Old St. Joseph's Hospital - Former Site of Vollmer's Vineyard

2013-09-29
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In April of 1873, a series of lectures in German were delivered in St. Paul's School Hall, on Walnut Street above Ninth by the Rev. P. Pottgeisser. The proceeds of the lectures were devoted to the erection of a hospital.

St. Joseph's Hospital (1873) - Former dwelling
of the Vollmer family.
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The erection of a hospital was first projected by the Rev. Father Bornemann, rector of St. Paul's Catholic Church, who in April of 1872, bought for that purpose the property of Mr. Augustus Vollmer, a two-story brick building on Walnut Street above Twelfth at a cost of $10,000.

The building or rather the former dwelling of the Vollmer family was converted into a hospital and opened in 1873. The site was ideal, located on the mountain for breezes, with its own vineyard, fruit orchard, and spring. The property consisted of about 4 acres. The location was excellent for a hospital, as on account of its high situation, there was no danger of the spread of contagion by effluvia (invisible emanation or exhalation) arising therefrom and being disseminated over the city as would be the result if the hospital was located in the lower and more compactly built portions of the city. The location also commanded a view of the entire city, and a grand view of the Schuylkill and Lebanon Valleys.

The tract of land comprised about four acres, bounded by Walnut, Lombard, Elm and Birch streets. It was formerly known as "Vollmers's Vineyard." In addition to pure, mountain air; the property had the advantage of an excellent water supply. The large main conveying the water of the Hampden spring to the city reservoir at 11th and Court Streets passed through the property, and a connection was made with this this main, so there was a good and never-failing supply of water.

The tract of land also contained a fine large flower and vegetable garden with numerous fine fruit trees, asparagus beds, etc., extensive frame buildings for the manufacture of vinegar. The vinegar establishment contained new and very complete copper boilers, cedar tanks, and vats. The vineyard of three and a-half acres contained nearly all the native and foreign grapes adapted to the Reading climate.

From the early to mid 1800's until Prohibition, Reading and vicinity was noted for its vineyards. There was probably no other section of the State where the culture of the grape had received so much attention, or where the success of the culture had been so marked.

The largest vineyard in the vicinity of Reading was located on the eastern slope of Neversink Mountain. The vineyard was owned by John A. Fehr, and was in charge of his father-in-law, Eberhard Barth. The vineyard was planted by the late John Fehr, and contained about eight acres of bearing vines of the Clinton, Concord, Ives Seedling and Taylor varieties. In 1873 Mr. Fehr harvested about twenty tons of grapes, and made from 50 to 70 barrels of wine.

George Walter, at the "WhiteHouse," on the southern slope of Neversink Mountain, had gathered from his half acre of vines nearly one ton of excellent grapes.

In 1873, the vineyard formerly owned by Augustus Vollmer, attached to St. Joseph's Hospital at the head of Walnut Street, was reported as having yielded about three tons.

Around 1873, the grapes mostly grown in Berks were the Concord, Clinton, Catawba, Isabella, Ives Seedling, Maxatawny, Martha, Rebecca, Delaware, etc. The larger vine growers found the Concord, Clinton and Catawba varieties most, profitable-the first for the table, and the two last for the purpose of manufacturing wine. Hundreds of barrels of wine were made in Berks County every year, which commanded a ready sale at from $1.50 to $3.00 per gallon.

The Clinton and Catawba wines of Reading vintners were noted throughout the country for their superior excellence. They compared favorably with the vintages of other wine-growing districts of the country, and were preferred by many to the cheap wines of Germany and France.

In 1882, the former two-story dwelling of Augustus Vollmer which had stood at Birch and Walnuts streets was vacated by the St. Joseph Hospital, the hospital having moved to the new structure to the left in the photo to the right. The frame shed on the right side of the photo was where Vollmer had his wine-making equipment.

In 1904 the cradle of St. Joseph's Hospital, the former two-story dwelling of Augustus Vollmer, was replaced by a Nurses' Home, dedicated by his Grace, Arch-bishop Prendergast, in 1905.

St. Joseph's Hospital, vacated in 1882.
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New St. Joseph's Hospital (middle), and former Hospital (right side,
adjacent to new hospital), 1882
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St. Joseph's Chapel (left) and Hospital (right), 1883.
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St. Joseph's Chapel (left), Hospital (middle),and Nurses' Home (right), 1905.
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