JULY/2005: New Restaurant Opens in Tamaqua

Tamaqua Bureau Chief, Pottsville Republican

When Wayne E. Collins retired from his position in the Tamaqua Train Station more than 20 years ago, the building he left was completely different from the one he returned to Wednesday evening.

“The last time I worked here, there was only one room fit to be in. Now look at it. It’s just like it was meant to be,” said Collins, Delano, with a sweeping glance around the pristine and fully restored historic station.

Collins attended a VIP event held in celebration of Friday’s upcoming grand opening of The Restaurant at the Station.

In his years with the railroad, Collins worked as an operator, train dispatcher, and most recently as a member of the extra board to distribute employees’ paychecks.

Because Collins is on record as the last employee of the Reading Railroad to work at the station, the owners of The Restaurant at the Station, Bill E. and Sheryl L. Beltz, thought it fitting that he participate in the opening events.

“He was the very last person to work at the train station, so now he’s the very first person to open it up again,” said Sheryl L. Beltz as she raised her glass in a toast to Collins, who then proceeded to open the restaurant’s double glass doors for its first night of service.

Beltz said Wednesday night’s festivities would essentially be the proving grounds for the restaurant, as they presented their service to an anticipated group of up to 100 invited guests, including local politicians, members and officers of Tamaqua Save Our Station (S.O.S.), and others who were instrumental in planning and restoring the train station.

Although most of their staff is working together for the first time, the Beltzes have been in the restaurant business for 15 years and they bring with them experience they’ve gained from running their other restaurant, Brookside Restaurant and Pub in Parkplace.

The Restaurant at the Station will feature a full line of fine dining cuisine, which has proved popular at Brookside.

Beltz added that a full seasonal selection of local Pennsylvania wines will also be served as a tribute to the area.

With the addition of the restaurant, the Tamaqua Train Station has added its final tenant, which completes the long-anticipated plans for the station’s occupation and use.

“The restaurant is really the anchor tenant here,” said Kenneth A. Smulligan of Tamaqua S.O.S. “When its in operation, the station will be open more hours, and the other businesses will see much more business.”

“The businesses really compliment each other. When customers have finished their meals, they’ll naturally visit Gertrude Hawk, the Weed Barn and the gift shop to round out their visit to the station,” Bill E. Betz said.

“Locally, if the people support it, it will be a success,” said Rose Kosch, who works in the station’s gift shop. “They have a lot to be proud of here. Everyone who’s connected with the restoration has done so much, and they deserve a good outcome.”

The Restaurant at the Station has slated its grand opening to the public for Friday.

JANUARY/2004: Tamaqua Station Receives Final $35,000 for Restoration From Heritage Corridor

Tamaqua Bureau Chief, Pottsville Republican

JANUARY 26, TAMAQUA– It will be a new visitors center drawing tourists from miles around to the borough’s downtown. And last week the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area presented the last installment of $35,500 in funding that will make that visitors’ center–at Tamaqua’s historic 1874 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Station–a reality.

“We’re hoping that this will draw visitors that will help bring tourist dollars into the local economy,” said Kurt D. Zwikl, executive director of the heritage area, as he presented the last $7,000 of the funding Friday.

That money will cover final construction of the visitors’ center in the southern wing of the train station. But earlier funding from the historic area also included $6,000 for a future use study of the space inside the station. Some of that use will include a restaurant and retail space–and $22,500 for design of the visitors’ center, said Micah J. Gursky, an aide to state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, familiar with the project.

That design phase included the construction of brochure racks that will be hung in the visitors’ center when construction is completed sometime this summer. The racks will include brochures from various other destinations within the historic area’s five-county corridor covering the entire Schuylkill River watershed.

Brochures for the train station will also be displayed at other sites to keep up a steady flow of visitors to sites throughout the region, Zwikl explained.

“I can’t wait for this building to be filled with people,” said Kenneth A. Smulligan, president of the Tamaqua borough council and Tamaqua Save Our Station (SOS), the non-profit group that has worked over the last 12 years to renovate the station.

In every way, work crews have tried to be as faithful in their restoration as possible, even to the use of original wood moldings both inside and out, though dry wall is being used in place of plaster over most walls. A huge 13-globe chandelier will hang in the main lobby, similar to one in old photos from a similar station in Reading.

