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Full text of "Founders of Scranton"

LACKAWANNA INSTITUTE 



HISTORY AND SCIENCE 



THE FOUNDERS OF 
SCRANTON 



By E. MERRIFIELD 



HISTORICAL SERIES NO. 5 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/foundersofscrantOOmerr 



THE FOUNDERS OF SCRANTON 

By E. MERRIFIELD 
Read before the Institute January 20, iyi6. 

In 1742 when Count Zinzendorf, a Moravian Missionary 
came to the Wyoming region, there was an Indian village 
situate on the lowlands between the Central City and Provi- 
dence. This is the first evidence we have of human habita- 
tions in the territory embraced in the City of Scranton. 
They belonged to the tribe of Munseys, of which Capoose 
later became the chief. Every indication of the settlement 
was long since obliterated, except traces of their burial 
places nearby and the old apple tree where they held their 
councils. This decayed and was blown down in 1885. 

The City of Scranton occupies the territory of Provi- 
dence Township, excepting the part taken up by the Borough 
of Dunmore. Providence was one of the six townships 
established in 1770 by the Susquehanna Land Company, 
chartered by the colony of Connecticut. There was a con- 
flict between this colony and Pennsylvania as to jurisdic- 
tion, about which it is unnecessary now to inquire. Suffice 
it to say, Providence was the first municipal organization in 
this territory. Towards the northerly section, Isaac Tripp 
came in 1771 and built a house on the flats where had been 
the Indian village. In 1786, Enoch Holmes came and built 
the first house on land which subsequently came to be the 
village of Providence. This was incorporated into a borough 
in 1849, the second municipality within the old township 
limits. In 1794-5 William Bishop and Joseph Eellows, re- 
spectively, in the order named, settled in the westerly sec- 
tion of the township, which subsequently became Hyde 
Park. They were, in fact, founders of this village. It was 
incorporated into a borough in 1852, being the third 
municipal organization within the township. 



In 1788, Philip Abbott took up land and made improve- 
ments on Roaring Brook in the southeasterly section. He 
disposed of his interest to John and Seth Howe who, in 
turn, sold to Ebenezer Slocum in 1798, who was soon after 
joined by his brother, Benjamin Slocum. This locality was 
from the beginning favorably looked upon for manufactur- 
ing purposes. Former owners had erected a sawmill and 
grist mill and the Slocums added an iron manufactory and 
a distillery, so it will be noted that they were the first to 
make iron in this locality. In 1826, Ebenezer purchased the 
interest of his brother and carried on the business alone. 
He died in 1832, leaving about 1,800 acres of land, which 
embraces the greater part of the Central City of Scranton. 
There was no village, only four or five residences and the 
mills. The property was partitioned into four parts to be 
sold for the benefit of the heirs. One of these parts contain- 
ing about 504 acres, running from the river to the town line 
and taking in the most densely improved part of the present 
city, came into the possession of Alva Heermans, a son-in- 
law of Ebenezer Slocum. He was holding it for sale, and 
in 1838 William Merrifield, William Ricketson and Zeno 
Albro became the purchasers. Recognizing that its prin- 
cipal value was the anthracite coal, which showed on the 
banks of the creek, and the evident water-power, hence its 
great advantages as a manufacturing locality, at once began 
efforts to find a purchaser of means who would improve 
the same and utilize the property. After nearly two years 
of effort, through correspondence and otherwise, they came 
in contact with William Henry. He came and made exten- 
sive examinations, which finally led to an option sale to 
William Armstrong, a capitalist residing near New York. 
He had accepted a draft of $500, drawn by Mr. Henry, to 
bind the agreement. A day was fixed for him to come and 
complete the purchase and a deed was prepared for the 
transfer. His country home was on the Hudson, near 
Newburg. On his way to the boat landing his horse was 



frightened and ran away. He was thrown out and killed. 
His heirs were unwilling to complete the purchase and 
forfeited the $500. 

