Martin Kaercher Sr. from Germany purchased 250 acres of land called "Hamburg" in 1772. Its natural wonders made it an ideal area for agriculture and farming. Because of this attribute, "milling" is a prevalent theme in the region's history, associated structures of which still remain today. The area surrounding the present-day downtown includes some of the highest mountainous elevations in the region as well as miles of nature and hiking trails. We are a primary location for hikers to enter and exit the Appalachian Trail.
Kaercher's son laid out 131 lots in 1779 and shortly thereafter settlers began taking advantage of the region's natural resources, sparking up the iron furnace industry era. This phase left us many literary and pictorial remnants of history to piece together.
The town was conveniently located at the core of the product & transportation market. The first road through the area was the Centre Turnpike, established in the early 1800s to provide a 4 to 6 foot wide horse trail. It was eventually widened to accommodate wagons and later stagecoaches, hence the need for the numerous hotels, inns, and taverns often represented in Hamburg's pictures of the past. Shortly thereafter the Schuylkill Canal system was created, initially designed to transport grain, iron, and lumber between Philadelphia and Pottsville
but eventually overtaken with the transportation of coal. The Canal's waterways were most successful during the late 1830s.
The anthracite coal industry demanded an efficient and effective means for transportation. An 1826 charter delineated a 21 mile railway from Tamaqua to Port Clinton, designed to bring coal to the canal. This Little Schuylkill Railroad was completed in 1833, believed to be only the third operating railroad line in America at the time. For the first time, in 1842, a train went the entire distance from Philadelphia to Mount Carbon along the Schuylkill River Valley after the Pennsylvania & Reading railroad purchased the right of way to do so. Until the rise of trucking, the railroad was Hamburg's main source for distributing goods. Hamburg's Reading Railroad Museum provides a glimpse into the history and importance of this particular era.
The quaint town of Hamburg has an inherent charm surrounded in all directions by natural beauty; this image is made all the more alluring with its extensive history. Being conveniently located at the intersection of two major highways makes a prime stopover for shopping and dining opportunities. Hamburg was established along the Schuylkill River, so it has always been in the center of activity regardless of the era of transportation - through canal, railroad, and now cars/trucks.
At one point Hamburg
was even granted the reputation of having more jobs per capita than anywhere else in the country, offering over a dozen industries at the time. The town has produced everything from knitwear and ice cream to fire engines, batteries, and carriages. Big and reputable names prevailed in Hamburg - Penn Steel, Hahn Motors, and Exide Battery. Manufactured product varied greatly throughout Hamburg's industrial period - a time that even provided provisions for both World War efforts. Many of the industrial buildings, which are now vacant, are being restored and reused for new and modern uses in an effort to visually preserve the town's history.
Thousands of people were employed in Hamburg's industrial center. Blocks of homes were evidence that Hamburg was a productive community - one where you could live, work, and shop. Stroll through the town's business district of today and see fine, architectural examples of its past. Local historian George Meiser stated that "Hamburg Borough, organized in 1837, is without a doubt one of the finest towns - architecturally - to be found anywhere in the state."
Aside from the foundries, mills, and factories - Hamburg's history is largely dedicated to its downtown. Stores were often family owned, and each business fulfilled a distinct purpose in the surrounding community, providing residents with what they needed at prices they could
afford. Today, unique specialty shops line the downtown corridor: some are still family owned, many hold a piece of nostalgia or culture, and all businesses provide small town friendly service.
Hamburg's history has progressed through many monumental moments: the 1904 construction of the Carnegie-sponsored public library (the first in Berks County), the first annual King Frost parade in 1910, the devastating flood of 1906, and the construction of the famous tuberculosis sanatorium in 1914.
Explore the town's history while you shop and dine in historic Hamburg - stroll through the downtown's architectural assets, within walking distance of each other. Experience its charm.