Pottsville’s history is tied to anthracite coal like a twisted pretzel braid. Its beginnings with the black diamond date to 1790 and the whimsical legend of a careless hunter named Necho Allen. Seems he fell asleep one night at the base of the Broad Mountain and woke to the sight of a large fire. His campfire had ignited an outcropping of coal. By 1795, an anthracite fired iron furnace was established on the Schuylkill River. In 1806, John Pott purchased the furnace and then founded the city of Pottsville. The site of Pottsville was originally located in Chester County. Subsequently Pottsville became part of Lancaster County, then Berks and ultimately in 1811 Schuylkill County. The borough of Pottsville became Schuylkill County’s seat in 1851 and developed into its only city.
Construction of the Schuylkill Canal, which ran a distance of 108 miles along the Upper Schuylkill River, was completed to Port Carbon by 1828 to transport the coal to larger markets. The canal spurred the development of more anthracite mines, and before long, the anthracite production in and around Pottsville was largely impacting America’s Industrial Revolution. The nine counties in northeast Pennsylvania contain 97% of the country’s anthracite coal reserves (the type of coal with the highest heating value, containing 86-97% carbon) and by 1854 half of all coal produced in America was Pennsylvania anthracite.
The growth of mine-related industries produced a population surge as immigrants came to work in the mines. The population doubled between 1820 and 1840. This led to the development of businesses, churches, and schools. Other industries grew up to support the mines. One was the Phillips Van Heusen company which was founded in 1881 when Moses Phillips and his wife Endel began sewing shirts by hand and selling them from pushcarts to the local coal miners.
During the 1870s, Pottsville’s began its greatest period of prosperity, an era that would last until the Great Depression. In the 1920s Pottsville even fielded one of the most powerful professional football teams in the country. After winning the championship of the Anthracite League comprised of Pennsylvania mining town teams in 1924, the Pottsville Maroons (supposedly named for the color of their jerseys) joined the National Football League in 1925. They won their first game against Buffalo 28-0 and finished the season 9-1-1 and beat the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL championship game 21-7. The title was later taken away, however, when the team played a college all-star team and so the Pottsville Maroons were stripped from the NFL record books. The franchise left for Boston in 1929.
The region survived the Depression because of the demand for coal and the Works Project Administration that created jobs through the construction of City Hall and the old Post Office. After World War II, however, recession in the mines struck the region hard. Hundreds moved as mines shut down and construction of a bypass routed traffic away from the downtown. Our walking tour will get off that bypass and begin at City Hall, the last major building constructed in downtown Pottsville...
Pottsville City Hall
401 North Center Street
David Yuengling opened his Eagle brewery here in 1829 but it was completely destroyed by fire after only two years of operation. He moved up to Mahantongo Street, where operations continue today. The City Hall was a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project and the sleek Art Deco building opened in 1937. The government moved here from a cozy two-story building at 14 North Third Street.
WALK WEST ON LAUREL STREET.
Schuylkill County Courthouse
401 North Second Street between Laurel and Sanderson Street
This is the county’s third courthouse, the second on this site. The first courthouse was a two-story brick structure built at a total cost of $5,000. It was a simple building with the courtroom on the first floor, and jury rooms and public offices on the second. The first court was held there in 1816. In 1846 the ground at Second and Sanderson Streets was selected for the erection of the new courthouse. On this site stood the homestead of George Farquhar, a prominent member of the county bar. In this house his son, Guy E., who also was destined to become a prominent county attorney, was born. In 1914 Guy, while arguing a case, was suddenly stricken ill and died on the very spot of his birth. The current courthouse is adjacent to the courthouse it replaced, which was vacated and eventually torn down upon completion of the new structure. A massive cornerstone about two cubic feet in size took more than an hour to maneuver into place when it was laid in 1889. It contains a large hollow space filled with artifacts from 1889, such as a copy of the construction contract; copy of the bond issue; copy of the rules of court; trial list for September, 1889 term; photograph of the first courthouse built in Pottsville; bottle of Catawba wine made by Court Crier Seitzinger in 1886; several old coins; and a list of County officials and their employees. The five-story Romanesque structure constructed from Ohio sandstone cost $320,000, almost $180,000 over the initial estimate.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH SECOND STREET.
