Morton L. (Morton Luther) Montgomery.

Historical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. online

. (page 42 of 227)
Online LibraryMorton L. (Morton Luther) MontgomeryHistorical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. → online text (page 42 of 227)
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companies, located in different parts of the country,
which caused great embarrassment. It seemed that
.some evil genius hovered over this community also,
because there were many acts of incendiarism in
the most populous parts of the city about that time,

but the volunteer fire companies by their vigilance
prevented serious losses.

In 1872, two steam fire engines were added to the
fire departm,ent, and in 1873 the electric fire alarm
system was introduced, which immediately demon-
strated its great value. The old market-houses
were removed in 1871, and private buildings for
market purposes were substituted. The limits of
the city were extended northward in 1871, increas-
ing the area to more than 3,200 acres. A large
modern hall for amusements was erected in 1872
on the north side of East Penn Square, which af-
forded increased opportunities for witnessing
dramatic and operatic performances. The postal
card was introduced in 1873, and the business of
the post-office was largely increased. The P._ &
R. R. Co. erected a large and commodious "Union
Station" at the junction of its several lines of rail-
road, wliich wias opened for travel on Aug. 3, 1874.

The general Act of 1874, for the government of
cities of the third class — which included Reading —
was accepted ; the water of Antietam creek was ap-
propriated by the city and a storage reservoir was
constructed in Alsace township with a capacity for
30,000,000 gallons. Railroad communication was
extended by completing the road to Wilmington to
the south, and to Slatington to the north; and a
street railway was introduced along Penn and Sixth
streets. The "Centennial Exhibition" at Philadel-
phia wlas a prominent subject for several years, es-
pecially from May 10th to Nov. 10th, 1876 ; and the
display of productions by Reading manufacturers
and of educational work by the Reading school
district was highly complimented. The management
of the schools by the first city superintendent, elected
in 1867, proved very successful, and during the
decade ten large brick buildings were erected.

In October, 1869, there was an unusual freshet,
the river rising twenty-three feet and inflicting
damages to the shops along the river amounting to
$50,000. On Sunday, June 26, 1870, the P. & R.
R. Co. car shops at Sixth and Oley streets (168
by 710 feet) were destroyed by fire, causing a loss
of more than $100,000 ; and on Jan. 16, 1872, there
was another large and costly fire at Fifth and Penn
streets, which destroyed Stichter's hardware store,
Ebner's building, old "State-House," and other
buildings on Fifth street, resulting in a loss exceed-
ing $100,000. The building and savings associa-
tions were in a flourishing condition.

The political sentiment of the people manifested
a great change, and the process of changing from
the Democratic party to the Republican by 1876
had developed a high degree of excitement, the elec-
tion returns of that year causing the loudest demon-
strations ever witnessed at Reading. Enterprise
reached out in different branches of industry, giv-
ing employhient to a largely increased number^f
mechanics and laborers. Merchants showed a high
appreciation of the value of advertising in local
newspapers, and as they attracted the residents to
their stores, the Philadelphia merchants did the same



to theirs by advertising their goods in the Reading

1877-87.— The. fourth decade from 1877 to 1887
went far in advance of the previous decades in putn
lic affairs, private enterprises and social amuse-
ments. It started with a serious disturbance on ac-
count of the labor question, which culminated in a
riot on July 23, 1877, causing the death of ten per-
sons, and the wounding- of thirty-nine, and the loss
of the large bridge across the Schuylkill on the
Lebanon Valley railroad. The riot took place along
Seventh street at and above Penn. The strike was
general, extending through Pennsylvania and other
States. In the previous decade, allusion was made
to the panic, but it did not seriously affect Reading.
However, conditions generally grew worse and on
Nov. 18, 1877, the Reading Savings Bank, Bush-
ong's Bank, and Dime Savings Bank suspended,
which caused the greatest financial' excitement that
Reading ever felt.

