The Penn Street Reservoir and Skating Rinks
In 1910, two open air municipal skating rinks were opened to the public in City Park, Reading, PA. The skating rinks were the first of their kind in this country. During warm weather the rinks were open to the public for roller skating, while during freezing weather they were open for ice skating. They were built over the Penn Street distributing reservoirs, located near 11th and Court Streets. In connection with the filtration of the city's water supply it was necessary to cover these reservoirs in order to protect the filtered water.
Before the adoption of the skating rink plan, many other ideas were advanced as to how the covered space could best be utilized for the good of the public. Some of these ideas were to build tennis courts, general playgrounds, flower beds and grass plots. When the suggestion to use the surface as a skating rink was proposed it was unanimously adopted.
The first public supply of water delivered in Reading was introduced in 1821 by the Reading Water Company. The water works then consisted of the Hampden Springs, a 2-1/2 inch earthenware pipe leading to a single reservoir which was completed on July 19, 1821. The reservoir contained about 63,000 gallons of water.
In order to store additional quantities of water, a second reservoir was constructed immediately north of the original one, in 1839. This new basin measured 65 by 188 feet and had a depth of nine feet.
In 1848, yet another reservoir was constructed immediately north of the second. Measuring 129 by 248 feet, with a depth of 13 feet, this unit - which remains in use - was built to contain 2.5 million gallons of water.
On December 8, 1853 the reservoir complex in City Park, containing 3 acres and 90 perches, was deeded by the county commissioners of Berks to the Reading Water Company. They, in turn, sold it to the city on April 1, 1865.
During 1872-1873, the middle and old south basin were replaced by one large south basin that, at the time of its completion, held 3,045,000 gallons.
Construction of the skating rinks began in 1909. Each skating rink consisted of a six-inch concrete slab laid on a cinder fill. A six-inch curb around each rink formed a dam for the water and ice during the ice skating season. Under the skating rinks a ground arch construction covered the filtered water reservoirs. The arches were braced to withstand the unbalanced forces brought on them by the movements of the skaters. To avoid crippling the water supply the reservoirs were covered one at a time; the north basin was put out of service first, covered and again put into service before the south reservoir was disturbed. The ground adjoining the reservoirs was laid out with walks and flower beds of unique designs. Along these walks benches were provided.
In the center of each floor was a pavilion, consisting of a roof covering 24 x 66 feet, supported by two rows of posts, five in a row; each post resting over an arch pier. The pavilion floor 18 x 6o feet, was raised 6 inches above the skating floor, and was of concrete. The columns, trusses and braces were steel. The roof was covered with copper tiling.
By the winter of 1910, the skating rinks were the most popular place of amusement for school children. School children from all parts of the city visited the rinks daily. In the afternoon, after school hours, children gathered at the rinks by the hundreds to skate until supper time. Large numbers also enjoyed the sport in the evening until 10 o'clock. There were electric lights on the pavilions and around the rinks, allowing skating in the evenings. Sanitary drinking fountains located at the entrances to the rinks supplied filtered water to the public. During the warm weather the drinking water was ice-cooled.
The skating rinks were designed by and built under the direct supervision of Emil L. Nuebling, Superintendent and Engineer, of the Department of Water, Reading, PA.