Berks County Heritage Center
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 that dates 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 the art lover, 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 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 live 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.
Central PA African American Museum
Berks County had important stops on the Underground Railroad. The Central PA African American Museum is a former church just east of the center of Reading. There are exhibits on the second floor, which focus on the achievements of African Americans from Berks County as well as the history of the slave trade. However, the most chilling part of the museum is the hole in which the escaped slaves hid. Street parking is easy to find.
GoggleWorks Center for the Arts
The former safety goggles factory on the corner of Washington and North 2nd Street was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Art galleries, a dance studio, glass blowing facility, ceramic studio and 131-seat film theater are some of the occupants of the 145,000 square feet that is GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
Although it’s located downtown, there’s ample off-street parking in the back. With constantly changing exhibits and different events every week, there are plenty of reasons to visit on a regular basis. For an in-depth history of the building (and the city of Reading), check out the small but informative Willson History Project, which chronicles the 130-year history of Willson Goggles.
The Mid Atlantic Air Museum
Reading Regional Airport does not offer commercial flights, but they do have The Mid Atlantic Air Museum. Anyone old enough to remember Capital Airlines (1948-1961) or Eastern Airlines (folded in 1991, but recently started offering charter flights from Miami) will enjoy this trip down memory lane. In addition to former commercial aircraft, they also have aging U.S. Navy and Coast Guard planes on display.
Penn Avenue – West Reading
Penn Avenue is Reading’s version of New York City areas like Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Vernon Blvd in Long Island City, Queens. It’s an ideal walking street both during the day and in the evening. Unlike New York, it’s relatively easy to find parking. Dining options include A Taste of Crepe, Vietnamese food at Van’s Cafe, Bistro 614 for upscale French, Go Fish for sushi and Aladdin for Mediterranean. There’s plenty of charming bakeries as well. Ady Cakes has been featured on The Food Network (Cupcake Wars) and The Well Dressed Cake has French macarons in over a dozen different flavors. For more cupcakes and an eclectic mix of Swiss chocolates, head to Dolce de Zabala.
Locals and tourists alike have been looking down at the city for Reading for more than 100 years thanks to the Reading Pagoda. The winding road leading up to the pagoda is an adventure in itself. When you get to the top, you’ll be looking more than 600 feet down. If you want to get even higher, you can take the 87 steps to the top of the pagoda. If you make it to the seventh floor, take a look at the bell, which was cast in Japan in 1739. It was purchased and shipped via the Suez Canal to New York Harbor in 1906 before being transported to Reading by rail (ever played Monopoly? Take a ride on the Reading Railroad?). Fun fact: the Reading Pagoda is the only one in the world with a fireplace and chimney.
Reading Public Museum
Located inside Museum Park in West Reading, the Reading Public Museum is just south of the Wyomissing Creek. The surrounding area can make you forget that you’re in the fifth largest city in Pennsylvania. In fact, if you continue west (just follow the joggers and cyclers) you will end up in Wyomissing (where Taylor Swift is from). The museum was opened in 1928 and focuses on art and artifacts from around the world as well as Native American and Pennsylvania German culture.