John Pritiskutch Reproductions

History of Berks County - City of Reading

The following is reproduced from the 1876 Atlas of Berks County, Pennsylvania

READING, the county seat of Berks, is beautifully situated on the bank of the Schuylkill river, fifty-eight miles distant from Philadelphia, one hundred and twenty-eight miles from New York, and fifty-four miles from Harrisburg. As early as 1733, John and Samuel Finney took out warrants, and 450 acres of land were surveyed under their sanction, which are now embraced within the limits of the city of Reading. When the original proprietaries, the Messrs. Penn, endeavored to re-purchase the land for the purpose of laying out a town, John and Samuel Finney for a long time firmly resisted all attempts at negotiation. But when they found that the Penns were about to locate a town opposite the Tulpehocken, they yielded and sold their property. Thus the Penns became private owners of the ground-plot of Reading. The town was laid out in 1748. In 1783 Reading was incorporated as a borough, and as a city in 1847. The Penns subjected their lots to an annual quitrent. For a long time this claim was almost forgotten through neglect. Many years afterwards, the heirs attempted to collect the dues, but they were generally and sometimes violenty resisted. Such an excitement was created that a town meeting was called, which effected a permanent compromise.

The original population of Reading was principally composed of Germans, who came from Wurtemberg and the Palatinate, although the Friends who settled here under the patron age of the Penns, had control of the government. The former, being the more numerous, gave character to the place, both in language and customs. German was almost exclusively spoken, but it has been in a great measure supplanted by the English.

Conrad Weiser, the interpreter and government agent, made Reading his headquarters. He built a house on the corner of Fifth and Penn Sts., where he met many of the Indian tribes, for the purpose of making treaties and exchanging commodities.

During the Revolutionary War, Reading was the favorite resort of prominent Philadelphians, who wished to be safe from any possible-incursion of the enemy. Notwithstanding the distressed condition of the country, the place was the scene of much gaiety during the winter seasons. The prominent families, together with their visitors, made society very lively and attractive.

In 1776, a number of Hessians captured at Trenton, together with British and Scotch royalists, were brought here, and stationed in a grove near the river. Soon after they were removed to the hill east of heading, where they remained for some time. The ruins of the "Hessian Camp" can now be seen on the spot where they built their huts.

Reading is regularly laid out., the streets, with a few exceptions, runing north and south, and east and west. Formerly they bore the names of King, Queen, Duke, Prince, Earl, etc., being signs of the loyalty of the Penns. But now those running east and west are more appropriately named after Washington, Penn, and Franklin, and the different kinds of trees, such as Chestnut. Spruce and Walnut. The streets running north and south are named numerically, Penn street being the dividing line between north and south.

The ground is sloping from Penn Mountain towards the river, thus affording excellent natural facilities for draining. The streets are kept in fine condition by being covered with a hard white stone, obtained in the immediate neighborhood, which makes a very durable and smooth carriage road.

The health of the city is remarkable. Every pleasant day great numbers of old people are to be seen on the streets; and the robust appearance of the younger portion of the community is especially noticed by strangers. The salubrity of the place is due in a great measure to the pure water, of which there is an abundant supply from the springs on the side of Penn Mountain, and from the Ohlinger stream recently introduced, together with the fresh mountain air.

The first house of worship in Reading was a log building, erected in 1750, by the Friends. From that time up to the present the number of churches has steadily increased. There are now over thirty. Many of them are splendid specimens of architecture, and all well filled by crowds of people, who come to listen to the religious instruction of the talented clergymen of the different denominations.

Reading has long been noted for the excellence of its public schools. Under the management of efficient teachers, most of them natives of the city and graduates of the High School, the progress of education has been very rapid. The buildings for the convenience of the scholars are located in various parts of the city. The High School, has been in existence about a quarter of a century, and has graduated many fine scholars.

There are several charitable associations in the city. The Reading Benevolent Society and the Reading Relief Society are in active operation, and are accomplishing much good among the poor and suffering. The Female Orphans' Asylum is under the management of the Sisters of Charity. A separate notice of the Dispensary will be found elsewhere.

The increase of the population has been very rapid. In 1751, there were only 378 inhabitants; in 1810, there were 3,462; in 1850, 15,743; in 1870, 33,930. The probabilities are that the present number of inhabitants is nearly 45,000.

Being at only a short distance from the deposits of iron, coal and limestone, the city possesses unusual facilities for manufacturing purposes. The coal from the Schuylkill region all passes through the city. The machine shops and rolling mills of the railroad give employment to large numbers of men.

