The article originally appeared in a publication commemorating
Mohnton's 75th anniversary in 1982.
The first settlers along the Wyomissing Creek were Welsh people who migrated from Philadelphia, through Chester County, and into this area. In 1737, Cumru Township was established and named by the Welsh after their native Cumru in Wales. Many German people also migrated into the southern part of Berks County. Some of these early inhabitants made gun barrels and from their labors grew the first industry of the Wyomissing Valley and Mohnton. One of these early gun barrel manufacturers was Benjamin Mohn who came from Mohn's Hill. As early as 1835 he was operating a gun barrel factory on the south side of the road where Woodland Avenue now joins Wyomissing Avenue. Soon after 1840, he bought a tract of land farther down stream from John Schwartz. This tract is said to have been in need of much clearing, but contained a log cabin. In 1846 Benjamin built a grist mill on this property and in 1854 was joined by his nephew Samuel K. Mohn, who was first an apprentice but later opened a general store in a part of the mill. Later, Samuel K. built a separate store building on the spot which is now the juncture of North Church Street with Wyomissing Avenue. Here he carried on the mercantile business and on November 6, 1857 became the first postmaster of the then designated Mohn's Store Post Office. Uncle Benjamin built a stone home across the road from his mill on the same side as the store. This building was turned into a tavern by John Griner and later became the Augustus R. Andersen Hotel. After many alterations and changes in ownership it was bought by Calvary Church and torn down in 1944. The veterans memorial now stands on the site. From these humble beginnings, Mohnton developed into an important industrial borough.
As the gun barrel industry began to wane, those mills were converted to other uses and other factories were built. With these changes came an increase in the number of residents in the community. The first homes were scattered along the road running through the valley and along the one (now North Church Street) running to the Five Mile House Hotel. Gradually other streets were laid out and lots were sold. Various tracts of land were sold by Benjamin Mohn and later by his son Wesley D. Mohn, who as a contractor built many homes. Samuel K. Mohn owned much of the land north of the Wyomissing Creek. This land he laid out into building lots and sold very reasonably to encourage workers to move into the growing community. He also provided for alleys behind properties so that the owners would have good access to their barns and sheds.
Much of the land south of the Wyomissing Creek was owned by Issac Spatz, a nephew of Samuel K. Mohn. He also sold building lots. At the eastern end of the valley, the land was owned by the Hornbergers who also sold lots and did building. Later, to encourage building, the Mohnsville Building and Savings Association was organized by Samuel K. Mohn in 1882. Associated with him were his sons-in-law John A. Bohler and Tyson Huyett. The 1876 atlas map of Mohnsville shows twenty-five houses, one church and cemetery, one hotel, one school, one hat factory and one store and post office. However, the appendix lists five additional factories.
As the town grew and the number of industries increased, better transportation and other facilities were needed. The inventions and engineering of that day made them possible. One of the first real improvements for the inhabitants was the installation of a public water system in 1882. This was effected by Samuel K. Mohn and his son Charles S. Mohn. In 1901 the Mohnsville Water Company was taken over by Wesley D. Mohn and Howard Ahrens of Reading. The original pipes were hollow wooden ones. Later lines were extended to Shillington and in 1935 the borough of Shillington bought the water company for $420,000.
Trolley lines were becoming the popular mode of transportation. The second street railway extension to be made from Reading was the Reading and Southwestern Railway, built in 1890. Cyrus Hornberger donated land at the eastern end of the town as an inducement to have the line extended. Rights of way for the line were secured by Wesley D. Mohn who also raised $30,000 in stock from Mohnsville people. The line was extended from Mohnsville to Adamstown in 1894. A steam engine first pulled the car on this line, but later electricity was used. The line, as far as Mohnton, continued in use until 1952 and was the last one in the county to be discontinued. In 1894 electricity was introduced into the town when a plant was built on Front Street by Issac Spatz. Until this time water and steam power were used in the factories, but now electricity was available. Homes could also be illuminated in this new way. How quickly the new form of energy and light was accepted we do not know, but records show that Zion Church was wired for electric lights in 1898. Electricity was also now used to pump water for the town reservoir and the windmill at Summit and O'Neal Streets was eliminated.
Before becoming a borough in 1907, the community was a part of Cumru Township. However, industrial progress and community growth was so rapid that the active citizens of that day wanted the advantages that were to be had in governing their own town. A petition for the incorporation of the village of Mohnsville, signed by 117 of its 212 freeholders was presented to the court of Quarter Sessions of Berks County on October 20, 1904, and shortly afterwards an earnest remonstrance was filed against it. The matter came before the court at different times until finally the Borough of Mohnton was established by a decree of the court on March 18, 1907.
