Allison-Antrim Museum

Greencastle's Century of Industrial Change - PART 4

    by William P. Conrad

    edited by Jane Conrad Alexander


This article was printed in four parts in the Greencastle newspaper,

The Echo Pilot, in July and August of 1993.


Part 4

In 1879, the Crowell business was financed as a stock company with a capital of $65,000. Three years later the firm was closed out. But new financing resulted in an organization with capital stock worth $200,000 and J.B. Crowell was its president.


Crowell Manufacturing Company now specialized in stationary and portable steam engines but continued to produce boilers, steam operated sawmills, threshers, plus grain and fertilizer drills, hay rakes and field rollers. It was one of Franklin County's largest industries, employing as many as 200 workers. A catalogue of this era described, in minute detail, the superior qualities found int he steam engines and all other products manufactured by the Crowell Company. Testimonials from purchasers, telling of the proficiency and quality of the various Crowell machines, were listed from a host of satisfied customers.


The remarkable growth of Crowell's business was not the only evidence of industrial growth. Throughout the Civil War and the decades following this conflict, other businesses prospered. By then the woolen mill, powered by water from Moss Spring, was owned by the Ilgenfritz family, and it continued to serve the growing needs of the community. Joseph Beeler's hat business, on East Baltimore Street, expanded and by 1878, the firm's products were being marketed throughout the West.


During this same era, Harper's Carriage Shop was prospering on Foundry Hill, on land formerly occupied by the Bradley-Chappel foundry works. Harper's and smaller wagon and buggy shops continued to produce horse drawn vehicles until the automobile caused their demise in the early decades of the next century.


In 1893 the Auburn Wagon Works, one of the nation's leading producers of such farm vehicles, came to Greencastle. It leased the machine shops of the Crowell Company but only operated for just three years when, in 1896, the business gradually ended with the coming of motorized trucks following the first World War.


Antrim's mills continued to flourish through the remainder of the century, but steam power and eventually electricity resulted in more efficient mills and the business went to the mills better located to serve wider market areas. Yet the artisans of the township continued plying their trades well into the new century. As late as 1920, they were still making hay rakes, shaking forks, grain cradles, wheel rims, and other tools and implements used on local farms. A few blacksmiths still operated their shops as late as 1940, but their numbers were few and far between.


J.B. Crowell's wife, Mary, became ill in 1886 and Dec. 18, 1887, she died. Her illness and death apparently drained him of the willpower that had carried him to the success he had gained through the years. He had been a director of the First National Bank from its beginning in 1864, and earlier in the year of his wife's death, he had resigned as its president.


As the century came to an end, so did the Crowell Manufacturing Company, when in the late 1890s, the firm was sold to a partnership of Rahauser, Shank and Chamberlin. These owners, after approximately two years of ownership, then sold the Crowell plant to the Geiser Company of Waynesboro in 1899. This firm specialized not only in steam driven farm engines, but became one of the earliest manufacturers of gasoline powered engines in this part of the nation.


J.B. Crowell, the man who brought the first industrial complex to Greencastle, died Sept. 26, 1901. His kind had brought to America the end of a time when men worked to produce suits of clothes, shoes, entire pieces of furniture, lighting fixtures, cooking utensils, pumps, wagons, carriages, farm equipment and a host of other life necessities in small craft shops. What happened in Greencastle was happening all across the land and the story told here is but a microcosm of a development that saw a nation moving into a new era that changed man's way of life more than it had even been changed since the beginning of life on this planet.



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