Schuylkill County Prison
230 Sanderson Street
Napoleon LeBrun, prominent Pennsylvania architect best known for his ecclesiastical work, designed the county jail in 1851. He had previously done the Trinity Episcopal Church down the street which probably helped him win this commission. On June 21, 1877, six members of the “Molly Maguires,” an alleged secret society of Irish mine-workers, were hanged here. Pinkerton detective James McParlan’s testimony led to convictions for violent crimes against the coal industry, yet the facts of the labor, class and ethnic conflicts, even the existence of the organization, remain contested. Four others were hanged on this day at the county jail at Mauch Chunk; ten more were executed in the state through 1879.
WALK BACK DOWN SECOND STREET PAST THE COURTHOUSE AND TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
southwest corner of Market Street and Second Street
Decorative quoins and cornice give the Lee Building a jeweled appearance.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
209 West Market Street
Built in 1858 by the noted physician John T. Nicholas as his office and their residence. From 1844 Nicholas served this area, wrote scholarly papers for the Medical Society, was a member of the Miner’s Lodge #20, and was one of the first in the city to light his office with gas.
Pottsville Free Library
215 West Market Street
The Pottsville Free Public Library opened its door for the first time November 9, 1911, in a three story building at 208 West Market Street. On the upper floors were eight small “dormitories” the fledgling library planned to sublet for $1.50 to $3.50 a week, depending on room size, and a meeting hall to be used free by townspeople. The Library was located in a first-floor area. Pottsville’s present red brick library, with a facade modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, opened its doors to the public May , 1922. It was financed primarily through gifts from Arthur, Henry W. and Louise Sheafer, members of a wealthy Pottsville family whose fortune had been made in coal and iron, and the Andrew Carnegie Foundation.
First United Methodist Church
330 West Market Street
This beautiful stone church is Pottsville’s best example of the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style that was popular with church and civic buildings of the 1890s. The congregation had formed a half-century earlier as the First Methodist Episcopal Church.
402 West Market Street
The Garfield Diner was manufactured by Kullman, a leader in diner construction. The Original Kullman Diner was built in 1927 by company founder Sam Kullman. It opened here originally as the Pottsville Diner in 1953. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Senator John F. Kennedy stopped here and spoke to the crowd in front of the Art Deco diner, prior to his victory over Richard M. Nixon.
Fifth Street and West Market Street
Garfield Square is named in honor of assassinated President James Garfield. Prominent sculptures grace this small grassy island in the street around which trolley lines once ran, including monuments to Schuylkill County veterans of the Civil War andSpanish American War. The Civil War monument, erected in 1951, was dedicated to “Nicholas Biddle of Pottsville - first man to shed blood in the Civil War - April 18, 1861.” Don’t shed too many tears for Biddle; he wasn’t killed in the incident. At the start of the Civil War, two companies of Pottsville soldiers were among the “First Defenders,” the first troops to arrive in Washington D.C. Along the way, Biddle, an African-American from Pottsville who accompanied the troops, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by rioting “southern sympathizers.” This incident gave Biddle the notoriety as the first to shed blood in the Civil War. Hundreds from the Pottsville area served, including men of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry and Colonel Henry Pleasants. Pleasants led the construction of an underground mine which resulted in the disastrous “Battle of the Crater” at Petersburg, Virginia in July, 1864.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH NINTH STREET.
St. John the Baptist Church
913 Mahantongo Street
In 1840 Reverend Hirslaus Steinbacher rode from Reading to Pottsville on horseback once a month to minister to German Catholics. The members of the small congregation built a church building on the corner of Fourth Street and Howard Avenue the following year. It was followed in 1870 by this imposing hilltop structure at the corner of Mahantongo and Tenth streets. Noteworthy in the church are the rare Wilhelm Derrick stained glass windows, valued at over $1.5 million dollars. Also of interest in the church are the huge hand carved wooden statues made in Germany.
TURN LEFT ON MAHANTONGO STREET.
