Outreach Programs in the Community
Are you interested in holding a historical presentation at your location? Look no further than Berks History Center! Our team of historical ambassadors and volunteers are available to give presentations on a wide range of local history topics.
Please review our list of presenters and program options below. Interested parties should fill out an inquiry via our Contact page, or call 610-375-4375.
Current Presenters and Programs:
Native Indians of Berks County: The Lenape lived in what is now Berks County for hundreds of years before contact with the colonists. They hunted mostly deer and bear, fished for native Shad in the Schuylkill River and farmed corn, beans and squash. Learn more about the peaceful Lenape people and the larger Delaware tribe to which they belonged.
Colonial Times in Berks County: Sarah Finney was a true pioneer who lived alone, with her nearest neighbor miles away, on the edge of the wilderness where Reading would eventually be established. The area was known as Finney Town. In colonial costume, the presenter will teach about the life of Widow Finney, the time period in which she lived, and the Lenape who also resided in her area.
Victorian Age in Berks County: Enjoy an engaging presentation of more than 50 photographs of Victorian Reading and Berks County. See some of Berks County’s most prominent sites in their heyday, such as Pomeroy’s, Reading’s second Court House, President Teddy Roosevelt speaking from the balcony of the American House, and more!
Basketry of the Oley Valley: Reuben Reifsnyder wove willow into baskets starting in 1865, and eventually he established a basket making factory a couple of miles from Oley, PA. He taught his friend Ollie Strausser, his son- in–law John Kline and also his second cousin Milt Lorah to weave, making the area a true basket making hub for almost 100 years. Freddie Bieber lived in the hills of the Oley Valley, and he mostly wove rib baskets. Learn more about this rich history of basketry by a basket maker with 30 years of weaving experience.
The Battle of Leinbach’s Hill: The political machinations and accompanying drama of the attempt by Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen to cause Reading to annex a portion of West Reading, and construct a new courthouse on the western side of the Schuylkill River on that site. Also competing in the political fray were groups seeking to have it located in City Park, Fifth and Penn Streets, as well as several other locations. A plebiscite conducted by the Reading Times was the key to the solution of the problem. Spoiler Alert: A new Court House located at 6th and Court Streets was dedicated in 1932.
Stop it, Mr. Mayor! The Politics of the Creation of Lake Ontelaunee: The presentation will discuss of the construction of Lake Ontelaunee along with the crisis in Reading’s water supply that had developed by the 1920s that created the need for it. Also discussed will be the drama of what the Reading Times termed a “Shotgun Rebellion” by the local farmers that arose when construction began, along with the accompanying political drama in Reading City Hall. Players in the overall drama included not only the farmers, the citizens of Reading in need of water, but also members of Council, Mayor William Sharman, and other City Officials with important roles.
Deal Of The Century: The political machinations, and events relating to the construction of the Buttonwood Street Bridge from 1925 to 1932 and the drama involved in the dealings between the County Commissioners and the owners of Wyomissing Industries- Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen- and the administration of Mayor Henry Stump, Reading’s first Socialist Mayor. When would the daily hour long traffic jams- both coming in and going out of the city- ever be relieved? Was it going to be a toll bridge? Would the bridge really be located at Buttonwood Street? Or maybe Oley Street?
The Robbery of the Century: The story of the February 4, 1921 dramatic daylight robbery of the Peoples Trust Company in Wyomissing where $187,000 was carried off- together with the tale of the manhunt and heroic detective work that followed which resulted in the capture of the six perpetrators and recovery of nearly all the stolen funds. Key players in the drama, aside from the gang of 6 bandits who committed the crime, included local authorities, out of town detectives brought in to solve the case, as well as several intrepid local women who were key witnesses with vital roles in the apprehension and convictions of the bandits.
Various Problems Encountered by the First Berks County Women Jurors: Although the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, the “suffrage” granted was not universally viewed as including the right of women to serve on juries. This presentation will discuss the legislation in Pennsylvania that guaranteed jury service as a right held by both women and men. It will also explore the problems that arose in the implementation of this right, beginning with getting women’s names on the jury roll, plus addressing the monumental problem of the total absence of restrooms for women in the Berks County Courthouse as it existed at the time.
The Cultural Brouhaha of 1924, or “Whither Shall Be the Home of the Museum?”: This program revisits the bitter politics and controversy regarding where the Reading Museum would be located: City Park? Northeast Reading? 18th Ward? 5th and Penn? Use the former prison? Reviewed in the presentation are the various issues involved with determining the proper location of the new Reading Museum would be…and the personalities involved, most importantly Dr. Levi Mengel, the Museum’s first Curator. The events included resignations by several School Board members, including its President, and the most generous patron of the Museum up to that time to remove numerous paintings from the Museum which he had loaned with the eventual goal of donating them. Although matters were resolved without litigation, considerable bitterness remained.