An earnest beginning for a city park was made
in 1878, by cleaning up and improving the trian-
gular part of the Common which adjoined Perki-
omen avenue and Hill road, this having been done
by taxpayers in the vicinity, who raised over $6,000
by voluntary contributions; and in 1884, councils
instituted legal steps to recover that part of the
Common which had been occupied by the Berks
County Agricultural Society since 1852, and they
were successful. The co-education of boys and
girls was found unsatisfactory, and in 1881, after a
trial of twenty -two years, they were separated, the
girls remaining in the high school building. In
1883 the commodious Boys' High School was erect-
ed, and then the school controllers transferred their
meeting place and offices to it. In that year, the
county bridges at Reading were declared free, and
electric power began to be supplied for shops and

The waterworks were much enlarged in 1880
and 1884, increasing the storage over fifty million
gallons. The building and savings associations were
in a flourishing condition, twenty-five having been
kept up whose payments and investments ran into
millions of dollars. Societies of all kinds were
very active, particularly secret, beneficial and social,
numbering altogether, 150, and their membership in-
cluding almost every man of age in the commun-
ity. Factories of all kinds were carried on exten-
sively, especially for hats, stoves, cigars and build-
ing materials. And one of the most important
events in the decade was the construction of the
Pennsylvania Schuylkill Valley railroad in 1884, and
the direct connection with the Pennsylvania rail-
road system thereby afforded. And at the close
of the decade, three additional banks and two
trust companies were started; the street rail-
wiay companies were consolidated in the United
Traction Company with over fifty miles of track,
carrying annually over five million passengers,
and the Reading Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital

were erected.' The major part of the population
shifted north of Penn street.

1887-97.— Tht fifth decade from 1887, to 1897
was more active than the previous decades in every
department of life. Progress was remarkable, ex-
ceeding everything in the previous history of the
place. The supply of water was largely increased
by the introduction of the water from the Maiden
creek; Penn Common was improved year after
year until it came to be the most attractive spot
within the limits of the city; the gohool buildings
were increased in number and improved in charac-
ter, and so were the churches (twenty new build-
ings having been erected), the moneys appropriated
and collected for these two purposes surpassing all
previous efforts ; the United States government sup-
plied a superior building for post-office purposes;
the subject of streets and sewers was agitated for
a long while with apparently little progress in be-
half of these public improvements, but it prevailed
eventually, and the years 1896 and 1897 became
notable, .a miUion dollars having been expended in
their construction; public demonstrations, parades,
excursions, and conventions were unusual in num-
ber and character, which developed the reputation
of Reading as a place of industry, substantial wealth
and superior advantages to a remarkable degree.

The -street railway system was extended very
much, and the mountain roads vrere established.
Electricity as a motive power for running the street
cars was applied to the cars on the East Reading
and the Reading and South Western lines of street
railway in 1890 and 1891, and it was extended to
all the lines in the city in 1893 ; and it came to be
more generally used for lighting public and private
places and for power in shops and stores. It caused
the extension of street railways into the rural dis-
tricts to the east and south of Reading.
' Industrial establishments for the manufacture
of various articles were erected, especially for steel,
hosiery, cigars and bicycles, affording employment
to several thousand additional persons, and yield-
ing to the community over a million dollars in
wages, and reaching out in trading relations with
all parts of the world. Over five thousand bicy-
cles came into general use in Reading. The great-
est fires in the history of the city occurred, the
losses reaching a million dollars, three worthy of
special mention being the Carpenter Steel Mill,
Reading Hardware Works, and Sternbergh Nut and
Bolt Works ; and the city wlas visited by the great-
est storm in 1889, it having demolished the silk mill
and part of the East Penn railroad shop, killing
twenty-two persons and injuring more than one

Steam heating came to be supplied in the cen-
tral part of town along Sixth, Fifth and Penn
streets, and to be gradually introduced in dwellings.
General laundry work received encouragement ; and
the washing machine was being substituted in the
place of the wash-board and tub to reduce manual
labor in domestic life. And planing-mill work was



much increased in supplying doors, windows,
frames, etc., for building operations. Cold stor-
age was introduced and the use of artificial ice much
appreciated ; and the creamery as an institution re-
ceived greater recognition.

