Conrad Weiser Homestead WomelsdorfBerks County has a population of more than 400,000. Reading is the county seat and only city in the county. Around one-fifth of the population live there. The name comes from Berkshire (England), where William Penn died in 1718. Berks County is considered part of Pennsylvania Dutch (which really means German) country. It was German immigrant Conrad Weiser who was instrumental in creating the county out of parts of Chester, Lancaster and Philadelphia counties in 1752.

A visit to the Berks County Heritage Center is a journey back through the history of Berks County. It includes Gruber Wagon Works, which is a National Historic Landmark dating back to the late 1800s. There’s also the C. Howard Hiester Canal Center, which documents the golden age of canal transportation, specifically, the contributions that the Union Canal and Schuylkill Navigation System made to Berks County. Many of the artifacts on display there were recovered from 1927 when the Schuylkill Navigation Company closed their Reading headquarters. In the end, C. Howard Heister acquired the largest private collection of 19th century canal memorabilia in the United States, totaling over 1,400 items.

For art lovers, The Distlefink is a representation of German Folk Art. Berks County has a heavy German influence. For those who prefer nature over history, The Union Canal Bicycle and Walking Trail is more than four miles long and winds along the Tulpehocken Creek.

Wertz Bridge (a.k.a. Red Covered Bridge) is the longest single-span covered Bridge in Pennsylvania, spanning over 200 feet across the Tulpehocken Creek. Out of the five covered bridges remaining in Berks County (there used to be 37), the Wertz Bridge is the only one closed to motor vehicles. You’ll have to walk through it to get to the Berks County Heritage Center.

The myotis lucifungus bat species lives inside the bridge in maternity colonies (only mothers and babies). At about 2” long with a 10” wingspan, these little brown bats can eat as many as 500 insects per hour. Each night they can eat half their body weight in insects. While they are prevalent during the summer, they hibernate in caves from October to April.