Jacob B. Crowell
Construction worker, bricklayer, industrialist, businessman.
Jacob B. Crowell was a school teacher, construction worker, bricklayer, industrialist, and businessman. He was born in Franklin Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania in March 1817. Crowell came to Greencastle in 1836 to work as a bricklayer and to work other jobs in the building trade, which he did for about 10 years. In addition to these jobs, Crowell also taught for one or more terms between 1845 and 1850 at the limestone, one-room Brown’s Mill schoolhouse, which was built in 1836. Each day, Crowell walked the round trip from Greencastle to teach the children in that part of Antrim Township.
In 1845, Greencastle’s first factory, a foundry business, was built by George Bradley and Edward Chappel. It was located in the area where the former Leiter’s Hardware and Implement business was located at the southwest corner of South Carlisle and West Franklin Streets. This hill was called “Foundry Hill” and is still known as that today. The pig iron for molding was most likely acquired from any of the many iron furnaces in the county.
Until this time, Greencastle’s economy was dependent upon skilled, individual craftsmen. In circa 1830, the town had a cooper, a silversmith, a coffee mill maker, a potter, a distiller, a pan maker, a whitesmith, several carpenters, two weavers, two chair makers, five tailors and three cabinet makers (who were also undertakers), three shoemakers, two hatters, and two saddlers.
The establishment, in Greencastle, of this first factory in the middle of the 19th century was indicative of what was occurring across the nation at that time - the beginning of industrialization.
In 1850, Crowell bought out Chappel’s interest in the business. The company made plows, stoves, farm bells, and custom made castings for equipment used on local area farms. The firm became known as Bradley and Crowell.
A third partner, Franklin Keller, was added in 1857. Because of his interest in farm equipment, the production of grain drills and hay rakes, which were both horse drawn, were added to the production line. The factory employed about 10 to 20 laborers.
A fire destroyed the buildings on “Foundry Hill” in 1861 and temporary structures were built to house the business. Also in 1861, Crowell bought out the interests of both Bradley and Keller and moved the factory to South Cedar Lane, next to the area’s first steam powered sawmill that was owned by Rev. Edwin Emerson, Gen. David Detrich and William H. Davison. These three men of Greencastle were on the cutting edge of the new technology for that era, and weren’t afraid to take the chance of investing in it. Established in 1860, the saw mill made lumber for doors, door sashes and other construction needs. From this time forward, neither factories nor mills would need to rely on water power to run their machinery. Until the introduction of steam power, all the grist and lumber mills had to be located nearby a water source, most of which were located in the township.
Both the foundry and the steam-powered sawmill in Greencastle changed the economic demographics of Greencastle. Even in the beginning, with only 10-20 employees, each business could out produce any of the skilled town’s craftsmen. Of course, the industries established in other towns in Franklin County and beyond also had a detrimental effect on the local skilled craftsmen. Everyday family needs such as, furniture, hardware, clothing, hats, shoes, stoves and many more items were being brought into town, and were being sold at lower prices than the costs being charged by the craftsmen. In addition to general stores, which still prospered, specialty stores started to open in town in which mass-produced items were sold. The local artisans could not compete with mass production.
By the time Crowell moved his business, Emerson and Detrich had been bought out by James C. Austin. Then Crowell, in 1862, bought out Austin and the company became known as Crowell and Davison.
During the early years of the Civil War the demand for labor saving farm equipment increased greatly. More workers were hired at Crowell and Davison and the number of grain drills and hay rakes made was the highest in the company’s history. Improvements were made to the grain drill such as, a fertilizer spreader attachment. The company still made corn shellers, rakes, plows, bells and stoves. The saw mill also prospered in supplying construction materials – lumber, prefabricated doors, frames, and sashes. Crowell and Davison Company was the area’s main building contractor.
In 1870, Crowell & Davison dissolved their partnership and Jacob Deardorff and Crowell both purchased Davison’s half interest. In 1874, a nephew, Joseph E. Crowell, bought out Jacob Deardorff’s quarter interest in the J. B. Crowell & Co., the name under which it had been known since 1870.
For a second time, fire destroyed almost all of the company’s buildings in 1875, which were constructed of wood. The buildings included the foundry, the saw mill, and the office and storage buildings. Rebuilding began right away while the company worked under temporary housing.
By 1890 Crowell owned the controlling interest in the company and it became known as the Crowell Manufacturing Company.
A Crowell ledger
Christian Hoover’s brick yard was across the street (on the northeast corner of South Washington Street and Leitersburg Road) and this time all of the buildings would be constructed of brick. The first industrial complex in Greencastle was built on a two-acre lot, with South Cedar Lane and Leitersburg Road on the west and south and South Washington Street on the east. A copula, housing a brass bell cast in the foundry, topped a three-story main building. This bell likely rang morning and evening, signaling the beginning and ending of each workday. A bell made by “Bradley and Crowell Bell Founders” between 1850 and 1857 was donated to the museum by Peter and Frances Lucchino and is on display in the museum’s dining room. The sawmill building was on the northern end of the lot; machine shops ran the length of the property along Washington Street; a two-storied building next to the main building extended out to Leitersburg Street. The lumber products were stored in the center of the complex. By housing the foundry and boiler in separate buildings the danger of fire was considerably cut. The valuable patterns and designs were housed in a special brick building with rounded corners, metal roof and window shutters. This, which still stands along Cedar Lane, was converted into apartments in 2004. One of the bookkeeping ledgers of the J.B. Crowell Company from 1870 to 1877 was given to the museum by Ed Zarger and is on display in the dining room. It provides an interesting look back in history and shows how important a part the J.B. Crowell Company played in the everyday life of Greencastle and Antrim Township, from farming to business and individual households.
The grain drills with fertilizer attachments continued to be their main line with shipments made to dealers in Kansas and Texas. The business also profited from the sales of Crowell window and door frames, shutters and blinds, and windmills made for the Stover Wind Machine Company.
In the early 1880s, the capital stock of the company was worth $200,000.00. The company specialized in stationary and portable steam engines but continued to make boilers, steam operated sawmills, threshers, grain and fertilizer drills, hay rakes and field rollers.
J.B. Crowell Company was one of the largest employers in Franklin County, employing as many as 200 workers in its prime.
From its beginning in 1864, J.B. Crowell was a director of the First National Bank. Crowell’s wife, Mary, became ill in 1886 and died on December 18, 1887. Her illness and death took a toll on him, the man who built Greencastle’s first industrial complex. He resigned as president of the First National Bank earlier in 1887.
In 1898, the company was sold to Gideon J. Rahauser, Jacob Shank and John Chamberlain, who, after two years, sold the company to the Geiser Company of Waynesboro in 1900. The Geiser Company along with producing steam driven farm engines was one of the first manufacturers of gasoline powered engines in this region. Geiser purchased the former Crowell complex for the explicit purpose of making their first gasoline engines.
J.B. Crowell died September 26, 1901.
This bell is thought to be the bell from the cupola on the foundry
building that signaled the beginning and ending of each work day.
Compiled by Bonnie A. Shockey
Last edited October 2006
Information was gathered from Echo Pilot articles written by William P. Conrad and edited by Jane Conrad Alexander.
Historical Sketch of Franklin County, Penn. 1878
History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania 1887
Allison-Antrim Museum, Inc
365 South Ridge Avenue Copyright © Allison-Antrim Museum | All rights reserved.
Greencastle, PA 17225