Four noteworthy large industrial plants were
started, the Reading Iron Company, Reading Paper
Mills, the Carpenter Steel Mill and the Silk Mill.
Department stores were enlarged. Vitrified brick
began to be used for buildings and pavements ; and
the value of concrete work and cement more ap-
preciated. Telephone wires began to be laid in con-
duits in the central portions of the city and the use
of the telephone was very much increased and ex-
tended; two popular amusement halls were estab-
lished, Rajah Temple and Auditorium; also three
more charitable institutions, and the Y. M. C. A.

Building and loan associations were still kept up,
over fifty having been in successful operation. A
board of city assessors was established for the uni-
form assessment of real estate ; and also a board of
public works for the supervision of public improve-
ments. Five more wards were erected, making
the total number sixteen. Building operations add-
ed several thousand dwellings to the city; and the
great increase in the assessed value of property
caused the total value to surpass the total value of
all the country districts taken together.

Notwithstanding this apparent improvement ^nd
enrichment of the community, the financial condi-
tion of the country was extremely distressing dur-
ing the last four years, owing to the suspension
of manufactures and the closing of industrial plants
of every description, which caused innumerable fail-
ures and enormous losses. This was brought about
by a change in respect to the tariff.' The previous
term of four years had been favorable to it, but
the term during these four years was unfavorable.
The business affairs at Reading kept moving right
along nevertheless. Fortunately, the large iron
plants and diversified industrial enterprises were
too strong and sound to be shaken.

All our financial institutions had the unqualified
confidence of the people, and they sustained their
patrons with commendable courage and indulgence
as well as each other, thereby displaying in a re-
markable manner the great utility of well-conduct-
ed banks in such a crisis. In looking for the reason
of the onward movement of our local affairs in
spite of adverse circumstances during that trying
period, it was found that the banks were the strong-
hold which enabled our manufacturers and mer-
chants to stand the extraordinary strain ; and there-
fore this special mention of it is made.

i8p^-ipop. — The decade just closed from 1897 to
the present time also embraced a number of remark-
able improvements in the. further development of

The population started with about 70,000, and
the annual increase was about 2,500. An earnest
and successful effort was made for improved streets"

by laying down asphaltum and vitrified brick on
a concrete foundation at the close of the previous
decade, starting on Sixth street and Court street
at the Court-House, and then on Penn street, and
extending to other streets until 1903, with a total
expenditure of $350,000, and accomplishing a total
length of ten miles. The marked improvement was
highly appreciated by the taxpayers.

While this wias going on, sewers were laid for
surface, and also house, drainage, embracing the
city from Washington street south and Eleventh
street w,est; the former having been paid by the
public at an expense of $350,000, and the latter by
the abutting property holders at an expense of
$331,000 (excepting the cost of the mains, about
$50,000). This was necessary on account of the
largely increased flow of water in heavy rain-storms
which flooded the streets and damaged the adjoining
properties ; particularly along Third, Fourth, Fifth,
and Sixth streets to the south of Penn; and also on
account of the commodious and costly buildings
for business purposes then erected, in which many
hundreds of persons assembled daily.

The enlarged "Mansion House,'" and the depart-
ment stores of C. K. Whitner & Co. and Dives,
Pomeroy & Stewart, and the office buildings of
George F. Baer, Esq., and the Colonial Trust
Company, are worthy of special mention. The
Pennsylvania Trust Company had shortly before
put up the first five-story building and Mr. Milti-
more Morgan had enlarged the "Mansion House"
to the first six-story building; but Dives, Pomeroy
& Stewart reached the seventh story and the Colon-
ial Trust Company the ninth story, thereby giving
the city a truly metropolitan appearance.

In the erection of the last two mammoth build-
ings, structural iron was first used for building
purposes at Reading, and while the imposing frame-
work was being put together, hundreds of people
looked on in amazement not' knowing which to ad-
mire most, the genius of the contractor or the skill
and composure of the working-men. And here
these great structures stand on Penn Square, in
the very center of mercantile and financial affairs,
as monuments to local foresight and enterprise.

