In July 1869, a call was made for interested citizens to gather “for the purpose of collecting and perpetuating the historical reminisces of Berks County.” Following the first meeting in August, the Historical Society of Berks County (now the Berks History Center) was incorporated on December 13, 1869. The first president was the Honorable William M. Hiester. After a period of stagnation, President Albert G. Green revived the Society in 1898. Meetings were held in the Exchange Building located on North 6th Street in Reading, PA. The first female member was Kate E. Hawley, wife of the Reading Eagle newspaper founder Jesse G. Hawley, a charter member.
The Berks History Center first started collecting objects in June, 1898. The organization’s first building, purchased in June 1904 from the Reading Gas Company, was located at 519 Court Street. At that time, membership was 150. Less than ten years later, the burgeoning Historical Society needed a larger building, and J. Bennett Nolan led the search for a new location. In the summer of 1928 the cornerstone was laid for The Historical Society of Berks County, and construction was completed the following year. Made of concrete and brick, the new building was designed to be a fireproof structure to house the county’s precious collections and archives. The facility was dedicated on October 1, 1929 and is still home to the Berks History Center today. Needing more office, display, and storage space, the Historical Society embarked on a fundraising campaign in the 1980s. The addition was opened in 1988, providing the library with its own dedicated archival storage and research space. In 2005, again faced with the need for more storage, the Historical Society purchased the former M&T Bank building, located directly behind the Berks History Center at 160 Spring Street. In 2008, after undergoing major renovations, the Henry Janssen Library opened to the public serving as the BHC’s premier research facility.