Hizzoner Reading Mayor William Sharman: Who served between 1923 until his defeat by Socialist candidate Henry Stump in 1927, after he brought about vast and sweeping changes in the city (including construction of Lake Ontelaunee, the Lindbergh Viaduct, paving of many city streets, connection of Fifth Street to the Allentown Pike, and providing municipal water to the 18th ward), only to lose EVERY precinct in the city in his reelection bid. Sharman’s accomplishments during this very active time in the history of Reading will be discussed, as well as the times themselves, plus the election that ended Sharman’s political career.
Pilgrimage to Disaster: The 1907 California train wreck where 18 Berks residents who were either Shriners or their family members lost their lives on what was to be a “trip of a lifetime” to a national convention in San Francisco that also featured stops along the way at various historical sites and tourist attractions. Beyond the wreck itself, the presentation focuses on events leading up to the tragedy, its effects on the Berks County community afterward, as well as the circumstances and practices of the local funerals at that time.
The French and Indian War in Berks County: The only North American War in which blood was shed in this county. Several attacks by small bands of Native Americans predominantly from the Lenape/Delaware tribes on isolated homes of settlers in northern Berks County during the early years of that conflict resulted in approximately 200 settlers being were killed in the attacks, with about half that number being abducted. Attacks discussed in particularly which have developed some prominence associated with local history in t discussed in particular include Hochstetler family, non-violent Amish who reportedly did not fight back, despite several family members being killed or abducted. Also discussed will be the stories of the “Bloody Spring” and the “Degler Chest,” associated with the history of that area. Also discussed will be the attacks in Berks County in that arose as a result of “Pontiac’s Rebellion” which was predominantly a conflict involving territory further to the west.
1728- Year of Fear in the Oley Valley: Rumors, misunderstandings, and fear nearly ignited a powder keg in Berks County in 1728, leaving settlers and Native Americans on the brink of war. Tensions had begun the 1723 settlement in the Tulpehocken are on land which had not been purchased from the Lenapes. In 1728 A group of Shawnees coming through the area were viewed as “foreign Indians” and were fired upon by settlers who were unable to otherwise communicate. In addition, two settlers, erroneously believing that other settlers had been killed by Native Americancs, killed several peaceful Lenapes as “revenge.” After the killers were found guilty of murder and hanged, Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon otherwise calmed the overall situation, holding a conference with a group of Native American leaders to quell tensions. Although the area remained peaceful until the start of the French and Indian War, what is now Berks County remained in a state of fear for most of the rest of 1728.
From the Actives to the RPhils/Fightins- A Brief History of Professional Baseball in Reading: The development of professional baseball in what is now known as “Baseballtown,” in the course of which we will revisit:
- Teams who played here- and their comings and goings (including the Actives, Pretzels, Coal Heavers, Coal Barons, Aces, Marines, Keystones, Brooks, Indians, Red Sox – twice, and ultimately the Reading Phillies who (one hopes) won’t be going anywhere);
- Where they played (Including the “Ball Grounds” at 11th Street, Pendora Park, Lauers Park, the “Colosseum,” and now First Energy Stadium under its various names);
- Most importantly, who played here in front of local fans: from Hall of Famers to those who just were fan favorites- including Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, Rocky Colavito, Ryan Howard, Roger Maris, Cooter Jones, Carl Furillo, Chief Bender, Moe Berg, Al Schacht, Aaron Nola, John Vukevich… and so many more.
Also covered will be the happiness (and occasional frustration) that professional baseball has brought to local fans beginning with the days of the Actives in the 1870s up to the present.
Baseball Town’s Time of Troubles: The story behind how between 1962 and 1964 Reading lost three baseball teams in four years- frustrations and struggles on the field, as well as an empty ballpark (except for Pony Night—the one night the ballpark was filled) immediately before the Phillies moved their AA team to Reading, beginning play here in 1987 and coming to the rescue.
Before He Was a Catcher or a Spy- Moe Berg’s Year with the 1925 Reading Keys: Moe Berg played 15 years in the major leagues, mostly as a backup catcher, compiling over that time a very unthreatening batting average of .243. It was not from these numbers that Berg’s notoriety arose- as he graduated magna cum laude from Princeton, and was fluent in 10 languages. (Although according to teammate Ted Lyons, “He couldn’t hit in any of them.” ) In the later years of his career Berg developed a special relationship with the young Reading native, pitcher Charlie Wagner, as he taught the young Wagner not only about pitching, but also circulating in society as well as proper grammar.