The restaurant, which the Tamaqua SOS hopes to place back in service assuming the proper tenant can be found, will include a 24-foot snack bar matching one in photos from the original restaurant, which may have closed around the time of World War I.

Tamaqua SOS poured an estimated $1.5 million in federal and state funding and local donations into restoration over the last 12 years. Near the end of last year, the Tamaqua borough council approved a $150,000 loan to complete the project.

Tamaqua SOS plans to rent the space inside the existing ticket office to a local bank, which would establish a one- or two-teller satellite office for small transactions. The rest of the area inside the station, mainly the old railway express office at the building’s north end, will be rented as retail space. The group also hopes to use a former men’s waiting room just off the main lobby as spillover seating for the restaurant.

AUGUST/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: City Awaits Fall Return of Rail Line

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

AUGUST 13 , POTTSVILLE– The rails will return to Union Station in Pottsville this fall.

“We’re going to lay down 2,000 linear feet of train track,” City Administrator Thomas A. Palamar said as he stood in the station’s parking lot Wednesday.

The crack of fresh spikes being driven into lumber will do more than attract the attention of customers at the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Since this will be the first major step in the planned redevelopment of the four-block area around Union Station, it will also, in time, attract businesses and tourists and spur development, Palamar said. Down the road, he said, the city is planning to boost tourism by hosting train excursions from Union Station.

The Schuylkill Transportation System (STS), meanwhile, is planning to develop an intermodal facility at the site. And Hope Tower Associates LLC is planning to construct a 34,000-square-foot office building where 84 Lumber once stood. “This will ultimately transform what Pottsville will look like to motorists on Route 61,” Palamar said.

It’s been quite a while since train tracks lined the lot, at least 15 years, Palamar said. At one time, there had been rail passenger service from the station to Philadelphia.

The old passenger platform still exists. It’s the blacktop berm on the east side with the electrical squares sticking out at the surface. After Palamar pointed that out, he and John E. Levkulic traced the future path of the tracks.

Levkulic, owner of Levkulic Associates, Pottsville, is the architect who designed the railroad plan. He’s also the project’s construction manager.

The line will connect to a Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co. line just south of Pottsville. “Basically, it’s going to run from a switch north to the blue spruce near Union Station,” Levkulic said.

It won’t exactly be a straight line. There are a few slight turns, including near the parking lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The tracks will run under the Mauch Chunk Street Bridge, Levkulic said. But then, to reach the level of the restaurant’s parking lot, a retaining wall must be constructed to support them, he added.

The tracks will run right along the former passenger platform in the Union Street parking lot, just like they used to, Levkulic added. But that won’t change the layout of the parking lot. “The tracks will be embedded in the asphalt so you can park over them during the week,” Levkulic said.

Currently, the city and architect are working with the state Department of Transportation, Harrisburg, on the finishing touches of the plan. So far, the city has a right-of-way permit, and the environmental review is complete. All that’s left to be checked is the utility clearance.

Levkulic said he had a meeting Aug. 5 with PennDOT officials. “There are some minor changes they want done to the plans, some are just clarifications,” he said. In particular, state officials asked questions about drain pipes hanging off a stone wall just west of the proposed track path.

“We’ll probably make the submission to them in a few weeks,” Levkulic said. “And then, after that, it’s in their hands.”

Once approved, the project will be bid, but only bidders pre-qualified by PennDOT will be considered, Palamar said. Bids will be accepted for three weeks before they’re opened at City Hall, Palamar said.

The construction will be financed with approximately $527,000 in state Transportation Enhancement Grant funds the city has acquired, he added.

JULY/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: Rail Museum Builds Steam in Hamburg

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

JULY 17 , TEMPLE– At 2:30 p.m. on a recent Monday, a freight train roared south past the old Temple train station and sent vibrations through the walls.

It made Carol A. Adams stop to watch. “I enjoy a train break,” she said.

A bit later, Lorrie L. Beard, 24, of Temple, brought her son, Ethan R. Mikulin, 4, over to the old station, where dozens of railcars from yesteryear are on display. “I wanted to take some pictures of the older trains,” Beard said.