While the matter of incorporation was before the court, a citizen's meeting was called in June 1906 in the Knights of Pythias Lodge Hall to consider the changing of the town's name of Mohnsville because of its similarity to Mohrsville also in Berks County. (All the while the local post office was designated as Mohn's Store.) The names proposed were VALMONT and MOHNTON; the later one was offered by Miss Margaret Mohn, a grand-daughter of Benjamin Mohn. The name Mohnton was adopted by vote and on August 9, 1906 it became the name of the local post office, and in the following year it was named as the style and title of the incorporated town in the decree as handed down by the court.
On April 25, 1907, a special election was held, at which time the following councilmen were elected: Augustus Anderson, William G. Leininger, Franklin Kleinginna, David F. Mohn, John G. Mosser, Aaron Hornberger and Issac Spatz. These men met for the first session of the Mohnton Borough Council on May 13, 1907 and elected the following officers: President, Augustus Anderson; Secretary, Isaac Spatz and Treasurer, William G. Leininger. William Rick was appointed legal counsel for the borough at $75.00 per year. James Gougler was elected Chief Burgess. Ordinance No. 1 was introduced on May 16, 1907, granting William Dechant and Sons the responsibility of making a topographical survey for $600.00. Another ordinance provided $50.00 per year salary for a special peace officer. Jefferson Wolfskill was appointed on May 26,1908. In July of the same year William G. Ruth was appointed to succeed him and in November John Seitzinger succeeded Mr. Ruth as special officer.
In June of 1907, Secretary Spatz was appointed to contact Wesley D. Mohn of the Mohnsville Water Company concerning the installation of fire plugs. Also at that time the Enterprise Telephone and Telegraph Company was given the right to erect poles in the borough. In October 1907, Wesley D. Mohn was paid to repair streets, using gravel from the Albert G. Leininger gravel pit on the hill north of Mohnton. (Ulrich's Christmas trees are now grown there.) In these early days the workmen on the streets were paid thirteen cents an hour and the commissioners seventeen and one half cents an hour. The first Board of Health was appointed on June 7,1908. It consisted of Dr. Benneville H. Miller, Reuben Bucher, William Miller, Ellis Worley and Franklin Matz. Later five zones were established in the borough and rules for sanitation were adopted. Also in 1908 an ordinance was introduced to create the job of borough policeman. The first automobile and vehicle speed notices were posted in 1909.
No mention is made as to where the first council meetings were held, but in 1910 they were held in the office of the Mohnton Knitting Mill. At this time a resolution was passed to open Wyomissing Ave. to macadamizing. The first improved paving covered Wyomissing Ave. from Main Street to the eastern end of the borough. Nine years later the Burgess suggested paving the entire length of the street.In 1911 the council entered into a contract with Isaac Spatz to provide 80 lights at seventy-five center per month to light the borough.
On January 1,1912 (New Years Day!) the council met for reorganization at 9 a.m. Has this ever happened since? That year they were meeting in the Mohnton National Bank. Also in that year the first ordinance relative to the hawking or peddling of ice cream, fish, groceries, fruit and vegetables was passed. The residents were also notified to discontinue placing ashes in the streets and alleys.
By March 1914, the council was looking for a location for a lock-up or calaboose. Also in that year, Walnut Street was opened at the bottom of the hill and the mill race (in the area of Koenigs garage) was removed or covered.
In 1917 the council was meeting in the Knights of Pythias Hall and authorized a public reception for the soldiers returning from the Mexican border campaign. The Patriotic Order Sons of America Lodge was placed in charge.
In March 1919, Herbert G. Brandt Sr., leader of the Boy Scouts, was granted permission to have the scouts erect an arch of welcome over Wyomissing Ave. to honor the returning soldiers of World War I. And in that year, Harry Fisher was granted a permit to build a factory over the Wyomissing Creek at Main Street and Wyomissing Ave.
In December 1921, the council authorized the erection of a Christmas tree on the square. In December 1925, William Slichter appeared before the council and requested annexation of his property to the borough. Council discussed the possibility of including the H.S. Leininger property also. After much discussion and investigation the project was finally completed in 1931. Properties accumulated for annexation by this time were those owned by Josephus Hornberger and Russel Weber, the Colonial Knitting Mills, H.S. Leininger and William Slichter westward to and including the property of John Hoyer.
