Originally published in the Around Town section of Berks County Living’s March 2016 issue
Many Berks County residents now call the small borough of Sinking Spring home, but it was once the site of an important water source for early farmers, and served as a hub for industry and rail transport before settling into the residential neighborhood it is today.
The Disappearing Spring
The borough of Sinking Spring was built around its namesake – a spring that would periodically disappear underground. When water levels ran low the spring would sink into fissures in the limestone bedrock, sometimes even running completely dry. Despite its irregularity it served as a valuable water source for early settlers. At its highest levels a small pond topped the spring and was an ideal spot for watering cattle. Property deeds from the late 1700s and early 1800s even reflect grazing rights to this area. As the area grew more populated the cow paths to the spring eventually became roads, which is why the roads immediately surrounding the site are so complicated. The spring, located on the south side of Penn Avenue near the intersection of Route 724, no longer runs above ground. Development and private well drilling likely disrupted the water table, forcing the water further underground.
From Watering Hole to Hometown
The borough celebrated its centennial anniversary two years ago, but was settled long before its incorporation in 1913. Settlers moving west along the Tulpehocken Path first settled the lands around the spring in the late 1720s. For decades the primary industry in Sinking Spring was farming but eventually residents began to mine iron ore and opened cigar factories, tanneries, and coal and lumber businesses. The expansion of transportation, including the completion of local rail lines through the area, initially led to growth. However, when trolley lines to surrounding communities were built people no longer had to find work in town, instead they took the trolley to industries to the east and Sinking Spring became primarily residential. The borough experienced another short period of growth in the Roaring Twenties, but the expansion ended with the Great Depression.
Along the Rails
The small borough became a hub for passenger and material transport when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad began running from Reading to Harrisburg in 1857, with a station in Sinking Spring. Rail traffic increased when the Reading and Columbia line, which began at the local station, was completed. A freight house was built in 1858 to house goods being transported through the area, and the Sinking Spring passenger station was erected in 1872 to accommodate passenger service. The depot and train station served as the heart of the community for nearly 100 years until the nationwide decline of passenger service caused the station to close in the 1960s. In 1978 the Save the Station Committee rallied enough financial support to restore the historic buildings, and moved the old freight house and passenger station to their present location in Heritage Park. The buildings now serve as a civic museum and activity center where the public can learn more about the area’s rich rail history.
Water Hazard The area’s iron ore mine flooded in the 1870s. The pond on the Village Greens golf course tops the flooded mine shaft.
Have a Cigar Cigar making was one of the town’s principal industries for nearly 50 years. The Borough Council Hall used to be a cigar shop.
Count to 8 The Octagon School House that once stood at Mull and Penn had stone walls almost three feet thick, and was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.