It’s the simple everyday things that happen here, from train breaks to visitors, that encourage Adams and other members of the Reading Co. Technical and Historical Society to continue pursuing its goals. One is to establish a museum in Hamburg.

By September, the nonprofit, volunteer society hopes to have some displays open to the public at the former Pennsylvania Steel Foundry at 500 S. Third St. But it’s not going to be an easy job.

Since the society acquired the building officially on April 1, a dedicated contingent of society volunteers has started working there, “tidying up” the complex with brooms and dust pans, Adams said.

Adams, the society’s chairwoman for long-range planning, and her husband, James H., the society’s treasurer, are part of the effort.

The complex is huge. A collection of empty machine shops sits on eight acres on the west side of Third Street, surrounded by a chain-link fence. On that fence is one of the society’s signs.

An environmental study, a Phase II environmental assessment of the property conducted by Berks County’s Existing Developed Area Program was recently completed.

“Nothing dangerous was found and the final report has yet to be received from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. But it’s close,” Carol Adams said.

Meanwhile, the effort to make the place presentable continues. “We have to take the excess furniture out of the office and sweep. We don’t have utilities. So we have to prepare for them,” she said.

“It’s going to take a professional plan for how the buildings can be retrofitted and reused as a museum facility rather than the steel foundry that it was,” James Adams said.

But the society’s volunteers can have something ready by summer’s end. “We’re hoping to take a small section of it and put in some exhibits that are made just by members of our society, exhibits about the history of the railroad. I’m not sure what form they’ll take yet,” he added.

The goal is to have something open to the public by Labor Day, “or shortly thereafter,” he said.

The society won’t be ready for bigger, “professional-made” exhibits at the old foundry this year. They won’t be on display in Hamburg just yet. But down the road, maybe.

At the Hamburg foundry there are twin buildings sitting side by side that resemble airplane hangars. It’s possible they can be turned into shelters for engines, like the bright yellow 1962-model Reading Co. Diesel Locomotive 5513, which the society purchased in 1985 and fully restored.

“It all depends on how we can arrange track,” Carol Adams said. “A lot of what we need to cover we have to be able to get in there by track,” she said.

Shelter for the collection is a major future goal. “We have no cover for these things,” she said. “We have to find a way to keep them under roof so the restoration can be more long-lasting.”

Another goal the society has for the site is to install railroad tracks connecting the foundry to the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern line.

“We need tracks at the bridge at Hamburg to get across the river,” Carol Adams said. “We want to connect Northern Berks and Southern Schuylkill that way,” she added. James Adams said at least a mile of track has to be laid down.

Today, the society has railroad artifacts and equipment available for the public to enjoy in two locations–Temple and Leesport. The group leases those locations, but owns land in Schuylkill County.

Aside from the Hamburg foundry, which Adams said was the biggest single purchase transaction in society history, the group owns four acres of land on Schuylkill Haven’s Island, near the Reading & Northern tracks.

But the only thing the society plans to do with that site over the summer is dream about the possibilities there, Carol Adams said.

“We envision a rail excursion, someday,” she said, “connecting the sites, eventually, in conjunction with the Reading & Northern Railroad, from Schuylkill Haven to Hamburg to Leesport to Temple.”

APRIL/2003: RCT&HS Buys Property in Hamburg!

APRIL 1, HAMBURG–The RCT&HS took possession of property in Hamburg. The 7 acre site, formerly owned by Pennsylvania Steel Foundry, is located adjacent to the Reading and Northern Railroad on the west side of South Third Street and includes several buildings. The property puts the skeleton of our site plan in place with ownership of sites in Schuylkill Haven and Hamburg and lease of Leesport yard and Temple station. Our first tasks at Hamburg are to make sure the buildings are secure and get things cleaned up. You’ll be hearing about ways you can volunteerto help.

This is a giant undertaking by the RCT&HS. It is the largest single purchase ever made by the Society at a price of $115,000. The Board has allocated $25,000 of Capital Campaign money toward paying this debt. That leaves $90,000 to go! If you can contribute to the Capital Campaign, just send your check to the Society with a note. We need your help! Let’s retire this debt quickly so that we can really get going on excursion and museum activities. It’s time to pitch in! TOGETHER WE CAN DO THIS THING! We have the collection, we have community support, we have land, we have the motivation. Be a part of it and invite your friends to join in, too!

