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Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies
Alison D. (Berger) Boor

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Life in Strausstown
The Berger home in Strausstown
Life in West Lawn
2026 Penn Ave
At 103
The family vacations

Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies

The information in this document comes from family files, letters and oral interviews (with Betty Berger, Carrie Spatz, Doris and Fritz Miller, Bob Unger, Kathryn Berger, Paul Berger and Dorsen Berger).

Life in Strausstown:

The story of our family in the 20th century begins in Strausstown, the sole town in Upper Tuplehocken Township (formed in 1820), 6 miles NW of Bernville along Rt 183, equidistant laterally between Shartlesville and Bethel, and about 18 miles from Reading. The word Tulpehocken is of Indian origin meaning “Land of Turtles.” Two miles east of Strausstown was the location of Fort Northkill, built in 1754 and named for the small creek that flows to the Tulpehocken at Bernville. The fort was used for protection against Indians. This part of the country had its share of Indian trouble, including the famous “Bloody Springs massacre” at the home of the Degler family, near Ft. Northkill.

Strausstown was named for John Strauss who had a large farm and distillery in the area. The town was laid out town in 1840 and incorporated as a borough in 1920; up to that time it was part of Upper Tulpehocken township. The town by 1925 was 20 acres large and included a shirt factory, hosiery mill, several garages, three hotels, several stores and a bank.

Strausstown’s landmark is Zion Blue Mountain Church, which stands on the hill overlooking the town. After the previous building was damaged by lighting in 1903, a new one was built in 1904 for $20,000. Church members hired a stonemason to build the church, but the people brought the stones. A parsonage was built in 1915 and a Willing Workers Society was formed to pay off the debt (which was done by 1925). In 1918, there were no services for at least five weeks during the flu epidemic. It was a Union church back then, with separate pastors for the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Unger side of the family was mostly Lutheran, the Bergers mostly Reformed. The Lutherans are no longer involved with the church, which is now UCC (Reformed). The church celebrated its 250th anniversary in 1989. It’s interesting to see how the names of the pastors of Zion are woven throughout our family’s history. The Bergers also sponsored a stained glass window, which is still there.

The town cemetery is located by the church, and until the 1940s families were responsible for tending their own graves. At that time, families set up trust funds, the money of which was to be used for “perpetual care.” (Calvin Unger set one up for $50 in 1942 for Sec C, grave 8 on the East End (Grace?), and he set up another for $100 in 1946 for the Alfred Unger lot. Uncle Norman set one up for $150 in 1949 for the Spatz family.)

Strausstown got its first telephone in 1908 and the first electric lamps on the street in 1922. The Anthonys seem to have more or less run the town, and it was their hosiery mill (built in 1910 and run by Charlie) that employed a lot of townspeople (Aunt Maud was one of them); it produced half-hose for the military during WWI, and “regular” hose after that time. They also had a feed mill (run by George, later Donald). Paul ran the dairy. Esther Anthony was a friend of Helen Unger’s, and later married Harvey Baltheser, a farmer. Father Anthony was noted for standing on his head every year on his birthday! Also adding color to the town was Filbert’s Hotel at Main and Goodman, and Ben Laub, the Blue Mountain hermit, who lived in the woods in a shack.

Strausstown, early 1900s In the beginning of the 20th century, Main Street was a dirt road, but it was still the main thoroughfare between Harrisburg and New York City until Route 78 was built in 1954. (Route 183 was constructed in 1960.) As young children, Strausstown kids liked to go sledding in the winter, play Flinch (a card game), jacks, and so on. Aunt Carrie remembered having a good time as a child. As they got older, the young folks would have parties, like birthday parties with homemade lemonade. They would gather around a piano on a Saturday night and sing the popular songs of the time, learned from the latest sheet music (no radios!). Everybody knew everybody in town, and gossip must have flown pretty fast—in Pennsylvania German, of course—very few people spoke English in their daily lives.

There were several stores in town: Howers, which was a general store (“they sold everything from shoes to cheese” says Mom) half a block from the Berger’s house, and Charlie Henne’s (Vera Kettner’s grandfather) country store, directly across from the Berger’s, which served as the Post Office and barber shop; he also sold groceries and made cigars. Wertz’s sold ice cream.

Although Strausstown was a quiet little town, there was a lot going on. Social organizations for both men and women, like the Masons, the Patriotic Order of Sons of America (POSOA), and the Odd Fellows (IOOF) thrived. POSOA had a large number of “camps” in Pennsylvania (in the 1930s there were nearly 900), with each post beginning “Washington Camp #____; they were responsible for, among other things, making Flag Day a holiday, and in the restoration of Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge. A local group put up the monument dedicated to Washington at Conrad Weiser park. POSOA still exists, in much smaller numbers; they stand for education, patriotism, respect for the flag, etc. One of their main functions is the donation of flags.

