Welcome to my World: Ye Olde Inns of Berks County

Carole Christman Koch

Reprint: Kutztown Historical Society booklet 1991, The Kutztown Patriot Visitor’s Guide 1992.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Berks and Northampton Counties had been established. In 1753, the residents of these counties petitioned for the laying out of a road from Easton to Reading. The road was thereupon surveyed and built from 1753-55. It became known as “The Great or High Road,” or Easton Road. The twenty-eight mile stretch between Allentown and Reading was later called Route 222.

With the increased number of travelers on this new highway inns and taverns began to spring up at intersections every few miles. They were known as road-houses, public houses, traveler’s rests, hostelries, and the more recent name of hotels.

Often times, the inn was originally a farmhouse enlarged to provide rest and food for the traveler and his animal. The inns were constructed mainly of local materials---stone or wood. The inn was usually surrounded by stables, sheds and a large barn.

Another feature of the old inns was the signboard. (They were pictorial devices such as a swan or bear named Swan Inn or Black Bear Inn.) Also in use were names of European kings such as King George. Some were named for the new colonies’ statesmen such as Franklin or Jefferson Inn. These devices served the purpose of helping different classes of people, some of whom were illiterate, understand the name of an inn through picture.

Travelers came on horseback, mule, chairs and chaises, sopus wagons (made in Esopus, New York), Conestoga wagons, Jersey wagons, curricles, phaetons, private carriages or stages and public stage coach.

Innkeepers catered to all kinds of folk. The top class of inns were the stage stands where stage passengers stopped for rest and food. The wagon stands catered to wagoners, who engaged in commerce of grain and products. The drove stands served the drovers who led cattle to market. Private rooms were unheard of. Beds were scarce or shared, most were unsanitary and unclean. One slept around the fireplace in the kitchen or barroom, or under the wagon with animals quartered nearby. The taphouse was mainly for the drinkers.

These taverns also served as entertainment, centers where fiddling and dancing took place. And for the locals, they were meeting places, law courts, and polling places at election time. Sometimes, besides being taverns, they served as the general store or post office. It was where one heard the news and one could gamble and drink.

Meals for travelers varied from place to place, depending on availability. Often a large pot hanging in the fireplace cooked up a quick stew. At other inns a more elaborate menu prevailed in ethnic food. Many of the old inns, along Route 222 have been noted for their lavish family style dinner or good Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.

Inns along the route still have a flourishing business, others have been converted into other businesses, homes or apartments. The old country inns that survived, and those that have disappeared, played no small part in the life and history of the colonial people.

Maxatawny

Heading into Berks County you’ll find the village of Maxatawny (Indian, meaning bear path creek), originally known as Rothrocksville. The village was founded by Dr. Jonas Rothrock, an eccentric physician, justice of the peace, and innkeeper, who built two hotels here. Today, one is converted into a dwelling, the other apartments.

Monterey Inn

A few miles down the road you’ll find the village of Weisport, now Monterey, where Ye Monterey Inn was built sometime after the 1830s by Isaac L. Bieber. The hotel served in varied capacities over the next years---as a post office, general store, and gas station.

This structure burned down about 1922 and was rebuilt and occupied by several owners.

In 1947, Jay W. Haslam started a hotel and restaurant business there and the place was known as Monterey Inn. Jay’s son, Robert P., took over the business in 1951 and operated it until it was destroyed by fire in 1977. The site now holds an animal hospital.

Robert (now deceased) stated that during the Haslams tenure, “We entertained many distinguished people: Lily Tomlin, George Reeves, tennis star Don Butch and Bobby Lenhart, Mayor Rizzo, Governor Milton Shapp and George McGovern.”

Another tale from Robert: “A previous owner sometimes had New York chorus girls over, who sunbathed on the porch. When the electric trolley went by, the conductor always slowed down to ‘catch a glimpse’ of the girls.”

Swan Inn

Midway between Allentown and Reading in Cootstown, now Kutztown, laid out in 1779 and incorporated as a borough in 1815.

During the town’s early years of growth, many hotels flourished as drinking places and rest accommodations for the traveler.

One of the oldest taverns in town was Swan Inn, built in 1775, before the town was laid out.

Tradition tells us that the exterior bricks to build this huge home were brought from England. The original walls of the Swan Inn are 11 inches thick and even the original sign of the swan is still intact on the wrought iron hand railing of the porch.

The cellar walls are large; a huge storage vault in the rear supposedly held the wines for the inn.

Martha Washington once stopped for tea here. Imagine Martha, weary after a days’ travel, sitting by one of the half dozen fireplaces, sipping tea, and quietly contemplating the fate of the country.

In 1856, the inn was reconstructed to be the home and office of Dr. Charles Wanner. Today, Pop’s Malt Shoppe occupies the place.

