Before Blue Marsh Lake – Pleasant Valley

To squelch the rumors… no, there are no buildings standing underneath the waters of Blue Marsh Lake; only foundations and forgotten roadways. Many of these homes and farms were taken by eminent domain, ruining livelihoods and uprooting entire families. The whole process took almost an entire decade, with the first survey of acquisition dated January 1, 1970. Acquisition of the land began immediately and was complete by 1973. The process was stalled briefly in 1972 with Hurricane Agnus causing flooding. Construction of the dam began in 1974 and was completed July 5th, 1979. Below are some images of Pleasant Valley before the dam.

Before and after from State Hill Road
(A) Pleasant Valley School (B) Old Bernville Road (C) Obold Store, PO and Tavern  (D) Gruber Wagon Works
The Blue Marsh Bridge’s last moments
The Gruber Homestead
The Gruber Wagon Works

 

The Lockmaster’s House, located near the original location of the Gruber Wagon Works, was one of the last homes in Pleasant Valley taken and destroyed.

 

The unique octagon house
The Weidenhammer Mill dated back to 1741 and served as the main source for cattle feed and other supplies for local farmers
The old Pleasant Valley Hotel, the watering hole of the region for many years.
Pyles General Store

 

Agnus Flooding stalls process

Pleasant Valley was dotted with a number of bungalows, used on weekends in the summer by those looking to escape from urban life.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Riegel

Sources:

Joe Swope – Author of Pleasant Valley Lost

http://www.nap.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Blue-Marsh-Lake/

http://www2.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=147296

http://www.berkshistory.org/multimedia/articles/blue-marsh/

90 Replies to “Before Blue Marsh Lake – Pleasant Valley”

  1. Thank you so much, my family had a bungalow at Blue Marsh, I don’t remember the name of the raod it was on, but I remember Pyles store and the iron bridge. Oh how often I wish we could go back

    1. I think we had a bungalow right beside yours. It was the first one as you turned onto the road and had a big grass area and was right by a corn field. If I remember right you have a brother named Jerry and you had redhair

  2. Wow, are there more photos? I have read and enjoyed the book Pleasant Valley Lost. I never knew that region was called Pleasant Valley. I knew Mt. Pleasant was out on rt. 183. I grew up in Blue Marsh, the simpler times. Please keep it coming so I can share and remember WHEN!!!!

    1. U want an old photo book. Running waters. 348 old time photos. Complete history of the city of readings water system. Pictures old lake Ontelaunee being constructed. Pictures of reading dating back to the 1800’s

    2. It was NEVER called Pleasant Valley back then. I grew up on Water Road for my first 23 years.

      Karen (Riegel) Shollenberger

      1. I grew up on Water Road for my first 23 years and had to move in 1973 by eminent domain by the Army Corps of Engineers. The first picture on this site is our 27 acre farm to the right. We lived across the field from John Essig. I have never looked down that valley from State Hill since moving away. I want to remember that beautiful valley the way it was. I’m afraid if I see the way it is now, that memory will be wiped away.

        Many happy memories growing up in that valley. Most don’t know the pain a lot of us endured being forced to leave our homesteads.

        1. Hi Karen,
          I think locally residents thought of it as simply “The Valley,” but it was on the map as such and the name of my great aunt’s mill was “Pleasant Valley Roller Mill.” South of there, the reference would have been Blue Marsh…both my grandmothers went to school in Blue Marsh for at least part of their lives.

        2. Hi Karen, my late sister Connie Finogle Henry dated a Barry Riegel.we lived in Blue Marsh, till 1965 right next to the iron bridge then moved to Justa Rd, near Brownsville, when the house fire ruined most of the living quarters. i was 5! always wondeered what happened to the Drexel family that lived across the street. her son pulled me from a well i fell into. saved my life! my older sister Carol also dated an Essig.

          1. Yes, Barry, was my brother and I remember him dating Connie. He passed away in February after a lifetime of poor health. I miss him very much. I dated your brother, Butch, before he passed away. I also knew Larry. Lee Drexel is still around locally, I believe. I am friends with Susie Greth Schrum and we still get together. I remember the Copenhavers, I was friends with Sherry. I went “steady” with Pete Culpepper. Not sure what happened to any of them.

        3. My grandparents, Arthur and Lena Shade, lived just down the street from Pyles Store – as a young child I often visited there. My grandmother’s sister, Nora Snader, also lived nearby in what was a schoolhouse in the 20’s.

