Historical Society of Berks County

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Historical Society of Berks County
Founded 1869
Area served
Berks County, Pennsylvania
Key people
Executive Director: Sime Bertolet
Director of Special Collections and Archive: Kimberly Richards
Curator: Joshua Blay
Financial Manager: Amy Smith
General Secretary: Gloria Meiser
Publicity Manager: Janis Longlott
Education Coordinator: Vicky Heffner[1]
Mission historic preservation and education
Website http://www.berkshistory.org

Founded in 1869, the Historical Society of Berks County (HSBC) operates the Berks History Center as a museum and library located in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Society's mission, as described on its website, is "to focus attention on the unique local history, the vast material culture, and the diverse cultural heritage of Berks County by preserving, archiving, and promoting this material to instill in our citizens of all ages and ethnic groups an awareness of this growing treasure trove of information. This allows the HSBC to be a major cultural magnet, drawing people to our community."[2]

The Historical Society houses materials relating to the early history of Berks County in its Museum, in the Henry Janssen Library, and at the historic Hendel House. Over 10,000 members and patrons visit during the year. The Society educates students from public and private schools in the area and is visited by researchers from all over the country.

Berks History Center[edit]

The Berks History Center is located at 940 Centre Ave, Reading, PA.[3] The museum has an historical object collection exceeding 20,000 items. Included are works of art by Ben Austrian, Jack Coggins, Ralph D. Dunkelberger, G.B. Kostenbader, Earle Poole, E.S. Reeser, Christopher Shearer, Victor Shearer, and Frederick Spang. The Society has a large transportation collection, including bicycles, a very rare horse drawn streetcar, a Conestoga Wagon, a Duryea automobile, and other wagons, some of which are on display at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles located in Boyertown, PA.[1]

In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts up to three temporary exhibits a year.

Henry Janssen Library[edit]

The Henry Janssen Library, located at 160 Spring Street, Reading, PA, is the center for genealogical and historical research at the Historical Society of Berks County. The Henry Janssen Library is acknowledged to be one of the best and most thoroughly indexed collections of county data in Pennsylvania. Library opening hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9AM to 4PM. Access to the library is free for members of the Historical Society of Berks County. There is a charge of $7 per day for library access for non-members. Children under 12 are not permitted in the library.[4]

Included in the library collection are over 15,000 volumes, 523 Fraktur, 345 broadsides, 30,000 photographs, 1,118 microfilms, an extensive multimedia collection, a currency collection, 170 almanacs, CD’s, sheet music, minute books, newspapers dating back to 1796, blueprints, surveys, 582 maps, autographs, city directories from 1856, business and industry files, personality and family name files, census records, business records, school records, Schuylkill Navigation Company and Union Canal plans, tax records from 1754, church and cemetery records, and 7,200 individual pieces of paper in the manuscript collection. There are numerous genealogical resources (many on Pennsylvania Dutch history) available to Library users, including indexes for the 1790 census, Berks County tax records and wills, and local church records containing birth, marriage and death information. The library collection includes a 1960 translation of Gottlieb Mittelberger's Journey to Pennsylvania, which details the four years he spent in America, before returning to Germany. Written in 1756, Mittelberger set out to inform his countrymen of the deplorable conditions he found in the new world—it is a valuable resource to both genealogists and Pennsylvania Dutch researchers alike. An extensive computer database includes over 800,000 names.[1]

Individuals can use the library's online databases to conduct genealogical and historical research connected to Berks County—some features can even be accessed remotely. For a fee, the library also offers reproduction and research services for those unable to visit the library in person.[5]

Hendel House[edit]

The Historical Society of Berks County's Hendel House, donated by Marjorie Hendel-Perfect, is at 746 Centre Ave, Reading, PA. The northern end of the structure dates from 1877. Mrs. Perfect "gave" the mansion to preserve it for posterity in honor of her father who erected the 1897 addition and transformed the structure into an elegant residence. Adelaide K. Hendel was the last of the Hendels to live here. From 1949 to 1999 it was used as a Lutheran church. Following restoration, this adjunct facility will be used for Society-related functions, meetings of various kinds, some office space, and storage.

The Hendel House is open the second Saturday of every month from noon to 4PM except January, July and August, and by appointment. The Hendel House is also available for private functions by arrangement with the Historical Society.[6]


In July 1869, a call was made for interested citizens to gather “for the purpose of collecting and perpetuating the historical reminisces of Berks County.” Following the first meeting in August, the Historical Society of Berks County was incorporated on December 13, 1869. The first president was the Honorable William M. Hiester. After a period of stagnation, President Albert G. Green revived the Society in 1898. Meetings were held in the Exchange Building located on North 6th Street in Reading, PA. The first female member was Kate E. Hawley, wife of Reading Eagle founder Jesse G. Hawley, a charter member.

The Historical Society first started collecting objects in June, 1898. Its first building, purchased in June 1904 from the Reading Gas Company, was located at 519 Court Street. At that time, membership was 150. Less than ten years later, the burgeoning Historical Society needed a larger building, and J. Bennett Nolan led the search for a new structure. The cornerstone for the present building was laid in the summer of 1928, and construction was completed the following year. Designed by architect Charles H. Muhlenberg of Muhlenberg Brothers, to be a fireproof structure to house the collection and archives, it is made of concrete and brick. The present facility was dedicated on October 1, 1929. It is located at 940 Centre Avenue in Reading, PA.

Needing more office, display, and storage space, the Historical Society embarked on a fund raising campaign in the 1980s. The new building addition was opened in 1988, providing the library with its own dedicated storage and research space.

Again faced with storage concerns, the Historical Society took possession of its first off-site property in 2000. Known as the Hendel House, it is located directly across from Centre Park at 746 Centre Avenue, the ornate Victorian structure is used for meetings, programs, and object storage.

In 2005, the Historical Society purchased the former M&T Bank building at 160 Spring Street, directly behind the main building located at 940 Centre Avenue. Formally named The Henry Janssen Library, this premier research facility opened to the public on November 11, 2008 after extensive renovations.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "About Us". The Historical Society of Berks County. 
  2. ^ "The Historical Society of Berks County". The Historical Society of Berks County. 
  3. ^ "Historical Society of Berks County Museum". The Historical Society of Berks County. 
  4. ^ "Henry Janssen Library". The Historical Society of Berks County. 
  5. ^ "Reproduction and Research Service Policy". The Historical Society of Berks County. 
  6. ^ "The Hendel House of the Historical Society of Berks County". The Historical Society of Berks County. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°20′59″N 75°55′56″W / 40.3497°N 75.9321°W / 40.3497; -75.9321