Enjoy our guided audio walking tour by Tutouria! Follow the walking map and hear the stories of each stop. Headphones are recommended, and we hope you enjoy the tour! Have your companions scan the QR code (take a picture of the code with your smartphone), and go for a walk together.

1 and 3 East Philadelphia Avenue

This structure was built in 1876 for D. S. Erb to be used as his Castle Hall cigar factory.  Erb had begun making cigars in 1864 with two employees. His business grew to more than 500 workers who produced 400,000 handmade cigars per month. By 1873, he was one of Pennsylvania’s largest cigar manufacturers, and he needed a larger facility to house his operation. On the first floor he had a retail store selling his products to the public. It was the largest structure in town. By 1890, Boyertown had become a leading cigar manufacturing center and Erb’s factory  was the longest running cigar factory in the country under the same management at that time. At one time there was a billiard and pool room on the second floor. The room, that ran the entire length of the building, was finely furnished and lit with electricity and natural light from the large windows on Philadelphia Avenue. It housed three tables and a cigar stand. A room in the building was also rented to the Boyertown School District to hold a sixth grade class before the High School was built in 1921. During World War II, the Haddad family started Sun-Glo Manufacturing Company to produce shoes  on the second and third floors of the building. In the late sixties, the property was bought by Phil Cawley and was thoroughly revitalized as a very successful antique store, beginning a trend that was to last for more than two decades of making the center of town an antiques center.

2 East Philadelphia Avenue

Described as “an almost perfect specimen of the builder’s art, the very latest in a public building in both function and attractiveness,” this three story Italianate brick structure was designed by architect William Fink and built by John Schealer for Daniel B. Boyer in 1879. Daniel B.’s father, Daniel, when he was a young man, had laid the foundation of the family’s merchandising business in 1805 by dispensing tea, coffee, and sundries from a corner cupboard in the public room of his brother Henry’s log tavern. The business grew as more people began to settle in town, and more space was needed to house the merchandise. Daniel B. carried on the family concern, which prospered, and he moved his enterprise across Philadelphia Avenue to this corner site.

B.’s sons, James and Horace continued to make Boyer’s store the largest and finest in the area. The Boyers were progressive merchants. In 1934 they did extensive renovations to the first floor with new self-service counters and added an impressive, wide staircase that led to the second floor. They were known as the most prominent merchants in eastern Berks County, stocking a full supply of dry goods, groceries, and hardware and employing six full time clerks. The Boyer family continued to operate their department store until the early 1970’s.

The upper stories of the building contained offices and public halls that were used for lectures, local Republican conventions, a night school, and a variety of other functions, including a roller skating rink. H. C. Johnson, a “full blooded negro, the only one of his kind in the town,” had a shoe shining stand in front of Boyers in 1908.

5 East Philadelphia Avenue

Shown, Kelly’s at 5 E Philadelphia Avenue circa 1961

This Italianate block of storefronts and residences from #5, #7 and #9 was built in 1884 by D. B. Boyer. The design for the three story brick structure was drawn up by the architect William Fink and John Schealer was the builder. A Philadelphia newspaper reported that the building was equal to anything that could be found on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, with an elegant appearance. At Boyer’s death, these properties were divided among his three children, James, Horace, and Malinda Boyer Erb.

7 East Philadelphia Avenue

D. B. Boyer’s son James lived here with his family in what was called a “palatial residence.” He was the co-owner of J. & H. K. Boyer, the family store across the street, having started working as a clerk in the business at age 13. James was called “a highly respected gentleman and a good businessman.” Tragedy attacked the Boyer family when two of their children died in the Opera House fire. Edna was a very accomplished 24 year old woman, a graduate of  Washington College in Washington, D.C. She had participated in many operettas and concerts in town, often given solos. She never got the chance to perform her solo in “The Scottish Reformation,” before fire broke out on stage. Her brother, James Keely, age 15, was also in the cast that fateful evening. Both of them got out of the building safely through the rear exit, but remembered that their street clothing was left in the cloak room near the doorway, and they returned into the flaming inferno to retrieve their possessions and were swallowed up in the flames. When James K. Boyer died in 1929, his son Daniel remodeled his house into a store front on the front of the first floor, and apartments on the first floor behind the store front and on the second and third floors. He removed the porch and added display windows.