Mr. Henry at once got in communication with the 
grantors, asking whether they would allow the $500 to 
apply in case he could find another purchaser. This was 
assented to and Henry went to Seldon T. Scranton, his 
son-in-law, and his brother, George W. Scranton, who in 
turn induced Sanford Grant to join them in the enterprise 
and they came on and completed the purchase. The deed 
that had been executed for Armstrong is in my possession. 
It was the intention of Mr. Armstrong to establish a large 
manufacturing plant with anthracite coal as the fuel. If 
he had lived and succeeded this place would not have been 
known as Scranton. It shows how quickly the proposals 
of men and the destiny of localities may be changed by the 
interposition of Providence. 

Well do I recollect the warm August day when George 
W. Scranton, Seldon T. Scranton and Sanford Grant came 
to my father's place in Hyde Park to take the deed. George 
W. was the principal spokesman. Everything went smoothly 
until the married women objected to signing without the 
promise of a dress pattern. It was a Pennsylvania custom 
and these Jerseymen did not seem to understand the force 
of it. Parleying at once ceased, however, when George W. 
said it would be done even if at his own expense. They 
immediately organized a company under the name of Scran- 
tons & Grant and commenced operations. They began the 
erection of the blast furnace in September, 1840, with Wil- 
liam Henry as superintendent. In about three months Philip 
H. Mattes purchased an interest and the firm was reorgan- 
ized as Scrantons, Grant & Co. Mattes did not come to 
reside here but sent his son, Charles F., to represent him. 
who in later years became a potent factor in the success of 
the business. 

During the incipiency of the undertaking William 



Henry came to Hyde Park to live and was locally in charge, 
George W. and Seldon T. Scranton going back and forth 
to and from their homes in New Jersey as circumstances 
might require. The place began to assume the dimensions 
of a village and Mr. Henry gave it the name of Harrison 
in honor of the president-elect. In the fall of 1841 George 
W. Scranton came to reside in Harrison, assuming the 
management of the business of the firm. Here he remained 
until March, 1844, when he exchanged places with his 
brother Selden and went back to Oxford Furnace. He 
returned to reside in Harrison in the early part of 1846, 
but all the time he had kept in close touch with the busi- 
ness of Scrantons, Grant & Co. It was in November of this 
year that Joseph H. Scranton, a cousin of George and 
Selden, came permanently upon the scene and with his 
brother-in-law, Joseph C. Piatt, purchased the interest of 
Sanford Grant. The new firm was organized as Scrantons 
& Piatt. Joseph came to reside at Harrison in 1847 and 
was made general manager of the business. 

A postoffice was established in 1850 under the name 
of Scrantonia and on January 27, 1851, the name was 
changed to Scranton. On the 14th of February, 1856, the 
Borough of Scranton was incorporated, so at that time there 
were four municipal organizations in the old town of Provi- 
dence — Hyde Park embracing the southwestern section, 
Providence taking in the northwestern, Scranton the south- 
eastern and the balance remaining under the township or- 
ganization. 

1840, the time when Scrantons & Grant began opera- 
tions for the manufacture of iron, dates the beginning of 
the prosperity of this section. At that time the township 
contained a population of about six hundred and fifty. 
There were four shoemakers, three blacksmiths, three 
wagonmakers, one cooper shop, one axe factory, one grain 
cradle, two cabinet factories, one fulling mill, one gunmak- 
ing and repair shop, one for wood turning, two for tailoring. 



four sawmills, three grist mills, one tanning and currying 
establishment. Coal for domestic use was mined and sold 
by William Merrifield, the Tripps and Von Storchs. There 
were six general merchandise stores and two millinery shops, 
five licensed hotels, six schoolhouses, a Providence Union 
Library and one church edifice ; religious meetings mostly 
being held in the school houses. 