FEBRUARY/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: Study Slows Project

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

FEBRUARY 11, HAMBURG–Plans to build a railroad museum in the borough have been slowed due to an ongoing environmental study. The Reading Company Technical and Historical Society, a nonprofit entity, had planned to purchase an eight-acre tract on the west side of South Third Street, where the Pennsylvania Steel Foundry once existed, for its railroad interpretive center project.

Carol A. Adams, society chairwoman for long-range planning, said the Hamburg site is a good one because there are railroad tracks adjacent to it, it is near downtown Hamburg and it is a good size.

Adams said an agreement of sale exists for the site, but she wouldn’t disclose the amount. The property is currently owned by the St. Louis, Mo.-based Atchinson Steel Co.

The results of the environmental assessment will not affect the purchase agreement or the cost, Adams said. However, the assessment is hampering the overall project.

Originally, the society intended to build its museum in Schuylkill Haven and in 1999 entered into a lease agreement with the borough for a tract in the borough’s Island section. Subsequently, the group learned its collection of railroad equipment was more extensive and valuable than originally thought and a larger and more accessible site would be needed. The society then turned its attention from Haven to Hamburg in neighboring Berks County.

“The environmental study is taking a bit longer,” Adams said of the Penn Steel site. “It’s delaying it a bit.”

The environmental study is part of Berks County’s Existing Developed Area Program. Money for the assessment was provided by the county’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Called a Phase II Environmental Assessment, it is hoped the results will disclose the environmental conditions that exist at the site and how much it would cost for a cleanup.

“With properties like this, unless you have an assessment of the environmental condition, it will be very unlikely that it will be sold and redeveloped,” said Thomas C. McKeon, of the Berks Community and Economic Development office.

In addition to purchasing the property, the society will conduct a site feasibility study and acquire public feedback for the interpretive center in Hamburg and possibly with aspects in Temple and Schuylkill County.

The society received an $18,500 grant for the project.

FEBRUARY/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: Rail History Chugs Away

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

FEBRUARY 11, SCHUYLKILL HAVEN–Time has expired for the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society–and possibly for any part of a proposed railroad museum in the borough.

Mark Semanchik, Schuylkill Haven borough solicitor, said during Wednesday’s council meeting that a lease agreement the society signed with the borough in 1999 for 19 acres in the borough’s Island section is “null and void.”

Originally, the society was to construct a storage and display facility for its 70-plus pieces of rail equipment on the parcel between the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co. line and Callowhill Street.

However, last August, the society began shifting gears toward Hamburg borough in northern Berks County as the site for its museum.

Last spring, Carol A. Adams, the society’s chairwoman for long-range planning, and consultant Thomas E. Jones, of Growenen, Daal & Jones, Easton, advised Haven officials learned that the society’s collection of rail items was more valuable than originally thought, and that the Haven location wouldn’t attract enough tourism to support the size and sophistication of the facility needed.

Subsequently, the society veered its attention toward the former Hahn Motors Inc. plant on South Third Street in Hamburg and a section of the nearby Penn Steel facility for its museum.

As late as last September, however, Adams told Haven the society was still hopeful about maintaining the lease for the Island acreage, and possibly eventually using it for some part of the museum setup.

Haven Councilman John C. Dudley said Wednesday that letters were sent to the society back in December regarding the issue, but the borough never received a response.

Dudley said the rail society could renegotiate a contract if it were still interested in the land. As of now, however, the lease has expired.

FEBRUARY/2003: Pottsville Republican Editorial: There’s Still Hope for Rail Museum

From the Pottsville Republican

Hamburg’s Gain Need Not Be Loss

FEBRUARY 7–The Schuylkill Haven Borough Council Wednesday night was forced to hammer the final nail in the coffin of what had once been a magnificent dream for Schuylkill County. The borough, having no choice, declared the lease with the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society null and void. The organization took out a lease in 1999 from the borough to build a railroad museum on borough land behind the Schuylkill Haven Island recreation area. The lease required construction to begin within three years and Haven was looking forward to the museum as a major tourist attraction for the borough and Schuylkill County. In spite of encouragement from Schuylkill Haven, the museum took no action and soon set its eyes on Hamburg instead.

