Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
History in Iron and Steel at Pottstown Historical Society
The 75th anniversary of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is on May 27, 2012, so it is fitting that this week's blog post is about the Pottstown Historical Society. Did you know that steel sections for the Golden Gate Bridge were fabricated in Pottstown? Pottstown's metal industry has a long and interesting history, and it is reflected in the archival collections at the Pottstown Historical Society.
The first ironworks in the state of Pennsylvania were established on Manatawney Creek by Thomas Rutter in 1716. The ironworks were located near what is now Pottstown, although it wasn't known by that name until Rutter's business partner's enterprising son, John Potts. John Potts (1710-1768) built several new iron forges and a huge fortune, served as a judge, and laid out the plan for a town he called "Pottsgrove." We got to visit his house, Pottsgrove Manor, not long ago for the Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. We learned that there were close connections between the Potts and Rutter families on that visit, but we saw even more evidence at the Pottstown Historical Society. The Potts-Rutter Family Papers, 1714-1936, consists of scattered original papers of Potts and Rutter family members, as well as some genealogical research. The original papers include indentures and deeds (1714-1882), correspondence, marriage certificates, and other miscellaneous documents. There are even some records from ironworks owned by the family, including financial records of Warwick Furnace.
Even with all the ironworks founded by Potts and Rutter family members, more were needed when industrialization ramped up at the end of the 19th century. The Pottstown Iron Company came into existence in the 1860s, and quickly became an important producer of iron materials. Its facilities included large rolling mills, a blast furnace, steel works, and nail factory--although the latter was destroyed before long (see below). The Pottstown Historical Society holds a fairly large collection of records from the iron company, including financial and stock records and correspondence, dating from 1867 to 1931.
Another important metal producer in the area was Bethlehem Steel Company, which had one of its many plants in Pottstown. The company built the Golden Gate Bridge, which at its opening had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world! It has since been surpassed in that area, but today is still recognized as an engineering marvel and one of the world's most beautiful bridges. As a Pennsylvanian, I'm proud to say that my state had a part in its construction!