          I attended Lower Heidelberg School – and one of my classmates was a fellow named Bruce Riegel. Ring any bells?

        4. Karen, I have some photos of Barrie. From a sixth grade class play at Lower Heidelberg, and from the 50th Reunion of Wilson 1965. Bruce

  3. I grew up in the Blue Marsh Valley and lived there until 1972. I recognize all the photos. The Octagonal house was my great grandmother’s. Thanks for the memories.
    Glenn Speicher

      1. Hello Susan. This is Jeff Schatz. I lived a few houses down from you. Your sister Candy and I were in the same class. How are you doing?

  4. My mother grew up in the “eight cornered house” as she referred to it. While it was destroyed, the site is not under water. As a family we searched for it on what is now state game lands and my mom was able to locate where each building was according to a ground cellar she found and a small spring they had used as refrigeration. Their name was Reifsnyder.

    1. Missy? I’m Susan (Wehr) Leffler who also lived in Blue Marsh and enjoyed Pyles! I also worked with Bob Snook.

    2. Hi Robin, we lived in the big old house next to the iron bridge, unitl it burned, was wondeering what happend to the Culpeppers that used to babysit my younger brothers and I? I think they were some of the last families to move out, in 71-72 when i was in Jr high. Im one of the youngest Finogles. was 5 when we lived there.

  5. My cousin forwarded this article to me and I’m so grateful she did. My great grandparents owned the lockmaster’s house. My mom spent many wonderful summers there with cousins. Thank you for this amazing peek into a place I’ve only heard about.

  6. Thanks for sharing the historic pictures; I’ve ordered Mr. Swope’s book. My gr-great grandfather built Lamm’s Mill, so I’m very keen for Tulpehocken history. Used to hike with a neighbor through the Valley to the Mill for rabbit feed, past the “8-cornered house” from my mine along Plum Creek. There were wild strawberry fields along the way.

      1. Wow! Barbara! Yep! It’s me….Where ARE you now?
        I come ‘home’ several X a year – can’t take those Berks roots out…hope we can catch up soon, eh?

  7. I live on the farm where the octagon house was located. That home was my grand parents. We lived on the second house on that property. Later my husband, Carl Speicher and I spend 4 years in my old home. We than bought a home on Blue Marsh where I lived with my children until relocated by the government, who purchased that home for the Blue Marsh Lake project. We lost all of the homes we had lived in until that time. It was a sad time for us. We can hike around the area but much of it is overgrown now and not possible to return to so many of the places we roamed around all those years ago

    1. My parents & I moved away in 1969, but always came back to Berks every yr. to visit family. We experienced the tail end of 1972 “Agnes”…wasn’t the Octagon aka 8-cornered House often rented in the late 1960s? Several kids hiked out from there to our bus stop along 183 every school day.

  8. I live on the farm where the octagon house was located. That home was my grand parents. We lived on the second house on that property. Later my husband, Carl Speicher and I spend 4 years in my old home. We than bought a home on Blue Marsh where I lived with my children until relocated by the government, who purchased that home for the Blue Marsh Lake project. We lost all of the homes we had lived in until that time. It was a sad time for us. We can hike around the area but much of it is overgrown now and not possible to return to so many of the places we roamed around all those years ago

  9. As kids my grandmother took us to Pyles Store often. Their farm was taken for the Lake area. They were some of my favorite memories.
    I remember Mr & Mrs Pyle were always nice to us.

  10. When I was a boy, spent summers at Pleasant Valley Inn, owned by Hass and Annete Wagonseller. I remember the Schlappich’s, Harvey and Marie. My parents were also friends with Ray and Arlene Shalters, they had Joanie and Larry who were around my age and lived near the Obold store. Great memories for me.

    1. When did your parents own Pleaant Valley Inn? My parents also owned it in the 1950’s. My parent’s names were Jules and Mary Sternberg. I am Robin Sternberg…would be interested in getting more information on the history of this area and Fox Lake!

  11. Grow up in Blue Marsh. Had a lot of family that lost there homes and farms. Went to Pyles store everyday after school for a soda and snack….Thanks for the Memories

      1. Karen Riegel—-Suzie Greth– we all rode on the same school bus, and I believe my sister Bonnie, and my brother Bill were more your age. Oh so many memories of times spent in Blue Marsh. 😊😊😣😣

        1. Hi Sharon! Yes, they were both a little older than me. Bonnie was my brother, Barry ‘s age (who just passed away recently) and Bill was a year ahead of me. I actually worked at the high school with Bill before retiring. Yes, many good memories.

