The Hamburg Area Historical Society was incorporated August 23, 2001. The purpose of the society is to preserve the historic records of the area encompassing the Hamburg Area School District by collecting historical materials and pertinent artifacts. In March of 2002, the Hamburg Area Historical Society purchased a two-story stone house for use as a museum. The society has been able to trace the house back to 1876, but records show that the home is quite older than that.
Membership to the Society
Membership is open to any United States citizen who is interested in helping to preserve local history along with learning about the lives of local ancestors and how or what they contributed to the growth of our country, state, and nation.
Annual dues are $20.00 per individual or household for the calendar year. A corporate membership is available for $100.00 annually. We also have an annual patron opportunity for $50.00 which includes a business-card-size ad in our newsletter.
Hours – Open every Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm (except holidays)
What is Historic About Hamburg?
Hamburg has no battlefield, no log cabin or stately mansion where someone famous was born. The town has no disaster site (although we survived a terrible flood in 1906), and there are no songs or poems written about the town. But don’t be misled. Our town has a history and a claim to distinction. This little town of 4,000 people nestled by the river and the mountain was a town that worked –in every sense of the word.
Hamburg was laid out in 1779, and attained borough status in 1837. It was a transportation hub, with the old Centre Turnpike, the Schuylkill River and its canal, railroads, and eventually two major highways. It was also an agricultural center, surrounded by farms, dairies and orchards. It was an industrial giant.
In just a few square blocks in the southwest quadrant of town, there were once over a dozen substantial industries—foundries, plants and mills – that employed thousands of people. Hamburg, at some time in the past, was reputed to have had more jobs per capita than any other town in the country. With the building of the tuberculosis sanatorium east of town in 1914, that could very well have been so. As the canal faded into history, the railroads grew, and trucking came into its own. Hamburg was always at the crossroads.
Hamburg’s industries manufactured canal boats, carriages, furniture, trucks and fire engines, iron stoves, bricks, brooms, silk goods, knitted garments, ice cream, iron and steel castings, batteries, and plows. Many of these products were shipped all over the world. Our foundries, factories and mills contributed greatly to the war effort in both world wars, and to the national economy in peacetime.
For almost a century, including through the Great Depression, the industries thrived, employed, produced. This was due to insight and good planning on the part of the people who ran those industries, and to the fine work ethic of the people who worked for them.
Some of the businesses, and many of the commercial enterprises too, were family owned for several generations. Each one had a purpose, filled a niche. At any rate, the jobs were here, and people in the Hamburg area went to work, often only a few blocks from home, often at the same place their parents had worked.
The air was stained by smoke from stacks and trains, and tainted by lead fumes. But people could always find jobs, close enough to be able to walk home for lunch. The lines at the banks on payday were long. The smokestacks, the factory whistles, the regular paychecks, they were part of our history.
In the center of town were many stores. The largest of them would be dwarfed by any of today’s strip malls, but they were ideal for their time. They carried just what the people needed, priced at what they were willing and able to pay. There was healthy competition between them, with several department stores (family-run, not chains), and a great variety of specialty stores – all within easy walking distance. There were also those popular, convenient “mom and pop” grocery stores gracing almost every block.
A utopian idea, prevalent in the middle of the 20th century, was that in the “World of Tomorrow” people would be able to live, work, shop and play in planned communities built along those lines. But those conditions were already here, in Hamburg! We weren’t the only place like that, of course, but we were a good example.
Surrounding all this commerce and industry were the blocks of homes. There were row homes, double homes, modest little wooden houses — often right next to big imposing Victorian structures. These houses were neatly kept, with gardens and trees, and swept sidewalks, and lines of wash hung out in back yards every Monday morning. Some people never locked their doors, never felt they had to. That’s part of our history too.
Churches, schools and recreation filled out their lives. Hamburg musicians formed several good bands, and there were outstanding sport teams. Our Carnegie library was established in 1904. A park and swimming pool, movies, fraternal organizations filled leisure time. The King Frost Parade, begun in 1910, is still drawing tens of thousands of visitors each October.
Most of the smokestacks are gone now, as the industries have gone overseas. Many of the stores have closed. Those that are left are making an effort to fit into the Hamburg of the present day. The surrounding hills are dotted with housing developments and new schools. Most people commute to work. Our future will not resemble our past.
We still supply the world with our best — our people. We’ve sent soldiers to the Revolution and every war since. Our scholars, athletes, workers, and artists, go out into the world and bring us honor.
As far as history goes, looking at the big picture, the way Hamburg grew and sorted itself out has worked. The families, the effort, the daily shouldering of responsibilities, the interaction — it worked remarkably well. That’s our history, and we can be proud of it.
Written by Janet Barr