9 East Philadelphia Avenue

Originally the home of Horace K. Boyer, it became too small for his growing family, and in 1891 he traded homes with his father, Daniel B. Boyer, who had built #11 as his residence. Since D.B.’s children were all adults, he found that he did not need the space of his large stately house, and Horace could put the extra rooms to good use. D. B. and his wife Mary Ann then moved into #9, and added its beautiful Victorian front porch. D. B. Boyer was one of the most prominent merchants in southeastern Berks County and a large landowner in Boyertown. He owned properties on three of the corners at the intersection of Philadelphia and Reading Avenues for many years, and on the fourth corner was the bank that his family had started.

11 East Philadelphia Avenue

Members of the Boyer family lived in this “elegant and spacious house” for many years after its construction in 1865. The turrets and the front porch were added in 1880. Daniel B. Boyer and his wife lived there with their three children, but by 1891, the kids were out of the house, and Daniel and his wife then traded homes with their son Horace, who had lived at 9 East Philadelphia Avenue and needed more room for his growing family. It was reported in The Boyertown Democrat that Horace immediately began to remodel the premises. He added the bay windows in 1901, and in 1908 they built a garage/stable, described as one of the finest in town, behind the house.

Horace was married to the former Sallie Grant, whose father was the proprietor of the Boyer Towne Inn which was owned by Horace’s family. She was said to have been related to Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War General and President of the United States. The couple had three children, Warren and Annie, who both died in their early twenties, and Edgar, who helped his father in the family business.

Horace and his brother James ran the department store across the street at 2 East Philadelphia Avenue, and were the most prominent general merchants in the lower end of the county. They were always interested in the progress of the community, and involved in its important industrial affairs. They owned the Union Hotel building, the post office building, and six houses in town. Horace died in 1935, the result of injuries suffered when he was struck by a car as he crossed South Reading Avenue on his way to an evening meal at the Boyer Towne Inn. He left an estate worth $193,347.52. It remained in the Boyer family until 1987, when it was gutted and renovated into a very elegant bed and breakfast, retaining the original stately grand staircase and Victorian charm.

Marianne Deery, has been the Innkeeper since 1994, and she has entertained guests from around the world who have enjoyed her warm hospitality in a beautiful, yet comfortable, setting.

30 East Philadelphia Avenue

The Grand Central House was built to house a fine restaurant in 1892. The rest of the building was used for a cigar factory until 1897, when the building was converted into a hotel known as the Grand Central House. Its grand opening in 1898.  It was said to have one of the handsomest bars in Berks County.

In 1900, the bar faced a crisis: it was threatened with the loss of its liquor license. Attorney Leidy represented the landlord and A. K. Stauffer represented the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. L. P. G. Fegley and Dr. T. J. B. Rhoads testified that the “character of the house” was not good, that they freely sold drinks to “inebriates,” they sold to minors, and they stayed open “very late.” On the other side, Irvin Ehst testified that the hotel had as good a reputation as any in Berks County and Frank Leidy could find no fault with the establishment; Burgess John Shealer also testified for the renewal, and William H. Fox said that Boyertown needed this hotel because of its growing business interests.  There were 200 signatures on a petition to renew the license. The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the story and printed a picture taken in Boyertown of the two sides facing off against each other. On one side there was Rev. Freeman from Good Shepherd Reformed Church with “Carrie Nationites” Anna Roth and Annie Dengler, armed with hatchets and a banner and opposite them stood “four stout barkeepers.” The application for a renewal was denied three times for “lack of necessity,” but in 1904 they got it back. At that time, the landlord added another story to the building. There was a pool room with a bar in the basement that was very popular.

In 1913, it was purchased by the Lauer Brewing Company of Reading with the intention of making it one of the most modern inns in the country.

