History of the Old Federal Inn
The imposing granite building near the Northwest corner of 5th and Penn Streets, built and once occupied by Farmers' National Bank, is not only a financial landmark in the history of the City, but the land which it occupies is also historical as being home to what was for many years one of the best known taverns from 1763-1814; the "Federal Inn."
Its builder was Adam Witman, who erected it for a tavern in 1763, on outlet number 31 in the original town plan. The original town plan comprised 520 lots, and 204 out-lots, numbered consecutively. In 1743, Richard and Thomas Penn (sons of William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania, and grandsons of Sir William Penn for whom Pennsylvania is named) planned the town of Reading with Conrad Weiser. It was named Reading, after the county town in Berkshire, England.
Penn's sons appointed Conrad Weiser, Francis Parvin and William Hartley as commissioners to sell the lots, and on June 15, 1749, they sold a large number of them. In 1751, 1752, 1753 and 1754 patents were issued for 241 lots.
Outlot number 31, in the original record, had been patented by Jonas Seely, one of Berks County's first magistrates. Valentine Eckert, Lieutenant of the County, acquired the outlot about the time that British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a French and American force at Yorktown in 1781. In 1785 Valentine Eckert conveyed it to Jacob Zoll.
The hotel property was purchased by Michael Wood in 1799, after he had conducted the place for several years. It was also known as Wood's Inn until 1814, when the Farmers' Bank purchased it.
Michael Wood was a competent and popular host. He had the honor of entertaining the peerless George Washington, first in war and first in peace.
Even before the Presidential visit Michael Wood had had some experience with celebrities. In 1788 the young Proprietor, John Penn, descended at his door and wrote appreciatively of the marvelous catfish caught in the Schuylkill which Mrs. Wood had cooked for him. Also their Worships the Justices of the peripatetic Common Pleas Court always lodged at the Inn.
On November 13, 1793, Michael Wood was informed that two travel-worn voyagers who had just arrived were the dignified President George Washington and his secretary, Bartholomew Dandridge. This visit might be considered sufficient distinction for a landward tavern but more honors were to follow.
On October 1st, 1794 Mr. Washington again appeared, this time in coach of state with military escort befitting the Commander-in-Chief embarked upon a campaign against the Whiskey Rebels of the western counties. During his visit a military parade was held under the command of Colonel Nicholas Lotz, and Washington viewed the troops from the second story window over the doorway.
Another incident, less generally known in the story of the Federal Inn, was the meeting of the first Board of Presidential Electors held in its parlors, February 5, 1789, when the Secretary recorded:
"The business of the day being concluded, the Electors returned to Michael Wood's Federal Inn and dined with a number of gentlemen of their suite, concluding the evening with great hilarity, circulating the glass in honor of the Constitution, General Washington and Dr. Adams."
The death of Michael Wood in 1814 came shortly after the organization of the Farmers' National Bank of Reading and the directors seemed to have been immediately impressed with the advantages of the location as a site for their bank.
On June 6th, 1914 a memorial tablet was placed in the wall of the Farmers' National Bank at a public unveiling exercise at 3 o'clock. The bronze tablet was commemorative of the visit of George Washington to this city in 1794.
The building was remodeled several times to meet the needs of the growing bank, but the patronage of the bank continued to grow at such a rate that it was finally realized that sentiment had to give way to necessity and the doom of the faithful old building was sealed.
In 1925 the building, the oldest in the city at the time, was replaced by a new dignified and imposing four story building which still stands today. The bronze tablet commemorating the visit of George Washington to this city in 1794 was moved to the South side of the new structure.