By Laurie Teter
Just a short 20-minute drive along Route 222 through Maxatawny Township rests the charming Borough of Kutztown, representing the midway point between the Lehigh Valley and Reading.
Originally named Cootstown, after George Coots who purchased 130 acres from prosperous land owner Peter Wentz in 1755, Kutztown was incorporated as a borough in 1815 and is the second oldest borough in Berks County. The town grew steadily but slowly during the post-Revolutionary era and as the focus changed from frontier survival to building a modern society, education and preparation of young people became a priority. As a result, the Keystone Normal School was established in 1866 and the town finally began to experience significant growth.
With the growing industrialized society, the need for teacher training increased and in 1928 the Normal School was designated as Kutztown State Teacher’s College and authorized to confer Bachelor’s degrees. Eventually the need for liberally educated graduates to staff and manage industries outstripped the need for teachers, so in 1960 the Department of Education changed the institution’s name to Kutztown State College and in 1983 the school was granted university status and became Kutztown University. Today the University’s population includes more than 10,000 full and part-time undergraduate and graduate students studying a variety of curriculums.
The Borough of Kutztown is home to just slightly more than 5,000 residents so the university, along with its student population, has a large impact on the town. “The university is active with all community initiatives – many times out front and sometimes behind the scenes – but always active, whether classes are in session or not,” according to Amanda Keith Verrastro, Main Street Manager and Program Director for Kutztown Community Partnership (KCP).
In addition to working with business owners to keep the local economy competitive, attract new businesses and help make Kutztown a destination for visitors, KCP serves as a bridge between the University and the community. Surely the Borough is subject to the typical side-effects of being a “college town,”’ but the many resources provided by the university and the student population far outweigh any drawbacks.
The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University is a museum and cultural center protecting and preserving the artifacts of the Pennsylvania Germans and educating the public about this often misunderstood community. The Center, situated on a 30-acre 19th century farmstead, includes a library which houses more than 10,000 genealogical, historical and cultural artifacts and is open to the public and for school field trips by appointment. The Center holds events year-round including lectures and exhibits, such as the recent “Hex in the City” show celebrating original architectural Barn Star artifacts and Hex Signs.
Located in the center of campus, Schaeffer Auditorium hosts a variety of entertainment including music, theater and dance as well as children’s series and special events, enriching the lives of students and the community. Schaeffer has hosted a variety of well-known guest throughout its history including jazz artist Maynard Ferguson, Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, Grammy-award winning hip-hop artist Common, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian. (Schaeffer Auditorium is currently undergoing renovations, including a 14,000 square foot addition, and is expected to re-open in August, 2013).
More than just a college town, Kutztown has a thriving traditional Main Street which is home to a variety of unique specialty stores, taverns and restaurants, the majority of which are independently owned by area residents. Facilitated by KCP and in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Main Street recently underwent a make-over which included updating building facades and new signage. The result is a vibrant and colorful unified downtown that still maintains historical and architectural integrity.
Anchored at one end by Kutztown University and the other end by the Kutztown Park, Main Street is a two-mile tract, which makes for a lovely walk downtown. In between the park and the university are taverns, breweries, cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, galleries, antique shops, jewelry stores, restaurants, a winery and much more.
KCP, often partnering with other community organizations, hosts special events throughout the year to promote Main Street and encourage visitors to come, and stay, downtown. After a plethora of fall and winter holiday events, First Friday will start again in early spring when businesses will showcase food, shopping, art and activities on the first Friday of each month. Then, in early May, the annual Community Block Party will be held on Main Street. Among the many vendors, live entertainment, games and food, students, families and the community will come together to celebrate the end of another school year.
Surrounding downtown and the university are acres of beautiful countryside and farmland, providing a majestic backdrop for a scenic drive on your way to, or home from, Kutztown.
Between the university, the downtown and the scenery, Kutztown has a rich history and culture to be enjoyed while shopping, eating and drinking…what a great way to spend
When You Go
Start your day at Renninger’s, located just off of Main Street on Noble Street. A mainstay in Kutztown since 1955, on most weekends the public can attend the farmer’s market, outdoor flea market and antiques market and four times a year Renninger’s hosts the Antiques & Collectors Extravaganza with 200 antiques dealers. Inside the farmer’s market you can treat yourself to a cup of coffee, a donut or an egg sandwich while picking up fresh produce, baked goods, meats and cheeses. Wander back a little further to explore military memorabilia, vintage jewelry, antique furniture, books and other
Next, weather permitting, take a stroll through the Kutztown Park and then start to meander along Main Street. Browse through new and used books at the Firefly Bookstore, check out the antique inspired heirloom jewelry at The Sorrelli Store and the exquisite flowers at Jackie and Daughter. Stop for pick-me-up at one of the charming coffee shops or if you’ve worked up an appetite from walking and shopping, grab a wrap or some homemade soup at Betty’s or a “hot out of the fryer” made to order donut at the Frying Dutchman. After you wander around campus – perhaps visiting a gallery or attending a sporting event – stop at the Vynecrest Winery for a wine tasting on your way back through town. If wine’s not your thing, try a micro brew at the Kutztown Tavern or have a drink at one of the many pubs and taverns along Main Street.
Can’t get enough? Spend the night at The Main Street Inn, a beautiful Victorian style inn located two blocks from Kutztown University, providing luxurious accommodations and outstanding service.