A. P. Berlin (1855-1924)
Slate Entrepreneur

The early Berlin family had its roots in the Alsace area of Germany where Johann Abraham Berlin (1722-1790) was born. With his two brothers, he reached Philadelphia in 1738 and then settled in Easton (1752) where he worked as a blacksmith. He married Catherine Kemp (1710-1765), and they had several children. One son was Abraham Berlin II (1751-1813) who married Anna Maria Hay (1753-1792). It appears that they lived on a farm in the Berlinsville area of Northampton County. Isaac Berlin (1779-1846), one of the sons of Abraham, also lived in the Cherryville-Berlinsville area. He married Elizabeth Heimbach (1786-1856), and they had several children. One son was Charles Berlin (1807-1867) who also lived in Lehigh Township near Cherryville and who married Mary Ann Brown (1816-1893). There were five children, and the youngest of the children was Allen Peter (A. P.) Berlin (1855-1924).

A. P. Berlin was an important entrepreneur and slate operator in Slatington. He was born near Treichlers, about three miles southeast of Slatington. Berlin grew up there and went to the local public schools before attending Lafayette College as a geology major. After graduating from the college in 1876, he participated in the Pennsylvania Geological Survey Association with a focus on the slate-producing regions of the state. He remained associated with the Geological Survey through 1912. Berlin was also, at times, an adjunct professor at Lafayette College from 1882 to 1896.

A. P. Berlin

A.P. Berlin, Lafayette College, 1876

From these early years, Berlin was deeply involved in the slate trade. By 1884-85, he was active as secretary of a new slate organization, called the National Slate Exchange which was based in Bethlehem, PA. Along with H. S. Bachman of Easton, he also began publishing a slate trade journal. Soon after he became associated with the Washington Slate Company, which worked several quarries west of Slatington on what was known as the “Washington vein.” After some reorganization, the company received a new state charter in 1891 with Berlin as president of the company. Over the ensuing years, he was also involved with the American Slate Blackboard Co., the Atlas Slate Co. in Berlinsville, the Old Diamond Slate Company (of Elizabethville in Dauphin County), and the Blue Ridge Slate Co.

Berlin was also active in borough affairs in Slatington. In 1884 he was appointed town surveyor, and in the 1890s he was on the board of trade and the board of health. From 1906 to 1911, he was a member of the school board, and in 1911 he was elected a borough councilman, a post which he held until he resigned due to ill health in September 1915.

Berlin was also prominent in church and social affairs in town. He was a founder of the Slatington Social Club and an elder of the Presbyterian Church.

Berlin was an extremely active entrepreneur. Here is just a short list of some of his many activities:

In addition to all of these activities, Berlin was also a publisher. I've already noted how he had begun publishing a slate industry journal way back in the early 1880s. In 1898, he launched a weekly folio “Slate” published by the Slatington Star. Then in September 1907, Berlin and John W. Roberts produced the first issue of the Slatington Herald from an office on the second floor of the post office building. The newspaper lasted until 1917.

Berlin wrote several articles on the slate industry and the history of Slatington. For example, in 1892 he authored a multi-part article on the history of slate that appeared in The Slatington News. In 1905, another contribution was entitled the “History of Slatington and Its Fire Department as compiled by A. P. Berlin” (8 July, 15 July, 22 July, 12 August, 19 August). And finally, in 1922 he wrote ‘Slate and Slatington” as part of a larger article on “Slatington, The Center of Natural Resources” written by Roscoe Berlin. (The Morning Call, 18 June 1922)

From early in his life, Berlin’s main focus was on the slate industry. In 1910 he re-entered the slate quarrying business with the Genuine Washington Slate Company which had slate holdings in the Berlinsville area. Berlin along with Amandus Kuntz (1853-1924) were the principles in the newly-chartered state corporation. (Berlin owned 533 of the 1,000 shares), He remained with the company until his death.

