Epler Schoolhouse (copy)

A crew from Wolfe Roofing, Muhlenberg Township, nails cedar shingles on the roof of Epler Schoolhouse at the Berks Heritage Center in Bern Township.

Epler Schoolhouse, which was saved from demolition and moved to the Berks County Heritage Center last year, will open to the public on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The one-room schoolhouse opening is the first event held by the Berks County Parks and Recreation Department since the pandemic forced cancelation of programming more than a year ago. 

In addition to several programs this weekend, the Parks and Recreation Department will be giving a historic walking tour of the grounds of the Berks County Heritage Center starting at 1 p.m. The tour will highlight many of the still existing farm buildings as well as the on-site historical features and attractions.

The tour will be led by Jim Ohlinger, a Heritage Center volunteer who lived at the site in the 1940s and 1950s. The tour is free, but registration is required by Friday, July 16. To register, contact Daniel Roe, historic resource supervisor, at droe@countyofberks.com or 610-374-8839, ext. 201.

The Berks County Heritage Center will also host a Civil War Living History Encampment on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, July 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members of the 53rd Pennsylvania reenactment unit will give a glimpse of what life was like for Civil War soldiers.

Displays will be held throughout the day with firing and drilling demonstrations at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 17, and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 18. Visitors may walk through the camp to speak with the reenactors and stop by the surgeon’s tent to learn about how medical practices changed because of the war. The event is free and open to the public.

Back from the brink

The historic one-room school, built in 1847, was moved from its original location on Van Reed Road in Bern Township to the Berks Heritage Center, also in Bern.

The move was just the start for the Friends of Epler Schoolhouse, the group responsible for saving the 175-year-old building.

In June workers put a cedar-shingle roof on the structure .

In January, restoration efforts took a leap forward with a $100,000 donation. The money had been intended to help cover the cost of moving the schoolhouse but was redirected toward its restoration.

The group plans to restore the building to its original appearance. The Friends’ goal is to have the former school's exterior completed by October.

The restoration is based on architectural analysis and old photographs collected by the Friends. One of these, believed to have been taken in the 1890s, shows a cedar shingle roof on the structure. 

Jane Goetz of Leesport and others campaigned for months to preserve the building, which had been slated for demolition. Their dedication earned the support of county officials; the Greater Berks Development Fund, which owned the building before it was transferred to the county; and George S. Sproesser, who stepped in with a $100,000 donation only days before the scheduled razing.

Sproesser’s contribution, initially an anonymous donation, was made in memory of his wife, Vicki, who taught in the Conrad Weiser School District.

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