$1.4M Grant Will Aid Colebrookdale Railroad Effort

The Colebrookdale Railroad will benefit from $1.4 million in funding made possible by a PennDOT grant aimed at repairing and upgrading the line’s rails, equipment and infrastructure.

The 8.6-mile line between Pottstown and Boyertown recently began carrying freight again and will also be home to The Secret Valley Line historic excursion railroad, opening in the fall.

“Seventy percent of the funding was provided by the state and we had to raise the other 30 percent,” said Nathaniel Guest, president of the non-profit Colebrookdale Railroad Restoration Trust, which oversees the line.

The non-profit group has a for-profit subsidiary, Eastern Berks Gateway Railroad, which oversees the freight traffic and was the recipient of the grant.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20140309/14m-grant-will-aid-colebrookdale-railroad-effort

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Caboose Ride Between Boyertown And Pottstown Brings Hopes Of Local Railroad Tourism

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The brick-red caboose rolled into town, the relic greeting its new home as its wheels ground to a halt on the rails.

“Welcome to Boyertown!” announced Nathaniel Guest, president of the Colebrookdale Preservation Trust, who was decked out in a traditional railroad conductor’s uniform.

The 20 or so passengers who took the hourlong scenic excursion Friday afternoon applauded and then gathered their things.

The recently renovated caboose had just completed its inaugural run from Pottstown to Boyertown on the Colebrookdale Railroad, an almost 9-mile stretch of track that connects the two communities.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article/20140120/NEWS/301209949/1052#.Ut1Qc_Qo6c8

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Historic Rail Car Coming Home To Pennsylvania

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BOYERTOWN, PA — A relic from the golden age of Pennsylvania’s railroading past is coming home.

Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) cabin car (known as a “caboose” on other railroads) #477768 was built in Altoona in 1941.

For the last six years, members of the Rivanna Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) have been restoring it at a location in Virginia, far from the car’s home.

Now it is being donated to the non-profit Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust in Boyertown. There it will be maintained and kept in operation on The Secret Valley Line tourist trains that will begin running on the eight mile track between Boyertown and Pottstown in the fall of 2014.

Read more: http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20131224/historic-rail-car-coming-home-to-pennsylvania

Support For ‘Secret Valley’ Rail Line From Boyertown To Pottstown Picks Up Steam

Plans for a tourist excursion railroad on the eight-mile Colebrookdale line between Pottstown and Boyertown are moving forward and picking up support, most recently from a team of 40-or-so volunteers to got together to do a clean-up along the route.

Last weekend, the volunteers, led by the Pottstown Roller Derby Rockstars and folks in Montgomery County’s ARD program performing court-ordered community service, picked up trash along the right of way.

Berks County Subway provided lunch for all volunteers, and the Pottstown Health and Wellness Foundation provided water.

J.P. Mascaro & Sons provided two dumpsters.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130617/NEWS01/130619394/support-for-secret-valley-rail-line-from-boyertown-to-pottstown-picks-up-steam#full_story

$2.3M Restoration Of Frick’s Lock Village Unveiled

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Chester County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Chester County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

EAST COVENTRY TOWNSHIP, PA — In its heyday, Frick’s Lock Village was one of dozens of stops along the Schuylkill Navigation for coal making its way from the coal regions and the river’s headwaters to energy-starved industrial cities like Philadelphia.

But it lost its economic lustre when the railroads took over the job of carrying the coal and it slipped from public view entirely in 1969, when it was purchased by PECO as part of the construction of the Limerick nuclear plant.

But it never slipped entirely from memory, at least not for people like Bill Carl, who lived in the former locktender’s house in the late 1930s, when it had no electricity and no plumbing.

“We rented this from the Reading Railroad Co. for $5 a month,” he said.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130512/NEWS01/130519819/-2-3m-restoration-of-frick-s-lock-village-unveiled#full_story

New Iron Exhibit Opens At Pottsgrove Manor With A Lecture By Dan Graham

Stove (1)Pottstown, PA (January 17, 2013) – On Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 1:00pm, Pottsgrove Manor will open a new exhibit on Pennsylvania’s colonial iron industry with a lecture from historian Dan Graham.

