Scroll To Top

2nd Penn Street Bridge

Return to Historical Articles Index

In 1748, William Parsons laid out the town of Reading. It was named Reading, after the county town in Berkshire, England. The streets were laid out running east and west. In choosing names for streets the dutiful William Parsons tried hard to flatter his employers, the Penns. The main thoroughfare was named for the Penn family and the main intersecting street was named Callowhill (now Fifth St.) in honor or Hannah Callowhill, William Penn's second wife. Present-day Franklin St. was named Richard and Washington was named Thomas, both names honoring sons of the Founder. Walnut St. was originally Margaret St. in honor of one of Penn's daughters. Other streets were named in honor of Penn's friends in England.

Penn Square - Originally named Market Square, Penn Square was the center of the Penn's 1748 plan for Reading, and the earliest development of the town took place here. The first Berks County Courthouse was built in the center of the square in 1762 and remained there until 1841. Two farmer's market sheds were erected - one in the center of the 400 block of Penn Street in 1799 and one in the 500 block in 1766 - and they were not removed until 1871.

Model of Penn Square in the Colonial period showing open air markets and the first court house at the center of the intersection of 5th and Penn..

"Callowhill Street" is the original name for Fifth Street, Reading's major thoroughfare from south to north since its founding. When William Penn's sons, Thomas and Richard Penn, authorized William Parsons to lay out the city in 1748, they directed that the maiden name of their mother, Hannah Callowhill Penn, be given to one of the two main streets. This was done, and the street bore the Callowhill name for nearly a century. The name was changed in 1833 during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a time of Heightened democratic feeling in many parts of the United States, because references to British royalty were thought inappropriate in an American town.The old name persists in a number of other Pennsylvania cities of colonial settlement - Philadelphia retains its Callowhill Street.

The present Sixth Street was originally named "Prince Street" in honor of the Prince of Wales by Thomas and Richard Penn in 1748. The name was changed in 1833. By the 1870s, Sixth Street had become a densely populated neighborhood, and one of Reading's first trolley lines was installed here in 1874.

Franklin Street was originally named "Richard Street" in honor of Richard Penn, son of William Penn and one of the founders of Reading.

Chestnut Street was originally named "Hamilton Street" after James Hamilton, Governor of Pennsylvania in the 1740s when Reading was laid out, and it was the southernmost street in the Penn's city plan.

Bingaman Street was a private road opened by Peter Bingaman, the proprietor of all the land bordering on the south side of the street from Mount Penn to the river, and subsequently named after him. It marked the southern boundary of the town until 1813. Its diagonal slash across the Penn's gridiron of streets forced the creation of numerous oddly-shaped lots. The bridge at the foot of Bingaman Street was originally called the Lancaster Bridge when it was built in 1831, but in 1876 the name was changed to Bingaman Street Bridge in honor of Peter Bingaman. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted in February, 2016 to change the name of the Bingaman Street Bridge to The Borinqueneers Memorial Bridge in honor of a Puerto Rican military unit.

Canal Street takes its name from a period in Reading's history before the railroad when the Schuylkill River was used as a highway of commerce. As early as 1690, William Penn had hoped that a canal might connect the Susquehanna and Schuylkill Rivers providing a commercial route from Philadelphia by way of the Schuylkill deep into the interior of the new colony. It took almost 140 years for this hope to be realized, and the result was a triumph of early nineteenth century architecture and engineering. Indeed, Reading was eventually connected to both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh by water.

Original route of Schuylkill Canal through lower Reading, and its 1832-1833 relocation.

Original route of Schuylkill Canal through lower Reading, and its 1832-1833 relocation.

1899 view looking northward from the Franklin Street Guard Lock showing the Schuylkill Canal running beneath the 1884-1914 Penn Street Bridge and the Pennsylvania Railroad depot.

The Corrupt City: Reading, PA

Touch or Click Image

The Dreamland Park Murders

Touch or Click Image

Development of the Catholic Faith

Touch or Click Image

Scenes of the Former Reading
Transit and Light Company