The company began manufacturing iron in 1841. After 
five years of varying success and misfortunes it became 
apparent that there must be some more feasible way estab- 
lished of getting to market and to this purpose George W. 
Scranton directed his efforts. Joseph H. had relieved him 
of the burden connected with the manufacturing end and 
he went at the work with all of his energy and tact. Various 
schemes were considered. At one time there was con- 
siderable agitation about slackwatering the Lackawanna. 
But the two gaps in the mountains, the one east and the other 
west, were natural outlets for a railroad and to this purpose 
every effort was directed. There were already separate 
charters in existence. To get control of them and to get 
legislation necessary to subserve the interest of this section 
was a herculean task. That accomplished, then how to get 
the money was an obstacle still more difficult. Joseph H. 
Scranton had established the manufacturing enterprise on 
a firm basis, with a credit unimpeachable, and these two giant 
men went into the New York money market only to come 
out with success. The result was the building of the 
northern division of the Lackawanna and Western Railroad 
from Scranton, connecting with the New York and Erie at 
Great Bend. George W. Scranton was made general man- 
ager, at all times having the active aid of Scrantons & Piatt. 
The road was opened for traffic on October 20, 1851. This 
was the second important enterprise that gave an impetus 
to the growth and population of this section. The third 
was the building of the southern division to reach New- 
York. An organization had been effected on the 26th of 



6 

December, 1850, with George W. Scranton as president. 
Among the directors were Selden T. Scranton, Joseph H. 
Scranton and Joseph C. Piatt. The name of the road was 
changed to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Rail- 
road and on the 27th of May, 1856; it was formally opened 
and connection was made with the New Jersey Central for 
New York. 

With these improvements the population of Scranton 
Borough increased rapidly as well as that of Hyde Park 
and Providence. The foundation of a populous city was 
assured — all this under the controlling management of the 
men I have referred to. In 1866, through the efforts of 
prominent citizens, the three boroughs and the balance of 
the township were consolidated, and the City of Scranton 
incorporated, with a provision establishing a mayor's court 
with jurisdiction measurably coextensive with the county 
courts. This had much to do with giving the town a perman- 
ence which it had not heretofore enjoyed. The crowning 
act, however, was the establishment of Lackawanna County 
in 1878, and making Scranton the county seat. This set- 
tled the future of Scranton and the population thereafter 
went forward with leaps and bounds. 

We now come to the inquiry as to who were the found- 
ers of Scranton and in considering it we must, in a measure, 
base conclusions as to how we find the word defined. If 
it means to originate, to establish, in that light we must 
accord to William Henry his proper place. He came at 
first and devoted much time in studying the general topo- 
graphy of the country, in making mineralogical investiga- 
tions, and we have seen what trouble he had in securing a 
purchaser for the property. It has been mentioned to me 
that credit is due to William Merrifield. That is not for 
me to claim or suggest. It is true that he became a pur- 
chaser of the property for the sole purpose of trying to 
induce men of means to come and invest with the view of 
starting improvements and did succeed after nearly two 



years of effort in getting in touch with William Henry. He 
was very active in trying to secure slackwater navigation 
on the Lackawanna. While a member of the legislature, 
and afterward, he was indefatigable in his efforts to assist 
the Scranton Company in obtaining legislation necessary for 
its success. In the early forties when their credit was at 
the lowest ebb he did what he could to sustain it. He was 
among the first to lay out his lands into building lots and 
in all movements looking to local improvements he was a 
potent advocate. It is for others to suggest his place. 

It was George W. Scranton, Selden T. Scranton and 
Sanford Grant who climbed over that great Pocono moun- 
tain, came into the wilderness, paid their money and devoted 
their time towards the development of a great manufactur- 
ing industry, to whom special credit is due. In a very short 
time Philip H. Mattes, of Easton, put in his money and sent 
his son, Charles F., to represent him, who through all the 
years of the activity of the Scranton Company was its active 
and zealous assistant. He, too, is entitled to honorable 
mention. 

