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. The town plan comprised 520 lots, and 204 out-lots, numbered consecutively.
At that time there was not a town, not even a village in all the surrounding territory for many miles. The nearest town was Lebanon, 28 miles to the west, which had been laid out in 1740; and the next was Lancaster, 33 miles to the southwest, which had been laid out in 1728.
Penn’s sons then 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.
In 1751 Conrad Weiser took title to out-lot No. 34 which is now the southwest corner of Fourth and Penn Streets. Two years later he passed it over to his son Peter who set up a saddle and harness business, which he conducted until 1774 when he sold the premises to County Commissioner Christopher Witman. Later, during the ownership of Anthony Bickel, who held the title from 1816 to 1845, the corner turned from commercial uses to those of hospitality when Bickel established a tavern known as the Golden Swan. He was succeeded in 1845 by William Housum. In the mid-1850s, the original building was demolished and a new four-story building constructed and named Housum’s Hotel.
Within a decade subsequent owners added to that structure and renamed it the American House. With almost 70 rooms, the American House was once the most elegant of the city’s large old hotels, with arched windows, an iron balcony on the second floor’s Penn Street side and a cupola on top.
In 1910 a 42-room addition was constructed on the South Fourth Street side, using the “best velvet” and “best brass” furnishings, according to newspaper accounts of the time.
The American House ran into hard times in the 1930s, just as the Abraham Lincoln Hotel was beginning to flourish at Fifth and Washington streets. The building passed through many hands until 1955, when it was sold to the Chiarelli Brothers Corp. The brothers again made the site famous for about a decade with their music business.
Below: Looking west on Penn Street – American House on immediate left.
Between 1969 and 1982, the building sat mostly idle with signs of decay until Carlino Financial Corp. purchased the building in February of 1982 for $180,000.
American House Historical Partnership, with Peter F. Carlino as general partner, spent $2.5 million in renovating the four-story, 110-room building into offices, completely gutting the interior and completely refacing the exterior. The project provided 36,000 square feet of office space, mostly on the upper floors, with retail space available on the first floor thus turning the corner from hospitality use back to commercial use.
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