Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Since 1811, when Schuylkill County was created to include part of what had been northern Berks County, Berks has been distinguishable by its diamond shape. It approxi­mates a geometric diamond or lozenge – an equilateral paral­lelogram without right angles. Its history also seems diamond-like, as it has com­bined a very hard, cutting, and persistently pragmatic charac­teristic with a picturesque natural beauty. Pennsylvania’s Provincial Secretary Richard Peters touched on such quali­ties as early as March 16, 1752, when he described the coun­ty’s leader Johann Conrad Weiser and his role in estab­lishing Reading.

Reading is a most surprising place, one hundred well built houses many with costly decora­tions in Front rear their heads on high to the admiration of all who behold the sight …. It was very lucky that I gave the management of that Town to Conrad, whose imperiousness has been of great Service, for they build regularly, and if they don’t, or are any way abusive, Conrad deals about his blows without any Ceremony, and down drops the Man that dares to resist his ponderous Arm – but withal I must say that it is guided by good Sense and a necessary fortitude.

Events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries per­petuated this theme of prag­matism unfolded in an aesthetic surrounding.

As originally formed, the county was in the shape of a long column, twenty-eight miles wide, separating Chester County to its east and Lancas­ter and York counties to its west. In 1772, much of the northern area was ceded to Northumberland County, and in 1811 the fateful decision was made that Berks County’s area north of the Blue Mountain line would become Schuylkill County. Between 1811 and 1850 five additional county forma­tions were proposed that would have taken more Berks County land, but none succeeded.

The importance of the Reading site as a point where east to west traffic crossed the Schuylkill, as well as the agri­cultural and iron ore potential of the surrounding area, was recognized as early as 1737 when the Assembly was peti­tioned, albeit in vain, for the formation of a county approxi­mating what finally, in 1752, became Berks. The potential for iron ore was recognized by William Penn’s earliest colo­nists, but the first settlement in the Berks area was a group of Swedish farmers who estab­lished Molatten, slightly north of the mouth of Manatawny Creek, in 1701. Germans began to settle along the creek in 1708, and they, as well as some English – both Quaker and non-Quaker – and a few French Huguenots, soon filled the Oley Valley. Palatine Ger­mans, recently relocated from New York, began the settle­ment of the fertile Lebanon Valley in the county’s western part. Welsh, attracted by the abundant iron ore, settled the southern region. That the town of Lancaster was laid out in 1730, and that the commu­nity at Lebanon was in exist­ence as early as 1739, gives rise to one theory about the crea­tion of Reading: a depot was bound to arise at an appropri­ate traveling distance west of Philadelphia and Easton so that Lancaster and Lebanon would not be isolated from the populated East.

A threat of Indian attacks arose in 1728, but by 1732 danger had subsided to the extent that Iroquois leaders deeded to Pennsylvania – on behalf of the Delawares and other tribes in the area – the land between the branches of the Schuylkill and the branches of the Delaware. At the request of local Indian leaders, Chief Shikellamy and Conrad Weiser were appointed by Pennsylvania as the official interpreters and ambassadors between Pennsylvania and the tribes. A treaty with the Indi­ans in 1736 gave Pennsylvania unequivocal title to land from the site of Reading west to the Susquehanna, setting the stage for the petition of 1737.

In 1739, one of Pennsylva­nia’s proprietors, Thomas Penn, recognized the potential of the ford across the Schuy­lkill River at the site of Read­ing, and worked for the following ten years to create a community there. In 1739 the house of the widow of Joseph Finney, who had settled there by permission of the Penns, was the only habitation. Thomas Lawrence, a former mayor of Philadelphia, gained title, forcing Thomas Penn and his brother Richard to pur­chase the site. In 1748, the Penn brothers authorized lots to be laid out for a community, producing the basic street pattern that configured the center of Reading and still exists today. The English names Reading and Berks­ – short for Berkshire – were taken from the location of the Penn family’s home.