In 1715, a Germantown blacksmith named Thomas Rutter built the first ironwork in the colony of Pennsylvania along the Manatawny Creek, setting the stage for the development of an ironworking empire in the region.  John Potts’ father, Thomas, entered into business with Rutter in 1725, and the next few generations of their families came to dominate the colonial iron industry through technical skill, business acumen, and profitable marriages.  In the exhibit “Forging a Lifestyle: Ironworking with the Potts Family,” the ins and outs of the early iron industry will be explored, from the physical work that was involved—mining, making charcoal, powering the forges and furnaces—to the business decisions that were made by those who owned and ran the ironworks, like the Potts, Rutter, Nutt, and Savage families.

The exhibit will kick off with Dan Graham’s lecture: “Colonial Pennsylvania Cast Iron Fire Backs, Stove Plates, and Warming Stoves, 1726-1760.”  Graham has done extensive research on the Potts and Rutter families and the early Pennsylvania iron industry.  His talk will focus on two of the products that came out of the early Pennsylvania iron furnaces, fire backs and stoves.  He will trace the development of stoves from the simple five-plate jamb stove to the elaborate ten-plate cooking stoves and the Franklin stove.  After the lecture, guided tours of the new iron exhibit will be offered.

The exhibit is open to all ages and can be viewed on a guided tour of Pottsgrove Manor during the museum’s regular hours between March 9, 2013 and November 3, 2013.  There is a suggested donation of $2 per person for the tour.

Pottsgrove Manor, home of John Potts, colonial ironmaster and founder of Pottstown, is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks and Heritage Services Division of the Assets and Infrastructure Department.

Regular museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  Tours are given on the hour.  The last tour of the day begins as 3:00pm.  Groups of ten or more should pre-register by calling 610-326-4014.  For more information and a full calendar of events, please visit the website at: http://historicsites.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor or like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/PottsgroveManor.

Bern Section Of Schuylkill River Trail To Be Built

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s taken nearly five years to get to this point, but a half-mile walking trail along the Schuylkill River in Bern Township will be built by summer.

“It will be nice for people to get out on the trail,” Bern Township Manager Brian Potts said. “It’s picturesque in the summertime. It’s a nice location. Hopefully, people will enjoy it.”

The idea for the trail started in 1996, as Bern officials began working on a comprehensive parks and recreation plan. Potts said the trail was discussed again in the middle of the last decade, but Bern officials seriously began work on the project in 2007.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=453648

“Twelfth Night Tours” At Pottsgrove Manor

Pottstown, PA– Visit Pottsgrove Manor between Friday, November 23, 2012 and Sunday, January 6, 2013, for a glimpse of colonial life during the holiday season.

With the historic site’s annual “Twelfth Night Tours,” visitors of all ages can enjoy a guided tour of the beautiful 1752 Georgian manor house, decorated with greenery for Yuletide.  Along the way, guests will learn about traditional English celebrations of Twelfth Night and how they differed from modern Christmas celebrations.

The tours are offered during regular museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The museum is closed Mondays, as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Tours are given on the hour; the last tour of the day begins at 3:00 p.m.  A donation of $2 per person is suggested for the tour.  Groups of 10 or more should pre-register by calling (610) 326-4014.

Visitors will also want to stop into Pottsgrove Manor’s museum shop for unique, historically-oriented gifts like locally-made redware pottery and ornaments, reproduction glassware, handcrafted candles and soaps, books, toys, games, and more.  The museum shop is open during regular museum hours.

Pottsgrove Manor, home of John Potts, colonial ironmaster and founder of Pottstown, is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks and Heritage Services Division of the Assets and Infrastructure Department.  For more information and a full calendar of events, visit the website at http://historicsites.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor or follow Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/PottsgroveManor.

“Living History Sundays” At Pottsgrove Manor

Pottstown, Pennsylvania — Come spend a casual summer Sunday afternoon at Pottsgrove Manor and enjoy the 18th century surroundings as volunteers demonstrate colonial trades and pastimes.