This is an unfortunate blow to “The Little Borough that Could,” but Hamburg’s gain need not be a total loss for Schuylkill Haven and Schuylkill County. Hamburg is tied to Schuylkill County by the common heritage of the Schuylkill Canal and the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad. Both were the leading edge of transportation technology in their day, but neither would have existed had they not had somewhere to go and marketable goods to get. The railroad passed through Hamburg and Schuylkill Haven on its way to the anthracite coal fields, and that fact will be apparent to anyone who visits the museum in Hamburg. Curiosity will be piqued and, if there are railroad destinations just a hop, skip and a jump from Hamburg, and if they are adequately marketed, a railroad museum in Hamburg could still mean more tourism for Schuylkill County.

Rail fans, who will make up the bulk of those visiting a railroad museum, form an enthusiastic niche market. They won’t require a whole lot of nudging to come into Schuylkill County to look at old passenger railroad stations, visit a short line like the one contemplated for the Minersville area, or just see where the tracks lead. If the museum wants to run scenic rail excursions, Schuylkill County is the best destination–Schuylkill Haven may end up with tourists in the end anyway. Admirers of the Reading, Pennsylvania or Lehigh Valley railroads can’t help but have some interest in the anthracite industry, which creates more possibilities. Therefore, better Hamburg than nowhere nearby.

It’s not definite, though. The new site has not been finalized–Temple is also under consideration–and Hamburg could also end up disappointed. So if there is anything that Schuylkill County can do to encourage the location in Hamburg, it should be done. Moreover, Schuylkill County should look to see what can be done to cultivate railroad-oriented tourist attractions that could draw some of the crowds of railfans flocking to Hamburg.

JANUARY/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: Trolley Designs Outlined

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

JANUARY 23, HAMBURG–The future trolley route from Cabela’s to the borough will have visitors taking a trip to the past. While “Shop Historic Hamburg” may be the slogan the town has adopted, an old-fashioned rail trolley line will be designed to lure the expected 6 million visitors stopping at the Cabela’s retail store.

The 246,000-square-foot retail store will specialize in hunting, fishing and all-around outdoor apparel.

Council members discussed the path the rail will take through the borough courtesy of Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co. tracks at their meeting Wednesday night. The council will make a recommendation for the rail to start at Second and Pine streets and travel to the Hamburg Field House, where parking is available and there’s a turnaround point for the trolley.

A meeting will be held Wednesday at Hamburg Area High School where the public can provide input.

In November, members of the Hamburg council met with Andrew M. Muller Jr., president of the railroad; Berks County Commissioner Judith L. Schwank; Thomas C. McKeon, director of Berks County Community and Economic Development; Carol A. Adams of the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society; and additional vested parties from Schuylkill and Berks counties.

Council President Richard W. Boyd said the trolley would run up from Pine Street to Second Street with the potential to turn around at the Hamburg Field House. He also dismissed the idea of the trolley traveling on Fourth and State streets. “As you look at the situation, it’s been generally thought the trolley would run on State or Fourth streets. It could cause problems,” he said, regarding the traffic flow. He added that Pine Street, which extends east and west, is one block south of State Street and has no parking the street.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Councilman Dale Schlenker said.

Despite concerns over a grade on Pine Street, council members were enthusiastic. “We can spark it up,” Councilman Charles R. Figard said.

Boyd said the project will require additional funding from the state. “It’s totally up in the air,” Boyd said. “To go make it happen, it will take state funding for the completion of the rail wing through the borough.” He did not comment on a completion date.

No official action was taken on the trolley route discussion.

JANUARY/2003: Pottsville Republican Article: Cabela’s Grows

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

JANUARY 23, HAMBURG–It’s going to be even bigger. The Cabela’s outdoors mega-store is now getting super-sized. Company officials have announced that the store, set to open in Tilden Township next fall, will be the largest one to date.

This one–which was proposed for 225,000 square feet–has been expanded to 246,000 square feet, said Edward E. Eckman, Cabela’s site locator. “Some of it is for a little extra storage space...that makes it bigger than the one in Michigan,” he said.

Cabela’s has eight stores mainly located in the Midwest. The Tilden Township store–the first to be located on the East Coast–was modeled after the company’s largest store in Dundee, Mich., which stands at 225,000 square feet. Cabela’s, known for its catalogs specializing in outdoors apparel, will sell hunting, fishing and outdoor gear.