Upon the founding of Reading the stream of German immigrants continued. By the beginning of the American Revolution they made up nine­-tenths of the county’s popula­tion, and they imparted the predominant culture. The families of both Daniel Boone and the ancestors of Abraham Lincoln, of English extraction, lived in what became Exeter Township and attended the Exeter Quaker meeting house, but in the county they were part of a minority. Very few Irish and Scotch-Irish settled Berks County until Reading became a cosmopolitan, indus­trial city in the nineteenth century. The first newspapers were German, and the strong­est of these, Der Adler, contin­ued publication into this century.

Although Germans made up the largest national group in the early population, they had few leaders other than clergy. Conrad Weiser was the exception. Arriving about 1729, he busily enlarged his farmland on the Tulpehocken Creek to a thousand acres. However, he was at the time and for the rest of his life a loyal agent of the proprietors. He helped to establish Read­ing in 1748 for the Penns, and operated a store and trading post, the settlement’s first business enterprise. Weiser’s building later became a hard­ware store owned by another famous Reading family, the Keims. A strange mystical period occurred in Conrad Weiser’s life ten years before the Reading experience, when he was immersed in the as­cetic, nearly monastic religious life of the Ephrata community of Conrad Beissel and the Rev. John Miller. Apparently the pressing obligation to negoti­ate affairs with the Indians helped to break this peculiar tie, as well as the arrogant conceit Beissel began to show as he grew older. Weiser re­turned to the Lutheran fold, and one of his daughters mar­ried the Lutheran leader Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Conrad Weiser was the first to warn the provincial govern­ment that conflict with France and allied Indians was likely. When war erupted in 1755, he provided the leadership with­out which Pennsylvania Ger­mans would not have actively supported the military estab­lishment. He died in 1760, but not before he had also con­vinced the government in Philadelphia that Pennsylvania must not subordinate itself to the pro-Iroquois policy of the British Indian agent, Sir Wil­liam Johnson. The Conrad Weiser Park Homestead near Womelsdorf is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to commemorate the contributions of the German immigrant who served ably as diplomat, judge, church leader, community planner, farmer, soldier, and Pennsylva­nia’s foremost Indian treaty­maker.

During the conflicts with Indians from 1755 to 1764, rural areas were subjected to Indian raids. A defensive line of forts was built in the passes of the Blue Mountain, but the major operations that quelled Indian hostility occurred far away to the west and north.

In the Revolutionary War the Germans of Berks County proved that they were truly American patriots, and filled many of the ranks in Washing­ton’s army. The county was a center for munitions, espe­cially for iron essential for weapons and ammunition. Hessian prisoners were con­fined in Reading, and Phila­delphians sought refuge in the community during the British occupation of their city. Gen. Thomas Mifflin, later governor of the Commonwealth, estab­lished an estate, “Angelica,” three miles south of Reading, which in 1824 became the site of the county’s almshouse.

