A Brief History of Upper Hanover Township


Native American peoples, probably "Lenape" of the Delaware tribe, made use of the abundant resources found in the Upper Hanover Township area along with much of what we know of now as southeastern Pennsylvania.  These Native Americans were some of the first to make contact with European explorers and both benefited and sacrificed from these very early seventeenth century interactions.  Ultimately, the land became under control of the William Penn family who, through an aggressive settlement campaign, eventually moved the Native populations further westward.

                Meanwhile religious, social and economic tensions in the Germanic city-states of Europe, particularly religious intolerance and the unrest resulting from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), drove many German speaking peoples away from their homes.  Large numbers fled to Philadelphia, induced by the promise of religious tolerance and a vision of economic opportunity.  From there, some made their way to what is now Upper Hanover Township.  Among the many German language religious groups settling this township were Lutherans, Reformed, Catholic, Mennonites and Schwenkfelders.

            Before 1741, Upper Hanover was part of Hanover Township along with Douglass, Pottsgrove, and New Hanover Townships and the Borough of Pottstown. Upper Hanover became a separate township from Hanover Township 1741 and, at that time, its boundaries also included the three villages of Palm, Kleinville, and Hillegassville, in addition to the settlements which now constitute the Boroughs of Pennsburg, Red Hill and East Greenville.

            The township’s rich soil attracted excellent German farmers who settled in the area. Industrial activity was second only to agriculture in importance during this early period. The primary industry was building construction. Utilizing granite boulders, provided from the Hosensack Hills, facilitated this. Waterpower was also available from the Perkiomen Creek and propelled water wheels for five gristmills and four sawmills.

            In 1851, the Goshenhoppen and Green Lane Turnpike (today known as Route 29 or Gravel Pike) was completed. The Geryville and Sumneytown Turnpike, finished in 1865, also crossed the eastern portion of the township.

            The Perkiomen Railroad, aided by the Reading Railroad, constructed and opened a rail line from Collegeville to Upper Hanover Township in 1873.  The line was extended to Emmaus in 1874.  By 1878 mail service, via the railroad, reached the train stations in Upper Hanover Township. 
            Livestock arrived on the rail cars for the large, public auctions in the Township.  Lumber, coal, and raw materials to supply the local factories arrived by train.  Finished goods, milk, and vegetables where shipped to the city in the same way. 

            With the railroad, travelers were able to enjoy a much easier commute to the popular township recreation destinations. 

            The railroad also brought the ice industry to the township.  The close proximity to the exceptional waters of the Perkiomen Creek and access to the railroad made ice making a major industry between 1890 and the early 1920’s.

The largest icehouse built in Upper Hanover Township was the structure erected in Palm by the Hancock Ice Company.  Built in 1897, it was 311 feet long, 90 feet wide and 42 feet high!  The coming of electric freezers made the ice industry obsolete and the flood of 1935 wiped out almost all of the ice dams on the Perkiomen Creek that had once supported the ice industry.

            During World War II many of the valley’s workers traveled to industrial centers (i.e. Pottstown, Allentown, Lansdale, etc.) outside the valley to find employment in the war effort.

            In 1950 a fierce controversy gripped the valley. The Philadelphia Suburban Water Company wanted to impound three billion gallons of the Perkiomen Creek’s water to supply municipalities at the eastern end of Montgomery County. Valley residents felt their water rights were being confiscated. The citizens of the valley organized, took the issue to court, and lost. Construction on the dam started in 1954.  The reservoir and its surrounding parklands are now an important landmark and recreation area for the valley.

            In 1948, Upper Hanover Township had a total of nine schoolhouses.  Though it had been discussed on numerous occasions, the formation of the Upper Perkiomen School District was still several years away.  Schools in East Greenville and Pennsburg were growing, but student enrollment in Upper Hanover was waning.  Five of the schoolhouses, one dating back to 1855, were sold in 1948.

            The Upper Perkiomen Valley School District was formed in 1954. Red Hill, Pennsburg, East Greenville, Green Lane, Marlborough, Upper Hanover, and Hereford Township in Berks County merged to better serve school needs in the valley. A multimillion-dollar high school was constructed, spanning part of Red Hill and Upper Hanover Township.

            Over the next few decades major growth and changes occurred in Upper Hanover Township. Industries such as Knoll, Inc., Brown Printing and Blommer Chocolates located their business in the Township. Housing development flourished in the early years of the 21st century and boosted the population to 6,464 residents in the 2010 U.S. Census. A major shopping center, The Shoppes at Upper Hanover, opened for business in 2006. Despite the recent growth, Upper Hanover Township has maintained its rural character through active coordination with the Montgomery County Open Space Program and the Farmland Preservation Program.


(Source: Upper Hanover Township Historical Committee)