Scholla: Forry Laucks, 1870-1942

Forry Laucks, 1870-1942

Last autumn the Saturday Evening Post carried a patriotic cover-page and beneath it appeared the title of the leading article of the issue – “Washington Calling York, PA.” The article itself dealt with the unique achievements of a Pennsylvania “Dutchman” named S. Forry Laucks whose plan for subcontracting war ordnance orders was adopted by the military and came to be known as the “York Plan”.

Laucks’s firm, the York Safe and Lock Company, was the first firm to receive an ordnance contract when we bagan our rearmament program in 1938. Laucks showed the Washington officials how they could capitalize on the skill of women employed in small tool shops throughout the nation and virtually stunned the “brass hats” with his very uncommon common sense. When he died, on April 12, of this year, William L. Batt, Production Board, pronounced a eulogy saying “Sub-contracting will be his monument.”

At Lauxmont Farms, near Wrightsville, many of the eminent men of state came to pay this two fisted industrialist  their respects when his remains were interred in Prospect Hill Cemetery, York. The funeral services were held in the Trinity Reformed Church in York. Senator Guffey of Pennsylvania; James A. Farley, former Postmaster-General; George H. Earle, former governor, and Theodore Distler, president of Franklin and Marshall College, were among the honorary pallbearers.

Laucks was the youngest of six children born to Israel and Imalda Laucks, both parents descended from a line of Pennsylvania Dutch stock. In selecting the name Lauxmont for his country estate Forry Laux reverted to the ancient spelling of the name Laux, as it appears on the Palatine records, of those early pioneers who settled, first in New York province, and then found their way to the Tulpehocken and Swatara regions of Berks and Lebanon counties. Western Berks still is the home of many persons whose names are derivatives of the old Hugenot name Laux, even though it may now be spelled Loucks, Louck, or Laucks.

From office boy in the York Safe and Lock Company Forry Laucks rose to become its president, adided somewhat by the fact that his father was a large stockholder in the firm. Under his management the company shifted its activities from the manufacture of locks to the construction of bank vaults and this firm soon became the national leader in that field of manufacture.

S. Forry Laucks source:
S. Forry Laucks source:

There is something innate, something atavistic, about the Pennsylvania Dutchman’s love of the farm. Many farm boys have sought their fortunes in cities , only to return to farming for relaxation and real living. So, too with Forry Laucks. This multi-millionaire purchased many farms in his old neighborhood and there he specialized in breeding prize Holstein cattle, winning many prizes at cattle shows throughout the East.

Scholla: Conestoga February 18, 1942

2/18/1942            Conestoga

There is no object more than symbolic of the growth and development of the United States than the covered wagon, known universally as the Conestoga wagon. It is not surprising that the boat shaped bodies and the convex tops, covered with white linen should have earned the fantastic name of “Ships of Inland Commerce” as they moved through the green hills of Pennsylvania, westward bound. On the western prairies they were called prairie schooners, but their constant and abiding name is Conestoga wagons, derived from the place of their construction, on the banks of the Conestoga Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Also there is no other word as American as the word “stogie.” It refers to an American product and derives its name from Conestoga. The drivers of the six-horse teams that set out over the mountains, westward-bound, wanted a good, long smoke of rich Lancaster tobacco.

What is the meaning and origin of the Indian word, Conestoga?

In 1608, one year after the first English settlement in America, Capt. John Smith explored the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River and drew a map of the region. His explorations carried him as far north as the Octorara Creek in Maryland, but he did not reach the present boundaries of Pennsylvania.

In 1670 Augustin Hermann, one of the patentees of the settlement of German Mystics at Bohemia Manor, explored Susquehanna and constructed a map on which the creek is shown and its name spelled Onestego. The Bohemia Manor settlement was similar, in some respects, to the Ephrata community. It was located in present day Maryland, not far from Chesapeake City. Bohemia River, Maryland, a favorite fishing spot for many Berks countians, derives its name from the old-time religious settlement.

On Franquelin’s map of 1684, two years after the Penn Settlement point of the junction of the Conestoga and the Susquehanna is marked and named Conestoga Fort. On Popple’s map of 1733 the creek itself is named Conestoga and as early as 1704 William Penn had made a treaty with the Indians of Conestoga Manor.

The French explorers had learned of these Indians on the Susquehanna and had named them the Andastes. To the Virginians they were known as the Susquehannocks. They were part of the Iroquois family and in that confederacy they were known as the Conestogas which means “the people of the forked roof poles.”

The term Andastes is much older than the Iroquois name Conestoga. In one of his earlier journal Conrad Weiser speaks of an Andastes fort that he came upon in the wilderness north of Muncy, PA. His red companions on that journey informed him that the Andastes had once been a powerful tribe, but that was before the memory of any person living then. The Iroquois conquered these people in 1685 and many of them fled to North Carolina. Weiser’s discovery of the fort was in 1737.

