1 and 3 East Philadelphia Avenue
2 East Philadelphia Avenue
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
11 East Philadelphia Avenue
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.