Berks County claims three other Pennsylvania governors: Joseph Hiester, who served from 1820 to 1823; John An­drew Shulze, 1823 to 1829; and Joseph Ritner, 1835 to 1839. (However, Shulze and Ritner had established other resi­dences before they were elected.) In addition, Berks County produced two strong candidates, Hiester Clymer, who ran against John White Geary, and Henry Augustus Philip Muhlenberg who was winning the 1844 gubernatorial campaign when he died of a stroke on August 11. Both Shulze and Muhlenberg had been Lutheran ministers until ill health caused them to resign – after which they en­tered politics! Revolutionary War veteran Gen. Joseph Hies­ter had spent more than thirty years in state poLitics, includ­ing his unsuccessful campaign against Gov. William Findlay in 1817, before he was elected governor. At the time, Penn­sylvania’s Democrats were split between a “New School,” which strove to maximize government services but chose its candidates by the secretive caucus method, and an “Old School,” which favored mini­mum governmental activity and the nomination of candi­dates by open conventions. The Panic of 1819, a national economic slump, embarrassed the Old School as much as the evils of the caucus, leading to Hiester’s victory. Hiester proved competent, but his refusal to use executive powers and patronage appointments was far too advanced for the period. Reverend Shulze, a wealthy merchant with twenty years of political experience in Lebanon County, was the next governor. Espousing “New School” principles, he pre­sided over the beginning of the State Works, the ambitious canal and railroad system whereby Pennsylvania hoped to rival New York’s Erie Canal. The Rev. H. A. P. Muhlenberg, a scion of the famous Muhlen­berg dynasty, vied so hard against George Wolf within the Democratic Party in 1835 that both candidates reached the ballot, allowing the twice defeated Joseph Ritner’s Anti-Masonic and Whig Party coali­tion to sweep its “man behind the plow” into the governor­ship. Berks County supported Ritner, one of the few times the county has defected from the Democratic Party. The county’s virtually unflinching Democratic loyalty prevailed against such popular Republi­cans as Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and Theo­dore Roosevelt. By the 1920s the Democrats’ influence had weakened, however, and the county’s electorate voted for Presidents Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression restored the Democratic Party’s power. In the post-World War II period, the county has strangely pre­served overwhelming Demo­cratic registration majorities while voting for popular Re­publican presidential, guber­natorial, and U.S. senatorial candidates, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presi­dential race of 1952.

Countians have always exhibited distinctive tastes, and often an apparently bi­zarre curiosity. It is possible that the high concentration of German traditions placed around a large but pre­industrial metropolis brought out these traits. Exhibiting thrift, piety, charity, hard work, and a seemingly insatia­ble appetite for festive occasions – for which the so­-called Pennsylvania Dutch are well known – the Germans of early Berks County especially tended to involve themselves in public activities in large, noisy groups. Unfamiliar natu­ral phenomena have always interested them, which ac­counts for the successful pub­lic displays of an Arabian camel in 1791, and two per­formances by P. T. Barnum’s Siamese twins. Perhaps this attitude accounts for the public support given to the Reading Public Museum and Art Gal­lery through the years.

The celebration of the hard won election victory of Gov. Joseph Hiester (1752-1832) in 1820 was unusual by any standard of comparison. Whole ranks of butchers, clad in clean white coats led the parade, followed by a public roasting and consumption of two beeves, a pig, and a bear. The carcasses of the animals were stuffed and carried to other parts of the county to perpetuate the celebration. Organized public singing begun in the early nineteenth century continues to this day; in fact, it has launched many careers for countians. Public schools included music in the curriculum long before it was accepted elsewhere. The erec­tion of the county almshouse in 1824, before many other customary public facilities were founded, illustrates the people’s belief in cooperative humanitarian involvement.

The tender, if not highly melodramatic, story of the execution of Susanna Cox in 1809 reflects Berks County attitudes of the era. A domes­tic servant employed in the household of an Oley Town­ship farmer, Susanna con­ceived out of wedlock and murdered her baby. The farmer accidentally found the corpse. Two women had previ­ously been hanged in Reading for the same act, in 1759 and 1767, based only on proof that each had concealed her in­fant’s body, but Pennsylvania law now required proof of the murder deed. Two other women whose dead children had more recently been un­earthed had been acquitted, but Susanna Cox was con­victed and Gov. Simon Snyder set the date for execution. Awaiting death, Susanna con­tradicted her plea of innocence and confessed to murder. Characteristic of the day and the local citizenry was the crowd which made up Susan­na’s march, accompanied by a fife and drum corps and a company of foot soldiers, from the prison to a gallows on the city commons. Twenty thousand spectators thronged the commons, singing an old hymn of penitence, as the platform beneath the young woman was jerked away. A local resident trounced Susan­na’s executioner as he left the site and he never set foot in Reading again.