On December 27, 1926 the borough solicitor advised that the houses be numbered every twenty feet, the even numbers on the south side of Wyomissing Ave. and the uneven numbers on the north side. In November 1929 council opened School Alley which was later changed to School Lane and John's Place was also opened.
During the years of the great depression in the 1930's life was difficult for many of the citizens of Mohnton. As in many other places, the Federal Government put work programs into operation through the W.P.A. In Mohnton, these projects resulted in building of the walls and steps behind the former high school building and the grading of the athletic field above them. Also, the road leading from the cemetery to the Pennwyn Club was graded and the walls along the Wyomissing Creek at Woodland Ave. were built. The later were completed in 1941.
In November 1941 a resolution was passed to purchase a tract of landcomprising about 13 acres from Charlotte Hoffert as a solution to a drainage problem from Lake Street. Later a resolution was passed permitting certain parties to clean-up this tract for a proposed park area. The land was subsequently transferred to the Mohnton Recreation Association by deed. In October 1951, the borough accepted a deed to the former W.D. Mohn property in the same area and later conveyed it to the Recreation Association.
An ordinance enacted in April 1954 approved an agreement with the Shillington Municipal Authority providing for the right to connect the sewage system intended to be constructed in Mohnton, with the system about to be constructed in Shillington. Robert Benscoter, Beverly Burritt, Bror Hultgren, Dr. Thomas Leininger and Wayne Mohn were named by the council as members on the Mohnton Municipal Authority. The sewage system was completed by 1960. At this time many of the streets were given new grades at various places, new curbs and gutters had to be placed and streets resurfaced.
In 1960 the Summit Heights area of the borough was being developed by George Strain. Also in this year, the collection of garbage was begun and the borough joined the Western Berks Refuse Authority. Wayne Drumheller became the Chief of Police in this year. The council was now holding meetings in the old elementary school building, having moved there in 1959 from the Fire Hall.
In 1962 a Planning Commission was established for the borough after a survey was made by a group from the University of Pennsylvania. The members of this commission were Lee Kachel, Albert Thalmer, James White, Charles M. Leininger and Atty. John Hoffert. In November of that year a Zoning Board of Adjustment was established which consisted of Lee G. Kachel, Charles M. Leininger and Atty. Hoffert.
In 1967 permission was granted to the Suburban T.V. Cable Co. to run cables into the borough. And in that year the first snow removal ordinances were passed. Also in that year the building of garden type apartments in the Mohnton Lawn area was first discussed.
In 1968 council discussed the possibility of obtaining a permanent borough hall. The former Lutz Bakery building was available and was purchased in October 1969. The first renovations to the building were made by Beverly Burritt, a local contractor, and more major ones were made in 1970 by Ward W. Hayes.
In September 1970 it was reported to the council that the Lions Club had erected a community bulletin board on the wall of the American Bank building. In 1971, trash collection was added to the collection of garbage and the burning of leaves and trash was banned.
In 1972, Mr. Benscoter reported that the Borough Authority had completed paying off the bonds for the sewer system and could now be dissolved if council so desired. In this year, Thomas Canto was appointed the new Civil Defense Director replacing Thomas Gross.
In July 1972, the great Agnes flood hit the Wyomissing Valley doing much damage through the center of the borough. It was reported that Army engineers and the street commissioner were inspecting the damage. The engineers later cleaned away the debris and made other repairs.
In 1973 the council was petitioned to tear down the old box factory on Read Street. Two years later this was accomplished and the land was sold to Brian Schlappich who built homes there. In that same year, the Gai-Tronics Corp. requested that land at the eastern end of the borough be rezoned and in September they laid foundations for their new building.
After considerable effort on the part of the Lions Club, a Medical Center was completed in 1975 and Mohnton again had the services of a local physician. In this year the band shell in the park was completed. The mayor presented the council with a Bicentennial flag which was flown along with the United States flag from the honor roll flag pole.
The Bicentennial year (1976) saw the erection, throughout the Wyomissing Valley, of metal markers noting the locations of the gun barrel factories which were the beginning of the activity in the area. Also in this year, permission was granted and ground was broken for the Park Terrace project - phase I. This project was in the Mohnton Lawn area. Later Park Terrace - phase II was added and this was completed in 1980.
In 1981 the new Main Street bridge was completed, replacing one which originally had a wood plank floor, later covered with macadam.
Also in 1981, the council took action to appoint a committee to prepare for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the incorporation of the borough of Mohnton. The community is now celebrating that occasion.