The story of historic Basin Street Hotel Click on images to enlarge
#1#2 The Central House circa 1908 and 1906. Notice Willow Street has yet to be built. Trolley Station on the right.
In circa 1876, eleven years after the close of the Civil War and 61 years after the founding of Kutztown itself, the first eatery that evolved into the Basin Street Hotel began feeding local farmers and weary travelers on what has been called the Great Road, Easton Road, High Road or the King’s Highway over the years. The road was established early in the frontier days of Trans-Appalachia and was one of the first main roads laid out in colonial Pennsylvania. It quickly became a vital artery of commerce supplying manufactured goods from Philadelphia merchants through the river port of Easton on the Delaware River. From there they traveled over the road
to the developing frontier communities of Allentown, Reading, Lancaster and York.
We can be confident that, during these times, most of the noted characters of the American Revolution passed over this road.
#3#4 Exterior & interior of the old Hotel and Eatery.
The first seed of Kutztown was planted during this colonial period by George (Coots) Kutz1, when he purchased 130 acres of land along the busy road and incorporated it as a borough on April 7, 1815. The community grew and prospered as a farming town, while a stage coach stop added incentive for the growth of hotels, taverns and other businesses dedicated to travelers’ needs. The area attracted immigrants2 from the Palatinate region along the Rhein River in Southwestern Germany, who were escaping religious persecution.
To them, the gently rolling hills and forested mountains reminded them of their homeland. Over the years, these settlers established a vibrant Pennsylvania
“Dutch” (Deutch, meaning German in their native tongue) community. During the intervening years of prosperity and isolation, the German settlers evolved their own culture and language and became the unique population of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
As the years rolled on, the region metamorphosed into a productive area with clothing mills, shoe factories, iron foundries and other manufacturing profiting from the natural work ethic of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Kutztown grew as a perfectly positioned stopover point between the early factory hubs of Reading and Allentown. The Civil War ravaged the population of the country and took a heavy toll of the area’s Dutchmen who marched into the maelstrom with various Union Regiments.
#5 #6 1907 Kutztown Fair poster on back wall. The Train Station, caddy corner from the Hotel. Built 1869-1870;
Topton - Kutztown connection of East Penn Railroad..
Eleven years later, as the country began to recover from the Civil war; the roots of the Basin Street Hotel were planted when the Central Hotel was constructed as one
of the first structures fronting Park Avenue, which was to become Main Street, east of the Saucony Bridge. The building was operating as the Railroad Hotel when it
and three adjoining houses burned to the ground on June 24th, 1889. Within a year, a second structure had replaced it, known as the Central Hotel, operated by Thomas Reichendorfer, followed by Charles Ahn.
Ahn operated the hotel from 1898 until 1905, when he opened a paper box manufactory down the block next to the creek. He hired E. Z. Witman as a bar
clerk, who became very popular with the patrons. The next owner, Samual S. Winters, renovated the building and renamed it the Central House, keeping Witman on the bar..
Winters’ name can be seen on the building’s facade below the mansard eve in
a period photograph, below. Note the advertising signs for Reading’s own Barbery Beer and Bob-White five cent cigars. (pic #1, #2)
#7 #8 Trolley going past the Hotel on the right. Trolley at Saucony Creek Bridge looking from the Hotel. (From 1900 to 1930, the trolley service rain from Reading to Allentown;
going through Kutztown, Lyon Station, Fleetwood, Walnuttown, Blandon, and Temple.)
Later proprietors included Winters’ son Miles, followed by William Thomas,
who appears to have owned it during the prohibition years. Francis Levan was next, followed by E. R. Rhode, in 1936 M. and J. L. Thomas, in 1946 J. Furst and in 1951 Charles B. Sokol. In 1959, C. B. Sokol Jr. sold the building to William “Norm”
and Acquilla Gehret (pic #10), (current resident John Grim’s and Sue (Grim) Conrad’s grandparents), who operated the hotel in a manner that attracted a more genteel clientele than the railroad workers and roustabouts who tended to spit
tobacco juice on the floor.
World War II ration coupon book. (Melba Miller) Notice the address. Central Hotel Ashtray
Could you imagine if we were asked to do this today?
#9 #10 Shoehorn advertisement. The Central Hotel early 1960's; Left to right: LaRue (Gehret) Grim - daughter of the owners, Susan (Grim) Conrad - John Grim’s sister and granddaughter of owners, Aquilla Gehret - owner, and Maggie Stein - mother of Aquilla.
In 1973, it opened as the Tender Trap under the ownership of D. C. Evans a
KU professor and football coach, and Tony Alessanderi. In 1980, the historic building was renovated by Ray and Errol Nothstein before it was reincarnated as the Basin Street Hotel (pic #12). The following year, Jeff and Doreen Pearsall
purchased the establishment and operated it until 1995 when the present owner, David (Chino) Huang took over. Chino3 started working at Basin Street as a KU student in 1984 and moved up to manager in 1987.
The name of the establishment may be a bit ironic. In the early days before the Saucony Creek was diverted in 1939-40, the whole area surrounding the hotel frequently flooded, making it the “basin” of this part of the valley.
Chino has worked to maintain the Basin Street Hotel, Restaurant and Pub’s old school charm, while serving tasty, modern pub fare with a side of cheerful and friendly service. Just like back in the post Civil War days, rooms can be rented on a monthly basis. Stop in for a dose of historic nostalgia, some “good food and good cheer” from Chino and the friendly college students who constitute the wait staff.
Menu from the early 1980's; art work done by Mark Hughes, KU '84, Richmond, Vermont.
Does Basin Street have a Ghost?
We will leave it to you to speculate. Over the years, a shadowy man dressed in the attire of the 1800s has been reported in the bar. The small bell behind the bar
and glasses on the counter sometimes moves slightly for no apparent reason, while bar stools are knocked over when no one is there. Sometimes workers hear a loud knocking on the delivery door. Again, no one is there. A woman has been seen passing through the wall between the bar and the stairs leading to the upper floors.
Is all this hokum or is something paranormal going on? You will have to decide for yourself, or you can stop in for a story.
1. "George (Coots) Kutz" is of Swiss Heritage.
2. "Immigrants"; a mingling of Palatine German, French Huguenot and Swiss ancestry. 3. "David 'Chino' Huang"; KU alumnus, Varsity Lacrosse and Rugby.
Information has been gathered from:
- The Centennial History of Kutztown, Kutztown Publishing Company; 1915. website
- A Most Agreeable Town, Vol. 2; Brandon D. Strasser. website
- The Kutztown Patriot, archives.
- Pathway of the Patriots, Frank Whelan, Historian, 69WFMZ News. website
- History of Kutztown, Bicentennial. website
- Kutztown Area Historical Society. website
- Berks County PA Deeds search.
- PA Liquor Control Board records. - Interior picture of The Central Hotel and shoehorn provided by John & Linda Grim.
- Thanks to Leora Haas for her contributions.
- Thanks to our patrons for the many stories over the years.
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