Berks County Almshouse

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Berks County Almshouse
Opened 1824
Demolished 1952 (original complex)
Current Status Demolished (Original Campus), Active
Building Style Single Building,
Location Shillington (original), Leesport (current)
Alternate Names
  • Berks County Poor House
  • Berks Heim


The Berks County Almshouse was located on Lancaster Pike 3 miles from Reading. As of the 1885 Report by the Board of Charities the hospital complex was made up of 6 primary buildings and a number of smaller buildings for minor uses such as the creamery, bakery and slaughterhouse. The almshouse sat on 514 acres of land, of which 434 was under cultivation with crops for the institution and 5 under garden husbandry. The complex housed an almshouse, hospital for the infirm, as well as an insane department.

The almshouse was established in 1824 when the original building was constructed. In 1831 the male and female departments for the insane and the male hospital were erected. The female hospital was erected the following your in 1832. In 1858 a new wash house was built and steam heat was introduced to the institution. The old was house was then converted for use by the insane female patients. As was typical of early almshouses these buildings were generally simple two and three story square structures.

In 1874 a new and modern hospital was constructed for the infirm, sick, disabled, and feeble-minded. The building measured 277 feet by 60 feet and stood at three stories with an attic and basement. The male and female patients were segregated on either side of the buildings main wing. The each floor of the building contained spacious rooms designed to be occupied by two patients, 10 foot wide hallways, and water closets. The central wing, which extended to the buildings rear contained the kitchen and dining hall on the first floor and the chapel on the second.

The complex maintained an independent insane department, which by 1885 was housed in the two brick buildings which formerly served as the male and female hospitals. The capacity of these structures is 58 males and 28 females, for a total capacity of 86. In the report it was noted that the facilities for the insane were not appropriate and the insane patients would be better served by a transfer to Harrisburg State Hospital or Danville State Hospital.

As time went on the hospital became more focused on the infirm and aged than the poor and insane, as many almshouses did by the middle of the 20th century. In 1952 the complex on Lancaster Ave closed for good, being replaced with a new infirmary in Leesport called Berks Heim. Berks Heim remains in operation today as a county run nursing home. In 1957 the old almshouse complex was demolished and replaced with apartment housing, a shopping center, and the Governor Mifflin School.


Like many almshouses the Berks County Almshouse maintained the county potters field. The exact location of which however appears to be lost.

Images of Berks County Almshouse

Main Image Gallery: Berks County Almshouse