As with most taverns in the country, business suffered during Prohibition, and the Grand Central House closed as a restaurant and bar, so a “speakeasy” was opened in the basement to serve its diehard customers.

43 East Philadelphia Avenue

Charles Spatz moved the operation of The Boyertown Demokrat here in 1896. It was a valuable property, one of the best business locations in town, at least according to Spatz. He had bought the three story “modern” brick building from his friend, Dr. Thomas J. B. Rhoads. This remained the editorial office and printing plant of the Democrat until 1930. If it had not been for Spatz, the brilliance of Boyertown of the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s would not be as well known today.”

He was a very popular and greatly respected member of the community,  a crusading, witty journalist and successful politician. As the name of his paper would imply, he was a staunch Democrat. Keeping up with the times, he gradually introduced English columns in his paper, and in 1890 he introduced his first all English edition. He also crusaded for the local churches to have some English services.

Charles Spatz married Anne Muntz from Reading in 1889. Their first son Carl was born in 1891, and it was here that the five Spatz children grew up. Carl was to become Boyertown’s most famous son, whom Jimmy Doolittle called “one of America’s real heroes, responsible for much of the successful prosecution of World War II and for the subsequent formation of the United States Air Force.” This Four Star General of the United States Army had graduated from Boyertown High School “with high honors”in 1906, giving the valedictorial address at Commencement. Family friend Col. Thomas L. Rhoads was very instrumental in initially steering Carl toward a military career. He secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point for him. When the “country boy” from Boyertown called his father, saying he was “ready to pack up and come home,” and submitted a letter of resignation to the Academy after only 20 days into his freshman year, it was Col. Rhoads who got the resignation cancelled. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have taken an Act of Congress to reinstate him. Charles Spatz got on the phone to his friend, and said, “Tommy, use all of your influence to keep Buz (Carl’s family nickname) at West Point.” “Tommy” was Col. Rhoads, and his influence was considerable! He got his distinguished patient, the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, out of bed, and the two of them contacted the congressman, John Rothermel, who had appointed Carl to the Academy, and the three of them called the Superintendent of the Academy and told him not to allow Carl Spatz to leave. Rhoads then apparently drove up to West Point to have a talk with Carl.

Ironically, it was the son of Colonel Rhoads who started a rival newspaper in 1927 which he called The Boyertown Times. At that time, Charles’ younger son Frederick, who was also an Army aviator and a First Lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve, was the editor of the paper, and he welcomed The Times to town. He believed that Boyertown could support two papers and he wished Rhoads luck. Unfortunately, Boyertown could not support two local papers, and in 1930, the Rhoads family bought out the Spatz family, and the printing and publishing business was moved to 48 South Reading Avenue. According to Carl’s widow, following his retirement from the Air Force, General Spaatz (the change in spelling reflected the German pronunciation) considered returning to Boyertown to buy back his father’s newspaper.

49 East Philadelphia Avenue

This was the home of a true Renaissance man—Dr. Thomas Jefferson Boyer Rhoads. Dr. Rhoads had this brick structure constructed in 1868 as his residence, medical office, and drug store.

Born on the family farm in Boyertown in 1837, Dr. Rhoads was educated at local schools, including Mt. Pleasant Seminary, and was graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1861.  His family was of “great significance in nineteenth century Boyertown;” his father, John Rhoads, was an important businessman and his mother was Catherine Boyer, a daughter of Henry Boyer, the founder of the town. She was the only one of Henry’s 10 children to remain in Boyertown. In 1862, Dr. Rhoads was married to Teresa F. Leidy, from a prominent family in upper Montgomery County. Dr. Rhoads did not sit back to enjoy his fortune and prestige in leisure; he was one of the hardest working, most dedicated citizens with the welfare of the community his main goal. He took great pride in his home town.

Rhoads was skilled in surgery, performing many difficult procedures, and cured thousands of cases of illness in his 52 years of caring for the health of his many patients, making up to 25 calls a day. His energy was endless, and he was busy from five in the morning until at least nine p.m., with many late nights when he was called out in all kinds of weather to the homes of sick patients. He was a very popular figure in town, sympathetic to the needs of the community and concerned about its progress and welfare.  He retired in 1913. Dr. Rhoads was a commanding presence in town and a remarkable personality. He was always a man of action.

