Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Grand Old Station

Back in the cloudy recesses of my mind are those early days which get further out of reach as time goes by. Glimpses of events enter my mind at night and try to break through that fog. Lately, it's been an event that lasted all summer long back in the early 1980's called "Operation Bootstrap".

Operation Bootstrap was the name given to the effort of a small army of Pottstown volunteers who decided that no wrecking ball would demolish the grand old Reading Railroad Station just because it was a little run down on its heels. 

Not unlike Pottstown itself, the train station just mirrored everything else around her. Betlehem Steel, Firestone, Doehlers, Robinson Clay, and many other industries in and around Pottstown felt the declining vitality of the area due to plant closures. Employment, once seemingly endless, was becoming tough to come by. 

The long drift downward was happening all around us and the train station, long left to decline, was a glaring symbol of decay. Here, in the very heart of Pottstown, nearly everyone saw the slow decline but, because the decline was slow coming, it drew little effort to subdue it, that's if, anything could be done at all. It was this thought that encouraged more volunteers to muster into the army of volunteers to save the train station from being demolished.

Passenger service was in gradual decline for years and ceased in the late 1960's when the station was shut down. Vagrants began their occupation of the premises shortly thereafter as they evaded policing
efforts. Obvious signs became apparent : trash, urine, ficus, rags, and bed rolls were accumulating visible to the naked eye. Effects from  Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972 were still quite apparent in the early eighties furthering the grand building's decline, in fact, when the volunteers took action they had to pump eight foot of flood water from its basement. 

The names of individual volunteers are beyond me though many came from  members of the BIE, Building Industries Exchange, and the Ambucs, American Business Men's Club. Both these two organizations endorsed the cleanup effort from day one. Also there were a goodly number of  businesses that contributed things like dumpsters, pressure washers, cleaning products, and professional expertise. Food donations appeared along with gallons of hot coffee, cool lemonade and iced tea. 

A real highlight came toward the end of summer when things were winding down. The borough officials saw and felt the desires of the public not to demolish the grand old station. Ultimately the borough sold the building to a syndicate led by a carpetbagger type fellow who didn't last too long in town, but that's another story.

 The highlight was a community flea market on the concourse complete with an auction of bicycles the police had found abandoned throughout town over the years. Then, Chief of Police, Rodgers suggested an auction of them to raise money to pay incidental bills that arose through the cleanup process. 

I guess, the success of any undertaking is in the desired result intended. The Grand Old Station stands today, maybe not as the army of volunteers intended which was for a strictly public building, but it still stands. When the public gets behind an idea, when they feel an injustice may happen, when the public stands together good things can happen. 

I request, if anyone has sharper reflections of the summer of Operation Bootstrap please let the rest of us know what you remember. Maybe someone still has news clippings of this event and would be willing to share them with the public. 

Ronald C. Downie 

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