Muhlenberg Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Living with the River
Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area
The First Settlers
The Lenni-Lenape, or "original people", were the first to inhabit the banks of Ganshowahanna, or "falling waters", their name for the Schuylkill River. The Lenni-Lenapes in this area were members of the peaceful tribes known as the Unamis or the Turtle and the Unalachtgo or the Turkey. They built walled structures in the river to trap shad and other fish. This area was also abundant with wild game, turkey and deer for food, and bear and beaver for clothing.
In 1663, the Dutch from New Amsterdam (now New York) set up a nearby post to trade with the Lenni-Lenape for their pelts.
Archaeological digs indicate this area was most likely used by small foraging bands that lived in temporary camps. Their main villages were located at present-day Reading and along the nearby Tulpehocken Creek. They were pushed westward by the settlers and conquered by the Iroquois in 1742.
On the Frontier
The Swedes were the first European settlers along the Schuylkill River. The name Schuylkill, once spelled Skokihl, which means "Hidden Creek" was named by Dutch Navigator Arendt Corssen
In 1681 William Penn was granted land from King Charles II to repay debts to the Penn family. The land was known as Penn's Woods, or Pennsylvania. In those early days this area of Penn's Woods was considered the frontier. The Kittatinny Ridge, also called the Blue Mountains, 13 miles to the northwest was the barrier between settlers and Indian Territory.
The Swedes most northern settlement was Morlatton Village in Douglassville on land granted to the Swedes on October 21, 1701, by William Penn. The next immigrants were English, and the Germans arrived soon after to escape the poverty and persecution after Europe's Thirty-Years' War. Many of the immigrants from 1708 to 1752 spoke German and collectively became known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch". Dutch is a corruption of "Deutsch" which means German.
What Did They Do?
Rich soil and a favorable climate contributed to create the area's strong agricultural heritage. The limestone bedrock and gentle slopes formed extraordinary productive soils. Significant area orchards grew a variety of fruit including pears, paples, cherries, grapes, and prize-winning peaches. Farming was the major local industry until suburbanization finally overtook the area in the 1980s. In 2001 only one farm, the Reed Farm remained active.
With most of the commerce occurring at nearby Reading, this area of the Schuylkill River lacked any manufacturing until the iron industry started in 1836.
Iron ore, limestone, and hard wood forests for charcoal made this an ideal location for iron manufacturing. Nearby Clymer's Furnace, originally a charcoal operation, was converted to iron ore smelting. The Temple Iron Company, organized in 1867, later merged with Clymer's furnace and produced 40,000 tons of pig iron annually. It closed in 1924.
Berks County, named for the England's Berkshire, was created from portions of Philadelphia, Chester and Lancaster counties on March 11, 1752.
This Township is fairly young when compared to neighboring communities. This area of Berks County was originally established in 1752 as Alsace Township. In 1849 the western residents became furious at the tax burden to support hilly roads in eastern Alsace Township and petitioned to create a new township. There are no documents explaining why the township was named Muhlenberg, but it is presumed that it was named for Henry Augustus Muhlenberg I, a U.S. Congressman from Reading, an ambassador to Austria, and a two-time gubernatorial candidate.
Artist and naturalist Christopher High Shearer (1847 to 1926) recorded Berks County and Schuylkill River scenes in a number of paintings. He started as a fruit farmer in nearby Tuckerton, and at age 21 opened a studio in Reading. After wandering through European art schools and pursuing his career, he returned home in 1883 to live on a small farm near Stoudt's Ferry Bridge. Many of his paintings can be viewed at the Reading Public Museum.
William H. Luden was born in 1859 and began making candy as a teenager in Reading. By 1925 Mr. Luden was well known for making mentholated cough drops. A resident of the Township, he purchased numerous properties along River Road and built a summer cottage that stands today.
The 1860 census showed 1,676 persons living in the Township. Today, 16,305 persons call Muhlenberg Township home.
The Wild Schuylkill
Life was arranged by the cycle of the seasons and the temperament of the River. It could bring food and fuel, or it could destroy through periodic floods. From 1818 to 2006 there were 22 recorded floods, or about one every 8.6 years. Most were caused by extraordinary rainfalls from events such as Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and the recent 2006 flood. Rainfall that could not be absorbed by frozen ground, in combination with the failure of dams created by ice, accounted for floods in 1839, 1902, and 1996. The Great Flood of September 2, 1850, the second major flood of the year, rose 25 feet and washed away two dams and every bridge between Pottsville and Royersford.
Erected by Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area; Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Muhlenberg Township.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Colonial Era • Native Americans • Settlements & Settlers • Waterways & Vessels.
Location. 40° 23.606′ N, 75° 58.285′ W. Marker is in Muhlenberg Township, Pennsylvania, in Berks County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of River Road and Ashbourne Drive, on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 4120 River Rd, Reading PA 19605, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Damming the River (within shouting distance of this marker); Reclaiming the River (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Removal of the Dams (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Schuylkill Navigation (approx. 0.2 miles away); Recreation on the River (approx. ¼ mile away); Joseph Hiester (approx. 1.2 miles away); Union Canal (approx. 2 miles away); In Recognition of Warren Haggerty (approx. 2.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Muhlenberg Township.
Credits. This page was last revised on November 29, 2020. It was originally submitted on November 29, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 38 times since then and 9 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on November 29, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.