The store, to be located at Route 61 and Interstate 78, anticipates drawing 6 million visitors a year. Eckman learned of the modifications to the Tilden Township building plans in mid-December. He said despite the harsh winter, the store is still scheduled to open in the fall, with October the latest possible date officials would like it to open. “To this point, the weather hasn’t hurt us too badly,“ Eckman said. ”It is a temporary inconvenience. You just have to make up for it by working extra hours.“

JANUARY/2003: via CNN Website: Outdoor Superstore Seen as Tourist Draw

The Associated Press

JANUARY 20, HAMBURG–An outdoor superstore featuring a 30-foot indoor mountain replica, a 55,000-gallon walkthrough aquarium and a shooting gallery is getting $27 million in taxpayer funds for its building costs.

The $59 million Cabela’s Inc. store, scheduled to open this fall, has the potential to anchor a tourist destination similar to the theme park built by Hershey Foods Corp., according to state officials.

The state expects the store to attract 6 million visitors a year, the same number generated by a Cabela’s in Dundee, Michigan, and to spur other development in a region hit by factory closings and a declining coal industry.

Area residents say they welcome the 225,000-square-foot store and the 600 jobs it will bring. As many as half of the jobs are expected to be part-time.

In a news release announcing the Cabela’s project in October, Gov. Mark Schweiker called the superstore “one of the most significant employers to move into this region in decades.”

A store dedicated to hunting and fishing, popular pastimes in the area, makes sense to help rebuild the economy, said Stephen Herzenberg, an economist with the Keystone Research Center, a think tank. He questioned, however, whether the large incentive, which amounts to about $45,000 a job, is necessary.

Cabela’s began pushing for subsidies four years ago. The weak economy was “great incentive” for state and local officials to work with Cabela’s, said Ed Eckman, the company’s site locator.

The store expects to generate $58 million to $75 million in sales a year and an estimated $3.5 million to $4.5 million in sales taxes, state officials said.

Hamburg is about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

DECEMBER/2002: Railpace Magazine News: RCT&HS Museum Plans

the Keystoner Column, Railpace Magazine

The Reading Company Technical & Historical Society has announced plans for a multi-site museum. Preserving the rich heritage of the Reading Railroad is the goal of a proposed multi-site museum that would offer scenic train ride excursions from Temple to Hamburg and eventually into Schuylkill County. The 900-plus member group recently commissioned a study that recommended use of multiple sites where the significance of the Reading Railroad could be interpreted.

Society members have outlined the proposal to local and regional government officials and chambers of commerce. The museum system would be a regional tourist attraction that would provide economic developmental opportunities for communities along the line. Carol A. Adams, who heads the site-development committee, said the most urgent goal is to get a roof over the nearly milling collection of rolling stock the organization has acquired over the last 26 years. Since it formed in 1976, the group has assembled one of the largest collections of equipment and artifacts relating to a single railroad in the United States. Much of the equipment, including rail cars and locomotives, is stored at the society’s base on the Reading & Northern’s Schuylkill Division (ex-BM&R, ex-PRR) rail line along Wall Street in Leesport. The property is not large enough to store all the equipment or properly display it.

Phase I of the plan focuses on opening three interpretive centers in Temple, Hamburg and Schuylkill Haven along existing freight lines, and operating weekend excursions on the ex-BM&R between Temple and Hamburg. Phase II focuses on developing the museum sites and extending the excursion runs into Reading and Schuylkill Haven. The extension would require the reconstruction of a bridge across the Schuylkill River north of Hamburg linking the former PRR Schuylkill Valley Branch with the ex-Reading Company Pottsville Line.

The society’s long-term vision is the possible development in Reading of a museum dedicated to the history of steam power in the United States. The society leases the Muhlenberg and Schuylkill Haven properties, but plans to buy the Hamburg property. That property, an industrial site at Third and Windsor streets, includes two cavernous buildings: the Hahn Motors building and Penn Steel foundry. The Hahn Motors building is the type of property the society has been seeking for its base because of its size and location near rail lines. The plan has several hurdles, notably funding, members acknowledged. “It’s is extremely ambitious and comprehensive, and it’s going to need public-private partnerships of all sorts,” Adams said. The Society needs to raise $300,000 by March 15, 2003. Contributions can be made to the RCT&HS Museum Fund, P.O. Box 15143, Reading, PA 19612-5143 (you may also make a much-appreciated on-line donation via PayPal).

