Thursday, March 15, 2012

Birth of the Steel Mill – Part One

Here's an interesting article from the July 26, 1939 issue of the Lorain Journal and the Lorain Times-Herald. It tells the story of the transformation of the farms, forest and swampland in what is now South Lorain into Lorain's original steel mill.

The illustration above accompanied the article. What's surprising is the caption, which refers to "Grandma Ferguson." I guess 35 years after "Auntie" Ferguson passed away, her story – as well as her name – was already being forgotten, as there is no mention of her in the article. But someone must have had some vague recollection of an old woman who was allowed to live near the mill, and realized that she was an integral part of the story.

Nevertheless, the article is a terrific one. It's rather long, so I've busted it into two parts. Here is part one.


Farms Changed to Mills Within 16 Months

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story was written especially for the 60th Anniversary edition of the Journal by John Gould, secretary of the National Tube Co.'s Old Timers Committee.


Old Globeville Rd. next to the Black River in 1894 prior to
the construction of a dam and reservoir west of the skelp mills
On Decoration day, May 30, 1894, five men met by appointment, upon the bank of the Black River at the Hyre farm, on the old Globeville-rd at the very center of Sheffield-twp.

The men were Tom L. Johnson, Arthur J. Moxham and J. B. Coffinbery, arriving from Cleveland, all three mounted on handsome horses; and Max M. Suppes and D. D. Lewis coming from Pittsburgh, driving from Elyria in a horse and buggy.

With a walk of a mile from this point in a southwestern direction thru the Studley farm, forest and swamp land, the men decided upon the location of the temporary field offices and the site of the main buildings comprising the future plant.

It is interesting to note before proceeding with the story of the plant, that while men in Lorain and elsewhere had predicted Lorain's future as a steel center, yet the half dozen farms along the Globeville-rd running along the river bank from the Studley farm on the west to the Smith farm on the east including District No. 2 school, were quietly bought up by Coffinbery and the land further south which was to comprise the site of the steel works proper and the Sheffield allotment without the land owners suspecting the motive.

Johnson and Moxham provided the way for financing the undertaking, Coffinbery was in charge of purchasing the land, and Suppes was to be entrusted with full authority as to details of building the plant. He had been joined by Lewis in Pittsburgh three months earlier to help with drawings and plans.

June 8, 1894, ground was broken for actual construction. On that day, Joseph Kaplow, a Lorain man, who was an employee of the Lorain Brass Works but temporarily out of work, was hired and instructed to get pick and shovel and dig foundation for weight-scales, preparatory to weighing incoming materials. Young Kaplow walked back to Penfield-av, bought the tools, and, returning, threw the first shovelful of dirt, and to him goes that honor.

Steel In 10 Months
April 1, 1895, at 10:30 p. m. the first heat of steel was blown. Thus the plant was built and making steel in practically ten months. To transform forest and swamp land into a steel plant and an allotment with well drained streets and modern homes for hundreds of workmen and their families in less than a year was nothing short of a miracle, considering that the winter of '94 was extremely bitter, the temperature often was below zero and the men working on construction in many cases having to work under tents.

Cupola House & Trestle under construction - Nov. 27, 1894
(Photo courtesy Black River Historical Society)
Building that were erected during these months were built to stand for ages, but due to the change of method in steel operations some of these buildings have become obsolete and have been razed. During the past two years the iron cupola building, No. 1 boiler house and gas producers, hydraulic stripper and trestle have had to go.

With the coming of large numbers of men to the steel plant district, the religious and temperance forces under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Sheffield began a religious work in the community.

Letters were exchanged with Tom L. Johnson in Washington, congressman from Cleveland district, urging him to use his influence to make the steel plant district bone-dry, this he refused to do so, stating in his letters to Mrs. Mary Steele Day that he did not favor prohibition; that the question of drinking and elimination of the saloon be left for the men themselves to decide.

Limited Saloons
He did however use his influence for temperance when he permitted the Sheffield Land Co. to restrict the sale of liquor to only two places in the new allotment.

All other lots sold by the company contained a clause prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors.

It is told of Mrs. Hyre that when she was asked to sell her farm by Coffinbery for picnic purposes, that at first refused on the grounds that she did not care to hear noise around the farm especially on Sunday, which would be the case if the farm and island just over the river bank from her home was sold and used as a picnic ground.

Another farmer who sold his farm to Coffinbery stated years later that after he sold it he bought a house and lot in the new allotment and paid practically as much for the house as he had received for his farm.

Homes Demolished
All that is left of the half dozen farm homes and barn that once lined the famous road is the foundation stones and cisterns, and cellars filled with rubbish. One of the larger cisterns which is in fair state of preservation is located on the former Austin dairy farm. It had a capacity of 15,000 gallons.

The first two homes to be built and occupied in the new allotment were the homes on the northwest corner of Seneca and East 29th-st and was occupied by Buff Hochstein and family, and the house on the southwest corner of Seneca and East 30th-st, occupied by Squire McCann and family, Lorain's first justice of the peace.

From Johnstown, with the coming of hundreds of Johnstown people came Dr. H. H. Hoffman who was the company's first surgeon. He was soon succeeded by Dr. William E. Wheatley who for many years has been the city's leading surgeon, who had endeared himself in the hearts of the mill men with his great surgical skill and devotion to men.

Next: the Conclusion to "Steel City"


Loraine Ritchey said...

Love the series on this... great job

Dan Brady said...

HI Loraine!
Glad you like it! The story seemed important enough – since it was so critical to the identity of Lorain –that it should be on the internet somewhere--so why not here?

ge13031 said...

Agreed, as many times as I present my history of Lorain and the steel plant it is met with a large ho-hum. Substitute, fill-in and desperation case for a beleaguered program chairman. Great Job Dan !!!!

jack said...

where would this road have ended to the east ?

Dan Brady said...

Jack, the way Dennis explained it to me was that the old Globeville Road ran along the river all the way to Day's Dam out by E. 31st Street

Randall Chet said...

fascinating history lessons you've been posting lately Dan. Thanks for taking the time to do so, it is much appreciated!

Dan Brady said...

Glad you're enjoying it, Randall! I've got plenty more!

Kim Mathews Rivard said...

My Great Grandfather was Max Suppes. My Grandmother was Florence Suppes.
She married Earl W Brown who also ran National Tube in Lorain and latter in Pittsburg. My Mother is their youngest daughter, Patricia.

Thank you for posting this. It is so nice to hear about family history!!