Industrial Development of the Schuylkill Region


From the perspective of The Hopkin Thomas Story, interest in the Schuylkill region development lies in the following areas:


1) Railroads - it is probable that Hopkin had  business relationship with someone in the railroad industry in Tamaqua. While it is doubtful that Hopkin worked directly in that Tamaqua industry, he must have been aware of opportunities for a machine shop or foundry to support railroad activities.


2) Coal - Hopkin has experience in constructing coal breakers and probably other (undocumented) machinery used in mining.


3) Tamaqua - Histories of the development of the town in the 1846 - 1852 time period are of direct interest.


4) Floods of 1850 - the current theory being that Hopkin had erected a machine shop that was wiped out in these floods


A summary of historical articles of which cover these topics in Schuylkill county region and  Tamaqua is contained in this page.

(For a large scale map of Schuylkill County (2010), click here.)


Tamaqua - 1843 - from Sherman Day


One of the earliest and most extensive histories of the Schuylkill region was included in Sherman Day's 1843  Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania. The chapter dealing with Schuylkill County is reproduced here. Many details of the development of the coal trade along with sketches of the various towns are included. A brief description of Tamaqua is included. The population at the time of the writing was 465.


Another early article written was published by Daniel Rupp in his 1845 work. It is succinct and to the point concerning Tamaqua - Tamaqua was laid out in 1830 by the Little Schuylkill Railroad Co. to service the developing coal trade. The population at the time of the writing was 1000. Click here for this excerpt.


The Lehigh Colliery - Tamaqua - from Donald Serfass


The most extensive history of the Schuylkill area was compiled by Munsell in 1881. Chapter V, written by P. D. Luther, deals with the development of the coal trade. The history deals with the discovery of coal, the development of the Schuylkill canal system, mining and miners, the economic conditions and its influence on the region development, the business aspects of the coal trade, railroad developments, labor difficulties (the Mollie Maquires), etc. The only specific reference to Tamaqua is in conjunction with the Little Schuylkill Railroad. The experience of the running of the first steam locomotive from Port Clinton to Tamaqua is related: "The superstructure of the railroad was too light for the engine, which spread the rails and ran into the river."


Chapter XI of Munsell deals with the development of the rail system. As was the case for other anthracite areas, a plethora of railroads were put in place to service the mines. Over the years these were consolidated, but this history delves into each road. Of special interest is the Little Schuylkill Railroad as this was the road that serviced the Tamaqua region and it would have been this road with which Hopkin Thomas dealt if he applied his services to a rail system.


The Philadelphia & Reading Shops, Tamaqua - from Donald Serfass


Finally, Munsell's sketch of Tamaqua is included here. A brief note regarding the destruction due to the Flood of 1850 is included. One item of significant interest is the section on Journalism which reveals that a newspaper named The Tamaqua Legion was begun in 1849. Efforts should be undertaken to determine if paper or microfilm records of this newspaper still exist. If so, a narrative covering the details of the Great Flood of 1850, suspected of having ruined Hopkin Thomas's entrepreneurial effort, may be uncovered. Also included in this section is a brief note on the Philadelphia and Reading shops which were built by the Little Schuylkill Railroad Co. in 1848 and which would have been of interest to Hopkin Thomas. Also of interest is the item on the erection of the Tamaqua Iron Works by John K. Smith  in 1846 – later to be known as the Allen Machine Shops. Could Hopkin have been in contact with John Smith?



East Broad Street bridge over the Little Schuylkill River - Tamaqua


In 1893, Wiley and Rouff (click here) published a history of Schuylkill County along with biographical sketches of its prominent citizens. The material on the development of the coal trade and the description of Tamaqua presented little new information. The railroad development section is brief and focuses on developments after 1850.


In 1911 the department store, Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart published a history on the occasion of the county's centenary. Little new information on the early years is contained in this document - available here.


Most recently, in 1995 and revised in 2010, Donald Serfass published Iron Steps, which is a compilation of previously articles dealing specifically with Tamaqua.  Excerpts dealing with the early railroads and the floods of 1850 are available here. In the excerpt on early industries, in it noted that the Tamaqua Iron Works, later Allen Machine Shop, was begun in 1846 – a year or two before Hopkin Thomas would have begun his machine shop.



The Tamaqua Iron Works



The history of the development of the railroads in the Schuylkill region has been thoroughly documented. In 1846, when Hopkin came to Tamaqua, there were 142 collieries in the Schuylkill  area owned by 160 operators. By that date, most coal operations were served by railroads. The main trunk road was the Philadelphia & Reading, with the individual mining areas served by what was referred to as the "lateral roads".   Earl Heydinger, in his series Railroads of the First and Second Anthracite Coal Fields of Pennsylvania, which was published in the Bulletin of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, gives detailed information on many of these lateral roads. See Appendix V.  The road that served the Tamaqua region was, as noted above, the Little Schuylkill Railroad which began life as the Schuylkill Valley Navigation and Railroad Co. in 1829.  See Heydinger's Group III and Group VI. A map of the route of this railroad as it snaked its way along the Little Schuylkill river from Port Clinton to Tamaqua is available here.


The Gowan & Marx - built by Garrett & Eastwick in 1839 for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to haul coal on the anthracite roads.


Various forms of the name were used for the Little Schuylkill Railroad. Here we have a Rail Road.



The industrial development of the railroads and the collieries in the Tamaqua had reached a point in the mid 1840s where the market for material produced by a machine shop and/or foundry would have supported such an endeavor. John K. Smith had erected the first machine shop in 1846 – a year or two before Hopkin Thomas and his partner, John Ollis, would have started their endeavor.  



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Rev. December 2010