Kemp’s Hotel

On the eastern end of Kutztown is an inn which is still older, established in 1740 by Daniel Levan. This two-story stone building is believed to have originally been a farmhouse and was opened later as a roadhouse to accommodate travelers.

From 1788 to 1964 the hotel was in the Kemp family and was called Kemp’s Hotel, and is a national historic place. Luther Kemp (deceased), the great-great-great grandson of Daniel Levan, told me his grandfather, Squire John, “sold whiskey at 3 cents a shot, with a free cigar besides.”

Squire John was not only a successful innkeeper, but a farmer, tax collector and Justice of the peace. Luther added, “His office business was conducted in a shanty across the street. He walked to Reading often taking money, deeds, or whatever to the banks and courthouse.”

Reaching back in my own memory of the hotel when my father, Herb Christman, stopped to chat with Kempy, I reminded Kempy that I recalled him throwing all the pennies up and over his head to the uppermost level of the back barstand. “Yeo,” said Kempy, “that huge bar is now in the upstairs cocktail area of the King George Inn---and I kept the pennies.”

The hotel has been visited by such notable figures as William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and John Adams, the second president.

The Raymond Martin, Sr. and Jr. families bought the place from Luther Kemp in 1989, calling it Whispering Springs. Later owners called it Seasons Grille. It has been vacated since 2009 and was in a total disrepair. Thanks to Clark Frederic, of Maxatawny Township, a 5th descendent of the founder, rescued the building and is in the process of restoring it. Frederic hopes it will one day be reopened as a restaurant.

Moselem Springs Inn

At the intersection of Route 662 is the village of Moselem Springs, so named because of springs and trout streams nearby. And this is where Solomon Leibensperger bought land and built what became known as Moselem Springs Hotel, in 1852. The hotel stayed in the family some seventy years.

As a stopover for the trade route of Philadelphia merchants, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see a throng of Conestoga wagons—8 to 10 teams---in the field nearby. Later the hotel served a higher clientele as a stagecoach between the towns of Reading and Easton.

The hotel burned down in 1929 and was completely rebuilt. Carl H. and Jean A. Ziegler bought the place in 1979. The Ziegler’s maintained the Berks County landmark, but expanded the business with a new entrance and lobby, dining and banquet rooms, cocktail lounge, waiting rooms and a new kitchen. Ziegler said, “the original structure still holds the Golden Eagle Room which once served as a country store and post office, the old foyer which was a barroom, our Willow Room which housed the front desk, and the original dining room which is our Presidential Room.”

The Ziegler’s closed the inn in 2000. Rodino’s owned the place since 2001 and closed it in 2010. It has since been restructured into doctor’s offices connected to Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Kirbyville Inn

Ten miles north of Reading is the village of Kirbyville and the inn known as Kirbyville Inn, once a stagecoach stop. It is now in a state of deterioration.

When I visited in the 1990s, on the east wall of the foyer, as you enter the inn, was a copy of the original deed. Below the deed was the greeting from the owners, Ralph and Anita DeAngelo (since 1973): “Hear ye! Hear ye! 1990 marks and signifies the 200 years anniversary of thisestablishment---being at all times, the Kirbyville Inn, first and original deed to the property of Stanley Kirby, son of Thomas, patriarch of the Kirby family. Kirby’s heirs built this inn in 1790, 25 years after this deed was signed.”

DeAngelo related some interesting history of the inn, “Back in the 1970s, the owner, when renovating the place, discovered a long-sealed attic room. It is believed that the room was an overnight haven for the southern slaves during the 1800s when finding their way to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad.” It would seem, while customers downstairs created rowdy entertainment, the slaves, above, huddled in fearful silence!

Verna Kemp, from Kemp’s Hotel, near Kutztown, gave DeAngelo her recipe for her delicious deviled clam patties. DeAngelo, was a graduate of the Culinary School of New Haven, Connecticut, and was known for his specialty in pasta, bluefish and boneless roast duckling.

Half-Way House

Continuing on the road, you come to Maiden Creek Village (named for a stream one mile to the north), at Route 383, and another old tavern, once called Half-way House (between Reading and Kutztown) still later called Houston’s Country Saloon. For many years this one and Kemp’s Hotel (entering Kutztown) were the only public houses on the road. For years now the building has been demolished and a gas station is there.

Temple Hotel

The last of “Ye Old Inns” is found at 5005 Kutztown Rd., Temple, first called, Solomon’s Temple (after the innkeeper’s name), later Temple Hotel. It had numerous owners until 1972, when the Pierino Cirulli family purchased it and ran the business, Perry’s Temple Hotel Restaruant, until 2003. Today it is owned by a private company and called LaCocina Mexicana.

Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.