Settlement in the area dates to 1732. In 1779 when Martin Kaercher, Jr. received 250 acres of fertile land from his father instead of tilling the ground by the banks of the Schuylkill River he laid out building lots. In 1787 the little settlement was known as Kaercher Stadt or Kaerchertown. In 1792 the northernmost town in Berks County became its second postal designation, following Reading a few months earlier.
The name “Hamburgh” was adopted from the town of Hamburg, Germany since many of the first inhabitants were Germanic, a dialect that still lingers here today. The town began to blossom following the construction of the Centre Turnpike in 1812 from Reading to Pottsville. (both towns approximately 15 miles from Hamburg). And with the opening of the Schuylkill Canal in 1820 and the railroad which came soon after, Hamburg boomed.
Hamburg Borough, was organized in 1837, and has been called, “without a doubt one of the finest towns - architecturally - to be found anywhere in the state. Hamburg experienced its growth spurt during a period in architecture when ornamentation was popular. Victorian style in the homes and businesses in the town of Hamburg reflected the pride and attention to detail of its inhabitants no matter what the cost. Look down North 4th Street, South 3rd Street or North 5th Street and you’ll find an abundance of ornate, Victorian cornices, gingerbread moldings, and brickwork - a tangible history of days gone by.
Our walking tour will begin at the Hamburg Public Library, one of the town buildings representative of the high style buildings that appeared during the Victorian Period...
Hamburg Public Library
35 N 3rd Street
The Hamburg Public Library borrowed freely from a variety of turn of the century styles and incorporated a few inventions of its own. The roof lines are more reminiscent of the Gothic Revival style, the arched windows and doorways are Romanesque Revival, rusticated lintel and arch stones borrow from Richardsonian Romanesque Revival, yet the eave crown moldings are of Classical Greek Revival profile and the dormer window is decorated with filigree reminiscent of the Stick Style. The interior details and moldings echo a modified expression of Roman architecture. The library opened on November 5, 1904 and is the oldest library building still operating in Berks County. Funds for the building were donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who supplied money for free libraries across the country. On the first day an estimated 500 people visited, and seventy-seven library cards were issued. The copper cupola roof was renovated in 2002. The rotunda in the inside is impressive, and much of the interior (wooden bookshelves, circulation desk, round bench in the entry) are original. Note the tin ceiling.
WALK NORTH ON 3RD STREET
(if facing the library, turn left).
Hamburg Municipal Center
61 N 3rd Street, southeast corner of Island Street
The Third Street School, erected in 1889, housed all elementary grades and after 1913, four years of high school. On February 25, 1924, at 4:30 p.m., fire was discovered in a hot air flue in the south wing. Though firemen fought the blaze for 12 hours, little was saved. The structure was rebuilt on the site and used as an elementary school until 1982. In 1987 the Borough of Hamburg purchased the property and relocated the Borough offices into the facility. It remains today as the Hamburg Municipal Center. The graceful iron fountain at the front corner (which predates the school) and the iron fence were most likely made by local iron works.
TURN RIGHT ON ISLAND STREET.
Bethany Methodist Church
321 Island Street, northeast corner of 3rd Street
This two-story church was built in 1913 of rubblestone in a rambling “Country” Gothic style with some Romanesque forms and Gothic details. It replaced the former Emanuel Union Church at this location that was heavily damaged by a rogue tornado on July 5, 1887. The weathervane is from the earlier church. Stained glass windows depict the life of Christ. The parsonage behind it along Island Street - so named because it leads to an island in the Schuylkill River - was built around 1904.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH STREET.
71 N 4th Street
This Federal style Victorian home was built in the 1870s for William Scott, a Hamburg carriage builder. The decorative window surrounds, arched doorway and footed windowsills give the home a formal look. The iron gate off to the side dates back to when the home was built.
64 N 4th Street
This Federal style home intrigues with its gabled dormer and first-rate craftsmanship on the lentil brick work above the windows.
63 N 4th Street
Wilson Schmick was an early 20th century industrialist who tried to lure his wife away from Philadelphia by building this elegant mansion, complete with stained glass and art glass windows throughout the house. An exceptionally large one can be seen on the north wall. The twin wide gables are framed with corbelled layered diagonal brick peaks and elaborate chimneys. The ornate woodwork above is still topped with newel posts. Still, she refused to take the bait, stayed put in the big city and the house was sold.
54 N 4th Street
This picturesque blend of Victorian styles was built for another town industrialist. Tudor-influenced details are placed over a heavy Queen Anne porch. An art glass window graces the exposed north wall. Corner quoins call to mind mid-19th century Italianate buildings.
51-53 N 4th Street
These two Gothic Revival homes are joined together in the middle. Elaborate decorative wood trim is evident and trusses on either side of the center bay area is extensive. The chimneys on both homes are corbelled and have slate covers.
