Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Snowdon Vulcan Iron and Machine Works Discovery!

Hello Everyone,
        I would like to take a few moments and present an important discovery in American Industrial Archaeology. Myself, along with members of the local Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Mon-Yough Chapter #3 have located and begun excavation on the Snowdon Vulcan Iron and Machine Works located right here in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. As you read on, you will notice reference to the nation's first cast iron bridge, a symbol which will become the cornerstone to Brownsville's redevelopment in the 21st-century.

1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the Foundry
Aerial Photograph with Foundry Overlay 
     The turn of the 19th century and the introduction of steam power ushered in a new industrial rush in Brownsville and Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.  In 1818, John Snowden arrived in Brownsville from Yorkshire, England (Ellis 1882; Gresham and Wiley 1889).  After apprenticing for a few years in a local foundry, he opened his own machine shop and rolling mill within close proximity to the riverbank.  Named after the Roman god of fire, the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works opened in 1824.  The Vulcan factory built the engines for the steamer Monongahela in 1827.  Snowden improved and extended the factory in 1831. In 1853, the establishment burned down and was subsequently rebuilt.  The business renovated to include a forge, rolling mill, pattern shop, foundry, boiler yard, and finishing shop all located on an acre of land on the bank of the Monongahela River (Kussart 1930; Thurston 1859).  The main two-story buildings were made of brick and faced the river.  The purpose of this main building was the finishing shop where parts were completed.  An excerpt from Thurston’s (1859:34) town directory describes in detail the factory:

"Within its walls and distributed over the use of two rooms, with nice regard to their convenient use, is gathered a large amount of machinery, of the latest improvements, adapted to all the requirements of machine manufacturing; among them are 19 turning lathes, 6 planning machines, 4 boring machines and 8 drill presses.  There upon the lower floor, 10 blacksmith fires, with all of their accompanying cranes, steam forge hammers, and etc.

     The foundry and finishing shops were constructed of brick and connected with the main building.  This area contained cranes and two large 12-ton capacity cupolas for delivering molten iron.  The foundry was in the forefront of the rolling mill and the forge was contained in another one story building.  Within this structure were six pairs of rolls, two puddling furnaces, two heating furnaces, one spike and one rivet machine that turned out 600 tons of bar iron a year (Thurston 1859).  A pattern shop used for cutting different shapes of metal adjoined the foundry."

     The Vulcan Iron and Machine Works, later called Snowden & Sons, employed 110 people with a weekly wage of $6.83 per person (Thurston 1859).  This factory produced a similar number of land use stationary steam engines such as those used to power the large belts of the machine shop.  The convenient location of the factory next to the Brownsville wharf allowed engines to be fitted to hulls while incoming boats unloaded goods. In 1863 the Vulcan Iron and Machine Works built the engines and boilers of the ironclads Manayunk and Umpqua.
1901. Photo Courtesy of  Donna Edwards-Jordan

     John Herbertson arrived
 in Brownsville in 1829 after learning the trade of steam engine building in Pittsburgh.  Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Herbertson became a foreman in the Vulcan 
Iron and Machine Works engine shop.  When the wooden bridge 
collapsed over Dunlap’s Creek connecting Brownsville to 
Bridgeport, Snowden took the contract for the erection of a cast 
iron bridge (Ellis 1882; Kussart 1930; Thurston 1859).  This is  the 
first cast iron bridge in the United States.  Herbertson designed the 
bridge and supervised its construction (Gresham and Wiley 1889).  
A teaser image from some preliminary testing.
Herbertson eventually went into a partnership with Thomas Faull who was already operating a small foundry in Bridgeport.  Together they formed the Fayette Foundry, until 1842 when Faull withdrew from the partnership (Ellis 1882).  Herbertson later created Herbertson & Company with his sons in the 1880s as the business grew.

There will be more to follow as this project moves forward. Stay tuned! 

Text taken from:
Henshaw, Marc

Ellis, Franklin
1882  History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men.

Gresham, John and Samuel T. Wiley
1889  Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. John M. Gresham, Maging Editor.

Kussart, Sarepta Cooper
1930 Navigation on the Monongahela River. Unpublished Manuscript.

Thurston, Geo. H.
1859  The Rivers and Valleys of Pennsylvania Then and Now.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article, I agree with pretty much everything you had to say. Nice to get the truth out there, Thanks!


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