The decade of the 1840s was Reading’s period of greatest growth, a sort of industrial revolution in miniature, the catalyst for which lay in the 1830s. It is arguable whether the basic cause was technical change – steam power, rail­roads, and the use of anthra­cite in iron smelting – or the expansion of transportation facilities which might have occurred without technical change. Reading had been a natural point on an east-west line of communication from its beginning, but the transporta­tion system steadily improved. In 1818, a bridge was com­pleted at Reading to span the Schuylkill River. The Schuy­lkill Canal, linking Pottsville in the north and Philadelphia in the southeast, was completed in 1824, and the Union Canal, connecting Middletown, Dau­phin County, in the west to Reacting in the east followed four years later. Incorporated in 1833, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, popularly known as “the Reading;’ was in operation to Philadelphia in 1839, and to the anthracite center of Pottsville by 1842, although it enjoyed only mar­ginal financial success in its first three decades. When the furnaceman David Thomas at the Lehigh Crane Iron Compa­ny’s works near Allentown developed practical methods for producing iron by using anthracite, the market for eastern Pennsylvania’s enor­mous reserves of anthracite boosted the entire economy. The decision to create Schuy­lkill County in 1811 had deep consequences, for Schuylkill had much anthracite and Berks had none. First the Schuylkill Canal and then the railroads carried enormous quantities of anthracite from north of Blue Mountain, through Berks County, to production facilities to the southeast.

Reading’s population in­creased by eighty-seven per­cent in the 1840s, far exceeding the increases of county, state, and nation. In 1847 Reading officially became a city. Until the decade of the 1840s its major manufactured items were hats, footwear, and stoneware. Charcoal and iron produced from charcoal’s application to ore mined in the county had long been impor­tant, but production occurred outside the city. Heavy indus­try included iron and metal products, including steam engines, railroad cars, and rails. Brick making expanded to mammoth production lev­els. By the end of the decade Reading could truly be charac­terized as a factory city. Large scale textiles production – both cloth and finished clothing­ – developed in the 1890s. The most successful textile firm, the partnership of Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen, was located in Wyomissing, out­side Reading’s city limits (see “Two Gentlemen of Vision” by Alan D. Tabachnick in the summer 1991 issue). The county held, during the open­ing decades of this century, the position of Pennsylvania’s third most productive manu­facturing county. By 1938 it had fallen to fifth, behind Montgomery and Beaver coun­ties, as well as Philadelphia and Allegheny.

In contrast with most other American manufacturing cities that blossomed in the nine­teenth century, Reading’s labor force came largely from the county’s nearby rural popula­tion, resulting in an unusual tradition: factory workers strove for ownership of small homes within the city rather than swarming to tenements and boarding houses. Because of the enormous production of bricks and an enterprising zeal for construction, their aspira­tion was broadly achieved, and the city’s current structure still reflects this trend. The first generations of migrants inevi­tably made family and social contacts with those who had stayed on the farm. The satis­faction of home ownership also probably worked against the popularity of labor unions.

Institutions appropriate to such a growing population quickly arose. City govern­ment took over the water sup­ply, and outdoor pumps – one pump supplying all homes in a neighborhood – were re­placed by a modern system. Public schools began in 1838 and their growth mushroomed within ten years. In 1852, a public high school opened. Many new religious congrega­tions were organized during this period, as well as Sunday schools, temperance societies, city park groups, and cemetery associations. A new court­house and prison were con­structed. The Wednesday and Saturday public markets in Penn Square – long the princi­pal site of family retail purchases – received new structures, but eventually faced competition from stores selling products daily, and in 1870 the public market system was abolished. Although Reading’s first fire company, the Rainbow Company, the oldest such organization in Pennsylvania today, had been founded in 1774, urban growth necessitated several new fire companies.

