Brief History of the Berks County
The County of Berks was established in 1752. Justices of the Peace were commissioned by the governor, and Conrad Weiser was one of the first serving from 1752-1760. A Lawyers Register was maintained from 1752-1776, and the earliest recordings of Officers of Berks County, attorneys at law, were made in 1769. The Berks County Bar Association was formed in 1867.
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Reading's population had reached 150,000. This was the era of railway expansion, Robber Barons, J.P. Morgan, and President Teddy Roosevelt. Cable cars ran along Penn Avenue and 5th Street, Neversink Mountain was a popular destination, and business was booming in the exciting City of Reading.
George F. Baer and Baer, Snyder & Zieber
Born in September 26, 1842, in Somerset County, George F. Baer was the leading attorney in Reading for 30 years before becoming the President of the Reading Company in 1901. Admitted to the Berks County Bar Association in 1868, Mr. Baer was distinguished for his public service and many young lawyers studied under him. One of his students, Jefferson Snyder, became his assistant and later his partner. In 1873 their law office was located at 518 Washington Street and today the building is still referred to as the Baer Building. It is located across from Trinity Lutheran Church and behind the main Reading Post Office on 5th Street at the corner of Washington and Church Streets. In 1898 the firm of Baer, Snyder and Zieber was established with third partner Philip S. Zieber.
Mr. Baer served as local counsel for many corporations including the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company from 1872 until 1901. In addition to his large legal practice, he was the driving force in the creation of a number of important business enterprises. Mr. Baer established the Reading Paper Mills in 1886, and he helped to establish Penn National Bank (1883), the Reading Hospital (1884), the Reading Trust Company (1887), the Wyomissing Club (1890), the Reading Free Library (1898) and the Berkshire Country Club (1899). He remained active in the management of most of these organizations, serving as President of the Reading Paper Mills and Temple Iron Company as well as Vice-President of Seyfert, McManus & Company. He was also was the first President of the Reading Iron Company which was the largest industrial enterprise in Berks County in 1923, and much of its later success was attributed to him. In 1901 Mr. Baer assumed his most famous role and became President of the Reading Company when his close friend J.P. Morgan assumed control of the company.
Mr. Baer continued to be involved in the Reading community. He served as President of the Board of Park Commissioners and was on the Board of Trustees for both Charles Evans Cemetery and Franklin & Marshall College. See The Reading Railroad below.
The Reading Railroad
Reading Railroad The Reading Railroad is widely recognized as one of the properties in the game of Monopoly. Even so most people don't realize that it was one of the greatest coal haulers in the east, and one of the wealthiest companies in the world in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
The Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company was established in 1833. Commonly referred to as the "P&R", it became one of America's first conglomerates. It formed subsidiary P&R Coal and Iron Company, and in the 1890's created the Reading Company. In 1902 J.P. Morgan assumed control of the company, and he appointed his close friend, George F. Baer, as President of the Reading Company. In 1924, P&R Coal and Iron became independent, and the Reading Company became the railroad's operating name. Generally thought of as the Reading Lines, the Reading Company operated until it filed for bankruptcy in 1971. Conrail took over in 1976, and the current Norfolk Southern Corporation based in Virginia is its successor. It's interesting to note that Reading Anthracite was a spin-off of the P&R Coal and Iron Company, and it still exists today as one of the largest anthracite mining companies in the world.
Snyder, Zieber & Snyder
When Mr. Baer became President of the Reading Company, Mr. Snyder assumed the lead in the firm. Snyder & Zieber was formed in 1902, and Jefferson's son Thomas Lager Snyder later joined the office to form Snyder, Zieber & Snyder.
The law firm continued to represent a number of large corporations as well as handle estate planning for their founding families. Clients included the Reading Company, Reading Trust Company, Thun Investment Company, Provident Savings & Loan, Nolde & Horst Hosiery, Reading Hardware Company and Ludens. Many of these firms are historically tied to the now well-known companies such as Wachovia Bank, Vanity Fair, and Arrow International.
Snyder, Balmer & Kershner and Balmer, Kershner, Mogel & Speidel
As the firm evolved, it continued to represent local entities such as the Reading Transportation Company and Albright College. The firm attorneys also played a large role in establishing local agencies to promote development in the Reading area, including the Greater Berks Development Fund and the Berks County Industrial Development Authority. Through the mid-1960's, the firm maintained a general legal practice, and its client mix shifted with the acquisition and relocation of many Reading-founded corporations. Sought out for his advice on critical legal and community issues, George Balmer was known for his fine reputation and strong work ethic. George Kershner created a new form of will that enhanced the estate planning process in Berks County.
Having outgrown their original office space in the Baer Building, the law offices relocated to 50 N. 5th Street, the Bank of Pennsylvania building in 1965. It's interesting to note that in the early 1960's, there was a shift in the legal community towards focusing on particular areas of the law. For example, prior to that time specializations in pension law and environmental law did not exist.
Mogel, Speidel, Bobb, and Kershner
George F. Baer The law firm of Mogel, Speidel, Bobb and Kershner has been incorporated since 1985. Founding shareholders were Carl Mogel, Harry Speidel, Donald Bobb and Edwin Kershner. Edwin Kershner worked with his father, George Kershner, just as Lager Snyder did with his father, Jefferson Snyder. Current senior shareholder Frederick Mogel continues the family tradition, having worked with his father, Carl Mogel.
Maintaining a general practice, the firm offers a broad range of services with highly regarded expertise. With fourteen attorneys and their supporting staff, the firm retains an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest possible rating for law firms in the United States. Since 1980 the main office has been located in the former Nolan home at 520 Walnut Street, Reading, PA. Although renovated for business purposes, the building's charm and architectural integrity remain. Additional county offices are maintained in Womelsdorf and Douglassville. See The Nolan Mansion below.
The Nolan Mansion
In 1980, Mogel, Speidel, Bobb & Kershner purchased the former Nolan family home at 520 Walnut Street between 5th and Church Streets. Built by Nolan & Brothers construction company in 1899, the home was most likely designed by architect A. F. Smith. Mr. Smith is credited with many elegant residences and churches in the Reading area including Grace Lutheran Church and alternations to the Berks County Court House. The site that the house now occupies was originally part of a much larger parcel of land that in 1842 included a "house, outhouse, barns, stables, gardens, orchards, meadows, fields, fences, ways and wood." The larger property changed hands over the years and at different times included apartment buildings and a garage. The land at what is now 520 Walnut Street came into the Nolan family on June 7, 1890, when James Nolan purchased it from Jerome L. and Susan E. Boyer for $2,500.
In addition to being involved with the family business, James was an attorney and became President of numerous companies including the Reading Trust Company, Reading Electric Light and Power Company, and Reading Academy of Music. He also served on the board of trustees of St. Joseph's Hospital and was a director for Farmers National Bank. He and his wife, Kate Stewart, had three children, and their son James Bennett Nolan was a member of the Berks County Bar Association.
William Nolan, Sr., and his wife Katherine McDonough had nine children, and sons James, Charles J., Thomas G., Edward C., Bernard J. and William, Jr. all continued the family business. Prior to living at 520 Walnut, early city directories show the extended Nolan family living at 522 Walnut Street. This building was torn down in 1990, and the location is now the law firm's parking lot. William Nolan, Sr., passed away at the family home on February 3, 1903.
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