When most of the family moved to the Reading area, their associations with these organizations continued, and expanded (including marching in parades). (Doris thinks a lot of people joined because they paid death benefits!) It might have been kind of a patriotic thing. It might have been the thing to do in a small town. If your father was a Mason, you would be inclined to join. The large fraternal organizations had subgroups—if you were a Mason, you could be in the Shrine (more of a social group)—if you were a Shriner, you could join the Arab Patrol, and so on.

Aunt Carrie remembered only one parade in town, and that had to do with a presidential election. On Memorial Day they would shoot guns over the graves. At Christmas, the bellsnickel came to the homes; Aunt Carrie was afraid of him. The children looked forward to the church Christmas program on Christmas Eve, in which they participated. There were hailstorms in Strausstown, when the people would run and shutter their windows. Otherwise, life in Strausstown was pretty quiet. There was lots of traffic on Main Street, with trucks as high as the second story of the Berger house—they would vibrate the floor. Entertainment was often watching the traffic go by--you would sit there with a tablet and keep a list of states from the license plates of the cars. Mom remembers a terrible storm with a strong wind that blew peach baskets and other things down the street; another time there was a cow that got loose and people were running down the street after the cow--that was a lot of excitement in Strausstown!

The last Saturday in July was the Strausstown picnic, held in the grove, which also had a pavilion. (Unfortunately, in 1960 or 1961 all the trees in the grove were chopped down because of disease.) The Allentown Band would come and play. The old timers who had moved away would all come home for the picnic. You always got dressed up for the picnic, and by the end of the day the children were tired and filthy.

The Berger home in Strausstown
Berger Homestead, Strausstown Our parent’s generation often visited the Berger family in Strausstown, (the Ungers had moved to West Lawn in 1919) but especially in the summer for a week of vacation. Visiting Strausstown was fun because there were different things to do; there was a victrola, and a stereopticon to play with. They would take walks out to the cemetery or around the church or in the “Grove” that was across the highway from the road leading to the church. The Berger family grew beautiful asters in the garden. There were a lot of horse chestnut trees in Strausstown, and the kids used to collect the horse chestnuts. One summer, Kathryn, Betty and Doris biked up to Strausstown, stayed overnight and biked home the next day; the following year, Betty and Dick did the bike trip.

The Berger house was next to the bank, and the land is now part of the bank. There were two front doors on the house, one of which was only used when Grandpa Berger died. The furnishings in the house were rather drab; there was wainscoting in the parlor, and a big parlor heater that had discolored the wallpaper. Grandpa’s couch was in the parlor, with a spittoon next to the couch.

Before the kitchen was enlarged at the back of the house (sometime after Grandpa died) they had a very small kitchen without running water—they had to go to the house next door, Boltz’s, with their pails to pump water. The houses in town were all single homes, not row houses. The house had no closets, but instead had hooks on the walls to hang clothes. After Grandpa died, a room was added at the back over the kitchen for Aunt Maud and Uncle Claude, (Aunt Maud believed that a “story house” was healthier and one should never sleep on the first floor) as well as a bathroom with a real tub. Previously, baths were taken in a room next to the kitchen where there was a cabinet and a cellar door—they took their baths out of a bucket. We seem to have no family photos of the inside of the house.
Besides the two stories, the house also had a basement and an attic. When Grandpa Berger bought it there was nothing aside of it, then the bank bought the land aside of it and went over the property line; Grandpa never complained about it.

The food served at Bergers was amazing, pies and cakes all the time, and pie dough made from lard. Often it was 7 sweets and 7 sours at the meal. They always had hot water sponge cake, and lemon tarts and lebkucke. Chicken and waffles on a Sunday was wonderful. The kids would fight over who got the chicken heart. Chicken legs were large sized back then, they had a lot of meat on them. Aunt Maud would kill one of the chickens that the family kept out back, and they would cook them the day before eating; on the day of the dinner, they would wrap the pieces in flour and fry them. Every one of the grandchildren in turn by age would say a prayer before the meal. On a Sunday afternoon in Strausstown it was all cigar smoke and Pennsylvania Dutch. The adults sat in one room together and talked. They had candy—nonpareils. In the summer one of the children would take a big bowl to Wertz’s and get ice cream—as many scoops as there were people to eat them.

Every winter, Grandpa Berger would buy a pig and a quarter of a cow (he would hire a butcher to kill the pig) and they would add the beef to the pig meat and make sausage, and pork chops, pork roasts, liver pudding, and scrapple. Nana and Poppop would go up on butchering days. They would make a big fire in the back yard and they would cook the meat.