Berks County’s boroughs and villages all have their individual stories and trea­sured legacies, of course, but there are some general trends shared throughout the county. Since the best farm soil, con­taining limestone, is found in the southern half of the county, and the iron ore is found in the south central and eastern corners of the county’s diamond shaped area, the communities of northern Berks prospered for other reasons. In most cases association with some form of transportation provided the impetus, and small scale industry followed. For example, Womelsdorf, which had a famous tavern on the road to Lebanon and Har­risburg, later boasted a large brewery, a hosiery mill, and a plant of the Lavina Furnace Company. Womelsdorf’s location on the Lebanon Valley Railroad, too, encouraged these enterprises. Similarly, Hamburg grew at a junction of the Schuylkill River and a principal road linking Allen­town and Harrisburg. Kutz­town, laid out in 1779 as “Cootstown,” was a stopping point on a road linking Read­ing to Easton. Eventually small industries gravitated to both Hamburg and Kutztown, and each was graced with a major state institution: a state tuber­culosis sanatorium and the normal school, founded in 1866, that evolved as Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. One other theory about village formation is possible, however. Berks County’s communities may have arisen because of the tendencies of agrarian popula­tions to build small centers of commerce.

Iron had much to do with the communities in the south­ern and southeastern regions of the county. The first iron works in Pennsylvania, the Pool Bloomery Forge, was founded by Thomas Rutter, along the Manatawny Creek in 1717. Three years later, Rutter and Thomas Potts established the Colebrookdale Furnace because of the discovery of rich deposits of iron ore. Wil­liam Bird erected a forge at Hay Creek, the site of Birds­boro, in 1740, and the Berk­shire Furnace was in operation at least as early as 1756. Wil­liam Bird’s son Mark founded Hopewell Furnace about 1760. Other early furnaces were located at Mt. Pleasant, Here­ford, and Oley. The iron indus­try was responsible for the original growth of Robesonia and Birdsboro, but the most productive ore mining area was the Jones Mine in Caernarvon Township, the southern point of the county, near Hopewell Furnace and Joanna Furnace. Hopewell Village National Historic Site, an area adjacent to French Creek State Park, today pre­serves the history of the old iron industry.

The Reading was not the only railroad serving the city, although its headquarters offices and shops surpassed its competitors. In 1857, the Leba­non Valley Railroad, a Reading satellite, was completed to Harrisburg; in 1859 the East Penn branch of the Reading reached Allentown; in 1864 a line was completed to Lancas­ter; and in 1874 the Reading absorbed the Slatington and Wilmington Railroad. Its growth continued aggressively under the presidency of Frank­lin B. Gowen, and the railroad eventually reached Philadel­phia and Jersey City.

The career of Franklin B. Gowen, ending in suicide in a hotel room in 1889, parallels the nefarious dealings of to­day’s leverage buy-out ty­coons, mega-merger brokers, and Wall Street inside traders. An astute lawyer, Gowen was the Reading’s legal counsel from 1864 until 1869, when he became president, an office he held until 1883. The railroad expanded laterally under his fierce leadership, entering both the coal trade and the iron industry. He participated in the Tidewater Oil Company, which attempted to crush the rise of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, and for a time his Reading shops competed with the Baldwin Locomotive Company, near Philadelphia, in manufactur­ing locomotives. In 1873, he won a case before the United States Supreme Court, the “State Freight Case;’ which determined that it was uncon­stitutional for states to tax freight traveling across state lines. Justice William Strong, who just happened to be a native of Reading, delivered the opinion. In 1877, Gowen’s personal – and obsessive – involvement in investigating and prosecuting the secret terrorist society of coal miners in Schuylkill and Carbon counties, the Molly Maguires, had been so successful that ten convicted society members were hanged.

