John Potts built a Colonial-era iron empire at the confluence of the Schuylkill River and Manatawney Creek in the 1750s. In 1761 he advertised building lots for sale in a new town he was calling Pottsgrove along the Great Road that led from Philadelphia out to Reading. The village grew slowly, inhabited mainly by Pottses - John had 13 children. There were still only a few hundred inhabitants a half-century later when Pottsgrove officially became Pottstown when it was incorporated as the second borough in Montgomery County, just three years after the first, Norristown, was established.
By 1840 there were still less than a thousand people living in the rural village when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad made a fateful decision to run its tracks on Pottstown’s side of the Schuylkill River and locate much of its car building and repair facilities in the town. The population would grow 16-fold before the end of the 19th century.
Pottstown’s heavy industry became known nationwide. The first iron truss bridge in the United States was built in 1845 in the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad blacksmith shop. A girder from that bridge is on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Iron and steel from Pottstown’s furnaces and rolling mills was used in the George Washington Bridge, on the locks of the Panama Canal and in America’s first skyscrapers. John Ellis had built a factory to produce his Ellis Champion Grain Thresher, which was being shipped to practically every grain growing country in the world.
Most of the building stock on Pottstown’s present-day streets emanates from the boom days of the late 1800s through early 1900s. There are many fine examples of residential and commercial buildings from that time when Pottstown was an important iron center.
Our walking tour will explore the Old Pottstown Historic District that roughly adheres to the town laid out by John Potts in 1761 and we’ll begin at the elegant Georgian home of the old iron master himself...
100 West King Street
John Potts and his wife Ruth (Savage) had 13 children, several of whom made the family even more prominent. Potts, a successful ironmaster and merchant was appointed Justice of the Peace and Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. He was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly from both Berks and Philadelphia counties. He began construction of his manor house, one of the finest homes to be built in the region, in 1752. Considered one of the finest extant examples of Georgian architecture in Pennsylvania, Pottsgrove Manor features ashlar walls, pedimented gables and classic five-part symmetry under a cedar roof. Only about four acres of the expansive Potts plantation remain today but fortunately it includes this building, the oldest structure in the borough.
LEAVE POTTSGROVE MANOR ON KING STREET AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING FOR TOWN ACROSS MANATAWNEY CREEK.
36 King Street
Various prominent Pottstown families owned this Federal-style home from the mid-19th century as a rental property. It underwent a facade restoration under the auspices of the former Old Pottstown Preservation Society. The simple decorative details and flat window trim are hallmarks of the Federal style.
53 King Street
Abraham Weitzenkorn was born in Leitmar, Germany. He came to America at the age of 17, settled in Pottstown, and began his trade as a peddler. He opened his first store in 1864 at 108 South Hanover Street before moving to High Street where they have remained for over 125 years. Weitzenkorn built this Second Empire house within sight of the family business in the 1870s. It features one of Pottstown’s outstanding mansard roofs with dormer windows and heavily bracketed cornices.
TURN LEFT ON HANOVER STREET.
Trinity Reformed Church
58 Hanover Street
Trinity Reformed Church was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1865 of red sandstone. In 1926, lightning struck Trinity’s spire, causing a fire which gutted the structure. It was altered during reconstruction the following year and the steeple was not replaced.
Transfiguration Lutheran Church
79 Hanover Street at southwestern corner of Chestnut Street
The English Evangelical Church of the Transfiguration was built catercorner from Zion’s in 1861 in the Romanesque Revival style. Windstorms destroyed its original steeples in 1878 and 1934, and the latter was replaced with a shorter clock tower. The abundant use of masonry and arched windows lend the building an air of solemnity.
Old Brick Church
100 Hanover Street at northeastern corner of Chestnut Street
John Potts donated this land to German and Quaker settlers for a church in 1753. A log chapel was ready for worship in 1760. In 1796 this brick church was constructed by two congregations, the Lutherans and the Reformed, running over budget and reaching a cost of $6,000. It is said that at the dedication nearly every member gave a silver dollar when the offering was made. The “Old Brick Church” was laid in Flemish bond brickwork with alternating headers and stretchers, an extravagance rarely found in Pottstown. Now the Zion’s United Church of Christ, it is the oldest church in town and the only Georgian building in the Old Pottstown Historic District.
