Catasauqua – Early 1850s


As reported in earlier chapters, Catasauqua, or Biery’s Point as it was known at the time, was a farming area on the Lehigh River until 1839 when the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. arranged for David Thomas to emigrate from Wales and erect the Crane Iron Company with its hot-blast process for utilizing anthracite coal. In the ten years that followed, the success of this venture resulted in rapid industrialization of the town. A total of five furnaces were erected at the Crane and water power for driving the hot-blast blowers had been replaced with steam engines. Company houses had been built along Church St. as a means of attracting workers to the area. The anthracite iron industry thrived.


Artist’s (L. F. Henning)  rendition of Catasauqua in 1852.



By 1850 the capacity of the Crane had become so great that the ox teams used to bring materials to the plant  – coal, limestone and iron ore – were so overwhelmed that David Thomas began to look at the possibility of launching a railroad to provide the necessary transportation capacity. (The Catasauqua and Foglesville Railroad was organized in 1853, but it was several years before steam operations were inaugurated).


In addition, David Thomas, who had completed his commitment to the Crane organizers, began to look at the construction of an iron company in which he and other investors would have total control. (In 1854, the Thomas Iron Works was incorporated and would become one of the larger iron producers in the Lehigh region within a decade.)


David Thomas needed a man to manage these activities at the Crane Iron Co. – an engineer that had experience with railroads, stationary steam engines and who knew the iron manufacturing business. What better person would there be than his former fellow apprentice at the Neath Abbey Iron Works who came to America six years prior to his (David’s) emigration. Hopkin Thomas and David Thomas must have been in communication with one another – although there are no records of such communications.  David must have known of Hopkin’s situation in Tamaqua and so offered the position of Master Mechanic (Chief Engineer) to Hopkin. It was in early 1853 that Hopkin came to Catasauqua.


Catasauqua is located south of the coal regions where Hopkin had spent the last 17 years and about 50 miles north of Philadelphia where he had begun his career in America.


Catasauqua is not too distant from the coal region towns where Hopkin and family had been living.


Catasauqua in 1862 – home of the Lehigh Crane Iron Works. For an enlarge image, click here.

Catasauqua, 1864 – from the files of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Records. Click here.



According to Newt Bugbee’s biography, Hopkin and family moved into the Crane Co.’s housing on Church St. in early 1853.

The Crane Company’s housing area in 1876.


The above map shows that there was much housing provided along Church, Peach and Wood Sts. which extended north-east on upward sloping land above the company furnaces. (Many of these original houses still existed in the 1950’s when this author grew up in Catasauqua.) It is not known which house Hopkin and family occupied on Church St. The family subsequently moved to a larger house on Walnut Street.  Prior to that move, however, the Thomas’s became good friends with Daniel Jones & family who resided at 315 Church St. At that time, Hopkin & Catharine were in residence with three of their children – Helen, age 20, James, age 16, and Kate, age 12.  The Jones had a son, Billy, age 16, and he and James became lifelong friends.


Of special interest was Daniel Jones whose character is recorded  in The Romance of Steel, p. 21:

Daniel Jones was a poor Welsh pattern-maker. He was the religious and intellectual leader of the Welsh in the village of Catasauqua. The cottage in which he lived was No. 315 in a row of “company houses”.  He had a library of one hundred and fifty volumes – the largest collection in the village. The books were mainly historical, such as Plutarch and Josephus, along with Shakespeare and other classics.  It is said that son Billy, who was a rambunctious child, acquired an unusual command of language and classical literature while lying prone on the uncarpeted floor of the cottage studying these books.”

(Billy Jones went on to become, Capt. William Jones, one of Andrew Carnegie’s principle plant managers.)


According to Lehigh County court records, the property at Third & Walnut Sts. to which Hopkin and family moved, was acquired by daughter Helen in 1862 from Elizabeth Kreider. At that date, Helen was married to John Thomas, son of David Thomas who became plant superintendent of the Crane Iron Co. It would appear that Hopkin did not wish to own property in his name, an outcome of the presumed bankruptcy of Thomas & Ollis, Machinists and Iron Founders of Tamaqua after the disastrous flood of 1850. The structure at Third & Walnut Sts. still stands today (2010).


Hopkin’s residence at 3rd & Walnut. Source: Fox, Catasauqua & North Catasauqua


This residence was a block away from that of David Thomas and one block below Fourth St. where Hopkin’s progeny were to erect a number of fine homes.


The Hopkin Thomas neighborhood was close to the Crane Iron Works.  For a larger map of Catasauqua in 1876, click here.


Hopkin was 60 years of age when he came to Catasauqua in 1853 and was to carry out an active role as Chief Engineer at the Crane for the next 20 years.


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Rev. November 2010