In our parent’s generation, Thanksgiving was usually spent with Grandma and Grandpa Unger in West Lawn. Christmas in Strausstown was celebrated on an evening before Christmas; one time Uncle Dan dressed up as Santa Claus.

Doris remembers having Christmas with the Strausstown relatives coming down for dinner—you had to have it ready by noon, because Grandpa Berger was ready to eat, and then ready to leave by 3:00. There was never a tree in the Berger house in Strausstown for Christmas until Aunt Maud put one up one year. Coming home from Strausstown in the winter was pretty rough because there was no heater in the car and they had to wrap themselves up in blankets. But at Christmastime, the family was warmed by the Christmas decorations in the towns during the drive home.

Life in West Lawn:

West Lawn was first called Intervilla; it was incorporated as a borough in 1923. It was founded in 1907, laid out 1910 and originally had 3 farms, although many of the houses were the “country homes” of people who lived in Reading. Penn Avenue was made into 3 lanes in 1937.

There were fire boxes on the street corners, and you could always tell where a fire was because each box had a certain number of bells that would ring. Mom only remembers one fire near them, when Mattern’s shed burned down. They were lying in bed watching the flames shooting up in the air.

A ragman would come through the alley with his cart and horse, calling “Raaags, papers.” Mom was afraid of him. There was also a scissors grinder with a two-wheeled cart who would sharpen scissors and knives. The hucksters would come around every week, a scale hanging on the back end of the truck, selling “everything,” according to Mom. There were also butchers and a fish man, who would go up the street, selling their wares.

 2026 Penn Avenue 2026 Penn Ave:
Grandma and Grandpa Unger lived at 2026 Penn Ave. The house was built before they moved into it in 1919—and came with bedbugs. They moved there to be closer to his job in Reading. On the first floor there was a parlor in the front which was never used. Grandma and Grandpa Unger worked puzzles in the den in the back; Grandma worked jigsaw puzzles and Grandpa crosswords. Frequently they sat on the front porch and watched the traffic—when Grandma moved to Perkasie Avenue she missed having something to watch (she still sat on the front porch, and Nana and Poppop sat in the backyard!). Aside of the den was the dining room and behind the dining room was the kitchen. When the trains went past, (there was nothing like insulated windows or storm windows) the windowpanes would shake; Grandma cleaned the windowsills every day, they were just full of coal dirt. Once in a while a bum would stop off and he’d want something to eat; he’d sit on the porch and Grandma would give him something. The grandchildren us
ed to play on the train tracks a lot, running up and down on them; nobody thought anything of it. Penn Avenue was the only street and their house was the only one on the street—there wasn’t anything else around. The house was between the railroad tracks and the trolley tracks. If you look at any houses around on Penn Avenue in West Lawn, the big stone homes are right up against the roads; they weren’t when they were built.

Nana and Poppop (and Boppy) lived on Penn Avenue with Grandma and Grandpa before their house was finished. Aunt Carrie was at Albright in 1917 and was married in 1920, so she lived there for awhile also. Uncle Earl also lived there while he was in high school.

Kitchen, 103At 103:
Nana and Poppop bought 103 Perkasie Avenue on September 23, 1919 for $3,600, which took them until 1955 to pay off because they could never pay anything on the principle—only the interest. Grandma Unger’s aunt Mary Spengler (Mrs. Eugene Wolfe, daughter of Adam and Selisia and sister to Pappy Spangler) carried the mortgage.

Thanks to the meticulous notes kept by Nana, this report could include the date and price of every improvement, venetian blind or can of paint that ever went into 103. But here are the highlights:
1926-enlarged kitchen
1928-curb and gutters, pavement and walks
1935-added room to 3rd floor and raised the roof
1945-drilled well
1946-window seat in kitchen
1950-new kitchen
1953-television (bought by Grandma Unger for $495)
1956-new bathroom, patio
1959-rose arbor

They always had trouble with the ceilings falling down! They’d wake up in the morning and there would be plaster everywhere, or they would hear it fall during the night. When they built the house the contractor didn’t want to put in a bathroom, but Poppop insisted on it.

At one time they had chickens out back, which Poppop would kill. Uncle Earl would sometimes hunt for rabbits and give them to the family to eat (Mom hated biting into shot). The original refrigerator at 103 was out the kitchen window, a tin box that was put in the window and Nana would open up the window to get things out. In the summertime they had an icebox, and the iceman would bring ice. The tray under the ice box had to be emptied of the melted ice; if it was forgotten, there would be a flood in the kitchen and dining room. A milkman would bring milk and in the winter when it was below freezing the cream would push the top off the container. The big slate sink was where we remember the stove being, and the stove was where the wall was against Zigenfuss’s.