  12. lived in Bluemarsh, next to the steel bridge. first the barn burnt , then the house, electrical wiring gone bad,1965. burnt from 2nd floor walk in closet, into bathroom a bedroom and thru the roof. house was still standing , until, early 70’s. then it was torn down and buried on the spot. Millers, i think it was, had a bar and barbershop on the first floor, still inside when we lived there. moved to Justa Rd, they took that house for game land in ’79.

    1. Are you a Finogle? I was good friends with Butch (also knew Carol and your older sister). I actually stood (with many others) and watched your place burn. It was very sad.

      1. Hi Karen, yes, i was one of the youngest , still at a sitters house when the house burned. watched the barn burn from Drexels house across the street. cried hysterically when the sitter was taking us home, and couldnt get to the house because of all the fire trucks. think the worst when you are 5!, stayed with the Copenhavers, i think , then Susie Greth. for a few weeks. till they found the house on Justa Rd.

      2. Hi Karen, I was wondering if you are still in touch wih Susie Greth Schrum? my sister Carol Wentzel has been trying to contact her, they were so close. can you private message me,i can give you her phone or address.(my sisters) or you can send me Susies.please. thanks

  13. My great grandparents owned Pyle’s store! Love to see all of the comments and memories! Sharing them with my mother Sandra Steiger (now Hill)! Thank you for posting this!

  14. The Pyles were my grandparents. We lived two miles away at Fox Lake, but lm sure half of my youth was spent there at the store! What a slice of Americana growing up in that area was! Many fond memories!

    1. Do you have information and pictures of Fox Lake. It was a beautiful haven…loved it, and miss it so much!

  15. Roddy Riegel says:
    April 21 at 22 at 10:48 am

    I grew up on the farm in the center of the first picture, the Riegel farm between Webb Essigs’ and John Essigs’ farms. Our farm was on Water Road. All of the pictures are intimately familiar. It seemed that I knew everyone who lived there. I guess you might say “I got around”. I left Ble Marsh in 1961, after graduation from Wilson High School, to join the United States Marine Corp.

    1. My mom Still lives at the top of Brownsville Road. She has been there for 48 years. I remember the iron bridge and she tells me about the store etc.
      She has been tax collector for 46 years up there.
      Our woods was bought by the Lake project many many years ago. She also graduated in 1961 from Wilson. Her name is Sandra Bohn Davis.

      I love reading these posts

  16. Where can one find the book that was mentioned and who is it by?
    This was very interesting. I’m not from this area but have lived here for 42 or so years. have taken my kids out to wander the grounds, fish and cook out at Blue Marsh. Wondered about it’s history.
    I have family in Conneaut, OH and have seen a octagon house there.
    Thanky for posting this information.

  17. There was a guy named JOE ( Weeman possibly??) (sp). that lived in the farm, that is in the pics as the homestead ?? I remember going there as a kid with my dad. Joe had old cars, and had a sort of race track made up the hillside that he would let you DRIVE the car on, to determine if you wanted it or not. He was a tall guy, well over 6′.I remember this because I once almost bought an old 4 cylinder Indian with a sidecar from him. He had the barn FULL of cool stuff, cars, bikes, etc. Anybody remember this guy, or the place as it used to be? Ya had to cross a small bridge to get onto his property. As ya left, and went up towards 422 again, there was this shed, FILLED with old license plates, nailed onto the walls.

    1. Bill I knew Joe Wieman pretty well. He was one of a kind. His brother Rudy and sister Hanna lived on adjacent farms. I spent allot of my childhood wondering those farms fishing and hunting. I grew up on Lam’s Mill road less than a mile from those farms. I had many friends in the Fox Lake area. I watched all of these wonderful properties, people and memories fade into Blue Marsh Lake. It was a crime

      1. might you know what ever happened to Joe? I used to love going there with my dad, as they both were into old cars. I can remember my dad taking cars out and running them up & down that hillside. I also almost bought an old Indian from Joe, that had a sidecar attached to it. Instead, I bought Ladd Motors old servicer for less money back then. It was just a fun place to go, that I still remember. Thanks for the reply.

        1. Bill, I lived about 5 miles downstream (Spring Creek/Tully) from Joe’s place. I spent many days racing old cars, which Joe always supplied, around that old track.
          I also bought a Cushman motor scooter and Czech motorcycle from Joe. I traded a small wagon load of my youth to Joe to get the motorcycle!

