One Tank Trip: 150 Objects of Berks County History


When you've been around 150 years, you tend to amass a few objects. The Berks History Center in Reading has collected more than 20,000, and it all began July 12, 150 years ago.

"Well, it was 1869," said Bradley Smith, the center's curator. "The Civil War had just finished a few years earlier, and a group of folks from primarily in the city of Reading got together and said we should start a historical society."

They had a lot of momentum that first year, but it slowed and wouldn't pick up steam again until 1904, when the society acquired its first permanent home at 519 Court Street.

"There were still grandchildren of Revolutionary War veterans alive," Smith said. "There were still Civil War vets around, and many of them came to us and said, 'My wife wants this stuff out of the house and would you like it?'"

The answer was yes. Many of the items were tucked away, until now. "150 Objects of Berks County History," in honor of the center's 150th anniversary, is on display at the center's current home on Centre Avenue in Reading through next July.

Item number one is a silver bowl.

"There's a great story with this bowl," Smith said. "It's one of my favorite artifacts because there's a bit of a mystery to it. It came to us in the 1920s and it's engraved on the handle with the name Lincoln."

Lincoln, as in Abraham Lincoln. Bessy Bolton said her great uncle bought it from the president, who had carved his name into it, at a yard sale.

A mirror underneath the bowl lets you see it. The center said the Lincolns did indeed sell their wares before they moved to Washington, but there's no record of what was sold, so there's no real proof behind this one.

There are 149 other objects just as interesting. A mix of old and new.

There's a hard hat a Berks County native wore as he worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. There's a document in German from 1726 that asks folks here to welcome the refugees who came with it and were hoping to settle in Oley Valley. The certificate says they'd make good neighbors.

There are scratch eggs, real chicken eggs, decorated, that have shockingly survived from the mid-1800s. There are salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the Pagoda.

The exhibit is about the industries that took root here, the people who called Berks County home, the communities that remain today, and the center that's dedicated to preserving it all.

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