On August 5, 12, 19, and 26, from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Pottsgrove Manor’s living history volunteers, dressed in colonial period clothing, will be living life the colonial way.  Activities may include needlework, gunsmithing, butter churning, tape weaving, and more.  Visitors can watch, learn, and even join in!  Activities will vary from week to week, so call ahead or check the event listing on Pottsgrove Manor’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pottsgrovemanor to find out what will be offered that day.

A donation of $2 per person is suggested for this program.  Guests can also tour the museum’s current exhibit, “Matters Personal, Details Private:  Cleanliness, Hygiene, and Personal Pursuits in the Colonial Home” on their visit.

The exhibit can also be viewed during a guided tour of Pottsgrove Manor during regular museum hours now through November 4.  Regular museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Tours are given on the hour.  The last tour of the day begins at 3:00 p.m. The site is closed Mondays and major holidays.  Groups of then or more should pre-register by calling 610-326-4014.

Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks and Heritage Services Department.  For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit us the website at http://historicsites.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor.

Passenger Rail Excursions Planned For Historic Short Line In Boyertown

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sound of the whistle echoed through Boyertown Saturday as the diesel engine left a rail yard near Third and Chestnut streets pulling two hoppers loaded with scrapped steel.

The 8.2-mile downhill trip to Pottstown had begun.

Engineer Fitzhugh “Beanie” Clark said Eastern Berks Gateway Railroad is running one or two trips a week on the historic short line known as the Colebrookdale Spur.  It first became operational in 1869.

The Berks County commissioners bought the line for $1.35 million in March 2009 to save it from abandonment by a former owner, and contracted with Eastern Berks to operate it.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=401732

Colonial Textile Program At Pottsgrove Manor

Pottstown, PA – What people often throw out today would have been repaired, refreshed, or reused by their colonial counterparts. Visitors to historic Pottsgrove Manor on Saturday, June 9th between 11:00am and 3:00pm can see how this was done.

The interactive program, “Cleaning & Mending, Repairing, Extending: The Non-Disposable 18th- Century Textile,” will feature a variety of living history activities and demonstrations throughout the day. These will include colonial laundry, dyeing, sewing, mending, ironing, and more.

A donation of $2 per person is suggested for this program. This program is being held in conjunction with Pottsgrove Manor’s current exhibit, “Matters Personal, Details Private: Cleanliness, Hygiene, and Personal Pursuits in the Colonial Home.” Guided tours of the exhibit will be offered on the hour during the program.

The exhibit can also be viewed during a guided tour of Pottsgrove Manor during regular museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tours are given on the hour. The last tour of the day begins at 3:00 p.m. The site is closed Mondays and major holidays. Groups of ten or more should pre-register by calling 610-326-4014.

Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks and Heritage Services Department. For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit the website at http://historicsites.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor.

Boytertown Council Hears Plans For Colebrookdale Rail Spur, Park

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Image via Wikipedia

There is no shortage of ideas for new projects in and around Boyertown.

Borough council heard three of them this week: rail tourism, a walking trail and a fenced-in park area for dogs.

The tourist railroad envisioned by Nathaniel C. Guest would use the historic 8.6-mile Colebrookdale Spur line between Boyertown and Pottstown, which Berks County bought for $1.35 million in 2009.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=364402

Jim Thorpe: Revitalization Success Story – Pottstown: Umm, No…

Postcard picture from 1915 of a "bird's e...

Image via Wikipedia

I drove up to Jim Thorpe today thinking it would be cooler in the mountains (not) and because it is a funky place (this was not my first visit, hence I already knew it was funky).

Jim Thorpe is the county seat of Carbon County.  Carbon County has a total land area of 387 square miles and 65,249 residents, based on the 2010 Census (a population density of 171 persons per square mile).  Jim Thorpe’s population was 4,804 (2000 census) with a land area of 14.5 square miles (mostly undeveloped, obviously).  Carbon County borders Lehigh County to the south and Luzerne County to the north.

Jim Thorpe was originally two towns across the Lehigh River from one another – Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk.  The two towns merged and adopted the name Jim Thorpe, after famed Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe who is buried in the borough.  Originally, what is now Jim Thorpe was a railroad and coal-shipping center.  Like many Pennsylvania towns, Jim Thorpe found itself on the downside of post-industrialization and languished for many years.  Becoming Jim Thorpe was the first attempt to boost the local economy.  This offered only limited success and so the town leadership needed to find other means of ramping up their economy.