Burd Patterson House
803 Mahantongo Street
In the 1830s Philadelphia capitalists staged a contest offering $5,000 to the first person who could smelt iron ore using the anthracite (hard) coal that was found in abundance in nearby northeast Pennsylvania. This was when a dollar a day was a good working wage. Burd Patterson won. He had hired builder William Lyman and ironmaster Benjamin Perry to apply the “hot blast” method for his Pottsville Furnace, also called Pioneer Furnace. It could reach a temperature of 600 degrees for burning anthracite in ovens at its base. The furnace used a steam engine to power the blast, which reduced the raw materials to molten iron. Burd Patterson’s success was an important step towards ending the United States’ dependence on imported iron: he had proven it possible to produce iron in America with fuel from America, and, importantly, with American businessmen’s interests backing the endeavor. It was not Patterson’s first pioneering effort. A few years earlier he developed the slope method for mining below the water table. Patterson’s slope method drove a gangway down along the coal vein’s pitch, to several hundred feet below the surface. Slope mining became the preferred method in the 1850s, and by the 1860s it became shaft mining, driving a vertical shaft even deeper. He also pioneered residential life in Pottsville - his late Federal-style home, built between 1830 and 1835, was first of the mansions to line Mahantongo Street.
First Baptist Church
701 Mahantongo Street
This Italian villa-styled building serves a congregation that is more than 160 years old.
John O’Hara House
606 Mahantongo Street
Pottsville native John O’Hara stands squarely in the first rank of American writers. He was born January 31, 1905 five blocks down Mahantongo Street at the corner of Second Street and moved here in 1916. The move uphill on Mahantongo Street was symbolic of an upward shift in status that would appear often in O’Hara’s work. He used his hometown as a template for five novels and over 50 short stories in novellas, with the fictional Gibbsville standing in for Pottsville. Mahantongo Street was called Lantenango Street and the Pottsville Journal, where O’Hara worked as a reporter from 1924 through 1926 became the Gibbsville Standard. O’Hara received many distinctions during his noted literary career, including the Drama Critics Award (in 1952 for Pal Joey), the National Book Ward (in 1955 for Ten North Frederick) and the Award of Merit in Fiction for the Novel (in 1964), an award presented every five years, from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was awarded membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1957), and was honored with inclusion in the Newspapermen’s Hall of Fame. This stately three-story townhouse was built prior to 1870 to brewmaster David Yuengling and patterned after those on New York City streets. Dr. O’Hara died in 1925 and his widow moved out in 1940.
Braun School of Music
607 Mahantongo Street
Robert Braun, who was born in the 1880s, was the son of a Pottsville physician. After obtaining his initial training, he served on the faculty of the Sternberg School of Music in Philadelphia, and was organist and choirmaster of the Trinity Episcopal Church of Pottsville. In 1908 he left to study in Europe, earning degrees from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Leipzig, Germany. Upon his return from Europe, Braun established a School of Pianoforte Playing at his father’s home. Later he moved to ten rooms on the second and third floors of the Whitney Estate on Centre Street and renamed his enterprise the Braun School of Music. The school began occupying this building, fronted by a quartet of imposing two-story Ionic columns, in March of 1934, just before its 25th anniversary.
D.G. Yuengling & Son Brewery
Fifth and Mahantongo streets
In 1829 David Yuengling, a newly arrived German immigrant, opened the Eagle Brewery in the foothills of the eastern Appalachian Mountains. The new brewhouse, located on Centre Street, was not two years oldbefore fire consumed it. In 1831 Yuengling rebuilt the brewery, like many old-time breweries, on a mountainside where tunnels gouged from the rock provided natural cold temperatures necessary for aging and fermentation. That brewery stands here today, officially recognized in the National Register of Historic Places as America’s oldest brewery. In 1890 there were 2,156 American brewing companies. Over 100 years later Yuengling, still family-owned, is one of only 20 breweries that produce 20,000 barrels of beer annually in the same location.
Church of Saint Patrick
319 Mahantongo Street
The Church of St. Patrick is the third oldest church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown, founded in 1827.
United Presbyterian Church
214 Mahantongo Street
The Presbyterian Church was built in 1874. The most interesting aspects of this structure are the two Lewis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows which face Third Street and the large round stained glass window facing Norwegian Street.
Reading Anthracite Company Historical Library and Museum
200 Mahantongo Street
This Beaux Arts office building was constructed in 1905 for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company that was formed in 1871 to mine anthracite coal. Today it is the headquarters for the Reading Anthracite Company.
John O’Hara Boyhood Home
southeast corner of Second Street and Mahantongo Street
This was the office and home of Dr. Patrick H. O’Hara from 1895 until his death on March 18, 1925. Author John O’Hara, famed for his work in the New Yorker magazine and his novels set in Pottsville-like towns, was born in this building in 1905.
