Offering exciting things to see and do in Greater Reading, Berks County
We are so happy that you are interested in all the exciting things to see and do in Greater Reading, Berks County. There’s so much happening that you are bound to have a great time! Take A Ride where the only horns blaring are from the sounds of cool jazz. Or, let your imagination drive your enthusiasm at one of our 30 museums. Cruise our country roads where festivals, wineries and Pennsylvania Dutch heritage surround you. Travel at your own pace while enjoying art, shopping – antiques, outlets and more.
Whether you're here on business or pleasure, you will find something to rev up your engine in Greater Reading. We can’t wait to see you!
The Visitors Center
The Greater Reading Visitors Center is located inside the Goggleworks Center for the Arts in historic downtown Reading. Please visit the GoggleWorks' Visitors Center page for more information.
A Little History of Reading, PA
We encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about the history and heart and soul of Greater Reading, Berks County.
The Start of a Great County
Berks County was incorporated March 11, 1752, and boasted 23 townships and about 12,000 residents. Today, the 864 square-mile county includes 75 municipalities and more than 385,000 inhabitants. The City of Reading comprises 10.3 square miles with more than 85,000 residents.
The rich soil and favorable climate of Berks County contributed to a strong agrarian tradition. Today, agriculture, both in terms of food production and processing, is the county’s number one industry. The shopping outlet industry remains so strong that Reading/Berks has been coined “The Original Outlet Capital of the World.” Tourism injects millions of dollars annually into the local economy.
The Frontier and Colonial Times
The Schuylkill River flows through the heart of the county from the northwest to the southeast The Lenni-Lenape Indians were the first to build their fishing settlements along the river.
In 1681, Quaker leader William Penn arrived with a charter of proprietorship granted by the King of England, giving him the right to sell the lands to settlers. He named his new colony “Penn’s Woods” or Pennsylvania.
Into this new colony came English Quakers, Welsh, Swedes, French Huguenots, Swiss Mennonites, Moravians and Bohemians, Schwenkfelders from Silesia, a few Dutch, and Palatinates from the upper Rhine Valley in Germany. Many new arrivals spoke German and became known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, or more correctly, the Pennsylvania Germans.
Readingtown was laid out above “the Ford”, a point where the Schuylkill River could be easily crossed. Officially established in 1748 and made the county seat in 1750, it was named in honor of Penn’s birthplace, Reading, England, and the county was given the name of Berks for its English equivalent, Berkshire.
The area proved to be rich in natural resources that made this an ideal location for the manufacturing of iron products. Soon “iron plantations” were turning out stoves, cookware and iron tools. By the time of the American Revolution, the local iron industry had a total production exceeding that of England, and was able to supply George Washington’s troops with cannons, rifles, and ammunition. With the discovery of coal to the north and the early development of the railroad, Reading became a thriving, bustling industrial city. By 1846 its population had grown to 12,000 living in rows of red brick houses.
The Growing City
The center of Reading was known as market square. Later the square became the center of government and commerce with the county courthouse, banks, stores and hotels located there. The construction of the Reading Railroad was probably the greatest single factor in the development of Berks County. Established in 1833 to transport coal, by 1870 it was the largest corporation in the world.
With the advent of the Civil War, Berks County was again called upon to provide much of the heavy ordnance used in the conflict. In the fifty years following the Civil War, Reading continued to grow as an industrial city. Bicycles, wagons, hats, cigars, clocks, shoes, brass, bricks, steam engines, rope, beer and pretzels, and many other items were all manufactured in the area.
Red brick “row homes” were often built by the owners of the local industries for their workers. As the industrialists grew wealthy, they began to build their own large homes in the “countryside” surrounding the densely-populated center of the city. These were the first “suburbs”, and as the trolley car lines extended farther from Penn Square, the city expanded. Today the Centre Park Historic District preserves the lovely Victorian architecture of these stately homes.
During both World War I and World War II, Berks County provided much-needed manufactured goods. Today, production by local businesses includes pretzels, candy, bricks, optical lenses, specialty metals, food processing and thermo-nuclear devices, to name a few. Retail sales and the tourism industry are both large contributors to the economy. More than 10 million visitors annually come to Berks County to enjoy shopping, the arts, crafts, culture and all types of entertainment.
Berks County Today
Education, and cultural and recreation activities are major forces in Berks County. Five local colleges and universities are located in Berks County, as well as eighteen public school districts. The recently- completed Sovereign Center and the Sovereign Performing Arts Center represent Berks County’s continuing commitment to the arts and entertainment. The Greater Reading Expo Center is a venue for large business and consumer tradeshows. The Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Public Museum are considered among the best in the state. Myriad groups and organizations provide residents and visitors the opportunity to participate in and/or attend a vast spectrum of the arts. Annually the Berks Arts Council presents the largest jazz festival on the east coast. Reading is also home to the Reading Phillies baseball Club and the Royals Professional Hockey Club.
The same beautiful countryside that attracted the early settlers continues to provide opportunities to today’s residents and visitors. The Berks County Parks and Recreational Department operates numerous historic sites, and camping and recreational facilities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains Blue Marsh Lake, designed to provide flood control, an enormous reservoir of drinking water and recreational opportunities. The State of Pennsylvania maintains the heavily-forested hills of French Creek State Park in southeastern Berks County, and both Nolde Forest Environmental Center and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary provide unique educational opportunities and the chance to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Berks County-- an illustrious past and a wonderfully bright future.