The National Convention of the Patriotic Order
of Sons of America in the city in 1897 was a note-
worthy affair and until then certainly the grandest
public demonstration ever witnessed in the history
of the community. But in 1898 even this demon-
stration was eclipsed by the celebration of the
"Sesqui-Centennial of Reading." The local pride
of the people asserted itself for a whole week in
June, and the very sun in the sky seemed to co-
operate with their joyful, determined, enthusiastic
spirit in making the wonderful and praiseworthy
undertaking a glorious success. Though ten years
have elapsed since then, the sights were, so pleasing
and the sounds so inspiring that the people, both
old and young, here and elsewhere, who witnessed
the celebration, still talk of it with delightful recol-



The building operations were active through the
entire period, and these were particularly encour-
aged in the northern part of the city by the costly
enlargement of the P. & R. R. Co. shops. The
annual increase of new dwelling-houses was main-
tained from year to year; and during 1905 more
were erected in the city than in any year before.
The extension of the street railw'ay system in
all directions stands out prominently in this period.
Its successful management undoubtedly contributed
a large share in our local prosperity. Besides busy
industrial plants of all kinds and sufficient dwelling-
houses, the prompt and convenient transportation
of the working-people and their families in and to
all parts of the city, from early in the morning until
late at night, had been a subject of serious consid-
eration, but it was appreciated and the demand sat-
isfied. As we find iron, coal and steam mter-re-
lated very closely in our early local development,
so do we also find shops, homes and street rail-
ways equally inter-related in our most recent de-
velopment. Trolley extensions were made to the
north, east and south, thereby increasing the facili-
ties to the country people for reaching the county-
seat with great convenience at greatly reduced cost
of travel, and at frequent intervals, and quite nat-
urally they led to the laying out of suburban towns,
and many persons soon appreciated the desirability
of these towns as dwelling places.

The Reading Library had been carried on with
more or less uncertainty since its reorganization
in 1868 ; but in the beginning of this decade it be-
came a free institution through the liberahty of
some of our citizens, and the enthusiastic spirit
then displayed has continued until now, with an
ever increasing interest in its success. And the
Historical Society was again revived and a strong
interest shown in its welfare. The members secured
a building, after having held their meetings for
several years in the Court-House, and the nucleus
of a library of historical works was collected.

A new feeling was developed for outdoor exer-
cise which culminated in the organization of a golf
club and within several years a fine property was
secured. The "Berkshire Club" became recognized
at once for its social prominence. Bowling vVas
also prominent and several new alleys were estab-
lished. It was indulged in by a considerable num-
ber of young and middle-aged men, and also some
young women. Clubs were organized and much
rivalry was shown in competing games. Basket-
ball was another indoor sport which won much at-
tention ; and there was a revival of interest in base-
ball. Card-playing was indulged in by all classes
of society, with many devotees at progressive eu-
chre, duplicate whist, and bridge. And the patron-
age of the theatre and of amusements of all kinds,
such as fairs, balls and athletics, was never so ex-
tensive as at the close of the period ; indeed, it had
become so prominent by children of both sexes un-
der fourteen years of age as to excite public criti-

The one great channel which made this high de-
gree of prosperity so continuous was the satisfac-
tory condition and superb co-operative management
of our financial institutions. Their total resources
had multiplied gradually until they were in excess
of $23,000,000 ; and by the daily handling of this
large sum of money, both in receiving it and then
in paying it out by checking and cashing, in
amounts ranging from a few dollars to many thou-
sands, from all parts of Pennsylvania and of the
United States, as well as in the city itself, our nine
banks and five trust companies had come to do an
annual volume of business which reached the enor-
mous total of $600,000,000. The annual check ex-
changes of these depositaries at their clearing-
house for the year 1908 footed up $64,652,121 ; and
the exchanges for the month of January, 1909,
amounted to $5,770,561, an increase of one million
dollars more than the exchanges for the month of
January, 1905. For an inland city, competing with
metropolitan places at tide-water whose resources
are superabundant and whose influence for business
is both powerful and far-reaching, this was truly

