Berks County Heritage Center
This large historical interpretive complex offers a wide range of exciting opportunities for families and groups to enjoy themselves while discovering the heritage of both Berks County and of America. The Center encompasses the Gruber Wagon Works, the C. Howard Heister Canal Center, and several other historic sites within the county's great park system.
The Gruber Wagon Works
This building stands today as one of the nation's finest examples of rural manufactory. In the 1870's Franklin H. Gruber began building wagons and repairing agricultural equipment at his farm in Lower Heidelberg Township. In 1882 he relocated his expanding business to a point on the Licking Creek near Mt. Pleasant. Here the family business flourished. Franklin's sons constantly increased efficiency, and even designed unique machines for specialized operations.
Business peaked around 1915, at about 100 wagons per year. Following WWI the demand for wagons declined, so Gruber Wagon Works supplemented its business with wooden truck body and tool manufacturing. Franklin's sons retired in 1935, and his grandson continued to build wagons on a small scale until 1972. In that year the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It contained more than 19,000 tools and several old wagons. The building was actually found intact in 1970 by the Army Corp of Engineers while conducting preliminary studies and property acquisitions for the Blue Marsh Lake Project. Inside, tools and machinery were left as though the factory would open the following day, business as usual.
In 1976 the large structure was moved five miles to its present location, and soon was restored to its 1915 appearance. In 1977 the Gruber Wagon Works was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors can tour this outstanding factory and learn much about the history of industry in this country. This is a big place, and all 19,000 artifacts can be seen. Knowledgeable guides interpret the various exhibits, giving an insight into this most important era in our nation's industrial history.
Groups are welcome as well as families and individuals. School Groups will find no better place for a first hand glimpse into our past.
The C. Howard Heister Canal Center
Before the railroad, our nation's canals offered an important means of bulk transportation and travel. The alternatives were horse and wagon or walking. The Canal Center presents a story of the canal transportation era during this country's early growth and, more specifically, the important contributions the canal system made to Berks County.
C. Howard Heister came from a family long associated with Berks County canals, His early interest in canaling developed into a lifetime ambition to become knowledgeable on all aspects of the operation of the Schuylkill and other canals.
Around 1927, the Schuylkill Navigation Company closed its Reading headquarters. Virtually everything stored in and around the building was thrown into the canal bed for fill. Tools, patterns, photographs, ledgers and more were discarded in this fashion.
Seeing the vast amount of heritage that was about to be lost, Mr. Heister began saving canal artifacts. His collection quickly grew to more than 1,400 items, including steamboat whistles, anchors, a pilot house from the tugboat Dolphin, post lights, tools, tickets, stamps, steam engines, a frame locktender's shanty, and even the houseboat, Mildred. She was originally built at the Heister boatyard as a coal scowl and later converted to a houseboat, serving as the Heisters' summer home for many years.
Today visitors can benefit from Mr. Heister's vision. Tours of the Center take in all artifacts, including the houseboat, and provide a unique opportunity to discover the romantic era of the canal. Group Tours are offered, and School Groups will enjoy this valuable resource.
The Heritage Center
Union Canal Bicycle and Walking Trail
All the above sites are located at the beautiful 370-acre Tulpehocken Creek Valley Park. The Gruber Wagon Works and Heister Canal Center are opposite one another. Historic sites at nearby locations include the Leesport Lock House on East Wall St., and the Allegheny Aqueduct (a bridge for boats!) off of Route 422 E. Call for complete details about these sites and the many family and group facilities offered by Berks County.
Copyright © 1996-2014 by Patrick Tadeushuk. All Rights Reserved.