Following his retirement from baseball, Berg worked as a spy during World War II for the Office Strategic Services (predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency). Berg’s career beyond his time in Reading will be discussed.
Described by Casey Stengel as, “The strangest fellah who ever put on a uniform,” Berg is the only former major leaguer whose baseball card is on display at CIA Headquarters.
The Clown Prince of Baseball’s Year in Reading: Former major league pitcher and coach Al Schacht who would become “The Clown Prince of Baseball” for more than 20 years. (preceding Max Patkin). Shacht’s time with the 1922 Reading Aces and 1923 Reading Keys, as he made his way to national fame, was as humorous as it was engaging. Discussed will be Schacht’s various comedy routines used in Reading as well as in his regular act later in his career, including in annual performances during various World Series games.
The 1927 Reading Keys, Their Manager Fred Merkle (Unfairly Nicknamed ‘Bonehead’) and their 31-game losing streak: He couldn’t have done it without their help: An account of the dismal 1927 Reading Keys, who had a 31 game losing streak, going through 2 owners and 4 managers (Merkle having been fired twice) in the process, plus the origins of Fred Merkle’s nickname of, “Bonehead”.
Miss Arlington Twirls: The story of Lizzy (Stride) Arlington: The first woman to appear in an official game in organized baseball who threw a shutout inning for those Reading Coal Heavers against the hated Allentown Peanuts in an Atlantic League game on July 5, 1898. Efforts of other women to play in organized baseball will also be discussed.
Reading’s First Two Pennants Winners: Stories of the 1907 Reading Atlantics, and the 1911 Reading Pretzels, the first pennant winners in Reading, which goes into the background of the various failures of teams and leagues in Reading up to that time, as well as afterward. There is a lot of humor in the dimensions of failure that were involved in the early baseball experience in Reading.
The Berks County Women of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL): Stories of the four women from Berks County who played in the “League of Their Own” AAGPBL: Fern Shollenberger, Alice Hoover, Amy Dunkelberger Jurasinski, and Ruth Kramer Hartman, and with the entire group were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The stories behind each of these women, both before and after their time in the AAGPBL, are engaging and inspiring- including Ruth Kramer Hartman being named Queen of Baseball Town in 2008.
Eddie Day, A Career in the Shadows: An 1899 article in a leading national baseball publication referred to Reading native Eddie Day, of African American descent, as “the Black Delahanty,” comparing him to Ed Delahanty, at that time was viewed as the top white baseball player. With his baseball skills, Day “would have been in the National League long ago, but for the color rule.” Playing baseball professionally full time from the time he was 17, Day was talented enough to be invited to play for white teams, even though baseball was in the process of excluding African Americans, beginning his career with the all-white independent Reading Actives in 1891. After initially experiencing great success with the Actives, Day left the team at mid-season to begin a fifteen-year odyssey of playing for a series of all African American teams. The presentation will focus on baseball in that era through following Day’s career, which sadly ended when he died of heart problems at the young age of 32.
Reading’s Big League Exhibition Games: Stories of more than 90 occasions that major league teams played exhibition games in Reading between 1874 and 2000, the players involved- including appearances of such greats as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, Christy Mathewson, and Larry Doby; the games played between the Philadelphia and Reading Phillies dating back to 1967; and the various teams that appeared here in addition to the Phillies, including the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns, and several others.
Penn Street Through the Years: Take a nostalgic photographic journey up Penn Street from the bridge to the park and remember downtown Reading from the 1800s to the 1980s.
Reading and Berks during World War I: Explore life at home here in Berks County during the Great War.
Snapshots: Reading through the Eyes of Photo Journalists: View a rare collection of photos from Reading Eagle photojournalist John Tenchert and several others to explore historic moments of Berks County’s past.
Christmas Past on Penn Street: A photographic presentation that explores the nostalgia and joy of celebrating Christmas in downtown Reading.
YMCA at 160 years: Originally developed for the YMCA’s 160th Anniversary in 2018, this presentation explores the history of the organization in downtown Reading and the generations of people who were engaged in this community hub.
Code Breakers: Discover the story of the American Women of WWII who broke codes, mastered ciphers, and helped to defeat the enemy.
Hello Girls: America’s 1st Female Soldiers: Discover the controversy behind the army’s forgotten WWI servicewomen.
*Hallie can also do programs on important women of the colonial period, the Revolutionary War, the 19th century, the Civil War, the suffragist movement, the 20th century, and women athletes.
Good Morning Thun, Good Morning Janssen: Uncover the extraordinary partnership between two of Berks County’s industrial titans.
From the Historical Society to the BHC- 150 Years of Berks History: Learn about the story of the Berks History Center from its fledgling founding in 1869 as the Historical Society of Berks County to the present day.