45 N 4th Street
This Queen Anne from the late 1800s was the family home of the Millers, owners of the Robert P. Miller Underwear Mill in Shoemakersville. This home is a fine example of Queen Anne style architecture. It has a steeply pitched roof with a double row of snowbirds over a fine brick cladding. Arched soldier lentils above the windows are finely done and stone sills give the house a strong feeling. The brick work is precise. The front gable has accented symmetrical wooden detailed corner brackets. The house is situated above a terrace reached by a stone staircase and the wall in the front adds to the splendor.
27-29 N 4th Street
A touch of the Gothic distinguishes this terrace-top double house. Note the finely crafted woodwork under the peaked gables.
21 N 4th Street
This is considered the oldest stone house still standing in Hamburg - the year 1811 is incised in a stone up near the peak. The elegance of this home lies in its hand-hewn stone that was hauled from the Blue Mountains by Abraham Bailey. It was built with fireplaces in nearly every room. Note the carefully fitted stone keystones in the arches above the windows.
5-7 N 4th Street
These three-story buildings express a beautiful collection of Italianate woodwork, and have housed small shops and residences above them for many years. The tin ceiling has been beautifully restored in No. 7.
The American House
2 N 4th Street, northwest corner of State Street
This corner site has been a tavern/hotel for many years; however, its inception is unclear. The earliest record of real estate transaction is February 7, 1813. It changed hands many times until 1853 when it became a licensed hotel under Peter Fink and housed a tavern, eating house and oyster cellar. After being closed for many years, it is once again entertaining diners.
1 N 4th Street, northeast corner of State Street
Built in 1880 this Italianate style four-story building featured a large ballroom on the top floor for operas, dancing, and other affairs. The ground floor has housed many businesses over the years, including a liquor store (the reason for the bars on the side windows). An impressive portico once covered the sidewalk on both 4th and State Streets. The top windows inspired the town’s Historic Hamburg logo.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Lodge
1 S 4th Street, southeast corner of State Street
This rambling, brick, Queen Anne style building with peaks, dormers and turrets was the machine shop of Snell and Meharg relocated from Reading to Hamburg. One of the partners, George Meharg, built this home that stayed in the possession of the Meharg family until the early 1950’s when it became the social quarters for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
5-7 S 4th Street
At one time almost every building on this block featured a portico. Now this is one of the only ones left.
Hamburg Strand Theater
6 S 4th Street
Formerly a restaurant, this site was changed into a movie theater and opened on Christmas Day in 1920 with a showing of The Whistling Devil. Tickets for silent films cost 11 or 17 cents. The first “talkie” shown here was Untamed in March of 1930. This nostalgic one-screen theater remains family owned.
13-15 S 4th Street
In 1908 this old former post office building was extensively remodeled into the National Bank establishment. Various businesses since then have kept the marble decor out front. The first mill burned down in 1875 and it was replaced by the present structure.
16 S 4th Street
This property showcases the original stained leaded glass above the twin show windows which extends six feet inside the building. Also original is the tin ceiling and the brass and milk white light fixtures.
17 S 4th Street
Dating to 1779, this is one of the oldest houses in Hamburg. It is reputed to have been one of the stop-over places for Negro slaves leaving the South for Canada on the “Underground Railroad.”
First National Bank and Trust Company
26 S 4th Street
This two-story marble building, with a columned entrance brings a Classical Revival style with Greek detailing to downtown Hamburg. Built in 1927, it has 20-foot columns of white Vermont marble fluted in Corinthian capitals. It is the only marble-granite building in town.
Burkey & Driscoll’s
38 S 4th Street
Established in 1852, Peter Burkey’s cabinet making business shortly evolved into a furniture and undertaking enterprise. This is Hamburg’s oldest business to be continually operated by the same family from 1852 to present. It is also the last of the once common funeral home/furniture store combinations left in Pennsylvania.
Miller’s 5 &10
43 S 4th Street
Miller’s 5 & 10 was established in 1922 in the Miller family residence, built in 1819. For many years they sold homemade candy and ice cream. The store is little changed from those days.
Hamburg Savings and Trust Company
52-56 S 4th Street
The Hamburg Savings and Trust Company was founded in 1872 in a small single room across the street. The current building dates to 1923; the basement was leased to the Keystone Social Club for a bowling alley and club quarters which they still occupy.
Mill Creek flows under under the street finally exposing itself here. The Flood of 1906 raged through this part of town, taking away Allen Romich’s tinsmiths shop and Mr. Romich himself. The contents and that of Mr. Romich’s, including stoves, tinware, and his cobbler’s bench, and lumber was strewn along the creek banks and at the bridges. Romich’s widow auctioned off the salvaged stoves and tinware. Lime was used to purify the water, but in spite of that, a typhoid epidemic broke out. Mr. Appel, assistant editor of the Hamburg Item, who worked so hard on the flood issue of the paper, was its first victim.
