Historical Markers
Reading Historical Marker
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Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
N 5th St. Hwy. / Allentown Pike (US 222) at N city line, just S of Warren St. Bypass (PA 12)

Behind the Marker

As European settlers moved into the Pennsylvania interior, towns quickly sprang up as market centers. Founded in 1748, Reading is characteristic of colonial Pennsylvania's settlement patterns. Unlike the "greene county towne" of Philadelphia, which Penn laid out in advance as a port city and principal center for trade and commerce, Reading evolved from the need for a seat of government for the small farming communities that were springing up in eighteenth-century Berks County. One of five urban county seats - along with Lancaster, York, Bethlehem, and Easton - it provided legal and political services as well as a market for farmers who lived to the north and west of the city.
1748 line drawing of the town plan.
Line drawing of the town plan

Reading was laid out largely as a speculative investment under the direction of Thomas Penn, William Penn's son and the leading proprietor of his generation. Because much of the migration into the upper Schuylkill Valley was from the "German" states of central Europe, German-speaking colonists dominated the town, as well as most of Berks County. While Reading attracted a fair share of lawyers and merchants, it could also boast of a thriving community of artisans, craftsmen, and laborers.

An important center for the shipping of farm produce, Reading was also located at the heart of Pennsylvania's growing iron industry. It thus became an important storehouse for Continental arms, artillery, and other military supplies during the War for American Independence. Just as important, the Schuylkill River provided local ironworks the means to transport heavy goods to and from Philadelphia.

When the British Army invaded Pennsylvania via the Chesapeake Bay, in late summer of 1777, Reading, an important patriot supply center, became vulnerable to Redcoat attack. Concerned about a possible British takeover of Philadelphia, Washington had to find a way to protect both locations. So he maneuvered the Continental Army through Reading before and after the markerBattle of Germantown on September 11, 1777. But the Redcoats tricked Washington by feigning a movement toward the upper Schuylkill Valley, where they burned a forge and stripped useful goods from the village of Valley Forge. The deception caused Washington to pull his forces far enough back to allow British General Howe to move unopposed into Philadelphia that autumn.

Many of Washington's generals urged him to establish a series of winter encampments at inland towns from "Reading to Lancaster." Pennsylvania's officers, however, pressed their commander to keep the army "in the field" for the winter, seeking an opportunity to defeat the British. Washington's artful compromise of these two positions brought the army to Valley Forge, where it sought to contest control of the Philadelphia hinterland while keeping itself intact and supplied during the winter of 1777-1778.

After the Revolution, Reading, incorporated as a borough in 1783, continued to play an important role in Pennsylvania's agricultural and burgeoning iron industries. The manufacturing of agricultural tools and machinery became a major industry in the nineteenth century. Reading's railroads and canals, which stretched more than 100 miles to Philadelphia, gave the town an important transportation link to East Coast markets as well. By 1847, when Reading was incorporated as a city, the once sleepy little town had transformed into one of Pennsylvania's most powerful industrial centers.
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