Almost every article of necessity or luxury is made in the city. Among the different industries may be mentioned blast furnaces, rolling mills, sheet mills, boiler works, nail mills, foundries and machine shops, hardware works, stove works, iron pipe works, bolt and nut works, car factories, fire-brick and terra-cotta works, brass foundries, brick manufactories, carriage factories, metalic cornice works, furniture manufactories, planing mills, wool hat factories, tanneries, tint works, agricultural implement works, and numerous others of minor importance. The city is well provided with means for the extinguishment of fires. The fire-alarm telegraph is one of the best in the country. The fire department, though wholly composed of volunteer organizations, is unusually efficient, under the able management of its present Chief, Mr. Howard F. Boyer.

Two street railway companies have their lines running through the principal thoroughfares of the city.

Reading is distinguished for its fine public and private buildings. It has two large and beautiful opera houses, several first-class hotels, and many wholesale and retail stores of magnificent proportions. The depot of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad attracts general attention from all who pass through the city.

The county buildings are here situated. The old Court House was erected in 1762, and was said to be remarkable for nothing but its ugliness. It was a great drawback to the beauty of the city. Happily it was supplanted by a new building which was finished in 1840. This edifice still remains on the corner of Sixth and Court streets. Its dimensions are sixty-two feet front, one hundred and eighteen feet deep, and one hundred and forty-six feet to the top of the cupola. The interior is conveniently arranged for the accommodation of the courts when in session, and is furnished with the requisite number of rooms for the use of the various county officers.

"The Old State House" was erected in 1793. It was occupied by the county officers until the completion of the new Court House, when they removed thither. It was recently destroyed by fire.

"The Old Jail" stands on the corner of Fifth and Washington streets. It was erected in 1792, and continued in use until its place was supplied by the larger and more convenient structure now known as the Berks County Prison. The latter is a large stone edifice at the head of Penn street, substantially built, and sufficient for the present and prospective wants of the county. The Poor House, although not within the city limits, deserves to be mentioned among the county buildings. The property formerly belonged to Gov. Thomas Mifflin. It contains 419 acres of farm land and 95 acres of woodland. The present steward is Silas W. Fisher, Esq., who has held the position since 1870. The productions of the farm during the past year were as follows: 115 loads of hay, 1,800 bushels of wheat., 90 bushels of rye, 2,200 bushels of oats, 3,600 bushels of corn, 2,200 bushels of potatoes, 224 bushels of green beans. 45 bushels of red beats, 171 bushels of soup beans, 221 bushels of onions, 111 bushels of seed onions, 20 bushels of peas, 1 bushel of Lima beans, 95 bushels of turnips, 6 bushels of yellow turnips, 40,033 cucumbers, 600 stalks of celery, 3.665 heads of cabbage, 250 bushels of winter apples, 200 gallons of apple butter, 16,504 gallons of milk, 136 barrels of soft soap, 2,115 barrels of hard soap, 208 loads of manure.

The City Hall, on the corner of Fifth and Franklin Streets, a fine brick building, has been erected within the past few, years. It has the Station House and a lock-up in the basement. The different officers of the city have their rooms in the building. The upper story is occupied by the Masonic bodies.

A great improvement has lately been made in the appearance of the city, by the destruction of the market sheds in the centre of Penn Square, and the erection of new and convenient market-houses in different sections of the city. Even in the year 1841, they were spoken of as being in a mouldy and ruinous condition. But they were tolerated by the inhabitants until within the past few years, when they were removed.

The grounds of the Berks County Agricultural Society are located in the eastern portion of the city, near the Prison. At the annual fairs, held in the autumn, they are visited by immense throngs of people from all parts of the surrounding country.

The city is an important railroad centre. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad has several of its principal offices here. The numerous branches of the main line all centre at this point. Communication is thus established with all parts of the country.

With all these advantages it is not strange that the city has rapidly gained in population and wealth during the last thirty years. Its industries were greatly developed by the war; and the manufacturing interests received an impetus which has never been entirely lost. For the past two or three years, the city has suffered from the effects of the panic. But there are now signs of a revival of trade; and the prospects are that, not only during the Centennial year, but also hereafter, Reading will increase rapidly in wealth, population and business importance. It is destined to be one of the largest and most flourishing inland cities of the country.

Charles F. Evans
City Controller
C.N. Farr, Jr.
John E. Arthur
City Clerks
E.A. Howell
Water Commissioners
W.R. McIlvain
A.C. Greth
S.L. Snyder
Addy Gehry
City Engineer
Daniel S. Zacharias
D.N. Wingerd
Commissioners of Highways and Paving
J.G. Yarnell
W.P. Graul
Commissioner of Markets and City Property
Peter Texte
W.H. Riland
Tilden Taylor
Board of Health
W.M. Weideman
C. Breneiser
D. Ermentrout
S.S. Stevens
Israel Cleaver
Martin Luther
Frank Rieser