“Stogies” from Berks County. Source:
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society

Scholla: Guinther’s Black Gold January 7, 1942

1/7/1942              Guinther’s Black Gold

Philip Guinther cleared a settlement at Lehigh Landing soon after the war for Independence. Lehigh  Landing, near present day Mauch Chunk (Present day Jim Thorpe) later was given the more classical name of Lausanne.  Phillip fended for a living for his family by hunting in the Bear Mountain or Mauch Chunk Mountain as it was known to the Indians. He shot the game and sold the surplus meats and hides to nearby stores in exchange for the commodities that his family needed.

One night he returned from the hunt dispirited because he had not bagged any meat for his hungry family. Slowly he trod the summit of Mauch Chunk Mountain. Dejectedly his head hung low. A drizzling rain dampened his spirits and he knew that his brood of youngsters were hungry for meat and he had none. It was twilight and his eyes were not keen. His foot stumbled and an object was loosened from the crust of the earth. There was enough light, however to show him that the stone upon which he had stumbled was, black, very black.

Philip Guinther had heard of the stone coal which some Indians had brought to a blacksmith in Powder Valley. He picked up the rock which his foot had dislodged and carried it to his cabin. The next day he carried the stone to Col. Jacob Weiss who was then stationed at Fort Allen now Lehighton. The colonel was alert to recognize the possibilities of the discovery, and, accordingly, he took the specimen to Michael Hillegas and others who were qualified to adjudge the merits of the ore. It was anthracite coal.

Michael Hillegas and his partners formed the “Lehigh Coal Mine Company” in 1792. They paid Philip Guinter a handsome sum to lead them to the spot where he had stumbled. With the money realized from his adventure Philip Guinther built a grist mill near his original settlement and abandoned his hunting activities.

From 1792 until 1806 the Mauch Chunk Mines were not operated on large scale. Stone coal was used only by blacksmiths and a few forges. After Shoemaker showed the world how stone coal could be burned in furnaces it became black gold indeed. In 1820 Lehigh Coal Company mined only 365 tons. Thirty-five years later, in 1855 it produced 1,275,000 tons of the black mineral. The total tonnage prior to the Civil War was almost 10,000,000 tons from the Lehigh Coal Region.

View of Bear Mountain in Mauch Chunk.
View of Bear Mountain in Mauch Chunk.
Looking down from the Switchback Railroad to the Coal loading docks.
Looking down from the Switchback Railroad to the Coal loading docks.
View of Mauch Chunk emphasizing the importance of the barge loading coal chute over the slack water pool above the Lehigh Gap. Photo five years after the railway began operations circa 1832, by Karl Bodmer (1839),_Pennsylvania#/media/File:Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(5).jpg
View of Mauch Chunk emphasizing the importance of the barge loading coal chute over the slack water pool above the Lehigh Gap. Photo five years after the railway began operations circa 1832, by Karl Bodmer (1839),_Pennsylvania#/media/File:Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(5).jpg

Scholla: The Covered Bridge At Charming Forge

The Covered Bridge at Charming Forge

There are many persons who deplore the removal of old landmarks in the construction of new and modern structures. The huge red-covered bridges are passing from the scene.  In recent years one of the most noble of all bridges in Berks County was torn away to make way for a concrete structure bared to all of the elements. The old covered bridge at Charming Forge is a familiar memory for many persons who sought out that romantic spot in years gone by.

And yet these covered bridges are not ancient or even very old. The Forge Bridge was only 65 years of age when it was removed in 1938. Many persons still are living who can remember the cable bridge which spanned the wide Tulpehocken (spelled Tulpehoccon as late as 1876) prior to erection of the covered bridge at that point in 1873.

In this modern day it may be interesting to note the specifications which were set up by the county commissioners when the Charming Forge covered bridge contracts were given in the autumn of 1872.

The abutment walls were to be eight feet thick and 21 feet wide under the ground. The abutments were to be raised in such a way that a space of seven feet be allowed between the breast of the dam and the woodwork of the bridge itself/

“The bridge is to have a double arch, and to be constructed of the following kinds of lumber: Wall plates of white oak, 20 feet six inches long, six inches thick, and 15 inches wide; the chord lines, arch pieces, posts, floor beams, tie beams, braces, and weatherboarding to be sound white pine; the rafters and laths either of hemlock or of oak; shingles of split white pine.”

The following were specifications for size and timber:

“Wall plates; 6×15; bottom chords 8×14; top chord 10×10; floor beams 8×12; double arch pieces 7×13; queen post 10×13; ring post 10×15; braces 8×10, etc.

When one reads these requirements it is not difficult to see why steel and concrete must be used to take the place of timber. Where would we find the timber?

The bridge was 165 feet long between the abutments. It was 16 feet wide “in the clear” and 13 feet high. The bridge was painted with Ohio “fire-proof” paint.

At the time of the building of the Forge bridge, life in that part of Marion Township was vastly different from the peaceful summer resort that makes up Charming Forge today. In 1872 the Union Canal was still operating along the reaches of the Tulpehocken and Taylor’s Forge, the one-time Tulpechocken Eisenhammer of “Baron” Whilhelm Stiegel still was smelting pigs from iron ore. A sturdy bridge was needed to bear the weight of wagons loaded with ore from the Cornwall Mines and Charcoal from the pits on neighboring farms.

O Tempore Mores!

Covered Bridge at Charming Forge Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Covered Bridge at Charming Forge Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.