For more info:
• contact Carol Adams, Long-Range Planning Chair, at museum@readingrailroad.org  

NOVEMBER/2002: Pottsville Republican Article: Rail Trolley, Museum Plan Draws Support

Staff Writer, Pottsville Republican

NOVEMBER 23, PORT CLINTON–Next year, a trolley could take people from the planned Cabela’s in Tilden Township to Hamburg, enticing them to shop inthe borough’s historic downtown. The trolley project would dovetail with plans by the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society for a rail museum and interpretive center spanning Schuylkill and Berks counties that features an excursion line between sites.

Society members discussed their plans Friday before a gathering of business and local government representatives at the headquarters of the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co. Andrew M. Muller Jr., Reading & Northern president was energetic about the project. “I don’t want to be bogged down talking about this for the next 10 years ...we’re going go for the money and get this done,” he said.

“The Cabela’s and museum opportunity has brought everything together,” he said. “With Cabela’s, very few people will go to Hamburg. We have to think of a way to get people into Hamburg.” Mueller thinks the trolley, which would actually ride on tracks, will supplement the museum concept. “The museum is going to benefit from the trolley,” Mueller said. “I don’t see anybody losing.”

If the trolley project materializes, Muller said he would build a visitors center/train station along Hamburg’s State Street. “The immediate thing we need to do is connect those 6 million people to Hamburg,” said Thomas C. McKeon, director of Berks County Community and Economic Development, who played a significant role in attracting Cabela’s. Cabela’s officials have said the hunting, fishing and retail store will bait 6 million tourist per year.

However, Carol A. Adams, in charge of long-range planning for the society, said education can also attract visitors. “People want to teach their children, not just buy fishing rods,” Adams said. The society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Reading Railroad history and equipment, is currently in negotiations to buy the former Hahn Motors and Penn Steel Foundry buildings to house its railroad artifacts and start an interpretive center.

A study suggested developing multiple sites spanning two counties for the interpretive center and developing a scenic excursion line between them. The initial rail route would operate between Temple, Muhlenberg Township, Berks County, and Hamburg, but it would eventually continue to Schuylkill Haven.At one time, the society had considered putting its museum in Schuylkill Haven, but those plans fell through.

“It’s a dream for the members of the society, and it’s time to move forward,” said Judith L. Schwank, Berks County commissioner. While Muller voiced commitment, he also stressed the importance of community involvement.

Forming a regionalized railroad authority to work through the funding of the project was another concept mentioned at the meeting. “I think the connectivity and link of the different communities and the development of tourism plans can benefit Schuylkill County and Berks County,” said John F. Sninsky, executive director of the Schuylkill Transportation System.

OCTOBER/2002: Website Article: Major Economic-Development Success Story Announced

Gov. Mark Schweiker has announced that world-class outdoors outfitter Cabela’s will locate its first East Coast store in Tilden Township, Berks County. Cabela’s will create nearly 700 jobs and invest at least $20 million in private matching funds for the project.

“This is a landmark day for Pennsylvania and, in particular, Berks County,“ Gov. Schweiker said. ”Cabela’s is a top-notch, family-operated company and one of the most significant employers to move into this region in decades.

The implications of this project go far beyond the hundreds of jobs created at Cabela’s Berks County location. It goes even beyond all the support jobs and businesses that will thrive alongside it.

The new 225,000-square-foot store will be located at a 100-acre site at Interstate 78 and Route 61 and is expected to attract more than 6 million visitors a year to the area. Cabela’s anticipates beginning construction on the site immediately and expects the new store to open in the fall of 2003.

The Commonwealth has agreed to invest $7 million in the project, including a $1 million Opportunity Grant for project construction and site costs, $1 million in Customized Job Training funds for the training of non-point of sale employees, and $5 million in funding from PENNDOT for building a ramp, improving State Route 61 and other public roadways in the Tax Increment District.

The Commonwealth is expected to add $5 million in Capital Budget funds.