The onerous duties thrown upon George W. Scranton, 
by giving attention to the concern at Oxford Furnace and 
here at the same time, were wearing upon him and he began 
to look about for more help. He went to his cousin, Joseph 
H. Scranton, then residing in the south, and appealed to 
him to come to his aid. After much persuasion Joseph con- 
sented and in 1846 allied himself with the Scranton Com- 
pany. The next year he came to reside and assumed all 
the duties incident to the management of the iron manu- 
factory. His brother-in-law, Joseph C. Piatt, was already on 
the ground. The company was reorganized and no more 
fortunate thing could have occurred, not only to the parties 
directly interested, but to the whole community. The advent 
of two such men as Joseph H. Scranton and Joseph C. Piatt 
was of such importance that it infused new life into all 
their transactions and was so potent in stimulating the 



8 

growth of the town as to put them in the category of 
founders of the place which soon began to grow into a 
city. It too relieved George W. Scranton so that he could 
give necessary attention to outside matters which were 
crowding upon them, the proper disposition of which was 
becoming imperative considering the welfare of the con- 
cern and the community. 

Before and when I came to manhood I knew all these 
men. With William Henry I was particularly acquainted, 
and often talked with him ; how he had tramped these moun- 
tains in search of minerals, of the difficulties with which he 
had to contend, his successes and disappointments. He was 
an accomplished mineralogist, but his knowledge of the 
manufacture of iron by the use of anthracite was rather 
theoretical than practical. He was a man of fine presence, 
affable and considerate in his dealings with men. He well 
deserves the distinction of being an important agent in the 
establishment of this city. Selden T. Scranton was his son- 
in-law and that is perhaps the reason why Mr. Henry got 
the ear of the Scrantons after failing to complete the sale 
to Armstrong. 

Selden had not the affability of his brother George, 
nor had he the benevolent temperament. He had a wonder- 
ful faculty for bridging over troubles by getting the com- 
pany into debt and that had much to do with the final suc- 
cess of the concern. The company became largely involved 
with several rich New York merchants and George W. 
with his great persuasive powers would go down and get 
them to take their pay in stock of the company. Selden 
was full of resources and many were the stories told sug- 
gesting the fertility of his brain in getting out of a dilemma — 
how he met the allegation of the brittle quality of their nails 
by becoming an expert and driving them into an oak plank- 
without a miss — how he could meet creditors who came for 
the return of borrowed money, who would not only leave 
without it, but would actually open their pocketbooks and 



hand out more. That such a man was invaluable in the 
concern goes without saying. He had great business 
capacity and was an exemplary citizen. It is well that he 
is one of the parties from whom our city takes its name. 
When prominent men of the village got together to dis- 
cuss the question of changing the name from Harrison, and 
Scranton was suggested, there was not a dissenting voice. 
The three Scrantons, George W., Joseph H. and Selden T., 
had been at the front through success and adversity, they 
assumed the responsibilities, to them the honor of the name 
belonged, and they got it. 

Sanford Grant, who left a comfortable home in New 
Jersey and came to S locum Hollow to live, placing his 
money in the enterprise, deserves great credit for making 
the sacrifices incident to such a move. He took charge of 
the mercantile department and right well he performed his 
duties. He was a very careful man — a man of good com- 
mon sense, and no doubt was in constant consultation in the 
business transactions of the company. 

I have heretofore noted that Joseph C. Piatt came about 
the same time with Joseph H. Scranton. Here was a man 
of extraordinary business qualifications ; particularly was he 
safe as a counselor. Quiet and unobtrusive, he brought into 
their consultations a profound judgment that carried weight, 
and to him is due much of the success that from that time 
attended their efforts. He it was who superintended the 
plotting of the real estate into lots and had charge of the 
disposition of them. That it was well done and with an 
eye to the future is now, after having grown to a large city, 
quite apparent. On a few occasions I met him with others 
in consultation about matters of public utility and could 
not but admire the intelligent views expressed and the 
potency of the reasons advanced. He was a man of integrity, 
who knew how to treat his neighbor justly, and did it. He 
was a good man in all that the word implies. His attention 
to civic duties, his moral deportment and his benevolent 



10 

impulses made him loved and honored. That such a man 
helped to complete the foundation of our city is a matter 
of pride. 

