Weiser Lake – The “Mine Hole” – 1932

Below are aerial photos of Wyomissing/West Reading. The first was taken in 1932, when the Reading Hospital Building was brand new. Pictured in the distant right is the Berkshire Knitting Mills.

Before the Hospital expanded there was a small lake that sat where the current 7th Avenue garage sits. If you ever wondered how Lake View Drive got it’s name, it should be clear now. While there is currently no body of water in sight, houses on the street used to be water-front property. It was named Weiser Lake or the “Mine Hole”, and was the water-filled remnants of an old iron ore mine from the mid-1800s.

Wyomissing Weiser Lake
Wyomissing Weiser Lake

According to this Reading Eagle article,

For Cindi Bjorke, the scene was like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting: a winter day, fields covered with snow and a large, frozen lake with ice skaters darting about.

In Bjorke’s mind, this is not some rural setting in an outlying part of Berks County. Instead, it’s a fond memory of growing up in West Reading.

“There were bonfires, and the whole community was out ice skating,” she said. “In the summer, it was the local hangout.”

But where is there a lake in West Reading? Or more accurately, what happened to the lake in West Reading?

Some time ago, Bjorke was visiting the Reading Hospital campus and remembered those fine winter days spent skating on the lake that once existed off Seventh Avenue. Now, the land is occupied by a parking garage near the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

And while Bjorke spent childhood days playing at the lake, she never knew the history behind it.

She recently wrote to the Reading Eagle to learn more about West Reading’s lake.

The lake, dubbed Weiser Lake in the 1960s, got its start as an iron ore mine a century before. For about 16 years, iron ore was taken from the mine and sold to furnaces in Lebanon County, says Berks County historian George M. Meiser IX.

In the mid-1870s, more than 50 tons of ore were removed and the mine pit grew 50 feet deep. Things were humming along fine until Sept. 28, 1876, when, following a torrential rain, a spring broke through the mine walls and began to flood the hole, Meiser wrote in “The Passing Scene Volume 2.”

Pumps were no help; workers were forced to abandon the mine, and the resulting lake became a community attraction.

Elizabeth Heckler, a longtime West Reading resident, said the lake was a magnet for activity.

“Once it was frozen, we were all over it,” Heckler said.

However, in the 1960s, there was a movement to develop the land near the mine pit. Wyomissing Industries had sold the land to the Masonic Centre Foundation, which had plans to build a temple. The landowners were worried about the liability of having a large lake there, Meiser reported.

The decision was made to remove the lake by filling in the hole, an idea that locals expected would end only in folly.

“We always figured they would never fill it in,” Heckler said.

But trucks hauling cement and construction debris from Reading’s many downtown redevelopment projects began dumping the materials in the hole, and the lake began to disappear.

By 1971, the lake was gone, leaving those Norman Rockwell scenes visible only in childhood memories.

600 Block Penn Street, North Side 1941

Penn Street….600 Block, north side…..READING: – Taken Around 1941, we see parts of 653 to 665 Penn. Faintly and partly visible on the extreme left is Lowe’s Theatre. Hardly visible next door is Robette Hats at 661- Followed by Sterns at 663 and Carlson Hats and Shoes at 665. Notice the railroad gate on the right. The light in the window is at Read’s Department Store. – Photo taken by, and courtesy of, Joseph L. “Joe” Gerhart, Centre Ave., Reading. – From the Passing Scene

Berks County Christmas – Day 25- 1969 Christmas Day Snowstorm

Merry Christmas Berks County!!! In 1969 there was a “White Christmas” in Berks County! Do you remember?
We had over a foot of snow! All images courtesy of the Reading Eagle.

White Christmas 1969

Who Said There Was a Downtown Traffic Problem?
A traffic light continues to carry out its duties despite the lack of vehicles as one lone walker makes his way up Washington Street between the Berkshire Hotel and the Reading Post Office -Eagle Photo

‘Twas the Day After Christmas And Everthing Was White

Sleigh bells rang throughout downtown Reading Friday as George Ulrich of 117 Erie Ave., used the area’s snow cover for an outing with his sleigh in the top picture. The vehicle is being drawn by his 24-year-old horse, Willie, which he has owned for 21 years. The other passenger is Ulrich’s dog, Mitzie. Riding behind the sleigh are Irvin Evans, left, of 109 Erie Ave, on his horse, Buck, and Richard Braun of 1209 Luzerne St., on his horse, Pard. In the Left picture of the second row, an old model car makes its way up Court Street between 4th and 5th streets after the snowstorm. In the photo above, Nelson Martinez of 228 S. 6th St., finds shelter in a manger scene at Second United Church of Christ at 6th and Cherry streets. To the Left, a dog, appropriately called Doggie, has to leap through the snow as it accompanies Deborah Oakley, left, of 221 Rose St., and her sister Jenifer, west on Court street from 4th street. – Eagle Photos


He Wasn’t Going Anywhere Anyway
A car parked on 4th street between Court and Penn streets shows the effects of Friday morning’s snow sotmr that still remained Friday night. – Eagle Photo