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
150 Hanover Street at southeastern corner of Walnut Street
This fine Romanesque Revival church was erected in 1868; a windstorm ten years later toppled its spire and it was never replaced. A memorial plaque with the names of early Pottstown residents is located between Emanuel Lutheran and the neighboring Old Brick Church.
TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET.
239 Walnut Street
Popularized by the Sears & Roebuck catalogs of the 1920s, this American Four-Square house provided the homeowner with the most usable space for the least amount of money.
243 Walnut Street
Another housing style popularized by the Sears catalog was the bungalow; this one and one-half story example is similar to one advertised in the 1920s. Unlike its neighbor this design was considered expensive in relation to the amount of living space provided to its occupants.
245 Walnut Street
This house from around 1850 is one of the rare frame Federal period structures in the Pottstown Historic District. The flat-topped windows and 6/6 configuration of the window panes are typical of the style. The porch and rear addition came along later.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO PENN STEET AND TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
Philadelphia Steam Engine Fire Company #1
southeast corner of Penn Street and Chestnut Street
Pottstown’s first fire company takes its name from its first piece of equipment - a hand drawn pumper apparatus, from the Philadelphia Fire Company #18. The company was organize don January 3, 1871 after a series of bad fires the previous year. The “Phillies” first firehouse was located on the south side of the 100 block of King Street; this Italianate-styled buildingwith bracketed cornices and a hose drying tower was dedicated on June 12, 1880. There have been only two renovations to the firehouse over the years, one in the 1930s to change the doors for bigger equipment and in the 1940s to move the social quarters from the basement to the second level replacing the parlor that had been used for meetings.
249 Chestnut Street
This is Pottstown’s finest Second Empire home. The building is entirely original with trademarks of the Civil War-era style such as arched windows and doors, a heavily bracketed cornice, and a concave mansard roof with dormer windows.
258 Chestnut Street
Built in the late 1860s, this late Federal-style home makes use of Italianate windows. The red brick facade features a polished marble stoop and handcrafted wooden double front doors.
TURN RIGHT ON CHARLOTTE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON KING STREET.
Pennsylvania National Guard Armory
261 King Street
The red-brick armory, stripped of most of its original stone ornamentation, was built in 1909 for Company A of the 6th Regiment of the National Guard.
Old Borough Hall
245 King Street
This one-time home to Pottstown’s government services was built in the Neoclassical style in 1924. The Opera House, which stood next door at one time, was the cultural heart of the town for many years.
TURN LEFT ON HANOVER STREET.
24 North Hanover Street at southeast corner of King Street
In 1887, P. Elwood Baum purchased the newspaper, then the Chronicle, that would eventually become the present day Mercury. He renamed it the Pottstown Daily News. After Baum’s death in 1892, Thomas Taylor took over the paper and in 1896, built The News Building at 17 North Hanover directly across the street, where the paper would remain until 1926. To expand its facilities, the paper purchased this property and built this headquarters of concrete and buffed brick, with outside trimmings of Indiana limestone. The first paper was printed here on March 22, 1926. Finally, in 1933; The Pottstown Mercury purchased the publication and property of the News.
St. Clair Mansion Site
200 High Street at southeast corner of Hanover Street
The St. Clair Mansion was built by John Potts, Jr., the third son of the founder of Pottstown. A judge of the Common Pleas Court, he elected to remain loyal to England during the American Revolution and had to flee the country when his properties were confiscated. In 1782, General Arthur St. Clair purchased the property for ｣6,700 in Continental currency. In 1785, he was elected to the Continental Congress and in 1787 became President of the Congress, the head of the country under the Articles of Confederation that governed America at the time. The property changed hands a number of times over the next hundred years serving as a tavern, a dry goods store, Fegely’s Hardware Store, and the Victor Movie Theater and Grant Koon’s cigar factory and store. In June 1924, George Bros. Confectioners purchased the corner portion and William and Charles Mills the “L-shaped” 204 High Street. By 1926 two new, similarly constructed buildings stood in their place. The opening of the St. Clair Spa was marked “by the playing of music by O’Dell’s Orchestra and every adult visitor received a box of candy.” A bronze tablet marking St. Clair’s house was removed from the mansion and installed on the new building.