Violence erupted in the generally peaceful Reading railroad district in July 1877, the year a national railroad strike crippled many cities, including Pittsburgh, Erie, and Baltimore. In Reading, how­ever, the Engineers Brother­hood’s strike had been broken in April. Nevertheless, discon­tent prevailed because some strikers had been blacklisted, and because the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, the largest employer, waited until Saturday, July 21, to pay wages due in May. On Sunday, large crowds in Reading halted train movement and damaged much company property. (At the same time U.S. Army regulars had taken control in Baltimore and the militia had been van­quished in Pittsburgh.) The evidence of riot planning in Reading is shrouded in confusion – much of it derived from recollections of barroom boasts. But clearly several dozen men, unidentifiable because of blackened faces, formed a team that systemati­cally tore up tracks, jammed switches, and derailed and overturned a rail car so that its cargo would impede incoming traffic. The vital Lebanon Val­ley Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River was burned. Through Gowen’s influence four militia companies from other areas came to Reading, including the Easton Grays, a company of about forty, who had recently stood guard at the hangings of several Molly Maguires in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe, the Carbon County seat). Ordered to march from the Reading Depot to remove an abandoned rail car obstructing the tracks, the Easton Grays filed beneath the palisades of a cut through which the rails ran. Rocks and pistol fire rained so intensely on them that they rashly re­sponded by firing a volley directly to their front. Eleven civilians in the crowd were killed by the militia company, which retreated to the safety of the depot building. It was not until federal troops arrived late on Monday that order was finally restored. Franklin B. Gowen’s indictments of Read­ing workmen implicated in the riots failed to produce more than one conviction.

The despotic Gowen’s downfall began about 1880, when the railroad and its satel­lite operations went bankrupt. His characteristic flair was to risk much, if not all, to gain whatever enlargement to the system was necessary, then to neglect to monitor and oversee the operations. He foolishly decided to invest heavily in iron foundries in eastern Penn­sylvania, when the expanding coke industry was pushing Pittsburgh’s iron and steel industries into dominance. There is no telling how much his Reading Railroad Compa­ny’s conglomerate suffered because of his policies aimed at destroying unions. He was also overextended in owner­ship of large tracts of anthra­cite. An expensive attempt to sell locomotives in Europe was a total loss. When the compa­ny’s stock plummeted, its London investors withdrew, making matters worse. Even­tually William H. Vanderbilt of New York purchased most of the stock. Gowen was re­elected president and pulled the company out of bank­ruptcy for a brief period. By 1885 another ambitious rail­road plan, the projected South Pennsylvania Railroad, was sixty percent completed from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh along a route south of, and parallel to, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main line. This route, supported at first by many of the nation’s financiers and magnates, was meant to destroy the Pennsylvania Rail­road, but J.P. Morgan sensed the eventual futility the dupli­cation of such an elaborate system would cause, and began secret negotiations which, in turn, provoked such financial chaos that the South Pennsylvania was never com­pleted. Gowen was eased out of the Reading’s presidency by Reading native George DeB. Keim. While preparing to testify before the Interstate Commerce Commission in Washington, D.C., in Decem­ber 1889, Franklin B. Gowen took his own Life. The princi­pal operations, however, con­tinued. In 1893 a consolidation, “The Reading Company,” absorbed local passenger service and contin­ued until the national railroad reorganizations of the 1960s. The collapse of the anthracite industry in the 1920s perma­nently eclipsed much of what led to the Reading Railroad’s growth.

