Reading And Pottsville
( Originally Published 1900 )
The diminutive Schuylkill breaks its passage through this elevated range, with Penn's Mount on one side and the Neversink Mountain on the other, and here is located the most populous city of the Schuylkill Valley — Reading, with seventy thousand population, a seat of iron-making and extensive rail-way shops, having a fertile agricultural region in the adjacent valleys. This expanding and attractive city gives its name to, and obtains much of its celebrity from the " Philadelphia and Reading Railway," the colossal financial institution whose woes of bankruptcy and throes of reconstruction have for so many years occupied the attention of the world of finance. This great railway branches at Reading, and its western line runs off through red sandstone rocks and among iron mills and out upon a high bridge, thrown in a beautiful situation across the Schuylkill, and proceeds over the Lebanon Valley to the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg. This rich limestone valley, between the South Mountain and the Blue Ridge, is a good farming district, and also a wealthy region of iron manufacture. The Reading system also sends its East Pennsylvania route eastward to Allentown in the Lehigh Valley, and thence to New York. Factory smokes overhang Reading, through which the Schuylkill flows in crooked course, spanned by frequent bridges, and puffing steam jets on all sides show the busy industries. A good district sur-rounds Reading in the mountain valleys, and the thrifty Dutch farmers in large numbers come into the town to trade. The high forest-clad mountains rise precipitously on both sides, with electric railways running up and around them, disclosing magnificent views. The "old red sandstone" of these enclosing hills has been liberally hewn out to make the orna-mental columns for the Court House portico and build the castellated jail, and also the red gothic chapel and elaborate red gateway of the " Charles Evans' Cemetery," where the chief townsfolk expect, like their ancestry, to be buried. The visitor who wishes to see one of the most attractive views over city, river, mountain and distant landscape can climb by railway up to the "White Spot," elevated a thou-sand feet above the river, on Penn's Mount. This point of outlook is an isolated remnant of Potsdam sandstone, lying, the geologists say, unconformably on the Laurentian rock.
Beyond Reading, the Schuylkill breaks through the Blue Ridge at Port Clinton Gap, eighteen miles to the northwest. The winding and romantic pass is about three miles long, and just beyond there is, at Port Clinton, a maze of railway lines where the Reading Company unites its branches converging from various parts of the anthracite coal-fields. The Little Schuylkill River here falls into the larger stream, and a branch follows it northward to Ta-maqua, while the main line goes westward to Pottsville. The summit of the Blue Ridge is the eastern boundary of the coal-fields, and the country beyond is wild and broken. The next great Allegheny ridge extending across the country is the Broad Mountain beyond Pottsville, though between it and the Blue Ridge there are several smaller ridges, one being Sharp Mountain. The country is generally black from the coal, and the narrow and crooked Schuylkill has its waters begrimed by the masses of culm and refuse from the mines. Schuylkill Haven, ninety miles from Philadelphia, is where the coal trains are made up, and branches diverge to the mines in various directions. Three miles beyond is Pottsville, confined within a deep valley among the mountains, its buildings spreading up their steep sides, for here the malodorous and blackened little river breaks through Sharp Mountain. This is a city of fifteen thousand people, and the chief town of the Schuylkill or Southern coal-field, which produces ten millions of tons of anthracite annually. The whole country roundabout is a network of railways leading to the various mines and breakers, and there are nearly four hundred miles of railways in the various levels and galleries underground. We are told that in the eighteenth century John Pott built the Greenwood Furnace and Forge, and laid out this town; and afterwards, when coal-mining was developed, there came a rush of adventurers hither; but of late years Pottsville has had a very calm career.
To the northward of the Schuylkill or Southern coal-field, and beyond the Broad Mountain, is the "Middle coal-field," which extends westward almost to the Susquehanna River, and includes the Mahanoy and Shamokin Valleys. Both these fields also ex-tend eastward into the Lehigh region ; and it is note-worthy that as all these coal measures extend east-ward they harden, while to the westward they soften. The hardest coals come from the Lehigh district, and they gradually soften as they are dug out to the westward, until, on the other side of the main Allegheny range, they change into soft bituminous, and farther westward their constituents appear in the form of petroleum and as natural gases. The region beyond Pottsville is unattractive. Various railways connect the Schuylkill and Lehigh regions, and cross over or through the Broad Mountain. The district is full of little mining villages, but has not much else. It is a rough country, with bleak and forbidding hills, denuded of timber by forest fires, with vast heaps of refuse cast out from the mines, some of them the ac-cumulations of sixty or seventy years. Breakers are at work grinding up the fuel, which pours with thundering noise into the cars beneath. The surface is strewn with rocks and débris, and the dirty waters of the streams are repulsive. These blackened brooks of the Broad Mountain are the headwaters of the Schuylkill River.