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The Hereford Literary Society
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-12-02

            "If thinking is viewed as a skill … it can be improved by practice, as we improve other skills."  I'm not sure who the quote can be attributed to but when I think about the fine line that separates the need to learn from the desire to learn more, it

Dr. James W. Sallade

makes sense.  We'll get there with practice.

            That is exactly what three gentlemen did back in 1875 when they got together to intellectually argue a predetermined question and formed the Hereford Debating Club. 

            James W. Sallade, D.V.S. was a teacher at Traub's School in Hereford Township back then.  He enjoyed practicing and expanding his teaching skills whenever he could. 

            In December of 1875 he talked to a few colleagues and friends about the benefits of debating exercises.  He convinced them to meet him at the Hotel in Perryville (Harlem) for a chance to engage in some mind exercises.  Joining Sallade in what would be the first debate for the group was Reuben L. Rauch and Jacob Gery.  The question they would discuss was, "Which deserves greater honor, Washington for liberating this Country or Columbus for discovering it?"  Rauch and Gery argued one side and Sallade the other.

            The winner was determined by the preparedness, presentation and debating skills of the opposing arguers.  There was no right or wrong answer, just your ability to

The two-story wooden and stone shed behind the Perry-

ville (Harlem) hotel provided a home for the Hereford

Debate Club.

research and study your position, and present it in a manner that would win over the judges.  The small group met just about every week in the barroom of the hotel until their numbers, and those of an increasing curious audience, grew to a point where they needed a new home.  The second floor of a two-story wood and stone shed that stood behind the hotel was made available to the group.  By the time they held their ninth meeting the group was using the larger accommodations of the hotel at Treichlersville (Hereford). 

            The group continued to grow throughout the winter of 1875-76.  By the time it had completed its twentieth meeting, it was April 28, 1876.  The winter months had given way to the spring planting season. 

            In Henry A. Schuler's 1904 account of the "History of the Hereford Literary Society", he wrote, "I knew the evenings had become too short, and the hard-working farmer-boys were too much wearied by the day's labor to come forth with freshness and vigor to an intellectual contest at its close.  The clip-clop of a draft horse pulling a plow was the death knell of the Debating Club.  Yet the furrow sliced into the spring soil was not a grave, but a seedbed for a newer and stronger commitment to intellectual challenges and spirited debates."

            The Hereford Literary Society was formed by a group of members from the Debating Club.  Their first meeting was held in December of 1877.  According to Schuler, some of the organizers and early members included Andrew S. Berky, H. W. Kriebel, Ephraim B. Clemmer, B. S. Schultz, Reuben Rauch, P. B. Nuss, Jacob Knetz, James B. Funk, Josephus Gerhard, Johathon Fox, and a young schoolboy-orator named Oscar S. Kriebel. 

            The group established a constitution that listed their objective to "increase and diffuse knowledge among its members."  Any person, male or female, above the age of 12 was eligible to become a member.  Among their rules of debate was that all subjects for discussion, recitations, lectures, essays, referred questions, etc., must be of an educational, moral or religious tendency.  No topics of political or sectarian character shall be discussed by this Society.  Speakers needed to confine themselves strictly to the question at issue and avoid all personalities as well as sarcastic or obscene language.

            The group's membership swelled to more than 300 over the years.  On occasion, a tax would be imposed upon the membership for the purpose of buying books.  By 1903, the group had amassed what was reported to be the largest library in Berks County, outside of the city of Reading.  At that time, the books were housed in the old one-room Hereford Schoolhouse. 

            Members were permitted to take out one or two books for up to four weeks.  What takes this group up a notch is an old document found while researching their beginnings  It was a contract with the Hereford School District that permitted any

1890 library membership card of the Hereford Literary

Society.  By 1903, outside of the city of Reading, the

library of the Hereford Literary Club was reported to be

the largest in Berks County

student unlimited access to the books, at no charge.  This group was about teaching, learning and enjoying the competition of the mind games.  The residual or fallout of this group's efforts was books for others to enjoy.

            Later in life, the young school-boy orator mentioned above became Reverend Dr. O. S. Kriebel, the respected Perkiomen School Headmaster and community leader. 

            On the rolls of the Society are the names of many that went on to distinguished teaching or business careers.  Among them is noted Berks County photographer Harry Winslow Fegley, whose early twentieth century images pay homage to nearby lives on the farm, and local author and historian Andrew S. Berky who also served as Perkiomen School Headmaster.  

            Also on the rolls are many successful farmers who were eager to set their reins aside at day's end and wrap their hands around a book instead of a wooden plow handle.


 

 

 

 

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