Witch’s Hat Pavilion: A Century-Old Stop Along a Scenic Mountain Trail

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Mike Hoff / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Photo Credit: Mike Hoff / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Located on Neversink Mountain, overlooking Reading, Pennsylvania, is a unique spot that has been around for over a century. Known as the Witch’s Hat Pavilion, due to its appearance, it’s one of the only reminders of what was once a popular vacation spot for the area’s wealthy.

Neversink Mountain was home to luxury hotels

Wooden bridge running across a small creek in the forest
Photo Credit: Ben Hasty / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle / Getty Images

Beginning in the mid-to-late 1800s, Pennsylvania‘s Neversink Mountain was one of the most exclusive vacation spots on the East Coast of the United States. Home to five luxury hotels – the Highland House, the Neversink Mountain Hotel, the Centennial Springs Hotel, the Klapperthal Pavilion and the Glen Hotel – it welcomed wealthy visitors from New York and Philadelphia.

Construction on the Neversink Mountain Hotel began in 1891, and it opened to the public the following year. Sitting on the mountain’s highest point, the five-story hotel was built entirely from timber and modeled after the exquisite summer lodges on Long Island. It and the other hotels on the peak were connected by the eight-mile-long Neversink Mountain Railroad, which ran from 1890-1917.

In September 1905, a fire completely destroyed the Neversink Mountain Hotel. Starting in the basement, the entire building was completely engulfed in flames in just 10 minutes. Rumors spread of three people seen walking from the hotel, toward the woods, led to speculation the blaze was the result of arson.

Decline of Neversink Mountain’s hotels

Witch's Hat Pavilion in broad daylight
Photo Credit: Mim / Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

A primary reason the hotels making up Neversink Mountain’s tourist industry failed had to do with both a lack of financial success and the advent of the automobile age. With more access to cars, people were able to travel longer distances and visit locations that were previously out of reach.

The Neversink Mountain Railroad closed down in September 1917. While plans were made to reopen it the following year, this never occurred, due to America’s involvement in the First World War. Similarly, by the time the conflict ended, the need for such transportation had diminished, replaced by automobiles.

Ten years prior, the Centennial Springs Hotel was purchased by a reverend and donated to the Berks County Tuberculosis Association for use as a tuberculosis sanitarium. It was used for around 25 years, at which time the need for such medical facilities had diminished, due to a decrease in the number of tuberculosis cases across the region.

Witch’s Hat Pavilion: A century-old reminder

Cyclist standing in the Witch's Hat Pavilion
Photo Credit: alex_cuse / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Today, one of the only remaining structures dating back to Neversink Mountain’s heyday is the Witch’s Hat Pavilion. More than a century old, the structure was built in honor of William McIlvain, who was known to hike in the area and talk with both visitors and local residents.

The pavilion sits on a 4.3-kilometer out-and-back trail, which is very popular with hikers, runners and mountain bikers. Taking on average around one hour and 16 minutes to traverse, it’s one of the most – if not the most – popular trails in the Reading area.

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On clear days, hikers visiting the Witch’s Hat Pavilion are treated to spectacular views of the area below, a reminder of why Neversink Mountain was once a tourist hotspot. While the structure is known for being a victim of graffiti vandals, local residents have taken it upon themselves to remove the marks whenever they appear.