Security Trust Building
152 High Street at southwest corner of Hanover Street
Across Hanover Street once stood another stone house belonging to the Potts family, constructed in 1770. In 1842, Jonas Smith purchased it from one of its subsequent owners and opened a store. In 1886, the Security and Iron Banks acquired the property and began construction of its bank on the town’s most prominent intersection. A total of 700,000 bricks were used at a cost of $8.00 per thousand. The ornate brickwork features many interesting patterns. Samuel Buchanan, a relative of President James Buchanan, laid 13,000 yards of plaster. The stone came from Monocacy and all other materials were supplied locally. Each bank occupied a side of the first floor until 1915 when the Iron Bank moved out. The Security Co. reorganized as The Security Trust and expanded to the entire first floor. Since then a parade of tenants has followed into one of Pottstown’s most significant landmarks.
TURN RIGHT ON HIGH STREET.
145 High Street
Founded in 1864, Weitzenkorn’s Clothiers is thought to be the second oldest family-owned men’s clothing store in the United States. Around town several advertising murals have been restored to their original form and color; here is an painted sign for Hart Schaffner & Marx. A few doors down is a Coca-Cola advertisement at 113 High Street.
High Street and York Street
When people learned of the railroad coming to Pottstown in the 1830s, the two rival hotel keepers, John Boyer and Joshua B. Missimer, vied for their business by building hotels on either side of the railroad tracks. Both lost out. In 1839, the railroad built a small depot just west of Missimer’s Hotel. After a short time the depot became too small, so the railroad bought Missimer’s Hotel for $10,000 and turned the small depot into a baggage and express office. This hotel, the first building on the site, served as Pottstown’s passenger station for almost a century with but a few alterations. In 1925, the Reading Railroad started buying properties on the south side of the tracks and in 1928, began demolishing the hotel to make way for the present edifice. The building was dedicated on November 6, 1929. The building is of Seasholtzville granite of a pink hue, laid in a broken range ashlar with level beds and vertical joints. The base is of New England granite, while the trim and cornice are of ornamental terra cotta. The former passenger station and freight office were connected by a corridor. The total cost of the structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was $250,000.
71 High Street
This Gothic Revival building is a good example of the application of the tri-column pillared porch. Other notable features include bay windows and ornate wood trim. Built in 1890, this home reflects high design and quality materials found in the Victorian age.
61 High Street
Jacob Fegely constructed this striking Queen Anne mansion in 1888. Fegely began his business career in coal and later owned a hardware store across the street. He was also president of the Iron Bank and owner of the Merchant’s Hotel. After his son, Calvin, died in 1913, the Elks, who had organized a decade earlier in 1902, moved in. Notable exterior features include ornamental woodwork in the flanking tower and gable, intricate balconies and a large stained glass window above the door.
Pottstown Brewing Company
High Street and Manatawney Street
In 1886, Joseph M. Selinger moved his brewery from a stone building about a mile from Pottstown to a three story brick building on this site. The brewery changed hands frequently in its early years and was sheriffed in 1897 due to financial problems brought on by competition with rival breweries. The new owners razed the brewery and constructed another building for The Pottstown Brewing Company was born. At its high point, the Pottstown Brewing Co. produced 40,000 barrels a year. Prohibition sounded the death knell for the brewery; and in the latter part of 1920, the machinery and equipment were sold to investors from Cuba for a brewery there. In 1921, the buildings and property were purchased by the Pottstown Wholesale Grocery Co. that operated from that location until 1935. The Kleen Mattress Co. occupied the buildings from 1946-50 and the Kiwi Shoe Polish Company from 1953-79. During that period, the eastern buildings were torn down for parking and in the 1980’s all existing brewery buildings were erased from memory.
CONTINUE WALKING WEST ON HIGH STREET ACROSS MANATAWNEY CREEK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT POTTSGROVE MANOR.