Pottsville Republican Building
111 Mahantongo Street
Joseph Henry Zerbey had owned the Weekly Schuylkill Republican for five years when, about a week before the presidential election of 1884, he decided to go daily until the votes were cast in support of Republican candidate James Blaine. After Blaine lost therace by a narrow margin to Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, Zerbey decided to continue to publish The Daily Republican from his offices in the Henry Clay Building on the 100 block of Mahantongo Street. Pottsville already had two daily newspapers, the Miners Journal and the Evening Chronicle, but helped by Zerbey’s fiery commentaries the paper thrived and survives today 125 years later as the Republican-Herald.
WALK BACK A HALF-BLOCK AND TURN LEFT ON SECOND STREET AND BEGIN WALKING UP THE HILL.
351 South Second Street
Pottsville lawyer John Bannan, a specialist in land titles in the coal fields, built his Greek Revival mansion of fieldstone atop Sharp Mountain in 1850. His wife, Sarah, named it Cloud Home because it was “so close to the sky.” The Bannans imported rare varieties of trees and shrubs for their seven-acre estate, many of which still grace the grounds. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the city landmark became a Friendship House Group Home for Schuylkill County boys in 1989.
Henry Clay Monument
Clay Park, end of Second Street
When Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” of the United States Senate from Kentucky, died on June 29, 1852, the citizens of Pottsville decided to honor Clay for his long advocacy of protective foreign tariffs. One was a tariff placed on iron that increased production of iron products that created demand for the region’s anthracite coal which was used to smelt iron. That hardly seems like an issue that would galvanize a citizenry to go build a monument. In fact, Benjamin Bannan, the publisher and editor of the Miners’ Journal, a Whig newspaper, was a strong supporter of Clay’s policies, and was one of the first to call for a monument to the statesman. The first idea the rapidly formed Clay Committee had was to show their respect to the statesman by holding a funeral procession for him. John Bannan then offered the committee land on which a monument could be erected. The idea for the monument evolved very quickly, and a building committee was formed. The funeral procession for Clay did take place on July 26, 1852. There were 1,600 people in the parade and afterwards elaborate ceremonies were conducted to dedicate the monument. The ceremonies concluded with the laying of the corner stone. A metallic box containing a number of articles was deposited in the stone and hermetically sealed. Seven masons began work on the base of the monument, and it was completed on November 27, 1852. Meanwhile, work on the casting of the statue was progressing by Robert Wood in Philadelphia, and it was expected that all would be ready for placing the statue on the column by April 1, 1853 but fundraising problems postponed the dedication of the $7,151.00 monument two years. Come on people - he supported a tax on foreign goods! On June 23, 1885, a team of twelve mules dragged the statue up South Second Street followed by a large crowd of onlookers.
WALK BACK DOWN THE HILL AND TURN RIGHT ON UNION STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CENTRE STREET.
Jerry’s Classic Cars & Collectibles Museum
394 South Centre Street
The original portion of this building was constructed in 1855 as the carriage house and stables for the adjacent Atkins Mansion. Charles Atkins, an early steel baron, was considered America’s second richest man for a time. In the early 1900s the building was expanded for the needs of Morgan Studebaker Automobile Sales of Pottsville. Centre Street was the avenue of choice in town for early car dealers. From the 1950s to 1970s the Scranton Electrical Company operated an electrical repair center for industrial motors. In 1994 the building was purchased by Jerry Enders and, after an extensive renovation, now houses Jerry’s Classic Cars & Collectibles Museum.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS AND WALK NORTH ON CENTRE STREET.
325 South Centre Street
The YWCA of Pottsville was established in 1924 and moved to it’s current location in 1956.
315 South Centre Street
This early example of Gothic revival architecture dates to 1829. The three-story brick house features verge boards in its gables, Gothic windows, steeply pitched roofs and Gothic front doors. It has recently been renovated to serve as a bed-and-breakfast.
220 South Centre Street
Mootz Candies has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 80 years. The business evolved from the days when the extras from Catherine Mootz’s most recent batch of homemade candies were displayed in the window of Mootz’s Imported and Domestic Grocery Store. Over the next ten years, her candy became so popular that candy sales exceeded grocery sales and Mootz Candies was founded. Check out the “Black Diamonds,” a black licorice flavored hard candy which looks like coal.
