Greencastle's Century of Industrial Change - PART 1
by William P. Conrad
edited by Jane Conrad Alexander
This article was printed in four parts in the Greencastle newspaper,
The Echo Pilot, in July and August of 1993.
Throughout Greencastle's early years its business life depended on agriculture while only a minute portion of its economy provided other ways to make a living. Most Antrim people worked their farms while a few owned general stores or operated blacksmith shops. The only businesses dependent on water power were mills that processed grain from the fields and lumber from the rural woodlands. Greencastle's proximity to a woolen mill, located just beyond the town's northern boundary, was the borough's only water powered industry. The earliest owner of record was William Davis and it served as a place to card wool which was spun and woven into cloth by local weavers. It also served as a fulling mill where flaxseed could be pressed to make linseed oil.
During this early era (c. 1830) the town's economy was primarily dependent on the skills of local craftsmen. These artisans worked in shops located near or in their modest homes constructed of logs with a limited few of stone or brick. An account of this period reveals that the town of approximately 800 inhabitants could boast of a cooper, a silversmith, a maker of coffee mills, a potter, and the owner of a distillery. There, also, was a pan maker who fashioned cooking utensils with three legs and long handles for use in kitchen fire places. His sales territory included not only the local area but Bedford County (Fulton County was not created until 1851). Another lone worker made his livery as a whitesmith - one who galvanized iron. There were several carpenters, two weavers, two chair makers, five tailors and three cabinet makers, three shoemakers, two hatters, and two saddlers.
Larger shops requiring extra space could be found along the lane or alleys at the foot of the artisans' properties. These accommodated three butchers, three wagon makers, two tanners, five blacksmiths, and three brick makers. A generous estimate would indicate that these craftsmen and their employees represented approximately 100 workers who supported their families from profits and wages earned at these small industries.
For centuries, men had supported themselves and their families in the same ways as those who lived in the Greencastle area in 1830. Agriculture was the foundation for practically all economic life and farm work and production of the craft industries resulted mainly from manual labor aided by power generated by horses, oxen, water and wind - although this source was infrequently used locally.
Ten years later (1840) showed few changes in farm or industrial production. However, the greatest boost for local business came with the construction of the Waynesboro, Greencastle and Mercersburg Turnpike. It was part of a road system that connected Pittsburgh with Baltimore. Although rail service came with the Cumberland Valley line running from Harrisburg to Chambersburg, another line, the Franklin, built to join Hagerstown and the county seat, proved to be of little help to the town's economy.
Improved transportation was reflected in increased prosperity for both Antrim and Greencastle, but the census of 1850 still reflected an economy based on water powered industries, small shop craftsmen, and skilled workers. By mid-century, Greencastle had grown to a town of 1,125 residents, a growth of nearly 1% in 10 years, while Antrim's population had increased by 4% over the decade. The town's growth could also be seen in the numbers of workers who found employment on the farms and mills of Antrim and new businesses and shops that had come to the borough. By then there were 13 tailors, two hatters and 11 shoemakers. The building trades were booming with 16 carpenters, two painters, two plasterers, two masons, a brick maker, and a lumberyard serving the community's building needs. Home furnishings could be secured from any other community's four chair makers, five cabinet makers, a carpet weaver, two weavers, three silversmiths, a coppersmith and a locksmith.
At this mid-point of the century the town had four butcher shops, six stores, with clerks trained to not only wait on customers but keep records of each day's business transactions. Tradesmen included millwrights, pump makers, tanners, whitesmiths, distillers, coopers, wagon maker, coach makers, machinists, blacksmiths and tinners.
Improved roadways created increased numbers of people who worked as drovers, hostlers, peddlers, tavern and hotel employees such as waiters, cooks and clerks. Travelers needed farriers, saddlers, blacksmiths, as well as wagon and coach makers.
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