The Berks County Trust Company

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The Berks County Trust Company was organized in October of 1900. The founding members accumulated a capitol stock of $125k. The company initially rented J.K. Grant’s new building at southeast corner of Sixth and Washington Streets to operate out of. The Berks County Trust Company was chartered on November 16th, 1900 and commenced operations in January of 1901. The company’s first President was Christian H. Ruhl and Treasurer Major M. A. Gherts.

What Is a Trust Company?

A trust company is a legal entity that acts as a fiduciary on behalf of a person or business for the purpose of administrating the transfer of assets to a beneficial party.

It was announced in the January 12th, 1910 Reading Times that two properties were purchased by the company between Court and Washington on 6th street for $48k. The building construction was estimated to cost $250k. Beard & Company was awarded the bid and estimated 300 working days to complete.

The article went on to describe, “the material will be of brick and Pennsylvania White marble and terra cotta trimmings. Made entirely of steel and the building throughout will be fire proof.  Floor is of mosaic with cement centre, sides of the room to the height of the window sills and counter are of Italian marble and art marble.

According to the May 6th, 1911 Reading Times, “The safe is a massive structure, its weight being about 40 tons. The door, which is circular, is about two and a half feet in thickness and seven feet high, and is fitted with a time lock.  The safe is about 18 feet deep and about eight feet wide and is provided with many private boxes as well las receptacles for the company’s cash and valuables. The steel door is highly polished, as are also the two inner doors, the whole forming a thoroughly fire and burglar proof vault. The safe was manufactured by the York Lock and Safe company. The second, third fourth and fifth floors are devoted to offices. The woodwork on the upper floors is birch with maple floors while the hallways have cement floors. The steps leading to the upper floors are of stone, with iron banisters.

At the time the vault only one of its kind in the city. The mechanism controlling the locks is covered by a plate of glass window. The interior of the vault is illuminated with electric lights and the floor is tiled in white. There are over six hundred safe deposit boxes in the vault.  It officially opened Wednesday, May 10th, 1911.

In 1912 the very first weather station in Berks County was established on the roof of building. It was one of only 50 in the country, with the other locations being the likes of New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. It cost $10k to implement, $10k of maintenance yearly and came with its own Weather Bureau meteorologist who ran it.

The Berks County Trust Company was one of the first regional banks to join the Federal Reserve. By 1921 to company’s capital reached $500k and expansion was necessary. In 1923 an addition was constructed onto the original frontage which nearly doubled its size. It is also around this time that the Berks County Trust Company had its first merger with the Schuykill Trust Company.

Berks County Trust Company
Berks County Trust Co. in 1924 – notice old Court House – J. Victor Dallin Aerial Survey collection

By 1940 there were three branch locations at 5th and Penn, Ninth and Spring, and Lancaster ave and Noble St.

In 1964 a mid-century modern addition was built onto the north side of the structure. The company had the original J.K. Grant building they rented for their first decade in business razed to construct this addition. This same year the Berks County Trust Company changed its name to American and Trust Co. of Pennsylvania to reflect the regional scope in which it now provided service. 

Between 1953 and 1983 the bank had acquired over 20 financial institutions and expanded into eight counties in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Berks County Trust Company
Berks County Trust Co. in 1931 – notice Courthouse under construction –  J. Victor Dallin Aerial Survey collection

In 1983 American merged with Central Penn and changed their name to Meridian Bancorp, Inc. in which American and Central Penn National were designated wholly-owned subsidiaries. Upon formation it had assets of $3.6 billion and deposits of $2.9 billion. 

Meridian continued to grow through the 1980s and 1990s. In 1997 Meridian sold the property to Pomeroy’s Associates LP. Meridian was already in the process of building new headquarters at the site of the old Pomeroy’s building on 6th and Penn Streets. Shortly after the building was completed Meridian restructured and laid off many local workers.

The building was sold between various investment companies during the first two decades of the 2000s. In 2019 Shuman Development Group purchased the property with the intent to redevelop it. The exterior work was completed in August of 2023. The interior work is finishing up, but the intention is to have a food court on the main level. Already completed is commercial office space on the second floor, and residential apartments on the third through fifth floors.

Berks County Trust Company
Finished exterior of the Berks County Trust Co. Building. Redeveloped by Shuman Development Group

Having the benefit of being able to see how this banking institution’s story played out, let’s travel back to 1910 again. For context, remember that the Progressive Era was in full swing. In the nation’s growing industrial cities, in which Reading most certainly was, factory output grew, small businesses flourished, and incomes rose. These banking institutions benefitted greatly from that prosperity. I’m going to close you out with a excerpt from an August 4th, 1910 Reading Times article.

The article was about the rising value of real estate, and looked to the Berks County Trust Company building as an example of what the city’s potential could be. 113 years ago, the author wrote –

“We refer to the new banking house of the Berks County Trust Company, now in course of erection. The foundation, which is now about completed, has been so constructed, by the use of concrete and steel, that is it one solid piece of stone, a great rectangular monolith, weighing hundreds of tons covering the whole area of the building so as to distribute the weight of superstructure evenly over the whole space. Upon this base there is to arise a structure corresponding with it in strength and solidarity. The officers of the company realize, just what should be obvious to everyone; that Reading is going to be growing and doing business for generations to come. And that it pays to prepare for that business with a building that will be lasting and adequate to its purposes, not only in the immediate present, but in the distant future.”

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David Richard Procter
David Richard Procter
8 months ago

I think it must have been around the turn of the 20th Century, but Berks County Trust Co. expanded its business into title insurance; hence; Berks Title Insurance was born. They had an office in the county courthouse in the Recorder’s office at the back. My father worked for them. I used to visit his office, and all of his co-workers were family friends. Earle Frankhouser, a civil engineer, had his company’s office at 6th and Washington Streets, and I believe he was president of Berks Title for a while before he retired. He may have been an officer of the bank, too. All three companies worked together.

Kathleen A. Cassel
Kathleen A. Cassel
1 month ago

What happened to financial “Customers”? Are there investments that were paid out as the business was sold??

Berks Nostalgia