George W. Scranton, whom we have seen had been 
so intimately connected with all the operations and move- 
ments concerning this industry and the building of the rail- 
roads, was a remarkable man — large and fine looking, with 
a benevolent countenance, he attracted attention wherever 
he went. He was a man whom, if a stranger passed on 
the street, would more than likely turn around and wonder 
who he was. But it was his genial ways, his dignified 
deportment, yet always approachable, that attracted most 
attention. He drew men to him as with a magnet. His 
business ability was good and his intellectuality of the first 
order. He was not a great moneymaker, but in the field 
of finance, in the comprehension of great undertakings, he 
had no superior. Thus it was, that after he came to have 
the strong arm of his cousin, Joseph, to lean upon, he could 
and did go out into the business world and become a potent 
factor in the building of these railroads. It was the pos- 
session of great ability that attracted the attention of the 
people. When they saw the necessity of changes in our 
economic laws that manufacturing interests might properly 
be protected, they turned to him and sent him to Congress. 
He was industrious and an incessant worker — too much so, 
as the sequel proved. For fifteen years he and his cousin 
Joseph worked harmoniously for the good of the firm and 
this community. They had implicit confidence in each other, 
born of intimate association and affection. The congres- 
sional duties thrust upon George added much to his labors 
and his health gave way. It obliged him to come home and 
seek needed rest. It was too late. On the 24th of March, 
1861, at the age of fifty years, he peacefully passed to his 
eternal rest. It cast a gloom over the county and state. A 
great man had fallen in the midst of his most urgent use- 
fulness. Eulogiums and panegyrics came from the press 



11 

of the town and county, the state and the seat of the National 
Government. Our community was stricken — grief was 
depicted on every countenance. When it came to escorting 
him to his last resting place the procession was immense. 
It was made up of five divisions, represented by different 
organizations, and the representative men of all this section. 

Rev. M. J. Hickok preached the funeral sermon. 
Among other things he said: "I do no injustice to the 
living or dead when I affirm of Colonel Scranton that this 
young city — the giant of the woods — these roaring furnaces, 
shrieking engines, busy collieries and outflowing wealth are 
all his appropriate monuments." 

The leading paper of this place concluded its editorial 
thus : "Patient worker, public-spirited citizen, generous 
friend, affectionate husband, beloved father, farewell. We 
shall miss thee evermore among the haunts of the living, but 
shall hold thy memory precious among the honored dead." 

The Philadelphia Press concluded an editorial saying: 
"'He was in truth a model man — generous, magnanimous 
and self-sacrificing. * * * If the district he represented 
has lost a benefactor, the great state to which he was an 
ornament has lost a defender." 

At a meeting held in Philadelphia, Senator Ketcham 
said : "He found the region in which he settled a wilderness, 
but his mind soon mapped out its field of work, and under 
his creative energies and active influence the forest passed 
away, the railroad track was laid over mountain and through 
gorge, and the light of civilization and human progress 
beamed upon our land and blessed it. Scranton sprang into 
existence. * * * Vice fled from his presence and a 
mean man could not be mean where he was, for the hand and 
nobility of his soul radiated and warmed other men's hearts. 
He was great in his conceptions, in his creative energies 
and in his executive power." There were other addresses 
equally laudatory, but these quotations will suffice. 

Allowing that George W. Scranton laid the foundation 



12; 

stone, so it may be truthfully said that Joseph H. Scranton 
laid the corner stone of the superstructure on which our city 
was built. He came when needed most. He was a man of 
intense energy, of fruitful resources and of wonderful busi- 
ness capacity. He looked into a proposition — studied it with 
assiduity, acted quickly and with power. His physique was 
in his favor and with a large brain with plenty of gray mat- 
ter, he entered into an enterprise with an indomitable will 
that knew no such word as fail. He came at the opportune 
time, when clouds were hanging over. He acquainted him- 
self with the possibilities and went to work. In due time 
enlarged furnaces appeared with their lurid flames shooting 
skyward, lighting up the heavens and sending cheer and 
hope to the down-hearted. Joseph H. Scranton was a 
broad-gauged and liberal-minded man. He had wonderful 
command over men. He liked a joke and could perpetrate 
one, thus becoming a very genial associate. He was in- 
dustrious, a hard and unceasing worker. When the men 
under him were clamoring for eight hours a day he was 
working fourteen hours to keep them busy. The amount of 
work he could accomplish in a given time was simply amaz- 
ing. He worked too hard and thus undermined his health. 
With the view of rest and restoration he went to Europe 
in 1872. He had waited too long. He died at Baden Baden 
on the 6th of June of that year, in his fifty-ninth year, at 
the very zenith of his intellectual power and usefulness. 
When the news came flashing over the ocean it cast a pall 
over this community. Business was mostly suspended and 
men went about with bowed heads and tearful eyes. It 
seemed like an irreparable blow. A short quotation from 
the memorial sermon of Doctor Cattell tells the sad story. 