An important part of the history of 103 was the garden. All sorts of vegetables were grown, as well as many flowers, trees and shrubs. The Yellow Transparent apple tree provided apples for the best applesauce and apple dumplings imaginable. The cherry tree was great to climb, even if it never gave many cherries!

Mr. and Mrs. Zigenfus were always called so by Nana and Poppop, never by their first names, although they were neighbors for decades. They were good neighbors; Nana and Mrs. Zigenfus would talk over the back fence. The Zigenfus’s did not have a telephone, and would come to 103 to use theirs. The Zigenfus’s were member of the Methodist church. Mrs. Zigenfus attended Nana when Betty and Dick were born (Aunt Edna was Betty’s baby nurse, and Marie Albright did the same for Dick). When President Roosevelt died, the family was home eating dinner; there was a rap at the door and Mr. Zigenfus came to the front door to tell the family; so upset he could hardly speak.

At Christmas, Poppop was working night and day at the Post Office. The Christmas tree (which was officially brought by Santa Claus) didn’t even get started until after he came home on Christmas Eve, around 7:00 or 8:00. And then they worked almost all night to get the tree done; the dollhouse would fit on one end of the platform (somebody made it for Jimmy Unger, then it was given to Boppy, and then to Mom. At that point Poppop made it into four rooms and added electricity.) The family went to church on Christmas morning for the dawn service. Nana made a big dinner, and they opened their presents.

No neighborhood had more personality then the one surrounding 103, with all the neighbors in the 1960s having assigned names: The Chin Guy, the Hat Guy, Doggy Pfile. Less welcome entertainment came from the West Lawn Quoiting Association across the street; I’m not sure we remember them ever playing too many games of quoits, but we probably all remember seeing someone loud and out of control leaving the place. Poppop also used to occasionally rent a tennis court for a quarter at the house behind the Quoiting Club (where my piano teacher, Mrs. Kelly, later lived) for he, Boppy and Russell to play.

By the time Uncle Russ left for the war it was Nana and Poppop, Boppy, Mom, Uncle Dick, Aunt Betty Mae and Kerrie living at 103. Betty Mae and Kerrie left in 1947; Grandma Unger moved in in 1950, when Grandpa died; Betty left that year to get married. Nana, Poppop and Boppy lived at 108 for the rest of their lives.

The family vacations:

Squam 1959 - White Mountains, Fairy Land, Santa Land, Franconia Gap (Old Man of the Mountain), Jo a good swimmer, MA & Peg aren’t napping, Barbara: “if she doesn’t get what she wants, she yells. She doesn’t drink milk so they give her an ice cream cone. This she wants in her hand, she won’t have anyone feed her so she usually is a mess when she finishes.” “Dressed in the bare necessities, she romped for an hour in a delightful dust pile. Not until she was scrubbed down were we sure we’d claimed the right child!” (Arlene) “Russ and Bob rowed in tonight with the first positive evidence that their time was not spent on the shores of a neighboring girls’ camp. Not a big fish, but not small enough to can.” Chipper is 2 and quite well behaved, Dickie was teething—he has red hair and looks like his father and grandfather, the family had separate lodges with bedrooms and combination living/kitchens, refrigerator, gas stove, cabinet, cupboard, bathroom with shower That year included the Bob Ungers and Dick
and Joann, Russ & family down to Barbara; Boppy was in Europe, Mom and Dad were home (Mom pregnant). Introduction to Scrabble—Arlene is champ.

Lake George-1961, 6 years family decided it was too far to travel to New Hampshire so a committee of Betty Mae and Dorsen checked on other places; Dad knew a guy from work who went to Lake George; Bop sent away for brochures and picked one—house of a doctor.

Trout Lake:
Bop-Program Director, Art Director
Russ-complaints, firebuilder
Mary Alice-waterskiing
Dad-firebuilder, Finance
Barb-song director, float blowing up
AC-Religion, secretary
Me-trailblazer, lost and found
Poppop-directors, Sanitation
Grandma-pussy chaser

Another memorable family vacation was a very wet camping trip Mom, Dad, Bop, Mary Alice, Peggy, Barbara and I took in 1969, the same weekend of the first moon landing. We watched Neil Armstrong live at the Wellsboro home of Dad’s Army friend, Glenn Bliss. It poured all weekend, but produced two memorable family songs: Campers in the Rain and The Sea Serpent Song.

Owner/Source  Alison D. (Berger) Boor 
Linked to  Alison D. (Berger) Boor 
Albums  Bergers 

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