If you’re lucky enough to live in Berks County, then you already know that the area is one of the most beautiful and culturally dense places around. Enjoying your hometown is more about finding the hidden gems than hitting up the biggest destinations. But what if you’re not a local and you’re paying a visit to Berks County for the first time? Well, you’re in luck, because Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is packed with wonderful things to see and do, and you get to appreciate them with fresh eyes! Here is a first-timer’s guide to Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, including some of the best places to visit.
As you arrive in Reading, you can’t help but notice the Japanese-style pagoda rising above the city on Mt. Penn. The red brick and tile structure is the most notable landmark of Reading, Pennsylvania and the Pagoda has been the symbol of the city for more than a century. Built in 1908 by William A. Witman, Sr, the Pagoda was meant to be the centerpiece of a luxury resort. Unfortunately, Mr. Witman’s application for a liquor license was denied and the hotel never opened. Instead, the property went to a local bank who sold the land and the seven-story building to a businessman, Jonathan Mould, in 1910. In turn, Mr. Mould sold the Pagoda and its surrounding ten acres to the City of Reading for one dollar in 1911.
Since then, the Pagoda has served, and been cared for by the people of Reading. Before the days of radio broadcasts, its flashing lights directed firemen, and provided the results of sporting events, such as prize fights and World Series. Now part of the Mount Penn Preserve, the Pagoda was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972!
The interior of the Pagoda is currently closed to the public for renovations. However, visitors may walk the grounds of the Pagoda from sunrise to sunset daily, and enjoy the breathtaking 30-mile panoramic views it offers.
To get a taste of early local history, there are few places better than the Daniel Boone Homestead. The exploits of the legendary frontiersman have made Boone a folk hero not just in Pennsylvania, but across the country. By visiting his birthplace, learn about Daniel’s youthful days in our region, and add some true history to the tall tales!
Born in 1734, the site of the pioneer's birth offers visitors a unique glimpse into the diverse and dynamic community that formed in Berks County in the colonial period. In addition to the Boone family, the site interprets the lives of the homestead's later residents, the Maugridge and DeTurk Families, their slaves, indentured servants, and apprentices.
Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the homestead includes 579 acres of land, the Boone House, other eighteenth-century structures, a lake, picnic areas, and recreational facilities. The grounds are open to pedestrians from sunrise to sunset daily. The actual homestead is open to the public on weekends from 10 am to 4 pm, with guided tours available at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm. If you’re a history lover or you’re just interested in learning more about Pennsylvania’s earlier days, don’t miss making a stop here.
Even someone who doesn’t know a thing about cars or their history will enjoy the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles. The museum’s mission is to preserve and educate the public about the local road transportation history with a collection of cars, trucks, wagons and carriages that were built in Pennsylvania. The collection also includes automotive literature and memorabilia. Located inside the former Boyertown Auto Body Works, which operated continuously from 1872 - 1990, the museum’s setting makes it the perfect place to learn about vehicular history, from horse-drawn carriages all the way up to electric cars. Visitors love the 1938 Fegley’s Reading Diner and 1921 Sunoco Gas Station housed within the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles as well as its blacksmithing demonstrations, Diner Days, ever changing exhibits and annual Duryea Day. Open daily from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm, children under 15 are free!
With 36 miles of trails, 1,147 acres of water, and 5000 acres of land, Blue Marsh Lake is as big as it is fun to visit. Blue Marsh Lake was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after Congress authorized a dam to provide flood control to part of the Schuylkill River Valley. Over time, it’s become a local recreational spot, and great for anyone who wants to appreciate the great outdoors.
At Blue Marsh Lake you can walk, hike, boat, fish, swim, horseback ride, picnic, birdwatch and more. Blue Marsh also provides dog-friendly areas for you to enjoy with your leashed pet. Part of the beauty of Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is the beautiful scenery and many parks and outdoor spaces, and spending an afternoon hiking at Blue Marsh Lake is the perfect way to take it all in!
One of the centerpieces of Reading, the Reading Public Museum is great for all ages of visitors and houses a wide variety of collections, letting you learn about everything from art to science. The museum has a planetarium and an arboretum, and there are always new exhibits going in and out, so there’s sure to be something new and exciting for you to learn about!
The museum is open from 11 am to 5 pm daily and kids get in free! There’s also plenty of rotating special events that the museum staff puts on, so make sure you check and see what interesting things they’re going to have during your visit.
There are so many more wonderful things to see and do in Berks County, PA, but for a first-time visitor, these are some of the best places to check out. You’re sure to have a wonderful time and be ready to come back for more very soon!