A Brief History…
In 1733, the site of present-day Reading was chosen. It was set at the intersection of two great valleys, the east Penn-Lebanon Valley and the Schuylkill river. This site was known as Finney’s Ford until 1743 when Thomas Lawrence, a Penn Land agent, made the first attempt at the layout for Reading.
In 1748, the town was laid out by Thomas and Richard Penn, the sons of William Penn. The name was chosen after Penn’s own county seat, Reading, in Berkshire, England. In 1752, Reading became the county seat of Berks.
During the French and Indian war, Reading became a military base for a chain of forts along the Blue Mountains. The local iron industry, by the time of the Revolution, had a total production that exceeded that of England, a production that would help supply Washington’s troops with weapons including cannons, rifles, and ammunition. During the early period of the war, Reading was again a depot for military supply. Hessian prisoners from the battle of Trenton were also detained here. Reading bore it’s appropriate to burden during many wars including the Civil War and World War II.
In the 1800s, two canals were created for the least expensive and most efficient method of transporting bulk cargo at the time. The Schuylkill Canal, a north-south canal completed in 1825, paralleled the Schuylkill River and connected Reading with Philadelphia and the Delaware River. The Union Canal, an east-west canal completed in 1828, connected the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers and ran from Reading to Middletown, Pennsylvania, a few miles south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Railroads forced the abandonment of the canals by the 1880s.
The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R) was incorporated in 1833. During the Long Depression following the Panic of 1873, a statewide railroad strike in 1877 over delayed wages led to a violent protest and clash with the National Guard in which six Reading men were killed.
Following more than a century of prosperity, the Reading Company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 1971. The bankruptcy was a result of dwindling coal shipping revenues and strict government regulations that denied railroads the ability to set competitive prices, required high taxes, and forced the railroads to continue to operate money-losing passenger service lines. On April 1, 1976, the Reading Company sold its current railroad interests to the newly formed Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail).
The Early part of the 19th century witnessed the great turnpike and canal era, succeeded by the building of the Reading Railroad, radiating in all directions from the City of Reading. The construction of the railroad was probably the single greatest factor in the development of Berks county.
Agriculture is an important industry in Berks County…the largest and finest farms are in the southern part of the county. Berks ranks 3rd among all Pennsylvania counties in cash receipts from agriculture which total $73.9 million. Income derived from dairy production is $29.3 million; field and forage crops $25.7 million; poultry $10.2 million and meat animals $8.7 million.
Today, Reading is a city pulsating with industrial life. It is also well equipped with agencies that represent civilization at its best-churches, hospitals, clubs, fraternal societies, recreational centers. schools and colleges, a historical society, an art institute as well as a daily newspaper. Reading claims the distinction of a symphony orchestra, two choral societies, a chamber musical ensemble, a civic opera company and many other excellent music groups that have contributed to the city’s prestige as a center of art and culture.
Courtesy of the Reading & Berks Visitors Bureau. Additional information can be found at the Berks Historical Society at http://www.berkshistory.org/museum The Society’s 20,000 artifacts tell many stories behind the development of the county. Three levels of museum exhibits interpret our colorful history from the Conestoga Wagon to the 1902 Duryea to toys, crafts, fine arts, all related to our social history. Here you can truly find your past. The Historical Society is located at 940 Centre Avenue.