Exhibit brings rich gunmaking heritage to life

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Smashy, Feb 8, 2010.

  1. Smashy


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    Jan 22, 2007
    Southwestern Oregon
    READING - For more than 250 years, inhabitants of Penn's Woods have been using flintlock muzzleloader rifles for protection, hunting and competitive shooting.

    Nowhere have those rifles been more part of day-to-day life than the area of Pennsylvania that is bordered to the north by the Wyoming Valley, south by the Schuylkill River, east by the Delaware River and west by the Susquehanna River. And the heart of that area was Berks County, whose northern border in 1750 included what is now all of Schuylkill County and a portion of Northumberland County.

    So, too, was this area of the Keystone State that became known as "schools" to identify the geographic areas where craftsmen built the internationally known Pennsylvania longrifles. These schools extended from the Lehigh Valley to the mid-state area, with rifles from the Lancaster County School perhaps being the most recognizable.

    Pre- and post-American Revolutionary War era Lancaster rifles were used throughout the Colonies and into the wilderness areas of what would become Kentucky and Tennessee well into the 1850s. Lancaster rifles were prominent at the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 18, 1815, and at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

    Of all the schools, however, the most unique was found in Berks, which was comprised of five unique and individual schools, while other counties and geographic areas had one school. An exhibition of rifles from these schools is now on display through Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading. More than 50 rifles, several pistols and a collection of bags and powder horns are on display from the Berks School's five sub-schools of "Below the Schuylkill," "Blue Mountain," "Oley Valley," "Reading" and "Tulpehocken."

    Each school had its own unique stock designs and shapes, however, some builders used styles from various schools. For instance, Daniel Boyer of Orwigsburg, perhaps the best-known rifle builder from present day Schuylkill County, built rifles with the straight lines of stocks from the Reading school and others with Roman-nose stocks.

    "What was surprising is that approximately 70-80 percent of the firearms in the exhibit do not have rifled barrels, but are smoothbores," Berks Historical executive director Sime Bertolet said. "Of course, smoothbores were much more practical on the frontier because they could be used to shoot both shot and roundballs, or just about anything else for that matter."

    A native of Berks County, Bertolet always had an interest in Pennsylvania rifles, especially those from the various Berks schools. It was not until he moved to Texas, however, that he began to shoot muzzleloaders.

    Upon returning home, he began collecting custom-built muzzleloaders for hunting and shooting as a result of connections he made through Greg Dixon of Dixon's Muzzleloader Shop in Kempton. One of those connections was with area muzzleloader authority and historian Rich Hujsa, who did a program at the historical society in 2008.

    Attending that program was Kentucky Rifle Association member Patrick Hornberger, who suggested that the society present an exhibit of antique longrifles from the Berks County School.

    "Opening the exhibit last fall was perfect because 2009 marked the 275th anniversary of Daniel Boone's birth," Bertolet said. "When most people think about frontiersmen, they think about Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Conrad Weiser - and Boone was born here and Weiser lived here."

    As for Crockett, his ability with a Pennsylvania rifle created his legend as a hunter and fighter. And while the famous "Old Betsy" rifle he was presented as a congressman was not with him at the Alamo, he is believed to have carried a Lancaster County rifle during the 13-day siege.

    "In addition to the longrifles from famous builders such as Wolfgang Haga and Johannes Neff, we have four swivelbreech rifles, including the only known swivelbreech made by Leonard Reedy," Bertolet said. "We're also proud to have an 18th century Germanic Jaeger rifle from the 1750s, and it was these short, large-caliber rifles that influenced the early gunsmiths and led the development of the Pennsylvania longrifle."

    For the next three weeks, one of the finest and largest collections of those rifles ever assembled in one location will remain on exhibit to kindle the imagination of everyone who keeps alive the adventurous spirit of our Colonial forefathers.

    "Berks County Longrifles and Gunmakers" will be exhibited at the Historical Society of Berks County, 940 Centre Ave., Reading, Tuesdays-Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Saturday, Feb. 27. For information, call the society at (610) 375-4375 or access on the Web at www.berkshistory,org.

  2. Squaw Man Wolfer

    Squaw Man Wolfer

    Likes Received:
    Apr 16, 2001
    In Him.
    Great article!

    It has been noted that most of the weapons of the Texian defenders of the Alamo were in fact, smoothbore, though there were plenty of rifles. And Travis in one of his letters to the outside, referenced stocks of 'rifle powder".

    Also, by the time of the Alamo, there should have been a fair number of caplocks.

    Is there a centrol museum for the exhibit you mention?