Reading, Pennsylvania - Encyclopedia

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READING, a city and the county-seat of Berks county, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in the S.E. part of the state, on the E. bank of the Schuylkill river, and about 58 m. N.W. of Philadelphia. Pop. (1880) 43,278; (1890) 58,661; (1900) 78,961, of whom 5940 were foreign-born; (1910, census) 96,071. Reading is served by the Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia & Reading railways, by the Schuylkill Canal, which carries freight to Philadelphia, and by electric railways to several villages in Berks county. The city occupies an irregular tract of land gradually descending from the base of Mt. Penn westward to the Schuylkill river, and therefore possesses excellent drainage facilities. The river, which is unnavigable and winding at this point, forms the western boundary of the city for more than 4 m., and is spanned by three public bridges and a number of railway bridges. Neversink Mountain (878 ft. high), lying to the S. of the city, and Mt. Penn (800 ft.), are pleasure resorts in the neighbourhood. On the neighbouring mountains are several summer hotels and sanatoria. Within the city is Penn Common, containing 50 acres, reserved by the Penns for the use of the town when it was first laid out, and since 1878 used as a public park. Mineral Spring Park, containing 63 acres, lies on the outskirts of the city. Other parks are maintained by the street railway companies. In Penn Common are a monument erected to the "First Defenders," to commemorate the fact that the "Ringgold Light Infantry," the first volunteer company to report at Washington for service in the Civil War, came from this city; a monument to President McKinley, and one to the volunteer fire companies of the city. Among interesting landmarks are the Federal Inn (1763),(1763), in which President Washington was entertained in 1794, and which has been used as a banking house since 1814; the old county gaol (1770), used as such until 1848; and the site of the "Hessian Camp," where some of the prisoners captured during the War of Independence were confined. Charitable institutions are numerous; among them are the Reading Hospital (1867), St Joseph's Hospital (1873), Homoeopathic Hospital (1891), the Home for Widows and Single Women (1875), the Hope Rescue Mission (1897) for homeless men, the Home for Friendless Children (1888), St Catharine's Female Orphan Asylum (1872), St Paul's Orphan Asylum for Boys, and the House of the Good Shepherd (1889). Other institutions are the public library, which from 1808 to 1898 was a subscription library; the Berks County Law Library; the Berks County Historical Society; and the Harmonie Maennerchor, organized in 1847 and one of the oldest singing societies in the United States.

Lying within the rich agricultural region of the Lebanon and Schuylkill valleys and near vast fields of anthracite coal and iron ore, Reading possesses unusual business and industrial advantages. The chief industry is the manufacture of iron and steel. There are large shops of the Philadelphia & Reading railway here. The total value of factory products in 1905 was $30,848,175 (in 1900 it had been $32,682,061), and the most important of these were the products of steel-works and rolling-mills; the products of railway repair shops; foundry and machine-shop products; hardware, hosiery and knitted goods; cigars and cigarettes, and felt hats. Other important manufactures are bicycles, brick and other clay products, brooms, brushes, and cotton and woollen goods. Reading was surveyed and laid out as a town in 1748, in accordance with the plans of Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn, and was named Reading after the county town of Berkshire, England. The first settlers were mostly Germans, but the direction of municipal affairs until the outbreak of the War of Independence was in the hands of the English-speaking inhabitants. As the latter were largely of Loyalist sympathies during the war, the control of the local government then fell into the hands of the German inhabitants. German was long used in Reading; Pennsylvania German (or "Dutch") is still spoken in the surrounding country; and several German periodicals are published in the city, including among them the weekly Adler since 1796. During the War of Independence Reading was an inland depot for supplies for the American army, and prisoners of war were sent here in large numbers. The development of the town dates from the opening in 1824 of the Schuylkill Canal, from Reading to Philadelphia. This was followed in 1828 by the Union Canal, running westward to Lebanon and Middletown, and in 1838 by the entrance into Reading of the Philadelphia & Reading railway. The establishment of these means of communication hastened the development of the natural resources of the region, and Reading early became an industrial centre. A system of water-works, established in 1821, was acquired by the municipality in 1865. Reading was incorporated as a borough in 1783, and was chartered as a city in 1847. See M. L. Montgomery, History of Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Anniversary Proceedings of the Sesqui-Centennial (Reading, 1898).

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