Author takes readers on historical walk through Boyertown in new book

Joseph L. Mitchell takes readers on a historical walk down the avenues of Boyertown in his recently published book, “The History of Boyertown and Vicinity.”

“They will discover the history of every building on the first block of North and South Reading Avenue and East and West Philadelphia Avenue,” said the Boyertown-area resident. “They will learn who built each building, when it was built, and if it replaced an earlier building.”

Even the businesses that rented space in each of these buildings are listed.

“It is not a rehash of Boyertown histories already published,” Mitchell explained. “The reader is taken on a deep dive into the early history of the area.”

The book also covers the Colebrookdale Furnace.

“I discovered the names of the original owners of the land that make up the borough and plotted their properties,” he said. “This allows anyone living near Boyertown to trace the history of their home or property back to the original land tract.”

There are also copies of 18 different land developments within the borough that help the reader determine the age of their home. The origins of all the roads converging in Boyertown are also detailed, he said.

“I also explain why Boyertown formed and why it formed at its present location,” Mitchell said.

Pandemic Project

The 8.5-inch-by-11-inch glossy paperback of 155 pages of text, pictures and illustrations is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. He started doing the research at the onset of the pandemic and writing the book provided him with a purpose during many months of quarantine.

Joseph L. Mitchell recently published book, “The History of Boyertown and Vicinity.” Much of the research for the book was conducted amid the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

“Writing the book was a labor of love because I have lived in the Oley Hills for 25 years and consider Boyertown my hometown,” said Mitchell.

He started his research in February 2020, about a month before the start of the pandemic.

“I spent many productive hours researching Boyertown’s history while self-isolating,” he said. “I have no doubt this fun helped me cope with the pandemic.”

After 18 months of research, Mitchell began to write and edit the manuscript. The manuscript was finished in early March and sent to the printer. The books arrived on March 17 and were offered for sale the next day through publisher and distributor Berks History Research LLC, on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BHR1752.

“I find it ironic the process started and ended along with the pandemic.”

Building A Better Boyertown partnered with the local author to promote and sell the book at the BaBB office at 3 E. Philadelphia Ave.

“We love to see that the author is a local resident and community member,” said Jillian Magee, Main Street manager, Building a Better Boyertown. “We think his book by him has a lot of details that are not necessarily in the other historical books about our community.

“It definitely sheds light on the rich history that our community has and the impacts we’ve made both nationally and internationally,” she added.

Digging into Boyertown’s History

“As a resident of the Boyertown area, I would often go into town and was intrigued by the architecture of the buildings,” Mitchell said. “It is truly a great town. This prompted me to buy every book about the history of Boyertown that I could find.”

While some were good, most did not include the history before Boyertown became a village.

“A few did, but they repeated information that was written in the 19th century. Today, this information is found on several Boyertown websites and is written as fact,” said Mitchell.

His inspiration for researching Boyertown’s history comes from his need to know.

“I wanted to know if the available histories about Boyertown were based on fact or legend.”

I have explained further.

“Writing any history is an imperfect endeavor. Mistakes are made, and the written history is only as complete and accurate as the information received,” said Mitchell. “Early historians only had access to legend, so they printed what they knew to be true. Unfortunately, the legends written about Boyertown have gone unchallenged for more than 100 years and are now considered to be fact.”

“Today’s researcher has access to primary-source documents and can determine facts from legend. I wrote the book to provide a factual and complete account of Boyertown’s history,” he said.

Most importantly, Mitchell said he did not skimp on the research, citing facts from primary sources supported by more than 1,500 references. The book includes more than 300 surnames and more than 700 individual names in the index.

The book includes historical illustrations such as the Jacob Stauffer 1754 to 1839 Boyertown property. (Image courtesy of Joseph L. Mitchell)

“Most people will describe me as a local historian and author of local historical books, but I don’t,” he said. “I think of myself as a researcher of local history. It sounds cliché, but I enjoy the journey more than the destination. The research (journey) needed to publish a book takes years. It only takes a few months to publish a book.”

His need to know was ingrained in him during his career as a research engineer. This interest was transferred to local history when he bought a stone farmhouse near Boyertown in 1995. He spent many hours at the Boyertown Historical Society researching the history of the home.

Once he completed this project, Mitchell expanded his research to all of Pike Township and published “Abridged History of Pike Township” which was handed out during the township’s 2013 bicentennial celebration.

After his retirement in 2018, Mitchell joined the board of the Oley Valley Heritage Association and was elected vice president. To support the mission of the association, he has focused his research on Oley Township and published several articles in the association newsletter.

However, the bulk of his research was focused on Main Street, Oley. He completed “The History of Main Street” in 2020, but the publication of the book was delayed until January of this year.

“I have a good understanding of local history, but do not consider myself a local history expert in any geographic areas,” said Mitchell. “In Boyertown, there are people like Betty J. Burdan who deserve this moniker. I cannot come close to having the intimate knowledge of Boyertown that she has.”

Mitchell had the opportunity to meet and learn from Burdan, a Boyertown historian who provided information for this book, and George M. Meiser IX, a Berks County historian who provided pictures and publishing guidance.

“However, I do consider myself an expert researcher,” Mitchell added.

For his new book, Mitchell was able to assemble unpublished information from primary sources into a complete and accurate history of Boyertown.

“I hope the book brings enjoyment to the individual reader. For the community, my hope is that the book enhances the pride it already has for Boyertown,” said Mitchell.

Published and distributed by Berks History Research, LLC, “The History of Boyertown and Vicinity” can be purchased online on the distributor’s Facebook page. The book can also be purchased at the Building A Better Boyertown office, 3 East Philadelphia Ave.


Editor’s Note: The book’s author, Joseph L. Mitchell, is not related to reporter Lisa Mitchell.

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