History of the Wilhelm Mansion and The Inn at Centre Park
The property known as the Wilhelm Mansion consists of two buildings, the mansion and the carriage house on .63 acres of landscaped setting on one of Reading's most attractive and prestigious boulevards.
The mansion is a three-story Gothic Revival building approximately 60 feet in height, 40 feet in width, and 50 feet in length, built primarily of granite. Research shows that the mansion was built in 1877. Two rooms were added at the rear which bear the inscription 1888. This early addition to the building is in keeping with the style and design of the original, being constructed primarily of granite.
The roof is multi-gabled, the gabled area being made of red slate shingles and the upper or flat portion of the roof being standing-seam copper. There are four mid-roof molded and corbelled brick chimneys to serve the eight fireplaces.
Windows are arched throughout the building with the exception of those of the 1888 addition mentioned above. Third-story windows are dormered. There is extensive use of bargeboard trim on the mansion.
The mansion has an enclosed stoop flanked by an open porch on either side. The outer door of the stoop is oak headboard with massive wrought-iron hinges and latch. The vestibule door has glass panels (originally beveled but destroyed by vandals) above oak panels with ornamental wrought-iron grilles over the glass. The fanlight above the door is art glass.
Among the distinctive features of the first floor are a reception room with an extremely ornate molded plaster ceiling in high relief, a solarium with an oriel window and art glass panels, and a ballroom with two bay windows, a fireplace, ornate molded plaster arch, and an exit through a wrought-iron door to a spacious side porch. The dining room is paneled in oak with hardwood and terra cotta tile floor, terra cotta fireplace, brass wall sconces, and an arched ceiling ornamented with bands of molded plaster.
The second floor includes three spacious bedrooms, three bathrooms, a library with a Teutonic fireplace bearing the date 1884, oak paneling and carved pilasters, and lead-paned bookcases. Again, there are several instances of the use of art glass, most notably in an archway between two areas of a bedroom suite. There are three fireplaces on the second floor, two with handsome mirrors over the mantle. One of the bedrooms has a bay window.
The two-story carriage house sits on the rear of the lot and bears an 1890 datestone which serves as a lintel over one of the doorways. This building is also constructed of granite and features art glass windows, dormers on the second floor, a handsome chimney to serve the single fireplace in the building, and a cupola with an arch and pilaster motif.
There is an ornate wrought iron fence across the rear of the property as well as fine wrought iron balconies at the second story windows of the mansion. A terra cotta relief of a horse's head hangs above what were originally the doors through which the carriage passed to the street.
The Wilhelm Mansion is one of the outstanding landmarks in Reading. It is one of the few single dwellings of the Gothic Revival style of architecture in Reading, is a unique example of a level of craftsmanship seldom seen in contemporary times, and has been determined to be one of the outstanding buildings in the city by the Pennsylvania State Comprehensive Historical Site Survey.
The first occupant of the house was the Right Reverend Mark Anthony DeWolfe Howe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese when the diocese was headquartered in Reading (1877-1880). Bishop Howe was the holder of both law and divinity degrees, a scholar of some note, and was later active in the administration of Lehigh University.
The next owner of the property was Charles Wilhelm, from whom the mansion takes its present-day name. Mr. Wilhelm was president of the Wilhelm Paint Company which was later purchased by the present Glidden Paint Company, and lived in the house for approximately 50 years until his death in 1936. He was one of the prominent industrialists of Reading when the city was in the heyday of its industrial past.
The Wilhelm Mansion has been occupied as a single-family residence throughout its existence until approximately 1973 when the first floor was converted to a doctors' offices and the remaining floors and carriage house were left vacant. Present plans include restoration of considerable damage which resulted from this conversion as well as from vandalism and neglect. One owner during the 1960s proceeded rather far with plans to demolish the buildings and build a high-rise on the site when the costs of maintaining such a property as a single-family dwelling became prohibitive. Apparently local sentiment had much to do with the failure of his plans, and the buildings, fortunately, still stand today as stately reminders of times past.