Standing along the eastern banks of the Schuylkill River, Reading (pop. 88,082) is more interesting than its somewhat frightening subtitle, “Factory Outlet Shopping Capital of Southeastern Pennsylvania,” might lead you to expect. Ornately turreted row houses line 5th Avenue (US-222 Business) through the residential districts, downtown holds a number of well-maintained businesses and signs from the first half of the 20th century, and a very photogenic 72-foot, 100-year-old pagoda offers panoramic views from the summit of Mt. Penn, east of town.
For history buffs, two worthwhile places to visit sit southeast of Reading along the Schuylkill River. The closer of these is at Birdsboro, 10 miles from town and a mile north of US-422. The Daniel Boone Homestead (610/582-4900, closed Mon., tours $6) marks the site where the great frontiersman was born in 1734.
Well worth the winding five-mile drive south of Birdsboro via Hwy-345, the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (daily in summer, free) preserves intact an entire iron-making community that thrived here from the colonial era until the mid-1880s. Park rangers fire up the furnace and demonstrate the primitive foundry (melting aluminum rather than iron to take the “heat” off the ancient tools), and exhibits trace the iron-making process—mining the ore, making charcoal, and fabricating the finished product, which here at Hopewell was primarily pig iron and stoves.
Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (2 Mark Bird Ln.)
Daniel Boone Homestead (400 Daniel Boone Rd.)