Reflections: Berks historical sites are an educational tour de force

Daniel Boone Homestead, located in Exeter Township near Birdsboro, is a state historic site and birthplace of American frontiersman Daniel Boone. Pictured, Russ Jones at left crafts a pair of leather boots during Heritage Day as his wife Aldona and son Nataniel look on.
Daniel Boone Homestead, located in Exeter Township near Birdsboro, is a state historic site and birthplace of American frontiersman Daniel Boone. Pictured, Russ Jones at left crafts a pair of leather boots during Heritage Day as his wife Aldona and son Nataniel look on. DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA FILE PHOTO
The Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles houses dozens of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles that were manufactured in southeastern Pennsylvania while the industry was still in its infancy.
The Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles houses dozens of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles that were manufactured in southeastern Pennsylvania while the industry was still in its infancy. DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Parents sometimes scramble about like field mice finding ways to entertain their children in the waning days of summer that don’t involve phones, tablets, apps, televisions, social media, ballparks, festivals, fairs, amusement parks, camping, beaches and pools.

How about mixing in some dollops of intellectual relief and still have fun?

Fortunately in Berks County, we are blessed with historical sites that are as American as apple pie and perfect for igniting kids’ exposure to history like a lit fuse, hissing its way to their appreciation of earlier times that shaped us.

Granted, classrooms have been known to have a history book or two, but there is nothing like a hands-on and eyes-on experience of a historical site to nurture imaginative flights of brilliance into the past.

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History, of course, has roots while the transient present has all the stability of a lamppost in a hurricane. After all, what’s trending today often has no relevance tomorrow.

Bivouacking with yesterday is entertaining enlightenment at its finest.

Some places you and your children should check out before school bells start ringing are, in alphabetical order, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, Conrad Weiser Homestead, Daniel Boone Homestead, Gruber Wagon Works, Hopewell Furnace, Joanna Furnace and Wertz’s Red Covered Bridge

The Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles houses dozens of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles that were manufactured in southeastern Pennsylvania while the industry was still in its infancy. Prior to that time, the region produced multitudes of horse-drawn vehicles, of which many examples can be found at the museum.

The Conrad Weiser Homestead is a Pennsylvania state historic site located in Womelsdorf that interprets the life of Conrad Weiser, an 18th century German immigrant who played a major role in the history of colonial Pennsylvania.

The Daniel Boone Homestead, located in Exeter Township near Birdsboro, is a state historic site and birthplace of American frontiersman Daniel Boone. It features a museum and a number of historic structures. The homestead offers many historic programs and exhibits, preserves 579 acres of open space, and provides passive recreational areas. Daniel Boone’s parents first settled the site in 1730.

The Gruber Wagon Works, located on Red Bridge Road in Bern Township, survives as one of the most complete examples of an integrated rural manufactory of its kind in the nation. Erected in 1882 by Franklin H. Gruber, the wagon works evolved from a single craftsman shop, having a variety of specialized hand tools, into a family-operated business which employed up to 20 men who utilized mass-production methods.

The Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site near Elverson is an example of an American 19th century rural iron plantation. The buildings include a blast furnace, the ironmaster’s house and auxiliary structures including a blacksmith’s shop, a company store and several workers’ houses. Hopewell Furnace was founded in 1771 by ironmaster Mark Bird for whom Birdsboro was named. The site’s most prosperous time was during the 1820-1840 period with a brief boom in production during the Civil War. In the mid-19th century changes in iron making, including a shift from charcoal to anthracite, rendered smaller furnaces like Hopewell obsolete. The site discontinued operations in 1883.

Nestled in an area rich with iron ore, abundant woodland for charcoal, limestone and waterways, lies Joanna Furnace -- historic remnant of Berks County’s thriving early iron industry. Unlike today’s corporations with their large buildings and complex hierarchies, the 19th century iron industry at Joanna Furnace was the product of rugged individualism. From the semi-wilderness of 1791 Robeson Township, Joanna Furnace was started by Samuel Potts, Thomas Rutter III, Thomas May and Thomas Bull. The furnace was named in honor of Pott’s wife Joanna. The furnace was in operation until 1898. Joanna was a cold blast, single stack, charcoal iron furnace. Water powered until the mid-1850s, Joanna used steam power after that.

Wertz’s Red Covered Bridge stands as the longest single span covered bridge in Pennsylvania. Stretching 204 feet across the Tulpehocken Creek, it serves as a link between Bern and Spring Townships. It was erected in 1867 using the Burr Arch-Truss construction design. In 1979, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fascinating sites such as these in our expansive backyard will put some bark in the dog days of August and just might percolate enough interest to bring home an A in history this fall.