It was in front of this building where fireman John Graver was crushed against a tree as he raced to the Opera House fire. Graver died that evening in Dr. Rhoads’ infirmary.

On his lonely drives to patient’s homes he composed poems about local life that he published in two volumes called Onkle Jeff’s Reminiscences of Youth and Other Poems that he hoped would bring “an equal amount of pleasure and satisfaction in perusing as the writer found in composing them.” He was a keen observer of local life, writing with humor and originality.

Dr. Rhoads’ son, Dr. Col. Thomas Leidy Rhoads, also had an illustrious career of 32 years in both the United States Navy and Army, serving in two wars. He was a graduate of Boyertown High School at the age of 14, the Hill School, and Muhlenberg College. Like his father, he was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College, first in his 1893 class and its valedictorian. He entered the Navy and served in the Spanish-American War. He resigned after the war and went into private practice. In 1900 he entered the Army in the Medical Corps and settled into a military career.

Col. Rhoads became the Surgeon General of the United States Army and had a world-wide reputation for competence. He was the surgeon in charge of Walter Reed General Army Hospital, and the personal physician of President Taft. Rhoads performed surgery on Taft that was credited with saving the President’s life. Taft remarked that “Rhoads must remain in Washington as long as I am President,” calling Rhoads his intimate friend. When Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated, he insisted that Rhoads remain as his personal physician. Rhoads wanted to return to army surgery and submitted his letter of resignation, which Wilson refused to accept, saying that Rhoads’ services have been invaluable to the new administration.” Rhoads persisted, and Wilson regrettably accepted it four months later.

During World War I, Col. Rhoads participated in the Somme, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne offensives as the Commanding Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, in charge of the Department of Sanitation and Public Health with 1 million people in his care. Dr. Dotterer and his men served under him. His task after the war was to get the men back to their homes in good condition. He became the Chief Surgeon of the Army of Occupation in Germany. He received the Distinguished Service Medal at the close of the war.

He was sent to the Philippines in 1927 as the Department Surgeon. And while stationed in the Philippines, he met a young Roman Catholic priest, Bernard Creemers, who later became the beloved first priest of St. Columbkill’s parish in Boyertown.

The younger Dr. Rhoads created the Leidy-Rhoads Foundation to give financial assistance to needy youths in the community for school related supplies and to provide college scholarship money for them, in honor of his parents, Thomas J.B. and Theresa Leidy Rhoads. He returned to Boyertown in the late 1930’s, following his retirement, and he assisted Dr. Dotterer in his medical practice. He died in 1940.

105 - 107 East Philadelphia Avenue

Built around 1865, this two and a half story brick Federal style house was the home of James Wren.  It was described as one of the finest homes in the borough with a beautiful terraced lawn that ran from the house to the railroad. By 1900, it was the home of Boyertown Postmaster William W. Wren. In the aftermath of the Opera House fire in 1908, it became part of the drama. Wren’s daughter Gertrude, “one of the belles of the town,” was to marry her childhood sweetheart, Harry L. Gabel, here on January 16 in what was to be one of the big social events of the year. Gertrude’s best friend Edna Boyer was to be her bridesmaid. Edna had her gown ready for the wedding and was very excited in anticipation of the event. Busy with the final plans for the ceremony, Gertrude did not attend the Opera House performance on January 13. After the fire, her plans were shattered.

The Philadelphia Press poignantly described the situation. “The wedding bells are closely linked to funeral chimes, for the youth and girl who were to have escorted the happy bride and groom to the altar both lie cold and still, victims of the catastrophe.” Edna and Gabel’s intended best man, Newton Lichtel, his childhood friend, both perished in the fire, as did 50 of the invited guests. Instead of honeymooning in Washington D.C., Gertrude and Harry attended their friends’ funerals.