200 South 2nd Street at Centre Street
The parish of Trinity church grew out of St. Luke’s church, the first in Pottsville that had organized in 1827. William Strickland, a Philadelphia architect who was America’s foremost practitioner of the Greek Revival style, did the work on St. Luke’s. A larger church, based on the English Gothic designs drawn up by Napoleon LeBrun, was begun in 1847. That building, seen today, was extensively renovated by the New York architectural firm of Henry Dudley and Frederick Diaper in 1866. Dudley, noted for his ecclesiastical work, was an English-trained architect who was one of the thirteen founders of the American Institute of Architects.
Miners National Bank
120 South Centre Street
Miners National Bank was the first bank established in Schuylkill County, organized in 1828. The bank and its successors has stood on this site since 1830. Originally a wood structure, the current Colonial Revival building dates to the bank’s centennial in 1928.. It features a Georgia marble entablature and pediment, Harvard bricks and, over the three large arched windows, two marble heads of Mercury, god of trade and wealth, and Pluto, god of mineral wealth. Under the marbled portico at the entrance are the cast bronze grill doors depicting scenes typical of deep mining operations. Interior architecture includes walls of Jeanne d’Arc sandstone from France, seven colors and 14 types of marble from the United States, Italy, Greece and Africa; fine crafted wood paneling throughout, an immense door weighing 55 tons, and 55 feet above are original glass and bronze skylights. The bank is one of the finest buildings in Schuylkill County.
Necho Allen Hotel
southwest corner of Centre and Mahantongo streets
The Necho Allen Hotel opened in the 1920s at a cost of over a million dollars as Pottsville’s fanciest hotel. There was a bar in the basement, the Coal Mine Taproom, that had anthracite walls and mining timber supports; waiters took orders with pads illuminated by the lanterns set in their miner’s helmets. The Necho Allen closed in 1981 and now provides housing for the elderly.
Union Bank and Trust Company
25 South Centre Street at Mahantongo Street
The Union Safe Deposit Bank organized in 1896 from the financial seeds sown bank in 1852 by the Pottsville Mutual and Joint Stock Life Insurance Company of Schuylkill County. The bank’s capital was $100,000 and its modest offices were located in the former pay office of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company located a block away at the corner of Norwegian Street. Todays its assets are $125,000,000. The bank moved into its new Beaux Arts headquarters here in 1913. The fireproof institution was one of only a few that survived a ravaging fire in Pottsville on Dec. 17, 1914. That blaze destroyed most of the block on the west side of Centre Street between Norwegian and Mahantongo Streets.
Schuylkill Trust Company
101 North Centre Street
This eight-story Neoclassical mini-skyscraper was erected for the Schuylkill Trust company in 1925. It conforms to the idea of the high-rise building as a classical columns with base (decorated ground floor)- shaft (middle floors) and capital (decorative cornice).
William Boyer Building
201 North Centre Street
Boyer, an expert tobacconist, who paradoxically never smoked, came to Pottsville in 1843 as a young cabinet maker by trade and grew into one of the most prominent businessmen in the city before his death in 1898. This site includes two joined buildings, the back being built in the 1840s and the front several years later. From here William Boyer manufactured and wholesaled custom Havana cigars between 1854 and 1898. he also lived here with his family.
Sovereign Majestic Theater
209 North Centre Street
Built in 1910, the Majestic Theater is an eclectic style, two-and-a-half story building with a Beaux Arts-classical facade. The movie house thrived through the age of silent films but closed its doors with the coming of “talkies” in 1930. The building remained empty for nine years before being reopened as a Farmers Market in 1939, a function it served for more than 30 years. But in 1998 the Sovereign Majestic Theater Association was created in 1998 to champion the revitalization of the 1910 Majestic Theater into a state-of-the-art, all-purpose facility for theater, music, and motion picture presentations. Today the Sovereign Majestic Theater is a 224-seat venue for the presentation of professional cultural programs for children and adults.
Historical Society of Schuylkill County
305 North Centre Street
Incorporated in 1903, the Historical Society of Schuylkill County has been housed since early this century at the site of the first school in Pottsville, the Female Grammar School, built in 1863.
300 block of North Centre Street, west side
This small park honors George Alfred Joulwan, a Pottsville native who attended the United States Military Academy, served in Vietnam and eventually rose to be Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces under President Bill Clinton.
315 North Centre Street
The Buckwalter tavern was built in 1828, by Jacob Buckwalter, and it became a part of the Northwestern Hotel when the four-story brick addition whichisnow themainpartof the hotel was built. The Northwestern became the Park Hotel and is now a restaurant.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.