The Tulpehocken Watershed in south central Berks County was settled through land grants from Thomas and Richard Penn in 1733 by German farmers and artisans who arrived from upstate New York. Prominent among the early settlers was John Hiester. At one time the Hiesters owned thousands of acres along the Tulpehocken and built several mills. Peter Herbein owned quarries, a distillery, and a mill.
Properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places – which lie along the Tulpehocken Creek – include Wertz’s Covered Bridge; Gruber Wagon Works; Reiser Mill; and Rieser-Shoemaker Farm. Wertz’s Covered Bridge (1867), known locally as the Red Bridge (road closed to vehicles), is one of the longest one-lane covered bridges in Pennsylvania. Stretching 204 feet across the Tulpehocken Creek, it serves as a link between Bern and Spring Townships. It was erected in 1867 using the Burr Arch-Truss construction design. In 1979, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Gruber Wagon Works Berks Heritage Center is a national historic landmark. It is the most complete example of an integrated rural manufactory of its kind in the nation.
C. Howard Hiester Canal Center houses the largest private collection of 19th century canal memorabilia in America. Canal artifacts from the Schuylkill Navigation Company and the Hiester Boatyard include the houseboat “Mildred” – which plied the Schuylkill Canal between Reading and Philadelphia, a toll collection booth, and a pilot house from the tugboat “Dolphin”.
The Union Canal (est. 1827) was 79 ½ miles in length and ran from Reading on the Schuylkill River to Middletown on the Susquehanna River. The canal towpath that paralleled Tulpehocken Creek has been repurposed for use as the 4 ½ mile county-owned Union Canal Trail that connects the City of Reading to Blue Marsh Park and Recreation area.
The area surrounding this section of the Tulpehocken Creek is home to many of the County Park system’s historical and recreational assets. The Berks County Heritage Center, Gring’s Mill Recreation Area, Red Bridge Recreation Area, Stonecliffe Recreation Area, and the Youth Recreation Facility athletic fields.
The story of the Tulpehocken Creek Watershed would not be complete without mention of Blue Marsh Lake which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 70s for flood control, water supply, and water quality and has since evolved into a regional and State recreational hot spot for fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, picnicking, biking, running, horseback riding, leisure, and bird watching. Land was acquired by the government and properties demolished in Jefferson, Penn, Bern, Lower Heidelberg and North Heidelberg townships, and Bernville Borough. Blue Marsh was the name of the village, in Lower Heidelberg Township, that was located where the lake now is. According to the Army Corps’ website, the dam is “located on the Tulpehocken Creek and the project’s water control practices benefit the downstream communities of Reading, Birdsboro, Pottstown, Conshohocken and sections of Philadelphia.” The lake property offers “over 36 miles of trails, 6200 acres of land, 1148 acres of water, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches.” The dam is “an earth fill dam that is 1,775 feet long, 98 feet high and can hold upwards of 16.28 billion gallons of water. During the summer months, the water level is maintained at 290 feet above sea level. In the winter the lake is drawn down five feet to provide for additional flood water storage.” An estimated 463,000 visitors recreated at Blue Marsh in 2018.