A farm belonging to Michael Haak once encompassed about 229 acres in East Reading beginning at a point what is now Thirteenth and Chestnut streets on the west and going as far east as Nineteenth street. On the north the farm was bounded by what is now Mineral Spring Road and on the south by the base of Neversink Mountain.
Below: Farmhouse on Haak Estate near northwest corner of Sixteenth and Perkiomen Ave., Reading. As a frame of reference, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church now occupies this site. Originally, the 180-acre Haak farm extended from the base of Neversink Mountain to Mineral Spring Road – and ran east to west from 13th to 19th Streets. The painting is signed “A. Knoop.” Ben H. Zerr, who presented the work, is the same Ben Zerr who was extremely active in the early days of motion-picture theatres in Reading. He was owner and manager of several.
Michael Haak was born on the Haak homestead, East Reading, Nov 3rd, 1803. Michael Haak was reared to farming, and continued to follow that calling all his life. He married Sarah Addams, and to them were born the following children: Annie E. m. William A. Robinson; Mary C. m. Thomas Munce; George E.; Clara V. m. John H. Rhoads.
The Haak estate in East Reading was considered one of the most valuable tracts in Berks County. Its great value arose from the fact that the finest deposit of kaolin and sienna in the United States was located thereon, also a valuable sand deposit. The sand was particularly valuable for building purposes, its purity and sharpness being unsurpassed. Many of the principal buildings of Reading have been furnished with the sand used in their construction. These sources of wealth were developed by Mr. Haak in 1850 and in later years by his son, George E. Haak, proprietor of the Sienna Paint, Kaolin and Sand Works.
Below: Haak Property in 1876.
The farm was occupied by no less than 10,000 artillerymen, cavalrymen and infantrymen during the Civil War. Camp Muhlenberg, named in honor of General Peter Muhlenberg, was located south of present day Perkiomen Avenue in the vicinity of 19th Street. It had been established in the spring of 1863 during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania to receive troops enroute to Harrisburg. This location possessed the advantages of convenience of communication, good drainage and an abundant supply of pure water from the Hiener’s Spring. The nearby Rose Valley Creek flowing through the low ground in its front furnished ample facilities for washing purposes.
In 1871 Michael Haak purchased the property at 1039 Penn Street, consisting of a three-story brick house and lot, 25 by 270 feet, for $13,575. On Dec. 14, 1881, Michael Haak passed away at his residence, 1039 Penn street, of an illness of three months. The cause of his death was an affection of the liver, super induced by an attack of malaria fever.
Below: East Reading looking toward Mount Penn, 1890s. Note the following sites: 1-St. Andrews Lutheran Church, erected 1891 and 1903, located at 1320 Spruce. 2-Sweney Ice Dam, in winter used for ice skating, eventually filled in with everyone’s coal ash. 3-Large double-residence with unusual roof-line, 1415 & 1417 Perkiomen Ave., the latter once the residence of well-remembered schoolteacher Elberta Richards. 4-“Hawthorn,” 1501 Mineral Spring Rd., once the residence of Geo. F. Baer, president of Reading Iron Co. 5-The Beard residence, erected in 1884 by James Beard and son William (and their wives) until 1912; located at 1441 Perkiomen Ave., now Rita Ritter’s “Abigail’s Tea Room,” unquestionably the most attractive property on the avenue. 6-Intersection of Clymer St. and Perkiomen Avenue. 7- Residence, once part of the Haak farm that extended from Mountain to Mineral Spring Road – and ran east to west from the original Haak farmhouse stood to the immediate right of #7. 8-Former “Home for Widows and Single Women,” northwest comer of 16th and Haak Streets; erected in 1886; many of Reading’s spinster schoolteachers wound up here; now a housing complex. Insets, left to right: St. Andrew’s—1415-1417 Perkiomen Ave. – and Abigale’s Tea Room.
One of the most unusual and unique damage suits instituted in Reading, PA was by the heirs of Michael Haak, Sarah Haak, his wife, and Elizabeth Haak, his sister, against the United States Government to recover damages caused by soldiers camped on his farm during the civil war. When the soldiers took possession it was one of the finest farms in this section. When they left it was useless. Fences were torn down and the soil was no longer good for farming. It was worse than a bad street. Hundreds of bushels of potatoes were destroyed. In fact all the crops were ruined a week after the soldiers arrived. When Michael Haak gave the soldiers permission to occupy his farm he was told by the late Congressman Hiester Clymer that all damages would be paid. With this assurance he gave the place to the soldiers. Mr. Clymer tried time after time to get the damages and the heirs made many efforts, but no attention was paid to the requests.
On April 15, 1867, by the Act of Legislature, the Eastern limits of the city were extended about half a mile. A survey of the extension was laid off in May, 1863, by the City Engineer, Mr. Samuel M. Rea, for Messrs. Haak, Bickley & Boyer, who purchased about forty-five acres of the farm of Michael Haak, and had it parceled off in lots. The tract of land was bounded between the Perkiomen turnpike and the Neversink Mountain, the streets passing through it east and west being Cotton Street, and Fairview Street, and the streets bounding it north and south being Sixteenth and Nineteenth. The name of the Perkiomen turnpike within the city limits was changed by an Ordinance of Councils to “Perkiomen Avenue.” The tract of Haak, Bickley & Boyer, was laid off into 628 building lots, having fronts of 20 and 30 feet, and a depth of 210 feet. By 1869 about half the number were already disposed of, at prices varying from $50 to $125, and upon some of them the erection of houses begun.