Southeast Corner of Third and Penn Streets Nearly 190 Years Ago
The buildings at the southeast corner of 3d and Penn Streets, presented the above appearance, when, in 1825, Daniel Graeff moved his family and dry goods and grocery store into the corner building (No.1). His previous location was on the south side of Penn, second door from 4th.
At that time Henry Bickel owned what is now the American House property, 4th and Penn, then called the "Golden Swan," and Henry Bowman (sheriff in 1833-35) was the landlord. Mr. Bickel also owned the store building in which Mr. Graeff conducted business several years previous to his move to 3d and Penn.
John M. Keim, a prominent business man, owned the adjoining 2-story brick house (No.2) and moved into it with his family in the spring of 1826. It had a front of 22 1/2 feet by 35 feet deep with a one-story back building 13 1/2 by 16 1/2 feet.
Wm. P. Orrick moved his family and dry goods and grocery store into the building No.3 in April, 1826. He owned the building and it was nearly new. It was a 2-story brick, 25 feet front by 35 deep, with 2-story brick back building attached 12 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
No. 4 was a small and narrow 2-story frame building in front, with a 2-story brick back building, occupied as an inn.
The space marked No.5 was an alley 9 feet wide.
At that time the Schuylkill canal ran through the lower part of Reading between Front and 2nd. Mr. Orrick had a basin, 150 by 112 feet, on the west of 2d St. between Cherry and Franklin. There were wharves on 3 sides for loading and unloading canal boats, while the canal extended along the western side. His warehouse, a 2-story brick, had a front of 60 feet on 2d and a depth of 40 feet.
The building occupied by Mr. Graeff, at the corner of 3rd, was a 2-story brick, 30 feet front on Penn, and 46 feet deep on 3d. A piazza 7 feet wide, extended along the southern end of the building. The groceries were kept in the cellar and the dry goods on the 1st floor and in one of the rooms on the 2nd floor. The building was an old one at that time and the house was estimated (1826) to be worth $2,500. Mr. Graeff died in Phila., around 1852. His wife died in Pottstown around 1835.
When Matthias S. Richards made the first "directory" of Reading in 1809, Michael Lam occupied the southeast corner of 3rd and Penn. He had moved from Heidelberg in 1801, when he bought the corner property, and the 30-foot lot extended 270 feet back to Cherry. He paid 300 pounds in gold and silver money to Jacob Brecht for it.
Jacob Kern, of Cumru, bought from Thomas and Richard Penn the corner property at the first sale of the Reading town lots in 1752. The lot then had a front of 60 feet by 270, and was subject to a yearly ground rent of 7 shillings. Mr. Kern sold the property and Henry and Ludwig Beierly in 1764, and Jacob Brecht became the owner in 1784, paying 350 pounds.
Michael Lam sold the property to Mordecai Lee, Jr., in 1811, and it changed ownership quite frequently during the ensuing 10 or 15 years. In 1849 the late Dr. George DeBenneville, of Phila., willed it to his daughter, Harriet Keim, widow of John M. Keim, (at one time a partner of J. L. Stichter in the hardware business) who, in 1868 sold it to the late John McKnight, who, in 1882, sold it to J. Hiester McKnight.
A hardware store had been located in the building for many years. George Keim was the proprietor of the store from about 1857 until 1892 at which time J. H. Obold & Co. conducted business there. In 1916 J. H. Obold & Co. changed its name to the Obold Hardware Company, and in 1918 the business was sold to the Worley Hardware Company.
The property was later sold to the Brighter Furniture Co. which conducted business there until 1985. In 1985 Gilbert's Furniture purchased the building from the Resnick Family and after extensive renovations, the store opened May 1, 1985. Founded in 1962 by Sam Gilbert and John Buckley, Gilbert's was located at 125 South Fifth St. for twenty four years, until relocating to Southeast corner of Third and Penn.