          1. Bill I believe he had moved over near Leesport. I had not talked with him after he moved. I know he passed away some years back. I still go for hikes down around his place. The foundations for the barn and home are all that remain

  18. There were a lot of good and bad memories growing up in Blue Marsh, I lived there till I got Married in 1970, My Parents lived there till they were forced to move, I remember Pyles Store and my Mothers side of the Family lived there all in a row, And all us Cousins would play together .I remember shoveling to whole road open in the Winter because the snow plow couldn’t get through (thats when Familey’s would work together ). and when we couldn’t get out we would go walking up the Telly to get to Pyles store to get what we needed. The bad memories were When they made us all move out for the Dam, And split up the Family. They gave you 3 offers and if you didn’t except them they would condemn your property and just take it. And they also never cleaned out the septic tanks, they just let the water fillup. that is why I will never swim in that water.A lot of people don’t know this, and alot of the fish were sick with growths on them.

  19. What a story for Earth Day! I used to swim in the Tully with the snapping turtles and guess I should have been more worried about nitrates! I just loved living there in the 60s. Thanks for all these blogs, of both good and bad times, which really help flesh out the Blue Marsh story.

  20. My Aunt and Uncle lived on the top of the hill West of Blue March. Going up from the lake was the Sterner farm -then the Speicher farm and n up the hill was the Wingert home. On my vacations there I would go down to Speicher’s to get milk, eggs, butter and loved to visit them. I remember there was Leroy, Elwood and another son whose name I don’t remember. I believe he was the eldest. I know they drop the Wingert home into the basement. As you passed Wingert’s, there was the Ohlinger farm. My question is: does anyone know how to access that road from Rte. 183? One time I found the Wingert home by following my nose..Ha! I found that people were still living below where the Ohlinger farm was located. They must have access somehow. Perhaps someone out there knows?

  21. THE OTHER SPEICHER SON WAS JOHN. ONE OF THE SPEICHERS SHOULD HAVE BEEN RELATED
    TO THOSE MAKING COMMENTS ON THIS WEBSITE!!

  22. It was a great place to grow up. Remember sitting on the porch of Pyles store sharing 1 or 2 sodas with Glenn and Dale Speicher, Billy and Harvey Marshall Daryl Shalters Jeff Shatz maybe a Finogle or 2 cause we only had enough money between us for 1 or 2 Sodas

  23. Thanks for the memories! My grandparents owned the Pleasant Valley Hotel in the 40’s. I never actually saw the hotel only know it by the stories my dad told me about. My mom still has the ironstone dishes they used there where my grandmother cooked meals!

  24. Good Old Memories. Rod Riegel, Rick Wolf, Butch Adams, Adams Garage, State Hill Beer Garden. Mr Adams driving the school bus. The great old days where have they gone?? I sure miss the place as it was

    1. Hi Frank, Rod’s sister, Karen, here. Sure is sad that we lost our homesteads. How are you doing?

  25. It’s nice to see all of these names from many years ago. This is Tommy Trexler. We lived at the end of Green Valley Rd.

    1. I lived next to the old mill, spent lots of times on/in the Tully. Pyles store was a regular spot for a vanilla Hershey’s twincicle.

  26. Hello to All. Such great times growing up in Blue Marsh. Like the Snook’s, (Hello to All) enjoyed many soda’s and a candy bar or two at Pyle’s Grocery Store. How about the many bike races and the bike ride around the tully. In the winter it was riding my sled on the big hill across from Finogle’s home and playing baseball with Billy Marshall and others Still remember the fire at Finogle’s home. Hey, where are the Mecks. Still remember John Essig delivering fresh eggs to our front door. Certainly great times in Blue Marsh. Bob Miller, lived in the red brick house with the blue roof across from Pyles Grocery Store with my sisters Tammy Miller and Sherry Miller. Hello to all! Bob

  27. I believe Fox Lake was included within the Blue Marsh project, but have not seen any reference to it in the above posts.