Paving additional streets with vitrified brick was
continued during the latter half of this decade; ad-
ditional sections of the Rose Valley creek sewer
were constructed ; and the improved beds on Fritz's
Island for filtering the house-sewage were estab-
lished, changing from sand filtration to sprinkling
filtration at an expense of over $300,000, and win-
ning the praise of the best sanitary engineers in the
country, who showed much critical interest in their

Arrangements were made by the water board
for establishing two large additional filtering beds
for filtering the water of Bernhart's creek and
Maiden creek at a cost of $500,000, which will
largely increase the supply of good and clean drink-
ing water for the citizens ; and the Spring street
subway was constructed in 1907-08-09 at a cost of
$150,000, which opened a safe passageway at all
times between the northeastern and northwestern
sections of the city. Building operations contin-
ued active and extensive during the decade, but in
1908 they fell off about three-fourths on account
of the depressed condition of the times.

Roller-skating was revived at the close of the
decade and many persons became as enthusiastic
on the subject as others had become over thirty
years before; and the five-cent moving picture
shows and cheap vaudeville entertainments were
introduced, which immediately won great favor and

The suburban towns (whose occupants are almost
entirely employed in Reading) have shown a
marked increase in dwellings and population, and
four additional boroughs to the west and south-
west have been erected.

Riot in 1877.— The great riot at Reading was
an extraordinary event in the history of our com-
munity. On Saturday, July 21, 1877, great excite-



zntm. prevailed in fhe city, owing to the general
-Strike of railroad trainmen in the following States :
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,'
Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois
and Missouri. The central point of excitement here
was at Seventh and Penn streets, where many men
.gathered to discuss the situation. At that time the
excitement at Pittsburg was intense, ending shortly
thereafter in the great destruction of railroad prop-
^erty, which consisted of buildings, cars, etc., and
in the loss of at least a score of lives.

On the next day, the situation was naturally
worse owing to the news from Pittsburg, and more
jnen crowded at the point named; but there was no
•disorderly demonstration of any kind during the
■day. By 10 o'clock in the evening, the crowd had
moved to the passenger station, where the men
greeted the last train from Philadelphia (10:30)
with shouts and yells. Then the excitement became
uncontrollable. The crowd moved westwardly on
the Lebanon Valley railroad, and fire and destruc-
tion of property followed. Railroad tracks were
■torn up, and certain cabooses and freight cars were
set on fire which resulted in a general alarm of
fire, and the response of the fire department; and
■during the terrible excitement in and about the
"cut," near Sixth street, whither all attention had
been directed, the costly railroad bridge, which
spanned the river within a mile to the west, was
set on fire and entirely destroyed. The bright
ilames, which flashed high into the darkness of the
night, attracted thousands of people to the place.

The news shocked the whole community. Crowds
had gathered on Saturday, innocently, apparently,
hut unlawfully, without any earnest movement from
the police to disperse them, and property had been
•destroyed on Sunday. On Monday, the newspapers
were almost wholly taken up with vivid descriptions
•of the excited condition of the community and of
the destructive work of incendiaries. Throughout
the day, great excitement prevailed, and as the
night approached it grew greater. The four cor-
ners of Seventh and Penn streets were again
crowded hour after hour, subject to a weak pro-
test; but without any determined effort from muni-
cipal or county authorities to clear the highway.
Trains were stopped, coal cars detached and many
tons of coal dumped upon the track for several
hundred feet.

With this state of affairs, the 6 o'clock passenger
train approached the city around the bend of "Nev-
ersink," and the shrill whistle of the engine never
sounded in such a piercing manner. The engineer
remained bravely at his post; the command was
given to proceed forward at full speed, and for-
ward indeed he directed his engine at the rate of
forty-five miles an hour over the blockaded track.
Fortunately the train passed through safely, but
the people scattered pell-mell for their lives, coals
were thrown high into the air, and a dense cloud
of black dust obscured everything round about for
a time. At the passenger station, great excitement

arose immediately after the arrival of this train.

Online LibraryMorton L. (Morton Luther) MontgomeryHistorical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. → online text (page 42 of 227)