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Berks Places: Hancock in Longswamp Township known for lumber and muresco paint mills, iron ties

Berks Places is a recurring feature that will focus on small villages and census designated places throughout the county. History, nostalgia and local voices will shed some light on the quaint nooks and crannies of our area. Additional historical photographs accompany the online version of the articles.

Corey McCarty — Reading Eagle

Hancock is an unincorporated village in Longswamp Township. (Corey McCarty — Reading Eagle)

About midway between Topton and Mertztown is the tiny village of Hancock in Longswamp Township. It straddles both sides of State Street and had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The tracks laid by the East Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1850s were responsible for the growth of the village.

“Hancock, a flag-station between Topton and Mertztown, owes its existence to S. Long & Son, who opened it for settlement about 15 years ago, and who are at present carrying on an extensive coal and lumber business,” historian Morton L. Montgomery wrote in his 1886 “History of Berks County in Pennsylvania.”

There are two prominent mansions on North Park Avenue across the street from the former Hancock House/Schwartz Hotel. Both were built by the wealthy Schwartz family, according to Marie Maly, president of the Longswamp Township Historical Society.

“There was a lot of iron ore money with the family,” she said.

Francis W. Schwartz opened a public house at 45 N. Park Ave. in 1885. It was known as Hancock House and the Schwartz Hotel. His son C. Herbert Schwartz would go on to be probably the best known operator of the business.

According to Volume 18 of “The Passing Scene” by George M. Meiser IX and Gloria Jean Meiser, the younger Schwartz became involved in politics when he was 21. He was born in Hancock on Sept. 29, 1883, graduated from Kutztown State Normal School and attended Ursinus College.

Meiser wrote that Schwartz became a clerk at the Berks County prison on April 1, 1909, and then took a position at Atlas Mineral Products Co. On April 1, 1914, he was appointed warden of the prison and left in October 1918 to take charge of his father’s hotel business, which he operated until 1926.

The Schwartzes also owned and operated Hancock Park at the intersection of Park Avenue and State Street.

According to “The Village of Hancock,” a 32-page booklet published in 2016 by the Longswamp Township Historical Society, Kathleen Rhode Herman remembered the park as a place where musical programs took place. She said there were food stands, a roller skating rink and a menagerie that included a caged bear. The historical society sells the Hancock booklet as well as several others on villages in Longswamp on its website,, and at Radcliffe’s Great Valu Grocery Store, 953 State St., Mertztown.

Sally Egolf lives in the former Schwartz Hotel, which now has three apartments.

“It’s nice,” she said. “We’ve been here forever. We used to live across the street, but somebody else bought that place and they redid the whole thing.”

Egolf, 59, said she was born and raised in nearby Alburtis, just over the line in Lehigh County, and her husband was born and raised in Hill Church. They raised six children in Hancock, all of them now grown.

She said her two oldest boys work at Valley Stair & Rail, a few lots down the street at 23 N. Park Ave. The shop makes custom wooden stairs.

The location has been a lumber-related business for 151 years, beginning as S. Long & Son.

Robert Angstadt holds onto two horses out side of Earl A. Walbert’s Lumber, Flour, Feed and Slate on the corner of State Street and North Park Avenue in the village of Hancock, Longswamp Township. The photograph appears in Volume 18 of “The Passing Scene” by George M. Meiser IX and Gloria Jean Meiser. The inset photo is a vintage industrial building that still stands in back of Valley Stair & Rail, 23 N. Park Ave. (Courtesy of Gilbert Mancuso)

The Long family also sold coal there, as did successor Levi A. Walbert. Walbert moved his coal, feed and lumberyard from Topton to Hancock in 1905, according to “The Village of Hancock.” His son Levi B. ran the business and started Hancock Planing Mill there, combining the two to become Walbert Coal & Lumber Co., George Meiser wrote.

“Walbert’s operation was ideally located for what it sold, as the railroad, which parallels State Street, is ‘next door,’” the local historian said.

“There was a lot of coal mining going on Hancock, and they actually had a funicular to the track,” Maly said.

According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, a funicular is a cable-operated railway with counterbalanced ascending and descending cars.

The business was sold to Levi B.’s son Earl A. Walbert in 1946. It remained in the family until 2006, when it was sold to Park Avenue Quartet LLC, which operates Valley Stair & Rail.




A paint mill also operated at the Walbert/Long complex.

“At Hancock a paint-mill was begun in the fall of 1884 by Henry S. Weiler and S. Long & Son, which is still operated by them in the manufacture of crude ochres, the material for which is procured at some of the iron mines in the township. The mill has a capacity of 30 barrels per day, and the products are in good demand,” Montgomery wrote.

The paint mill eventually would be owned by B. F. Moore & Co. It closed in 1905.

The muresco style paint produced there is still made today by Benjamin Moore, Maly noted.

The village post office also was located at the Walbert/Long complex. It opened March 3, 1888, as DeLong’s Post Office with Henry H. DeLong as postmaster, according to the Longswamp Historical Society’s booklet. On June 21, 1893, the name was changed to Hancock. Levi B. Walbert served the longest as the village’s postmaster, from May 22, 1911, to Nov. 1, 1942, when it closed.

Egolf said not much as changed in the nearly two decades she has lived in Hancock. Most noticeable has been the remodeling of the mansion across the street at 24 N. Park Ave.

It’s a project that caught the attention of Forest Carlson, who used to live in the area and was going through the castoffs from Valley Stair & Rail.

“I thought it was an almost condemned building years ago, but then they started working on it and now I’m like, ‘Wow, that is looking like a nice house,’” he said.

Carlson said Hancock, which he didn’t know even existed, was on his route to work at Allen Organ in Macungie for many years until he moved two years ago.

As far as how the village got its name, that is a bit murky. An 1899 Kutztown Patriot article suggests it was named in honor of Clinton G. Hancock.

“There was a short blurb about it, but we don’t know who he was,” Maly said, noting a man who researched railroad history in the area found a Clinton Hancock who was a passenger agent of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.

Source: Berkshire mont

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