Whether Reading’s twenti­eth century socialist move­ment, the most effective socialist program in Pennsylva­nia’s history, drew strength from the bitterness of the 1877 events is arguable. A local Socialist Party appeared on ballots in the first decade of the century, although its only triumph was to elect one as­semblyman. As industry grew, peaking in the 1920s while the Berks County seat was the women’s stocking capital of the world, unionization did not keep pace: Reading was basically a manufacturing city without unions. Political so­cialism may have been a sub­stitute. Reading’s socialists objected to the nation’s entry into World War I, but unlike the national organization did not split in 1919 over the the­ory of international commu­nism. Membership dwindled until 1925 when it dropped below one hundred. What revived the socialists and gave them the mayorship and con­trol of city government in 1927 was an apparently unfair reas­sessment of property taxes. Reading claimed many small home owners and relatively few renters. It was the laboring class – traditionally the rank and file of socialism – that put Mayor J. Henry Stump in office in 1927, and again in 1935, to protect the value of its property. Socialism’s regime was in no sense radical, in spite of the presence of ad­vanced theorists in the group. Basically what they accom­plished in office fell under improved city services and good fiscal stewardship. Ironi­cally, their tardiness in adopt­ing emergency steps to deal with the Great Depression’s unemployment led to their defeat at the hands of an unu­sual fusion of Republicans and Democrats in 1931. Reading socialists attributed the Great Depression to the weaknesses of capitalism, but did not en­dorse local radical proposals such as mortgage forgiveness and free water and heat for the unemployed. They did, how­ever, keep two members in the state legislature, Lilith Wilson and Darlington Hoopes, who fought for progressive legisla­tion throughout the period. Stump’s second administration as mayor was a continuation of his first, but the local party literally fell apart because of events in the national party in the late 1930s. Reading’s James H. Maurer, Jr., stood very high in the national organization, and was nominated for vice president on Norman Thomas’ ticket in 1936. In New York City, the party collapsed as Earl Browder pushed for a united front with communism. None of the Reading group would accept this, and most of them rejected compromises meant to smooth over the Browder split. Socialism ceased to be a force in city politics, although J. Henry Stump was reelected in 1943 on his personal popularity.

Berks County’s industrial history has not obscured its agrarian heritage. Strongly influenced by Pennsylvania German farming methods, which emphasized the value of the thrifty family farm, the area’s better lands were under cultivation before the end of the colonial period. During the first half of the nineteenth century many Pennsylvania farm regions shifted from liming their soil to applying gypsum, but Berks County, together with Lancaster and York counties, stubbornly refused to follow this trend. Time proved them correct, and gypsum fell into disuse. In fact, even heavier applications of lime to apparently “farmed out” land became common practice with remarkably suc­cessful results.

Berks County has long been a major Pennsylvania grower of fruits, principally apples and, by the late nineteenth century, peaches. It suffered in the two major declines of the industry in Pennsylvania: from 1872 to 1900, and 1920 to the mid-1930s. Both declines resulted from adverse market conditions which placed Penn­sylvania at a distinct disadvan­tage to growers in western states. In 1881, a Berks apple grower complained that, “The market was glutted with fruit and it scarcely paid to haul them from the orchard … Wagon loads were hauled to the cider-mills … where six cents per bushel was all that was paid.” The resurgence of Pennsylvania fruits in the first two decades of this century was prompted by central pack­aging, sometimes financed by growers’ cooperatives, which began to prevail in marketing. Also a contributing factor was a book entitled Fruit in Pennsyl­vania, by J. H. Funk of Boyer­town.

In the late nineteenth cen­tury, Berks County, with Ches­ter and Bucks counties, was heavily involved in dairy pro­duction for the markets in the burgeoning urban areas nearby. By the 1920s, pastur­ing in these areas lost its eco­nomic appeal because the land could be sold for more profit­able purposes, and, ironically, much was sold to create urban sprawl. Improvements in stor­age and transport shifted the state’s dairy region to the northern counties, but the trend seems now to have spent its momentum, and dairying is strong in Berks County once again.

According to recent statis­tics of agricultural cash re­ceipts for Pennsylvania counties, Berks ranks sixth in fruits, second in mushrooms, third in staple field crops (corn, hay, alfalfa, tobacco, wheat rye, soy beans, and barley), and fifteenth in vege­tables and potatoes. It is sec­ond in the value of all crops, largely because of tremendous profits in mushroom sales. It is third – behind the state’s tradi­tional leading agri-business counties, Lancaster and York­ – in cash receipts from livestock and livestock products.

Following tradition, small family farms still survive, but average only one hundred and thirty-six acres each. Berks County claims the third largest farm population of the Com­monwealth’s counties, but that does not mean that its small units are not profitable. Using the test of farms that have annual sales of forty thousand dollars, forty-three percent of Berks’s units qualify. Many of the small farms cannot be considered mere garden farms or farms operated to supple­ment other livelihoods.

