Pennsylvania is home to many great automobile museums. However, most of these are located within spaces built as museums and not in structures that are part of transportation history. That isn’t the case at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles in Berks County.
Boyertown Auto Body Works opened in 1872 as the Jeremiah Sweinhart Carriage Factory. They first built carriages before switching to automobile bodies in the early 20th century. The shop continued to work on automobiles until it closed in 1990.
In 1965, second-generation owner Paul Hafer opened a museum dedicated to cars made in southeastern Pennsylvania. I was surprised to learn how many automobile manufacturers and body shops had once existed in this corner of Pennsylvania, and many of the cars at the museum today have a connection to this automobile industry here.
The majority of the museum’s collection is housed in a large, open room that was once the factory floor. Dozens of vintage cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even bicycles line the museum’s floor. Each has signage indicating its history and importance in the historical records of the southeastern Pennsylvania automobile industry.
One of the most interesting displays features cars made by the Duryea Power Company in Reading. Made between 1900 and 1908, the five models on display comprise what is thought to be the largest collection of cars by Duryea anywhere in the world.
Interestingly, founder Charles Duryea gave his name to Duryea Road, which leads to the beautiful Reading Pagoda atop Mount Penn. This road was used by Duryea to test his automobiles before they left the factory. Cars that couldn’t make the trip to the top of the hill were sent back to the shop for more work.
The dozens of other vehicles in the museum have fascinating histories, and there are too many to tell in this space. However, many represent long-forgotten car makers and chassis builders from the region. Some, like the 1910 J Max Meyer Motor Tractor, are the the only one of their model known to exist.
The museum is also home to the James F. Hill car. While the exact year the car was made seems to be unknown, it was certainly one of the earliest cars ever made and predates factory-built automobiles. Originally run with a steam engine on the streets of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, the car was switched to gasoline after it was banned from the town and had to travel on rural roads.
In addition to antique vehicles, the museum is also home to a small memorabilia collection. These include antique PA license plates, information the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (including its abandoned tunnels), and a collection of early 20th century engines.
The museum floor also has two buildings that have been moved to the site. The first is a 1921 Sun Oil service station from the area. It’s really fun to see what a nearly century-old gas station looked like, and it fits in really well with the cars in the museum.
The museum also features the relocated Fegley’s Reading Diner, which dates back to 1938. While not directly related to the automobile history of southeastern Pennsylvania, it’s still a great piece of local history that I enjoyed seeing.
A few times a year, the museum offers coffee and pie at the diner for typical 1938 prices. Check out their event’s page for more information.
Attached to the main museum floor is the Jeremiah Sweinhart Carriage Factory. This is where the shop began in 1872, and it is now home to a portion of the museum’s carriage collection. The carriage factory also features live blacksmithing demonstrations most Thursdays and Saturdays.
I’ve visited many of Pennsylvania’s antique automobile museums, including the Swigart Museum, America on Wheels, and the Eagles Mere Auto Museum, and while the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles might not be the most polished or fanciest of these, few have had the quality collection and historical charm of this museum.
If you love antique automobiles or local history, add the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles to your list of places to visit in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
And, while you’re in the area, make sure you don’t miss the Daniel Boone Homestead, which was the birthplace of the famous frontiersman, Ringing Rocks Park, and the nearby covered bridges of Berks County.
Note: My visit to the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles
Hours: Daily: 9:30a-4p
Cost: Adults: $8, Children: Free
Address: 85 South Walnut Street