Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Berks County Living
Like many other places in Berks County, settlement in the area that would become Wernersville was established by German immigrants in the 1760s. However, the little borough had a much more contentious beginning than many may realize, and a namesake who turned a small town in the Lebanon Valley into a renowned resort community.
Settled Over Sidewalks
William Werner purchased 52 acres in Lower Heidelberg and began constructing homes in 1844. Within ten years he had laid out lots over 22 acres situated conveniently near the Lebanon Valley Railroad and the Berks and Dauphin Pike. Many families were attracted to the growing village, but as the population grew so did their need for certain amenities, like sidewalks and street lights. When Lower Heidelberg would not cooperate the residents grew restless and started making plans for a new municipality.
The first map of Wernersville was submitted to the Berks County Court along with a petition for incorporation in 1907. Not all residents supported the move, fearing higher taxes and stricter regulations, and the disagreement led to a protracted legal battle. Werner and his constituents finally triumphed in 1914. Less than two years later street lights and sidewalks had been installed throughout the community.
South Mountain’s Healing Powers
It is said that Werner had two stipulations for incorporation: that the place be named after him, and that the passenger trains that previously passed through begin to stop in town. Deals were negotiated with the railroads and soon trains stopped daily, many carrying tourists seeking rest and relaxation at one of several “health resorts” on South Mountain.
These sanatoriums offered mostly non-medical cures and were visited by thousands of wealthy guests from the 1860s until the 1930s. The resorts dominated early social and economic life in Wernersville, and played a significant role in its development. For those who could afford it, the lavish hotels offered scenery, mineral springs, and year-round recreation and entertainment. Their success was based on the idea that fresh air and healing “water cures” would bring good health. Guests could also schedule massages, sulfur baths, and electricity therapies. The Grand View Sanatorium was the first to be established in the 1850s, and it was soon joined by many others. The resorts would get so full that private homes in the area would take in overflow guests.
Biggest Little Station in the County
The resorts drew thousands of tourists, and the Wernersville Railroad Station soon become one of the busiest in Berks County. The original wooden station was erected in 1858, and was updated to a stone building in 1927. By 1941 there were 26 trains stopping in town daily. The only other station between Reading and Harrisburg with as much traffic was in the much larger town of Lebanon. However, as more people chose automobiles over trains, the station was closed in 1963 and left to fall into disrepair.
In 2003, the Heidelberg Heritage Society purchased the building and after nearly ten years of renovations they reopened the station to the public as a railroad museum.
Did You Know:
Price Check William Werner purchased the land that would become Wernersville for $50 per acre.
Pipe Dreams The Wernersville Water Company constructed a 250,000 gallon reservoir on South Mountain and had the water piped into town.
Treatment History Two of the area’s most successful sanatoriums, Sunset Hall and Highland House, are now part of the Caron Foundation campus.