Leibensperger Funeral Home
63-65 S 4th Street
Built in 1829, it was formerly Loy’s furniture and undertaking establishment. In 1935 Stephen T. Leibensperger purchased the property and converted the furniture store into a funeral parlor which still is owned by the Leibensperger family. The property still retains its original street portico.
68-70 S 4th Street
This Federal-style house once featured lip-smacking treats from Gittle’s Candy shop. It was also home to a tobacco shop, and later an insurance agency. It currently serves as a residence only. The show windows and portico are original.
southwest corner of 4th and Pine streets
The Rotary Club donated this old-fashioned town clock in 2002.
101 S 4th Street
This 19th century Victorian house got a French-inspired Second Empire mansard roof and Italianate door surround detailing. Originally owned by a succession of doctors it housed the Draft Board during World War II and today is divided into apartments.
Hamburg Union Fire Company #1
125 S 4th Street
Built in 1886, this building served to house fire equipment and also the borough office. Later acquisition of adjoining property allowed the addition of social quarters and a larger truck garage.
TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 3RD STREET.
124 S 3rd Street
Now an insurance office, this building with its portico and show windows has housed various shops over the years, including a stint as an oyster house,
First United Church of Christ
86 S 3rd Street
Built in 1898-99, this 2-1/2 story brownstone church done in the Gothic Revival style combining elements of Norman Gothic and English Perpendicular styles. The Tiffany stained glass windows are framed in heavy arched window heads of red stone. The church’s pipe organ was purchased with $1,000 contributed by Andrew Carnegie. A 50-bell carillon was installed in 1971.
73 S 3rd Street
This Federal-style house has original wooden shutters and door surround. Note the stone foundation and steps, the grates, and probably the only slate sidewalk left in town out front.
59 S 3rd Street
This house was built for Daniel Burkey, who owned the Burkey Furniture Business and Funeral Home and his sons assisted him in all his business efforts. Daniel Burkey was so appreciative that he built a home alongside of his for each of them.
47-49-51-57 S 3rd Street
These are the houses the Burkey family patriarch built for his sons.
41 S 3rd Street
This handsome brick home was built in 1918 and the young couple who moved into it lived there for more than 70 years. Notice the lead trim on the door and picture window.
11 S 3rd Street
This frame building has seen many occupants, but from 1891 to 1930 it housed the newspaper plant and office of the Hamburg Item. After a fire in 1903, the paper was re-equipped and up and running in just a few weeks.
The Balthauser Building
2-10 S 3rd Street
Built in 1885 as Confer’s Varieties, the style of this impressive market place has changed very little since then. For many years it was a department store and there was a farmer’s market in the basement each Saturday.
Hamburg Item House
3rd and State streets
The Hamburg Item has been published since 1875. The “cast stone” facing blocks of this 1930 building were developed and manufactured by a local firm. The press room was at the rear, offices in the center, job printing upstairs, and until 1956 a store occupied the front of the building.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
Adams & Bright Drug Store
306 State Street
A drug store opened in this building with a modified marble storefront and beautiful stained glass above the entry in 1906. Adams & Bright bought it in 1929 and installed a black marble soda fountain and some marble booths. The original counter is still there. An early telephone exchange was located on the second floor until 1914.
308 State Street
This building was home to Wisser’s bar and restaurant for many years, until 1994. The old bar and back-bar are still in place, as is the tin ceiling.
320 State Street
From 1909 to 1920 this was the National movie theater. It was the American Legion during WWII, and then was remodeled to become a men’s and boys’ clothing store.
Hecky’s Sandwich Shop
313-317 State Street
This imposing building dates to 1928 to house the business of Rau Bros., on the site of a former movie theater and an earlier blacksmith shop and carriage works. The Raus were tinsmiths, and were largely responsible for this being a “town of red tin roofs.” Many of the ornate tin ceilings have been carefully preserved in businesses around town, including this one.
RETURN TO 3RD STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
6 N 3rd Street
This site has at one time or another been a furniture store, bowling alley, grocery store and most recently a printing establishment.
26-28 N 3rd Street
Two generations of the Seaman family made a wide variety of baked goods here beginning in 1887, delivering them first by horse and wagon, and later with a fleet of trucks. In 1941 it was sold to Maier’s bakery, and they baked pies in the large building at the rear until 1957.
308 State Street
This large building was the headquarters of the National Guard for many years. It was built in 1889 by the Blue Mountain Legion, a military company. Movies were shown here in the silent picture era. There were basketball games, roller skating, banquets, dances, and a cooking school.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.