Sitting prominently on Mount Penn, seen for miles in all directions, is a Japanese-style pagoda. Why? Well, as with so many things, it’s a long story which I’ll try to condense.
At the turn of the 20th century, Mount Penn was buzzing with activity, including hotels and a popular gravity railroad. Below the Pagoda, on the side of Mount Penn, now mostly obscured by the trees, is the remains of a stone quarry which was owned and operated by William Abbott Witman, Sr. The residents of Reading were very unhappy with the hideous “scar” on the side of their mountain and were very vocal about it. Being an entrepreneur, Mr. Witman had the idea to build a luxury hotel on top of the mountain resembling a Japanese temple.
He boldly began construction about 1907. As the building was being completed in 1908, Mr. Witman filed for a liquor license for his hotel. Unfortunately, it was denied. Without a liquor license, the operation of a luxury hotel would be impossible. Ultimately, the bank foreclosed on the property and, in 1910, sold it to Jonathan Mold. Shortly afterward, Mr. Mold sold the property to the City of Reading for one dollar.
The City made the Pagoda part of their parks system and opened it to the public. With a commanding view of the city and countryside, the Pagoda quickly became a popular destination for tourists and locals. In 1972, with the help of Pagoda-Skyline Inc., the Pagoda was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The important designation by the U.S. Department of Interior will help to ensure this unique landmark watches over Reading and Berks County for the foreseeable future.
Floyd N. Turner II
President, Board of Trustees, Berks History Center