Perhaps Pictures Can Lie
The picture makes it look like the cars could race around 5th and Penn Streets Friday night but after the snow fall that was not the case. Actually the blurred image resulted from the long exposure required to capture the night light. – Eagle Photo

Plows Zero In on Penn Street
This was the scene in the 1000 block of Penn Street this morning as crews and equipment began to clear the main municipal thoroughfare in the wake of a snowstorm that deposited well over 12 inches of flakey whiteness on the area. The digging out operation went into full swing in anticipation of a heavy turnout of shoppers today, since most downtown stores were closed Friday because of the storm. -Eagle Photo

Alone on One of the City’s Main Streets
A woman walks along an otherwise deserted N. 5th street north of Walnut after Friday’s snowstorm brought the city to almost a standstill. – Eagle Photo

Berks County Christmas – Day 24 – Blinking Pagoda

Merry Christmas Eve! When I was a child, I was always told to look to the Pagoda on Christmas Eve, and when it blinked, Santa was spotted nearby. That marked bedtime on Christmas Eve for countless children over the decades.

Blinking Pagoda

According to this WFMZ article,

Children in Reading and throughout Berks County will be looking up at the sky on Christmas Eve in anticipation of St. Nick.

They will know that Santa is getting close to Berks County when the Pagoda’s lights start blinking red at 9 p.m. on Dec. 24th.

It’s a simple but cherished Reading tradition that dates back at least three decades.

Cindy Kauffman, Pagoda manager and co-events coordinator, said the annual flashing of the Pagoda lights that signals the near-arrival of Santa Claus is always exciting.

“When they see the lights all the little girls and boys know they need to go to bed because Santa is on his way,” Kauffman said.

Through the years, she said, it’s become a holiday custom that both the young and old look forward to.

“We get a lot of parents that call and thank us for doing it,” Kauffman said. “I myself remember as a little girl seeing the lights and hearing on the radio that Santa can be seen on Reading’s radar.”

There are three rows of red LED lights on the Pagoda that are strategically placed for maximum illumination, and that help make it such a magnificent spectacle, not just around the holidays but year-round.

Neon red lights were replaced by LED lights in 2008.

Kauffman said the lights will be blinking for about 10 to 15 minutes on Christmas Eve.

Also, on Dec. 21st and Dec.23rd, the Pagoda will host Santa Claus from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Families are welcome to come and visit with Santa, who will be handing out candy canes to children.

Also, there will be a public New Year’s Eve gathering at the Pagoda from 10 p.m. until midnight on Dec.31st. Patrons can purchase hot chocolate, coffee and donuts and enjoy the fireworks that will announce the new year.

Blinking Pagoda

This Reading Eagle article goes a little into the history of the tradition,

Q: Do the Pagoda lights still flash on Christmas Eve?

In Reading, there is one surefire way to know that Santa Claus is on his way: Look up at the Pagoda.

For nearly 40 years, the Pagoda’s lights have flashed on Christmas Eve when St. Nick and his reindeer are spotted over Berks County. For kids, it’s a warning to hurry off to bed to make sure the jolly old elf stops at their house.

Recently, Maggie Cochran of Wernersville wrote to the Reading Eagle wondering if the Pagoda lights still flash on Christmas Eve.

Yes, indeed. On Friday, Charles P. Rampolla, vice president of Pagoda-Skyline Inc., will be at his familiar post on Mount Penn, flicking the Pagoda lights on and off for 15 minutes starting at 9 p.m.

“It’s a tradition,” Rampolla said.

It’s fitting that the fabled Pagoda, the most recognizable landmark in Berks, is the county’s Santa signal.

After all, the Pagoda’s lights were once used to flash baseball scores in the days before radio.

And with such a visible icon sitting high atop Mount Penn, it just makes sense to use the Pagoda as a communication device. Which leads us to Christmas Eve.

Growing up in Reading in the 1940s, Bob Gerber, 76, can remember looking to Mount Penn on Christmas Eve with his radio tuned to WEEU.

A broadcaster would mention that Santa was spotted over the city. Without fail, the lights of the Pagoda would start to blink.

For some reason, however, the tradition waned and was discontinued for some years.

But in the early 1970s, Gerber, who had become Reading’s head electrician at the time, decided to resurrect the Christmas display. He and former Reading Mayor Warren Haggerty were neighbors, and the two got to reminiscing one day about the Pagoda lights on Christmas Eve.

So, Gerber started tinkering with a timing device (no longer working), wired it up to the Pagoda’s lighting system and helped bring the holiday event to a new generation of Berks County kids.

“You’d be surprised how many people look forward to it,” he said.

Gerber retired in 1997, and in doing so he turned the Pagoda lighting duties over to others. That’s where Rampolla comes in.

Since the late 1990s, it has been his job to keep the tradition alive.

“We want to keep it going,” Rampolla said. “I’ll still be flashing the lights for years to come.”

Berks County Christmas – Day 22 – Railroad Travel

Before planes were the main means of traveling during the holidays, many people took trains.

Railroad Travel

If you traveled as a passenger on the Reading Railroad, it would have been in a car like the one pictured below:

Railroad Travel

Did you ever use the railroads to travel for the holidays?