"He was a man whose success in all the things that 
men most desire and for which they strive and toil was 
conspicuous. I need not dwell upon the events of his busy 
life. The honorable record is known to all. Scarcely had 
the ocean cable throbbed with the sad message of his death, 



13 

k 

when the public press hastened to pay well-deserved tributes 
to his memory, and today this entire city — hushed in all 
its busy activities — no less by the spontaneous impulses of 
the citizens than by the proclamation of the mayor — this 
silent city is filled with the thronging multitudes that follow 
him to the grave ; and men speak to each other of the purity 
of his private life, on which there is no stain ; of his integrity, 
that knew no dishonor ; of the public spirit and enterprise 
that placed him in the front rank of all the great movements 
which have given to this region its unprecedented prosperity ; 
of the rare business sagacity and executive ability which 
amassed a fortune ; of all these things do men speak today, 
and by the great loss which has fallen upon the whole city 
in the death of such a man, while they are not unmindful 
of that more sacred sorrow which mourns a devoted husband 
and father and brother." 

I have been speaking of the founders of this city. They 
came here to establish a business and necessarily to make it 
their home. They were public-spirited men and took pride 
in surrounding themselves with all accessories necessary to 
convenience and safety. How well they builded is shown 
upon every side. It would be an invidious distinction to 
attempt to say who did the most in this great work. They 
worked together harmoniously, with but one end in view, 
and that the good of the whole. To no one man is due 
more credit than to Joseph H. Scranton for his labor 
and foresight resulting in a city with its hundred spires 
pointing heavenward, its great school houses, its immense 
business blocks and elegant homes. Let us be thankful that 
he lived and devoted the best years of his life to the estab- 
lishment of the city which bears the name of himself and 
kinsmen. 

I will not let this opportunity pass without alluding 
to the son who has been a helpmate through many of the 
struggling years of this great enterprise. From boyhood 
he plodded and worked for the success of the Lackawanna 



14 

Iron and Coal Company. Whenever trouble came and 
the integrity of the city was threatened, he stood manfully 
forth as its defender. William W. Scranton, manifestly our 
first citizen, looking 1 forward with a prophetic eye for the 
wants of a great cityful, stepped forward and gave his talents 
toward the establishment of a water system that stands 
without a peer, and for all time the people are protected 
against the elements of nature. Those lakes dotted over 
the eastern hills — gems of the mountains — not only repre- 
sent utility, but add beauty to the scene. I will speak of 
the one rightly named Lake Scranton. God had made a 
natural basin there, and Scranton's artistic eye saw the 
possibility. The result was one of the most beautiful sheets 
of water the eye needs to rest upon. On one side the native 
forest comes to the water's edge. On the other huge ledges 
of rock add grandeur to the scene. Not satisfied with this 
work for utility, he wanted the people to enjoy its beauties, 
and he builds a permanent roadway that affords a drive 
and walk of unparelleled beauty. Not only that, he made 
practicable the reaching of two mountain peaks that dis- 
play magnificent views ; where the tired and weary towns- 
man may go and feast his eyes on nature's entrancing land- 
scapes and find rest, recreation and health. These generous 
acts of Mr. Scranton should be fully appreciated. He 
gratuitously expended tens of thousands of dollars that the 
people might be made happy. It adds prosperity and renown 
to the city, and I am glad to give testimony to the worth of 
these philanthropic acts. I am here to speak a just modicum 
of praise. In honoring him we are honoring ourselves. 
May gentle zephyrs fan the evening of his life. He has 
won the gratitude of our people.