City Park (Penn’s Common) is a lovely oasis for the citizens of Reading with a playground, tennis and basketball courts, a band shell, and various memorials in a shady grove. Few people realize the park was set aside for public use by Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn, in 1749 and has gone through many changes nearly 275 years.
The land contained a good spring which many early residents used for drinking water and washing clothes. In addition, there was pasture land, iron mines, and “gallows hill”. The Commons was also used the by the local militia units for training and, for many years between 1798 and 1865, hosted events known as Battalion Days when many units would come together to train and parade, much to the delight of the citizens. It’s also been said there were more than a few soldiers visiting the local bars!
In 1800, the Penn’s sold the land to Berks County and the County Commissioners began various intrusions onto the land. The commissioners saw the land as another piece of county property, but city residents thought it should remain for public recreational use. The county used the land for a water works with reservoirs to store water, the County Prison, and the County Fairgrounds which included a large racetrack for horses.
In 1852, the land was sold to the City. Slowly the park evolved back to public use. The prison and water works were eventually relocated, and the buildings torn down and the fairgrounds moved outside the city. It took over 100 years, but the Commons evolved into the park we see today.
Floyd N. Turner II
President, Board of Trustees, Berks History Center