Spring Street Subway

In 1909, the city leaders celebrated with much fanfare the opening of the Spring Street Subway, a rail bridge that eliminated a dangerous Reading Railroad crossing – first for pedestrians and later for cars.

The Reading Railroad was well established in the area before city engineers considered building the subway.

So to construct it, crews had to dig under the railroad tracks and install steel and concrete to support the tracks and not disrupt the dozens of trains that moved through Reading daily.

At the turn of the 20th century, city leaders found it wise to spend $135,000 to build the overpass instead of having people risk injury hopping over and around trains at the rail yard. Back in the early 1900s, more than 1,200 people worked at the Reading yards and nearby shops, and Spring Street, a connector to the eastern and western ends of the city, was a place to cross the tracks.

As the railroad company grew, the number of people walking at the Spring Street crossing increased. “It is used more and more every day,” the yard watchman told a Reading Eagle reporter in 1904. “I have been fortunate in preventing accidents, but I want to tell you that there have been some narrow escapes.” For a time, Reading scoffed at spending money for a rail bridge. But caving to public pressure, the city moved ahead in 1907 to start construction.

Fast-forward a century.

The lines of the old Reading Railroad over Spring Street are much quieter, but cars can safely pass beneath rails, thanks to the subway. New lights have helped improve visibility in the long tunnel, but it’s a dark walk even during the day. And it would take millions of dollars to fix the flooding problems that plague the area, Jones said. Considering the dip in train traffic, the subway could eventually be replaced with a much smaller bridge, he said.

But regardless of its future, in the mind of Mayor Tom McMahon, the subway has reached iconic status.

“It’s become part of the local lore,” he said. “We have a lot of these unique places in Reading. You discover them one at a time.”

Spring Street Subway
Being Constructed in 1909
Spring Street Subway
Being Constructed in 1909
Spring Street Subway
Being Constructed in 1909

 

Spring Street Subway
Today

The bridge has been in the news fairly recently for incidents including a truck getting stuck underneath it, and also major flooding issues when we get a good rain.

The structure is located on Spring street, between N 6th and Nicolis Street, just down from the old abandoned Reading Station Outlets.

100 block Penn Ave: Before the Bypass

We all have driven on route 422…the stretch of highway that runs past Reading and along theĀ Schuylkill River down to Pottstown. This stretch of road did not always exist. In fact it wasn’t until the 1960s that US 422 in the Reading area was rerouted from surface streets through downtown Reading onto bypasses built south of the city. The former routing of US 422 through the city became US 422 Business. Prior to this, there was a section of buildings and businesses along the first block of Penn Ave right before the Penn Street Bridge. They were ultimately taken and torn down, to accommodate the building of the clover leaf ramp system for the new 422. Below are a few images of the area before the highway was built.

 

View from the road; looking toward West Reading, before the bypass 1950s
An aerial shot from 1929
Before – 1950s
Today

 

Swinging Bridge to Reading’s Outer Station

The Swinging Bridge - Reading Outer Station

Built in 1874 by the same firm that designed the Brooklyn Bridge, Reading’s rail bridge was heavily used by pedestrians to get over the train yard to Reading’s Outer Station. According to this Reading Eagle article,

The Outer Station, which stood off North Sixth Street, handled passenger and freight service on Reading Company lines.

and yes, the bridge did swing…

“You and your friends could actually make it swing if you had the right rhythm,” he explained. “It would swing enough to make mom nervous.”

The Outer Station closed in 1969 and fell victim to arson nearly 10 years later. Still, the swinging bridge survived until 1983 when Conrail, the successor to the Reading Company, tore it down.

It turns out that when word got around that Conrail was going to tear down the bridge, a group of local engineers approached the company about taking the span, said Joel Caves, an engineer with Spotts, Stevens & McCoy in Wyomissing.

Not all of the bridge could be salvaged, but the group moved both towers to the Berks County Heritage Center in Bern Township.

The metal stood there until the early 1990s, when members of the United Labor Council were looking for a project to honor union workers, Caves said.

The Worker’s Memorial was completed in 1991, and the one tower has stood at Heritage Park ever since.

The Swinging Bridge - Reading Outer Station

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street

Before the current Penn Street bridge (also known as the Penn Street Viaduct) was constructed in 1913, a steel bridge led traffic back and forth from West Reading to Reading. It was constructed in 1885, and spanned a total of 1128ft. It was designed for ordinary traffic of the late 1800s, which rendered it outdated by the increased availability of the automobile in the 1900s. The new Penn Street bridge was constructed right alongside the old one. Just recently after 104 years, the current Penn Street Bridge has started going through long-needed rehabilitation. You may have noticed the construction if you have tried to get in or out of the city using the bridge recently. This project is expected to last approximately 3 years.

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street
Source

 

Old Steel Bridge Penn Street
Source

Trolley Tuesday
Reading Trolley Lines

Trolley car was a popular means of travel starting in the late 1800s when they were introduced. Fairs were reasonably priced for the working families, and for the first time they could easily and quickly get to other parts of the city. This form of transportation became particularly popular when places like Carsonia Park were built. Families from all over town could now afford to spend a day enjoying amusements. Over time people used this transportation method for work and play. Though, as cars became more mainstream in the mid-20th century, these large, slower moving vehicles became more of an obstacle than a luxury. By the late 1940s they caused traffic jams and were generally disliked by motorists. Slowly buses took over the trolley routes, as they were faster and actually cheaper. The very last trolley made it’s journey on January 7th, 1952, over 65 years ago on the Shillington/Mohnton line. According to a Reading Eagle article,

“The event brought to a close the 78-year history of the Reading Street Railway Co., which began in 1874 with horse-drawn cars. The trolleys were electrified in 1890, when Reading’s population was about 60,000.”

Rumor has it that 10 minutes after the very last trolley returned, it’s replacement bus left on the same route. Then and there the era of the trolley car silently ended.

Reading PA Trolly 1940s
Trolley Lines on Penn St
Inside a Trolly - Reading PA
Inside a Trolley
Reading PA Trolly
Front of a Trolley

 

Last Reading Trolley - 1952
The Last Trolley to Run in 1952

Source: Reading Eagle