The H. C. Jones Company
The Schuylkill River used to be lined with mills, many of them textile mills. I’ve written about a few of them over years, but this week, I’d like to take a look at the H. C. Jones Company of Conshohocken.
Horace C. Jones was a native of Conshohocken and attended its public schools, graduating from Conshohocken High School in 1857. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for one year before going into the family lumber business, Evan D. Jones and Company. He founded H. C. Jones and Company in 1880 with a partner, Stanley Lees, purchasing the former Whitton Cotton and Woolen Mills. In 1899, the company moved to a different mill located at the corner of Washington and Ash Streets. Lees had retired and company’s name became the H. C. Jones Company, while the mill was known as the Schuylkill Valley Woolen Mills.
Jones’ write up in Henry Wilson Ruoff’s Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania says the company manufactured “high grade cotton and woolen goods,” but at least one customer wasn’t pleased.
In 1911, Max Goodman and Company ordered 47 pieces of cotton warp worsted filling fabric in two different styles. The fabric was cut to make men’s and children’s suits which were sent out to retailers across the country, and soon sent back. The seams would not hold. Goodman and Company refused to pay for the cloth.
Samples of the fabric in question
The case was determined by arbitration. The arbitrators kind of split the difference between the two companies, not because the fabric wasn’t too slippery to hold the thread, they determined that it was, but because it was up to the clothier to test the fabric first. In other words, “Caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware. Goodman was ordered to pay all money owed with interest, while Jones was ordered to pay $1000 in restitution.
The weaving drafts for the two styles (in case you'd like to try it home!)
An interesting letter follows the arbitrators’ decision in the file of documents, however. It was written by Charles Porter, Jr. of Chas. Porter & Son Park Mills, who served as arbitrator on behalf of the H. C. Jones Company. He writes:
Later he writes, “ I sincerely trust that the decision of the arbitrators will meet with your approval, as I can frankly say that you are getting out of the rather serious matter at a very reasonable figure.”
The H. C. Jones Company continued for several decades. Jones himself lived to be 83, dying in August of 1940. His home, once known as “The Terrace” is now Ciavarelli Funeral Home on Fayette Street.
In the nineteenth century the Montgomery county towns along the Schuylkill were busy industrial centers. These mills provided good jobs for many, but they also meant that Montgomery County had its share of industrial accidents.
On February 3, 1873, at about a quarter past four in the afternoon, a boiler at the John Wood & Bros. foundry and rolling mill exploded, killing a total of fourteen people, including 2 boys who were working at the Albion Printworks, across the canal 150 feet away from the boiler’s original position.
An engineer named W. Barnet Le Van wrote up an explanation of the event for the Journal of the Franklin Institute in 1873. He explains that the boys were working in the kier (a vat in which cloth is bleached). The friction of the 5,500 pound boiler hitting the kier caused the cloth inside to ignite.
The county convened a jury to investigate the accident and determined that the explosion was caused by the age of the boiler (it had been in operation for 20 years). Le Van argued that the flues were too small for the amount of pressure the boiler was running, 85 pounds per inch. He also argues that in inexpensive hydraulic test would prevent future accidents.
Records of the incident were donated to the Historical Society of Montgomery County by William A. Cooper in 1950. These records include medical bills for the injured and funeral bills for the dead.
Bill for room and board for one of the injured men.
Doctor's bill from the accident.
Funeral bill labeled "McNulty," presumably for James McNulty, one of the boys killed.
Long time residents of the county will of course remember another explostion in the area, the 1971 gas explosion that happened in West Conshohocken on the night of January 27. That explosion happened on a residential street, and 15 homes were destroyed by the explosion and the resulting fire. Four people died in the tragedy. Volunteer fire fighter Joseph W. Powers was struck by debris. He was only 19 years old when he died.
Two children, Michelle Pruitt (7) and Michael Pruitt (14) were originally declared missing. Police searched block by block with a public address system, but by the next day both their bodies had been recovered. Their grandfather, Calbert Rupp died as a result of the wounds he received in the fire.
We don't have any primary sources for the 1971 explosion; it's probably too recent history for people to think of donating it to us. Do you remember that night?
One of Conshohocken’s landmarks is the Matsonsford Bridge, seen in its 1872 iteration in the photo below.
This was not the first bridge over the Schuylkill River at Matsonsford (or Matson’s Ford). Peter Matson built a ford of stones and planks across the river near his farm in the 18th Century. A couple of decades later, Washington’s pickets, under General James Potter, exchanged gunfire with British troops out of Philadelphia foraging for food. A small skirmish resulted. Meanwhile, American troops under General John Sullivan had built a rough sort of bridge so the men could cross the cold river (it was December 11, 1777). Unfortunately, the battle was not an American victory. When scouts reported that the American militia had retreated chaotically, Sullivan pulled the troops back and destroyed the makeshift bridge. The Continentals moved a few miles upriver to cross at Swede’s Ford, while the British left the area to continue foraging.
A covered bridge was built by the Matsonford Bridge Company in 1833, but I don’t have a picture of that. It fell into disrepair after a few decades and was replaced by the steel bridge at the top of the article in 1872.
By the 1920’s, traffic over the bridge had changed from horses and carts to automobiles and a new, more modern bridge was needed. The new Matsonsford Bridge opened in 1921. With its dramatic arches, the bridge had a graceful and memorable look.
But the speed and volume of 20th century traffic proved too much for the bridge and it was again rebuilt in 1987. I guess we’ll see how long it lasts.
Coll, Jack, Remembering Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
McGuire, Thomas, J. The Philadelphia Campaign, volume II Germantown and Roads to Valley Forge, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa., 2006
Last month we got a call from a woman in Virginia who asked if we were interested in some material regarding “The Pines,” a summer vacation home for poor children that was located in Conshohocken. No one here was familiar with the place, so we eagerly said, “Yes!”
A letter from a mother to Mrs. Chilton.
According to a 1958 annual report included with the materials, The Pines was founded in 1890. Ann Powers, the donor, says it was founded either by or in honor of Alan Wood, Jr., of Alan Wood Steel. Run by a board of directors (which in 1958 includes several Woods and Corsons), the home worked with settlement houses in Philadelphia to give summer vacations to poor families. Mothers and their children would be invited up for a week in the country.
Ann’s mother, Gladys Bowen, later Gladys Chilton, originally worked at The Pines in the late 1920’s. She was studying education at Temple and spent a couple of summers with the children at The Pines. Later, in 1943, she returned to help manage the vacation home.
The form letter that invited mothers to The Pines.
The collection includes photographs, letters, a guestbook, and one annual report for the The Pines.
Ann remembers some of the details of those war years:
“The Pines buildings were a farmhouse, all made into bedrooms, right up against Ridge Pike, and a large masonry barn of four stories. The above –ground basement had a recreation room and pantry with an ice chest. An iceman delivered the large blocks of ice every week. Mr. Forgarty of Forgarty’s Grocery Store in Conshohocken delivered groceries once a week. Wartime rationing limited coffee, meat, and butter so we go our fill of tea, apple butter, vegetables, and pasta.”
Mrs. Powers parents moved down to Virginia in the 1960's, and she doesn't know when the vacation home closed. Do you have memories of The Pines? Photographs and a guest book from the home will be on display at the Historical Society headquarters.