Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Berks County Living
In its early days, the history of the hamlet that would become the Borough of Kutztown was tied closely to that of neighboring Maxatawny. But the community at the crossroads of the Great Road and Saucony Creek eventually grew into its own as a thriving farming town, and as a resting place for weary travelers.
A Prosperous Crossing
Although the first pioneers from Philadelphia settled in the area in 1732, it saw little growth until the Great Road, or the Easton Road, was laid in 1755. At first a few homes and hotels sprang up along the road at the crossing of Saucony Creek, but it wasn’t until the road became a vital artery of commerce between Philadelphia and Easton that the small town started to expand.
Swiss emigrant George Kutz recognized the potential of the crossing and purchased 130 acres along the road the year it was laid. By 1779 the town of Maxatawny had been officially laid out. Within a few decades, the area had developed into a bustling township and the village on the Saucony was prospering. Its residents had grown impatient with township government and on March 1, 1815 the Borough of Kutztown was incorporated and named after its first resident.
Growth By Coach & Caboose
Thanks to its situation along the Great Road, the borough’s growth was closely tied to the transportation through it. In its early years, the area benefited immensely from the addition of a stage coach station. The Reading to Philadelphia coach line was established in 1789 and soon service ran from Reading to Easton daily, with an additional line running from Kutztown to Norristown. This provided incentive for the establishment of hotels, taverns, and other businesses dedicated to traveler’s needs.
Growth slowed for several years after coach service ceased in 1859 with the completion of the East Pennsylvania Railroad line from Reading to Allentown. The Auburn Line, meant to run from the main line to Kutztown, was funded in 1857 but a financial crisis halted the project. Residents waited more than ten years for work to resume. In 1868 the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad finally laid 4.5 miles of track from Topton to Kutztown, reconnecting commerce and trade and kick starting expansion. The short line was the most profitable for its length, handling vast amounts of freight and heavy passenger travel.
They say practice makes perfect, which may be why Kutztown is so well-known for its fairs. As early as the 1830s Kutztown was home to a popular military fair. It was a celebration and reunion of local militia and volunteers, but the massive event began to lose popularity in the late 1860s when brawls became a common occurrence.
In 1870 the Kutztown Agricultural Association gave new life to the fairs. For several years it hosted horse races and an agricultural fair, until the original fairgrounds were sold in 1877 and the event was discontinued. Residents clamored for its return, so in 1905 the Kutztown Fair Association developed the fairgrounds we know today, and constructed fair houses and livestock buildings as well as a new race track. Finally, in 1950 Franklin and Marshall College founded the Kutztown Folk Festival to celebrate Pennsylvania German culture.
Did You Know?
Taming the Troops The formation of the Kutztown Normal School, present day Kutztown University, had a refining effect on the community that resulted in the end of the brawling battalions and the military fair.
Cultural Beginnings The rolling hills and forested mountains of the valley attracted many German immigrants escaping religious persecution. It was here that they developed the county’s vibrant “Pennsylvania Dutch” community.
Honorable Houseguests It is said that during that Revolutionary War, George and Martha Washington accompanied soldiers camped in Maxatawny, and lodged in the home of local resident Joseph Gross.