Few persons know why Hampden in Northeast Reading was once known by the name of Helltown.


About 200 years ago a man named John Hell came with his family to that place, and, as far as can be ascertained, he was the first to permanently locate there, here he built two log houses, one of which he and his family occupied. It is not known who occupied the other, but several years thereafter he sold it to Adam Harbold. The place was named Helltown in honor of John Hell. The name was not changed to Hampden until about 1850.

Among the first residents in that neighborhood were the following: John Hell, Samuel Katzenmoyer, Ludwig Katzenmoyer, Peter Katzenmoyer, Joseph Keffer, Peter Fick, John Hartman, Adam Harbold, and Joseph Bower. The latter was over 100 years old when he died.

Helltown at that time had only a few log and stone houses. The first of these, which is supposed to have been the oldest, stood where what is now Hampden and Marion Streets. Samuel Katzenmoyer lived here many years. Later the property was sold to John Rothaup, who purchased land adjoining this old house, where he built himself a new home and had the other demolished.

A 2-story stone house at 11th near Marion was the first house built by Ludwig Katzenmoyer. This was once a large farm, containing several hundred acres.

Here Mr. Katzenraoyer lived many years and conducted farming operations. He afterward retired from the farm and gave it in charge of his 2 sons, Jacob and John.

In 1826 be built a two-story stone house at the corner of Hampden and Spring Streets. Here he started a hotel, and conducted a successful business for several years. This was the first hotel in this neighborhood.

Mr. Katzenmoyer then retired from the hotel business and sold it to Charles Clay, who conducted it a few years, and later Henry Bischoff took charge. Here many old time frolics have taken place, where the young people of those days enjoyed themselves.

Mr. Katzenmoyer then built a house on land now occupied by the Hampden reservoir. The Hampden reservoir was located in what would become known as Hampden Park, near Albright College. It once supplied drinking water for the city. The bottom of the long-ago-drained Hampden Park reservoir was converted to an athletic field for the Reading School District around 2005.

The first Sunday school was organized in the house built by Mr. Katzenmoyer. The school was superintended by Jeremiah Bower and Hiram Roland. It was a union Sunday school, and children of all denominations attended.

Later a week-day school was started. This was taught by Celestina Wagner, a French woman, who was possessed of an excellent education – both in French and German. She taught the latter language in this school. Miss Wagner was also a splendid musician.

Mr. Katzenmoyer was a well-to-do man in his time and it is estimated that he owned at least two thousand acres of land in this section. He lived here until his death.

About half block south of this place stood the log house of Peter Katzenmoyer, on Pricetown road. The body of Susanna Cox, who was tried, found guilty for the killing of her new born child, and hanged on Gallon’s hill in 1809 at the foot of Mount Penn, in City Park in Reading, was taken to this house, then the home of a relative and kept there for an entire week.

The reason for keeping the body for such a length of time, it is said, was because her relatives feared that the corpse might be stolen and used for dissecting purposes.

The body was taken from this house and buried on Old Stony Lane, which is now near 13th and Marion Streets several hundred yards west of the Hampden Reservoir. During roadwork in 1905, her remains were found there.

Phineous Madary was the last person who lived in this house. After his removal, William Shiery, deceased, manufactured brooms for some time, after which it stood vacant for some years, and finally it collapsed and was removed.

Two houses, one a stone and the other a log, built by Joseph Bower, father of Jacob Bower, Sr., residing on Windsor Street above 12th, were among the first houses built in the neighborhood. One of them Mr. Bower occupied and John Hartman, Sr., lived many years in the other.

Adam Harbold, who lived in one of John Hell’s log houses for several years, built a one-story stone house at 921 Hampden Street, now part of Hampden Park.

He owned all the land now occupied by the Hampden reservoir and the Hampden spring. Mr. Harbold built a house over the spring something in the shape of a straw stack which covered the spring for many years.

Up to this time the people were compelled to go for their water to this spring, a distance of about 2 blocks. Mr. Harbold, seeing the necessity of having the water near home, laid wooden pipes from the spring down to the street, where the water was constantly running and was at all times fresh. Mr. Harbold did this work at his own expense and his neighbor’s each paid him $1 a year for water.

A large trough was erected and divided into two parts – one in which the Harbold family kept their milk and butter, and the other where farmers watered their horses.

The watering spot was covered by a huge willow tree. It was on this tree that David Pall, son of old John Paff, placed a white board, with the name “Hampden” painted in black letters and from that time the place was known by this name.

The straw house covering the spring and the watering place near Mr. Harbold’s home was not removed until after his death, when the property was sold to the Reading Water Company.

They then built a stone spring house and placed a hydrant where the trough stood.

The excellent quality of this water was well known and it had a wide reputation. This was the first water to enter the old city reservoir at the head of Penn St. It also supplied a stream to the Hampden reservoir.

The first school was organized in Hampden about the year 1835. On the old Ludwig Katzenmoyer farm stood a blacksmith shop, two stories in height. The lower part of the building was used to do the blacksmithing belonging to the farm and the upper floor as a school room.

Adolph Beyerle, a German, was the first teacher. A few years later Miss Celestina Wagner took charge.

On the 7th of September, 1867, the Hampden fire company was organized at a hotel then kept by Henry Bischoff. The members met at the hotel only a few months, after which they changed their headquarters to an old frame building at one time used as a butcher shop. The building was owned by George Rothenberger, deceased, who was one of the charter members. Shortly after organization they made application to be admitted in the Firemen’s union, and were represented by the following delegates: Major S. E. Ancona, George Rothenberger, Peter Hermon.

Contributions amounting to $800 were received and the company purchased a hose carriage.

On July 4, 1868, the company had its first picnic at Hampden spring, when the members donned their new uniforms, which consisted of red shirts, black belt with red shirts, black pantaloons and blue ties. The ladies of Hampden contributed and purchased the company a handsome American flag, which was on exhibition at the picnic.

The company had its headquarters in Hampden for about 5 years, after which the members built a two-story house at the northeast corner of 11th and Greenwich Streets. In 1887 a new building was erected. The fire house was converted to apartment in the mid 1980’s.

Below: Map of Hampden, Reading, PA (1860).
Map of Hampden
  • The apparition of a young woman wearing a long dress has been seen walking on the rim of the old Hampden reservoir. Police investigators say that her silhouette is sharp, but she fades away when approached.
  • The body of Susanna Cox, who was tried, found guilty for the killing of her new born child, and hanged on Gallon’s hill in 1809 at the foot of Mount Penn, in City Park in Reading was buried on Old Stony Lane, which is now near 13th and Marion Streets.

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