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The Schuylkill River played an important role in the settlement and growth of Amity and Union townships. A shallow crossing at this location allowed people and wagons to ford the river and may have been one reason Mouns Jones selected this site for his homestead when William Penn granted the Swedes Tract in 1701.
Thomas Millard’s Mill, the first in the Oley Valley and about one-half mile down-river from the Mouns Jones “plantation,” was established around 1710. Farmers and millers used shallow draft boats to take produce to Philadelphia when weather permitted. They were soon joined by area ironmasters who “boated” pig iron and specialized ironwork downriver for purchase.
Providing a source of fish and serving as a means of transportation, the River was an essential resource for local prosperity, but could sometimes be a source of controversy. During the 1730s there was considerable ill feeling, and even rioting, between boatmen from the lower Oley Valley and shore-based fishermen. Obstructive weirs and fish traps called “racks” were erected by fishermen along stretches of the river, sometimes causing boats to overturn, resulting in loss of cargo.
This river crossing and The White Horse Inn at Morlatton soon became popular destinations for settlers traveling in the area, and in the 1760’s the “Amity” Store established by George Douglass added to the attraction.
After more than a century of shallow-water crossings, undoubtedly including ferry transport, the first bridge spanning the White Horse Ford was constructed in 1832 under the supervision of six Commissioners, including George Douglass II. The two-lane, covered toll bridge, 340 feet long and 24 feet wide, was constructed on the patented Burr Arch truss system, its timber superstructure supported by three massive stone piers, one set on the river bed at mid-span. The Bridge Company rebuilt the bridge after the disastrous floods of 1850 and 1869. Berks County purchased the bridge in 1885, ending the tolls. After substantial flood-damage repairs in 1902 and 1909, the bridge was closed to vehicles in 1950 and dismantled in the summer of 1951.