In 1874, Julius Busch opened a bakery and candy shop on the first floor of the building. In the 1880’s, his business was taken over by Charles Litschi, who had started in the bakery business pushing his cart around town, selling his goods. He was a landmark in Boyertown for 50 years.  In 1882, C.W. Ritter started a jewelry store here, which he ran for many years.  The building was converted to apartments in 1937 and later became the law office of E. Kenneth Nyce, who, from 1966 to 1970, was the Mayor of Boyertown.

120 East Philadelphia Avenue

The Mansion House was built before 1859 as the residence of William Shaner, and was sold to Charles Fegley in 1870, who converted it into the William Penn Hotel. Charles Bird, whose wife Catherine was a sister of Thomas J.B. Rhoads, bought the business in 1872. Upon his death, it was sold to Samuel Sperry in 1882 for $6,400; he enlarged it and pretentiously renamed it “The Mansion House.” He added the “fine awning” to the façade, which still stands today. It had 31 rooms and a stable for 30 horses. The specialty of the house were oysters at 60 cents per hundred.

Henry M. Binder purchased the Mansion House in 1889, and he was a victim of the Opera House fire. It is believed that his ghost haunts the facility. An advertisement in the playbill for the show the night of the fire bragged that the Mansion House offered its guests steam heat, a bath and toilet, and other conveniences, as well as stabling for ten horses and a telephone.

In 1915, the Mansion House hosted the Boyertown Baseball Nine to a chicken and waffle dinner after their stunning 10-9 victory over the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics in an exhibition game on their field on Isaac Stauffer’s farm at Franklin and Sixth Streets, before 1500 cheering fans.

William Schearer bought the property in 1916 for $22,250 and made many “long needed improvements,” enlarging the barroom, building an addition to the dining room, and adding “necessary rooms.” His restaurant was known as the best seafood establishment in the area, serving live lobsters as well as other delicacies. Like the Boyertown Inn, out of town diners were likely to make a future reservation at the time of current dining. During Prohibition, drinks were served to privileged guests in the basement. He sold the business in 1964.

125 East Philadelphia Avenue

The first known business on this property was Ephraim Gable’s grain and feed store. A coal business was started here soon after the Civil War by Isaac Yost. In 1878, Benjamin Yost took over the business and expanded it, adding lumber, millwork, and a hardware line. The present three story structure was built in 1889 with a hardware and feed store in western half of the first floor and Yost’s residence on the eastern side. There was a lodge and band hall on the third floor of the entire structure that was accessed from the rear of the building by a hand-operated elevator.

When Yost died in 1905, Effenger and John Leaver, who had a lumber yard on South Washington Street, bought the property and moved their entire operation here; they sold lumber, coal, animal feed, hardware, and building supplies. This was considered to have been “the best location possible for a coal yard,” having access on two streets and a railroad line that ran cars up to their covered chutes. The Leavers laboriously took apart all of their buildings and sheds and reassembled them on the new property behind the store. They did business here until 1922, when they sold it to Horace F. Tyson and Herbert L. Schmoyer from Allentown for $75,000. Tyson moved into the residence and remodeled it into a double house.

Early in the morning of December 30, 1954, the skies of Boyertown lit up as the coal and lumber yard burned to the ground, and the entire inventory, including 60 tons of coal, was destroyed with more than $1,000,000 in damage. Five houses across Washington Street were also extensively damaged in the conflagration that was fed by the high winds that night, and twenty six people were left homeless. The cost of rebuilding was over a million dollars. It was later discovered that the fire had been deliberately set by an arsonist, whose intent was to destroy the town. Immediately after the fire, Schmoyer began rebuilding.

128 East Philadelphia Avenue

John Degler opened the Boyertown Auto Company, the first garage and automobile sales agency in Boyertown, where he sold Model T Fords, then Maxwells, Studebakers, and finally Oaklands. The first car he sold was a Model T to Dr. Kohler in 1912. He built this impressive structure in the 1915 to house his auto company, He bought the lot for $3500 and had this modern, fireproof three story concrete, steel and brick structure built by contractor Daniel Bauer. The letter “D” can still be seen in a stone in the third floor wall parapet in the front of the building. His showroom was on the first floor, and on the second floor he had his machine shop. He lived in an apartment on the third floor. The building had the capacity to house 100 cars and featured an electric freight elevator.