In addition to quarrying, Berlin was also interested in prospecting for slate deposits. About 1900, he formed the Prospect Drilling and Developmental Company which drilled cores to make it easier to determine where to open slate quarries. The company used several different names over time: Prospect Development Co, Prospect Drilling and Developmental Co., Diamond Prospecting and Drilling Co. of Slatington. Individuals involved included Robert Hongen (1861-1931) of Weissport, P. A. Prutzman (1875-1910) and Allen D. Berlin (1882-1942). Special machinery was invented by Mr. Berlin, and the process was recognized as the only reliable method of discovering a slate deposit without first sinking a shaft or removing the earth.

Being an active entrepreneur was not without its pitfalls. Around 1895, Berlin and his wife were the subject of a complicated, and protracted, lawsuit by the Windham County Savings Bank (Connecticut). When the recipient of a $25,000 loan from the bank died insolvent, the bank sued Berlin since he had endorsed the loan. Eventually, there was a settlement for a compromise amount. There were other financial difficulties in the 1890s that reduced Berlin’s activities in the slate industry.

Another important holding of A. P. Berlin was the “Berlin” building at 560 Main Street in Slatington, which he purchased circa 1902. This building housed the post office on the ground floor, the “lyceum hall” on the third floor (which was used as a masonic lodge, dance hall and basketball court!) and slate company offices on the second floor. (As of 2023, the building houses D. L. Stevens Antiques.) When the town worked to create the Fireman’s Fountain and Statue monument, in 1909, Berlin granted space to the borough. The statue was dedicated 23 April 1910.

Berlin Building

Former View of the Berlin Building circa 1905

Berlin Building

Current view of the former Berlin Building with the Fireman’s Statue

In both of these photos above, to the right of the Berlin Building, is the Pierce home. Robert G. Pierce (1857-1922) was treasurer of the Carbon Slate Company and an organizer of the Citizens National Bank (Slatington).

In 1880, A. P. Berlin married Abigail (Abbie) Gardiner (1857-1940), and they had nine children.
Lillian May Berlin (1881-1968) m. 1906 John W. Hoke (1866-1942)
Allen Decatur Berlin (1882-1942) m. 1907 Hilda I. Everett (1891-1960)
Frances B. Berlin (1887-1971) m. 1906 Frank C. Beidelman (1884-1937)
Roscoe Conklin Berlin (1889-1933) m. 1916 Sarah Bowers (1890-1964)
Wallace Gardiner Berlin (1891-1953) m.1925 Stella A. St. Aubin (1896-1987)
Elizabeth Berlin (1896 -1984) m 1928 Carleton B. Kidney (1893-1969)
Harold Gardiner Berlin (1898-1948) m. 1925 Elizabeth Stumbaugh, (1906-2000)
Mary Reed (1894-1980 m. 1924 Douglass O. Reed (1894-1943)
Charles Berlin died at birth.

Berlin family

Photo of the Berlin family. A. P. Berlin is center middle row with his wife Abbie to his left.
Roscoe Berlin is back row, on the left.

While Berlin lived for short periods of time in Easton and also in Allentown, he was most closely associated with his home on the southeast corner of First and Church Streets. This was the former homestead of Daniel (D. D.) Jones (1927-1886), one of the pioneers of the slate trade in Slatington. Berlin bought the property in September 1891 for $3,860 (Berlin had been the assignee of the estate of Jones.) and lived there until his death in 1924.

D. D. Jones

D. D. Jones / A. P. Berlin estate

On his death in April 1924, Berlin left an impressive estate with the real estate valued at $100,000 (1.7 million in 2023 dollars) and the personal property at $250,000 (4.3 million in 2023 dollars). The will provided that 1/10 of the estate should be given to charity with the remainder divided between his wife and eight surviving children. His wife retained possession of the home during her lifetime. In July 1924 the public sale of some of the real estate holdings began, and the auction gave some idea of the scope of his holdings: the post office building on Main Street, the row of six houses on East Church St. known as Marshall’s or Berlin’s row, vacant lots in the vicinity of First St.; a block of three frame dwelling houses on First St., a farm in Carbon County, buildings in Lehighton, PA, etc.

Allen Peter Berlin and his wife Abbie née Gardiner were buried in Union Cemetery, Slatington.