outside its 6th and Penn Streets office building, which gave information on every new move, was the destination of crowds of people and hundreds called the newspaper daily. Thousands signed petitions pledging loyalty to President Wilson and the United States, and men in every walk of life expressed their willingness to serve in any capacity. Naturalized citizens stood ready to prove their love for the country of their adoption.

Even before the official declaration of war on April 6, soldiers were stationed at various points along the Reading Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad systems. They arrived in this area on April 3 and erected their tents at Peacock’s bridge north of Tuckerton. Guards were posted at both ends of the bridge. No one was permitted to pass over except railroad employees. Another group of soldiers were taken to the Lebanon Valley bridge. Their presence excited curiosity and hundreds congregated within sight of the camps, but were not permitted to get near the soldiers. Visiting was not encouraged. Residents were warned to avoid the bridges, since the orders were to shoot to kill anyone approaching and failing to halt on the sentry’s second challenge. Nevertheless, two young women managed to get arrested in the camp, claiming that they had been summoned by one of the privates. They were fined and jailed. They might have been shot as spies.

Researched & Written by Ruth Shaffer

Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer: A Berks County Musician

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Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer (1900-1986) was a Berks County woman of many talents. Many may not know her by name, but her legacy carries inspiration far beyond what anyone would expect from a small town music teacher. Julia Nagel Shanaman started the Shanaman Studio of Music in Reading, Pa around 1924 after receiving her teacher’s diploma. In 1927 she received her diploma in music theory and in 1929 she received her Piano Soloist Diploma. She later attended the Philadelphia Music Academy, receiving her Artist Diploma in 1935, in addition to gracefully achieving her Bachelors in Music in 1937 just after her marriage to Jasper Elmer in 1936.

Music Theory Diploma 1927

Despite adopting a new surname, Julia kept moving above and beyond in the music world. She was a skilled pianist and music teacher. She received her Graduate Certificate in Piano from Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia in 1951, and served with them for the next five years. Afterwards she served the Combs College of Music for the next ten years.  Elmer became involved with the Community School of Music and the Arts in Reading as a piano and theory instructor in 1966, overlapping with her time serviced to the Music Club of Reading as their president for two consecutive terms. In addition to all of her glowing achievements, Julia was elected to the American College Musicians Hall of Fame in 1968.

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Her legacy as a profound musical educator and instrumentalist was honored with the establishment of the Julia N. Shanaman Elmer Piano Scholarship in 1987 by the Music Club of Reading, just after her passing. She was a marvelous teacher, musician and friend who had an unsurpassable enthusiasm for her craft. Her legacy lives on through her only son, Cedric Nagel Elmer, whose donation of concert recordings, programs and photographs to the Berks History Center has made all of this information and acknowledgement possible for the late and great Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer.

Researched & Written by Mackenzie Tansey

Remembering the U.S.S. Maine & a local Monument at the Henry Janssen Library

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(From the Postcard Collection, Henry Janssen Library at Berks History Center)

Today in 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded and sank in the Port of Havana. 267 Americans were killed, including one man from Reading–Frank Anders. Many at the time believed Spain deliberately blew up the ship because it was sent to the area during Cuba’s revolt against Spain. The Spanish-American War started about two months later. Parts of the ship were salvaged after the explosion, including an anchor later presented to the City of Reading. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled the monument, which still stands in City Park, on July 31, 1914. The monument was rededicated in 2014.

In addition to numerous postcards depicting the anchor in City Park, we also have two scrapbooks in the Henry Janssen Library compiled by Frank Anders’ family.

The Queen of Hearts: Miss Esther Keim

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The Berks History Center recently discovered several invitations from 1787, each requesting that a Miss Esther Keim accompany the sender to dances held at venues in the Reading area.  While the identity of the admirer remains a mystery, his affection for Esther is clear.  Interestingly, each of the invitations is written on the reverse side of a playing card.

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While the recipient may have been Esther Keim Schlegel (1771-1843) of Fleetwood, circumstantial evidence suggests that the recipient was likely Esther de Benneville Keim (1774-1830) of Reading.  Unfortunately for her mystery admirer, Esther never married.

The author of these invitations was not the only person who thought highly of Esther Keim.  Writing in 1874, her relative Henry May Keim said that “the old people of Reading to this day speak of her many deeds of good will and charity.  Her heart and means went for the encouragement of every act”.