The Rentschler Arboretum, a beautiful, 34-acre tract of land on a high vista in the foothills of the Blue Mountain near Bernville, Pennsylvania, is owned and maintained by the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club. The property includes gardens, wildflower meadows, a walking trail, farm fields, a nature sanctuary, the Rentschler Pavilion, and the Kalbach Pavilion (where monthly club meetings and special club events are held). The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours.
The Arboretum was formerly the property of the Club's founding father, Dr. Harry F. Rentschler. In 1925, Dr. Rentschler and his wife, Sadie, had purchased this land as a retreat from his busy medical practice in Reading. These were the same hills young Harry had roamed as a boy when his father owned the Eagle Hotel in Bernville.
In the 1930's, Dr. Rentschler planted a grove of pine trees on the sloping western edge of his property and erected a simple one-room frame cabin (left) at the head of a path leading to the spring at the base of the western slope. He wanted few improvements ... they hiked down the steep path for water and a wood stove was used for heat and cooking. The solitude of this place he called the "Nestle Inn" was enough. He must have gazed often at the panoramic view of the Blue Mountains from the height of his land, where he could follow forty miles of the Blue Mountain ridge and know that his beloved Appalachian Trail was there.
Rentschler's later life was so deeply devoted to the conservation and hiking group he had inspired and led since 1916 that he wanted the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club to hold and preserve this place of solitude when he was gone. He therefore wrote in his will that the Club would take ownership when his wife no longer used the property. He also willed the Club a trust fund of $5000 for maintenance. Rentschler died in 1942 and Mrs. Rentschler continued to use the cabin retreat through the war years and occasionally thereafter. The BMECC then moved forward with the plans for an arboretum on the 34.615 acre property.
On October 18, 1959, the initial tree planting took place at the newly-named Rentschler Arboretum. The first tree honored their revered founder, Dr. Harry F. Rentschler. A large crowd on this occasion included the Pennsylvania Secretary of Forests and Waters, who made the dedication speech. Work at needed clearing of brush began under the leadership of Henry L. Kalbach, Club member and resident of Bernville. At least 40 workers turned out in January 1960 to begin the clearing. In the 1960's the arboretum was used for outings such as the Mother's Day Picnic and occasionally a Spring outdoor meeting when more and more trees were planted and dedicated to deceased members of BMECC. A formal plan for the arboretum was drawn up. Teachers were invited to bring Bernville school children up to the new arboretum where they were led on walks by Henry Kalbach. Henry's devotion to the Arboretum continued for the next 17 years.
In 1968, fire destroyed the quaint "Nestle Inn", which, by now, had often been used for scheduled daytime membership events. The Rentschler Pavilion (left) currently stands at the site of the Rentschlers' beloved cabin.
A new "clubhouse" (below) was erected the following year. Later, it was dedicated Kalbach Pavilion to the memory of Henry L. Kalbach, who had guided the development of the arboretum for 18 years. Members provided much of the finish work, such as exterior painting and interior trim.
Extensive use of the property for club-sponsored programs began in the 1970's. Club members organized backpacking seminars where light-weight tents, stoves, and other new equipment were demonstrated outdoors. The Club's trail and arboretum maintenance equipment was stored here. The Club directors meeting place changed from Court Street in Reading to the Kalbach Pavilion.
The arboretum provided visiting Appalachian Trail work crews a place to stay when working in the region. One significant occasion was the day A. T. Conference officials met at Rentschler Arboretum with local clubs to designate the official route of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through eastern Pennsylvania using aerial photographs of the marked footpath.
Henry L. Kalbach died in 1975 and was honored for his long devotion to the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club and Rentschler Arboretum. His son, Henry Jr., took over the reins of leadership until his death. Henry, Jr., a public school teacher, introduced inter-city youth to the outdoors through school bus excursions to Rentschler Arboretum. Some had never been out of the city and had to be coaxed to leave the bus.
The "Wednesday Work Crew" was formed to continue the Kalbachs' work. It consisted of retired members who faithfully maintained the grounds until age or physical condition no longer allowed them to continue. The present arboretum committee includes a member of the work crew. Improvements to the property have also been made with the help of Bernville Boy Scout Troop 422 (Eagle Projects). Regular work trips take place every Friday, weather permitting.
Directions to the Rentschler Arboretum from Reading, PA
Address: 297 Arboretum Rd, Bernville, PA 19506, United States
Take Route 183 North to Bernville. Turn right onto Washington Street. Go one block to the stop sign. Cross Main Street and continue on Washington Street for just over a mile (Washington Street becomes Arboretum Road on the other side of the cemetery.). Look for the Arboretum sign on the left. Pull in the driveway and you will see the Kalbach Pavilion building on the right.