The county has long recognized natural beauty. As Read­ing grew, public parks were continually added and care­fully maintained. The heights of Blue Mountain and South Mountain have provided pano­ramic views of the countryside for generations of countians and visitors. Mt. Penn, tower­ing more than eleven hundred feet high along South Moun­tain, dominates the three mile long scenic Skyline Drive. As early as 1915, county residents sufficiently combined the practical with their love of natural beauty to voluntarily plant a half-million seedlings on the grounds of Antietam Reservoir. Admiration for geologic phenomena is yet another tradition; the Schuy­lkill Gap, near Hamburg, and Crystal, Dragon, and Onyx caves have long been appreci­ated and admired. The bucolic French Creek State Park and tranquil Nolde Forest appeal to many others.

By the mid-twentieth cen­tury, industrial Reading boasted such stalwart manu­facturing concerns as the Car­penter Steel Company. Begun by James H. Carpenter in 1889, it secured government con­tracts for heavy artillery shells for the modernized navy – calibrated from four to thirteen inches-the following year, and has continued operations in Reading ever since. Read­ing’s chance to succeed in the manufacture of automobiles arose in the first decade of the century. Charles Duryea of Springfield, Massachusetts, credited by many as the true father of the American car, manufactured his horseless carriages in Reading from 1900 to 1911. Although the giants of Detroit eventually eliminated all competition, Reading did retain, until mid-century, the Parish Pressed Steel Company, which made automobile and later heavy-duty truck frames.

However, the de­industrialization of the entire United States, especially the eclipse of heavy and manufac­turing industries which began in the 1960s, jolted Berks County more than many areas of Pennsylvania. Carpenter Steel, renamed the Carpenter Technology Corporation, is one of the few old manufactur­ing giants still in operation. A relatively large portion of the employed population, thirteen percent, choose to commute to other counties for jobs rather than leave Berks County. From a walk in the bustle of Penn Square, or a panoramic view of the countryside from Mount Penn, it becomes clear that Berks County will face the uncertain future of American industry with much of the stalwart pragmatism and loy­alty that has prevailed there for almost a quarter of a millennium.


For Further Reading

Albright, Raymond W. Two Centuries of Reading, Pennsyl­vania, 1748-1948. Reading: Historical Society of Berks County, 1948.

Bruce, Robert V. 1877: Year of Violence. New York: Bobbs­-Merrill, 1959.

Fox, Cyrus T., ed. Reading and Berks County, Pennsylvania: A History. New York: Lewis Histor­ical Publishing Co., 1925.

Holton, James L. The Reading Railroad: History of a Coal Age Empire. Laury’s Station, Pa.: Garrigues House, 1989.

Montgomery, Morton L. History of Reading, Pennsylvania, 1748-1898, and the Anniversary Proceedings of the Sesqui­Centennial, June 5-12, 1898. Reading: Times Book Print, 1898.

Nolan, J. Bennett, ed. Berks County. New York: Lewis Histor­ical Publishing Co., 1943.

Schlegel, Marvin M. Ruler of the Reading: The Life of Frank­lin B. Gowen, 1836-1889. Har­risburg: Archives Publishing Co., 1947.

Walker, Joseph E. Hopewell Village: The Dynamics of a Nineteenth Century Iron­-Making Community. Philadel­phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966.


The author wishes to thank Harold E. Yoder, Jr., executive director of the Historical Society of Berks County, and Barbara Gill, director of the society’s archives and library, for their assistance in locating and lending illustrations for this article.


Louis M. Waddell, an associate historian for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, is associate editor of Penn­sylvania Heritage. His article entitled “Courageous Cumberland County” appeared in the summer 1991 edition. The author received his bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University, his master of arts degree from New York University, and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the editor of the multi-volume documentary series, The Papers of Henry Bouquet.