Today, Jim Thorpe is a bustling small town that has become a destination (are we paying attention Pottstown?) using its natural surrounding, its heritage and some good marketing. 

Jim Thorpe has capitalized on being a former railroad town.  You can take an awesome train ride along the Lehigh River.  During the trip you learn about local history, play games and answer questions.  It is very enjoyable and affordable.  Asa Packer and his son Harry Packer have mansions in Jim Thorpe.  Asa’s mansion is a museum and Harry’s mansion is a B&B.  Asa Packer founded the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Lehigh University.

Jim Thorpe is a river town.  The Lehigh River runs between both sides of town.  Taking advantage of being a river town, Jim Thorpe offers whitewater rafting on the Lehigh. 

Jim Thorpe is also a mountain town.  It’s called the “Switzerland of America”.  Taking advantage of being in the mountains, the town offers mountain biking and hiking.  They threw in paintball just because.  And don’t forget the Anthracite Triathlon, paying homage to being a coal-shipping center and part of the Coal Region.

Jim Thorpe is a historic town, full of 19th century architecture.  One can see examples of Federalist, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne and Richardsonian RomanesqueSt. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the Carbon County Courthouse, the Packer Mansions, the Train Station, the Hotel Switzerland, historic Broadway, the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Building and the Carbon County jail are some of the architectural attractions in town.

Jim Thorpe is so cool.  How cool is it??  Jim Thorpe was listed as number 7 on Budget Travel magazine’s America’s Coolest Small Towns in 2009.

Downtown Jim Thorpe is full of restaurants, bars, boutiques and stores of all kinds.  No empty buildings or mental health drop-in center.  Everything is clean and neat.  There is signage every where so you can find your way.  There is plenty of cheap parking…you have to pay but it is only a few dollars for the day.  There is plenty of foot and vehicular traffic coursing through the downtown.  Keep in mind this town has 4,804 people (or there about – not finding 2010 census results yet) and their downtown puts Pottstown’s to shame.  What’s wrong with that picture?  Jim Thorpe is 4 ½ time smaller than Pottstown, off the beaten path (Carbon County is not exactly Montgomery County with 800,000 people) and yet this town still finds ways to revitalize and thrive, even in a bad economy.

Would you suppose the Mayor of Jim Thorpe nuzzles the ear of the Carbon County Commissioners at local events and undermines the borough council’s downtown revitalization strategy and possibly harms a local business?  Would you suppose the Mayor of Jim Thorpe goes on the local radio station and bad-mouths borough council or that his/her spouse calls borough council a bunch of idiots while storming out of a meeting?  Would you suppose the Mayor of Jim Thorpe blows off out-of-town visitors and embarrasses borough council by promising to do something and then not doing it?

What do you suppose Jim Thorpe’s secret it?  Would you think the borough leadership came up with a plan and sticks with it?  Would you think there is a vision for Jim Thorpe and that the leadership works together and speaks with one voice?  Would you think taking advantage of a town’s history and natural surroundings is as good idea? Would you think creating a destination environment to attract repeat visitors is a good strategy?  Do you think embracing art and culture is a good strategy?  Jim Thorpe does.

Obviously, we are doing something very wrong in Pottstown that we are put to shame by a little mountain town in rural Carbon County.  They have left us in the dust.

Bethlehem Opens 10.9-Mile Heritage Trail

Historic Bethlehem has a new heritage trail that can be viewed via an 80-stop walking tour.  The City of Bethlehem unveiled this project to the public on Monday.  The tour includes such sites and the Waterworks and Bethlehem Steel.

There are six links in the tour: Moravian Founders, Monocacy Valley, Westward Expansion, Victorian Bethlehem, Farmland to Industry and Steel.  The self-guided tour charts the city’s progress since 1741.  There is also an audio component to the tour which can be purchased for $12.00.  Bethlehem already had several walking tours and many of these 80 sites had previously been renovated.  This Heritage Trail has tied everything together for visitors and residents alike.