The building was converted into the Boyertown Brewery in 1934 after a year of planning. William Shearer, the owner of the Mansion House, had hired William Moeller to set up a brewery in Boyertown and this building was ideal for their purpose because of its sturdy construction and the elevator. The brewing was done in the rear of the building. It was called “the smallest brewery in the state;” with seven employees, it produced 10,000 barrels of beverage a year. The brewery business was discontinued by 1953, and the building was sold at auction and converted to the Karver and Fry Gift and Toy Store, a very popular business for many years.

130 - 132 East Philadelphia Avenue

This three story building was constructed for Dr. Thomas J. B. Rhoads to replace the one he had built in 1885 to house the offices of the Farmers’ National Bank of Boyertown. There was a public hall on the second floor, where many local performances were held. The building, known as the Opera House, became nationally infamous as the site of the town’s biggest disaster, “the Opera House fire” on January 13, 1908.  The holocaust was caused by an overturned kerosene footlight that ignited the stage curtain and the victims were trapped in a raging inferno. In a second the entire second floor was ablaze, and in the panic that ensued, ten percent of the population of the town, 170 people (1,709 people were counted in the 1900 census) died in that tragedy, which resulted in national fire regulations that doors in public buildings must open outward.

Within a month of the fire, Rhoads had commissioned E. F. Bertolett, an architect from Philadelphia, to draw up plans for the new building. He was adamant that there would be no public hall in this one. He was quoted as saying “I shall never again be the owner of a theater or hall of entertainment.” Although he did not consider himself responsible for the tragedy, he felt “It is a poignant reflection that it has all taken place in a building belonging to me.” The new three story structure was fireproof, constructed of brick, stone and concrete.

The Farmers’ National Bank was housed on the first floor of the building; since most of its cash and records had been stored in a fire proof vault, the bank’s losses were minimal, although the gruesome debris from the fire that fell onto to the bank floor when part of the theater floor collapsed was heartrending—bones, pieces of clothing, hair and body remnants had to be slowly sifted through and cleared away. Six troopers from the state constabulary guarded the bank premises until the vault and fixtures could be removed to a temporary location. Dr. Rhoads also owned a hardware store in this building that was taken over by George Rahn in 1898. The morning after the fire the west wall of the building collapsed and further damaged the store’s merchandise, breaking the showcases and bursting out the two large show windows. Rahn was about to enter the premises to look through the ruins for salvageable items when the wall fell in, narrowly averting another tragedy. There had been a lodge hall on the third floor before the fire, but in the rebuilt structure, the upper stories were strictly dedicated to offices. The bank remained in this building until 1921, when its new building was opened directly across Washington Street.

201 East Philadelphia Avenue

D.C. Brumbach’s Furniture Store, factory, and undertaking parlor occupied all three floors of this Victorian building that was constructed in 1882.  Daniel Brumbach started his furniture business after the Civil War, and boasted in his ads that he sold anything you could want in furniture and manufactured his own line of parlor furniture. His “undertaking” was, according to the ads, “promptly attended to in the most satisfactory manner.” Brumbach’s son in law, James J. Brown, took over the business in 1905 when Brumbach retired.  Brown was one of the first undertakers who had been trained in embalming techniques, and was called a “scientific embalmer.” Previously, corpses were preserved with ice until burial, and his father in law had a body cooler that he filled with ice and took to the deceased’s home to help keep the remains preserved until the funeral. Embalming was a great help after the Opera House fire, when identification of the bodies prohibited quick burial.  Brown’s morgue received 62 of the bodies, and did 72 of the burial services. Undertakers from Reading helped prepare the bodies; without them that number of bodies could never been buried in a week. It was a time of crisis that proved the basic humanity of all of the people in the Boyertown area, and those men refused any pay for their invaluable services.