Revisiting Reading’s Architectural Past: Riverside Elementary School

Our next featured project is one of many school facilities we have had the pleasure of completing throughout our history.

I grew up in the northwest section of Reading and resided in the 1000 block of North Front Street, just a few short blocks south of Riverside Elementary, which is located at Centre Avenue and Perry Street. My brother, sister and I did not attend Riverside School for our primary education; our mother elected to send us to Charles S. Foos Elementary which was located at Windsor and Ritter Streets. She would tease us that she wanted us to get additional exercise by walking the longer distance to Foos. In reality, I suppose in those days a parent could choose between elementary schools since it was likely you could live within easy walking distance of one or more schools.

 
Riverside Elementary School Rendering 1925

I still reside in the northwest section of the city but now living in the Centre Park Historic District, so I travel by Riverside Elementary often. The school was built in 1925 in order to alleviate the severely congested classrooms at the other schools located in this area of Reading.  Mr. Muhlenberg was commissioned in 1923 to design the facility; construction was started in the summer of 1924, and construction completed in January 1925 at a cost of $200,000.  The school was designed to house up to 500 students and the first classes for the newly-built school began on February 2, 1925.  At completion, the multi-story building (four floors in rear, two floors in front) was one of the largest schools in the city, and was designed on the site to allow for future expansion. The building interior was finished in red oak, stairways were made of ornamental iron, and the rooms were large with plenty of light and good ventilation. Riverside School was the first school in the city to have cement flooring instead of the typical finished wood floors.

There was a brief period in the 1970s when the school closed, due to a drop in enrollment, and the Reading Area Community College occupied the building. After RACC relocated to its present location at 2nd and Penn Streets, a building addition was completed (not by Muhlenberg Greene) and in 1979 Riverside Elementary School reopened, once again, to serve the children in northwest Reading. This new era of Riverside includes children from the neighborhoods of northwest Reading who had previously attended Charles S. Foos Elementary (converted to apartments) and Fifth and Spring Elementary (demolished to make way for a convenience store).

While researching the history of Riverside Elementary, I discovered this was not the first school on the block with this name. In the 1800s, there was a one-story brick house, known as the “School House at Riverside,” located on the east side of Centre Avenue at the foot of Charles Evans Cemetery, a very short distance from the present school.

The history of the “School House of Riverside” is an interesting one. As outlined in an article printed in the January 29, 1899 issue of the The Reading Eagle, the “School House at Riverside” over the course of its planning, construction and demolition, was owned by three different municipalities. In July 1850, this geographic area of Berks County was part of “Alsace” and the Alsace School Board purchased a plot of land with plans to build a school for this section of their “Township.” At the same time, the people ‘north of Reading’ petitioned for a new township and, subsequently, Muhlenberg Township was formed in November 1850. Four months after Alsace purchased this plot of land, the Muhlenberg School Board took possession of the plot and built the “School House of Riverside” which was used by the Muhlenberg School District for several years. In 1860 the city limits of Reading were enlarged by taking land that was part of Muhlenberg Township, including the area where the now-vacant “School House of Riverside” was situated. The building remained empty and in disrepair for many years until 1899 when the Reading School Board investigated the title of the building and made claim to the ground.

Riverside Elementary School Photograph 1925

If any alumni, of Riverside, Foos, or 5th & Spring Elementary Schools, has any stories or pictures to share from their school days, I would love to hear from you!

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Heide kalbach says:

    I went to 5th & Spring Elementary. Looking at the footprint where Turkey Hill is now on that corner it’s hard to believe a full K-6 grade school stood there including a gym! Riverside was the big, “modern” school at the time. Thanks for the great background you’ve found.

  2. Nanette Breton Merrill says:

    Would love to see a picture of 5th and Spring Elem. Sad there is nothing on the internet.

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