A heritage trail is also being developed for Pottstown.  Sue Repko and Tom Carroll have been working very hard to make this happen.  It will leverage the rich history of Pottstown and its location on the Schuylkill River.  There are many similarities between Pottstown and Bethlehem.  Both communities were large steel producers during their industrial heyday and have many historic homes and buildings.  The difference is that Bethlehem has capitalized on their heritage for some time now and continues to identify ways to attract business, industry, new residents and visitors.  Let us hope with the recent momentum of PAID and our own heritage trail initiative that Pottstown can add another similarity to Bethlehem.

For more information on Bethlehem’s Heritage Trail, click here:

http://www.historicbethlehem.org/index.cfm?organization_id=127&section_id=1925&page_id=9603

Andrew Kefer: Pottstown Planning Commission’s Newest Member

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

A Roy’s Rants Exclusive Interview

I had the opportunity to interview our newly elected Planning Commission Member this evening.  I was anxious to interview Andrew in light of some recent comments on local blogs.  I think it is important to get to know someone before jumping to conclusions based on supposition or fear of the unknown.

Andrew was raised in Caln Township, near Coatesville.  He was brought up to appreciate cities and urban areas by his parents, who were from Philadelphia.  As a child, he was often taken to Philadelphia where he was exposed to the many things Pennsylvania’s largest city has to offer. 

Andrew majored in Philosophy at Fordham University in NYC from 1992 to 1996.  Andrew made a conscious decision to attend college in a big city so he could have that experience.  Living in NYC allowed Andrew to visit neighborhoods, in places like Brooklyn, that were revitalized during his college years.  Andrew agrees with gentrification but he draws the line at the displacement of the original residents.  There should be a balance struck between the new and the old.

In 2003, Andrew and his wife decided to buy a home on Chestnut Street and renovate it.  They were attracted to Pottstown initially because of the reasonable rents and stayed because of the affordability of owning a home.  They were encouraged by the talk of downtown revitalization and the centralized elementary center project that was proposed for the core neighborhood.

The Kefer’s moved into their Chestnut Street home in April of 2004.  They did most of the renovation themselves.  After settling in they began to notice the level of crime in their neighborhood.  They have two children, ages 5 & 6, and the crime in their neighborhood is a concern.

The core neighborhood has a higher than usual percentage of rental properties (even for Pottstown).  People like the Kefer’s are needed to buy and renovate the existing housing stock in the core neighborhood to stabilize it.  

Andrew enjoys reading Sue Repko’s blog, Positively!Pottstown, and has since gotten to know her.  He is working with her on the Community Land Trust.  He attended the Code Blue sponsored meeting with Attorney Adam Sager at the Pottstown Diner and the summit at Invictus Ministries.  By attending these events, Andrew got to know more people in Pottstown who are making a difference.  

I asked Andrew what, if any, affiliation he has with Thomas Hylton.  Some comments were posted on SavePottstown that questioned whether he is Hyltonite.  The Kefer’s are neighbors of the Hyltons but Andrew only met Mr. Hylton one time.  He recognizes the contributions Mr. Hylton made to Pottstown; however Andrew’s approach is far different than the man he is replacing on the Planning Commission.  Andrew’s approach is:  engage in a dialogue, build a consensus and a resolution will emerge.

Andrew likes the rich architecture of Pottstown, the walkable community aspect and the adaptive reuse of buildings.  Pottstown is built-out and should take advantage of existing buildings and transform them, rather than demolish them.

Andrew would like to make the Planning Commission friendlier and cut some red tape.  We need economic development to help lower taxes, lower crime and revitalize Pottstown.  For example, there are industrial parcels all over Pottstown that would be lend themselves to things such as the manufacturing of wind turbines, solar panels and other green technologies.

Key ingredients to our revitalization will be the arts, green business and things like heritage tourism.  Andrew feels a sense of urgency that Pottstown needs to develop a vision, based on the ULI recommendations and see it come to fruition.  Pottstown can go either way.  The longer we delay moving forward the more difficult that task will become.

We wish Andrew well in his endeavors to help move Pottstown forward.  It would seem a new day is dawning in Pottstown and we finally have a critical mass of “doers” who can make the revitalization I have waited for, since 1983, actually happen.