  28. Hi all.. It was great to read all these remarks about Blue Marsh. I was a late bloomer.. only came to the area in in 1970 but I do remember the area before the dam was open. I remember going down the tully in a raft for the last time. I remember my mom telling me about growing up back there. Her mom and dad had a bungalow back on Palisade road. And my Grandparents worked at an estate on brownsville(?) road. I can’t imagine being told you have to move or else. God Bless you all. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Hi Maryellen. I remember Sterners Hill, we road a bus when i was in junior high, before the last homes were taken, from state hill road, across the flat, where most of the people lived yet, and around to Sterners Hill rd, there were three kids in school yet from their home. always smelled like the smoke house at their place. took us an hour it seemed to get home from Wilson Junior High, that is now part of the senior high. we lived off of Brownsville Road. had to drop off Essigs too, at the house that is now Dry Road Farm. and the Works, that lived on another road back there. many familys, too many to name, lost beautiful old homes . because of some one that didnt want to make the dam closer to bernville. smh

        1. Hi Linda, Many a summer my vacation spot was with my Aunt & Uncle. There names were Claude and Adelaide
          Wingert.
          they lived at the very top of Sterners Hill. Just before there home was the Speicker farm. I would go down to Speickers to get to get milk or eggs for my Aunt . I am 86 years old but there must be grand children or Great
          Grandchildren of sons John, Elwood and another son whose name I can’t recall at the moment.

          1. The third son’s name is Leroy Speicher. Both Elwood and Leroy were honored on August 13 bt the Mt. Pleasant Fire Co. as hometown heros. Both served during World war two. Both are in their 90’s. Also recognized by the fire company was Norman Reifsnyder.

  29. My family and I lived at the Old Dry Road Farm. My father was Barry Essig. I have many fond memories growing up there and also at my grand parents who lived all g the Tulley as it was referred to then

    1. Hi Lori, I remember you. Its a shame they made everyone relocate. road our bikes back there before it was flooded. unbelievable. take my family to Old Dry Road Farm every Sept! Justa Rd used to look like that , back in the day, lol

  30. Ah, the good old days. We lived at Fox Lake but spent many summers riding bikes all over the ‘Pleasant Valley’ area and filling up with candy and Mountain Dew at Pyles Grocery store and Reeser’s gas station. We never knew it as that but Frank Gruber used to always call us the Pleasant Valley boys so who were we to argue. I cut Frank’s lawn for two summers. He had a ritual of oiling the lawn mower before every cut. Such a nice gentleman. In the winter we would warm up in his shop area right next to the wood stove. I melted many a sneaker on that stove. So much fun way back when, growing up like Huck Finn. Greetings to my old pals, whose last names are Votoras, Hood, Wagner, Kennedy, Titlow, Kreitler, Steiger, Ebert, Williams. A perfect afternoon after school was getting together for a game of jump creek or firing off some model rockets. Much more fun than texting and playing video games.

  31. If you went from State Hill through the “town” of Blue Marsh, and just before the iron bridge took a right onto what I guess was Water Road, just a little distance down Water Road, there was a sign that read “Hidden Valley”. Anybody remember that? I lived in Berkshire Heights, but I was a fisherman and travelled around. I had a small Harley 125, and I met Joe Weimar, and remember that he was a character. He had a daughter who graduated from Wilson in 1954, one year ahead of me. I also remember taking the “Bernville Bus” from near the Berkshire Mall, out State Hill Road, up through State Hill, down through Blue Marsh, across the iron bridge, past the bungalows and Pleasant Valley Roller Mill, Gruber Wagon Works, up through Mt. Pleasant, and on towards Bernville.

  32. I read your memories of Blue Marsh(BM) with great interest. I lived on the second farm on the south side of Water Road. The first farm was Barry Koch, the second was us (Riegel). I lived at,and roamed BM from 1949 util I joined the U S Marines in 1961. I worked for Warren Lamm (a Lower Heidelberg Twp.icon) during my high school (Wilson) years. It was hard work! Got me ready for the Marines!
    I knew Joe Wieman, hung out, bought motorcycles from him, and raced on his track many times. My memory is, rumor had it, that the young woman at Joes’ was his wife, although he may have had a daughter also, but she would have been much younger than you or I.
    I hunted, fished, camped, hiked and explored every inch of the area that would eventualy be covered y the water. I am so thankful that I spent my youth at Blue Marsh.

    Rod Riegel

    1. ROD, are you by any chance related to Bruce Riegel. He was a friend and classmate of mine at Lower Heidelberg Elementary back in the mid to late 50s?He’d be about 68 or 69 today.

  33. No, I am 75. I believe that Bruce was Mark Riegel’s brother. They lived on Riegel Road which is not in Blue Marsh.

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