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Girardville Borough

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

Girardville Borough Hall is located at 4th and B Streets, Girardville PA 17935.
Phone: 570‑276‑1635.

Beginnings [1]

The borough of Girardville was incorporated June 4th, 1872, being taken from Butler township. The first election was held at the house of Mr. Blass, and resulted in the choice of the following officers: Joseph Swansborough, chief burgess; James Brennan, William Daly, Louis Wehl, Thomas Rodgers and John Griffith, councilmen; Thomas J. Lewis, clerk. The chief burgesses since have been: Joseph Swansborough, 1873 1874; Daniel Eister, 1875, 1876; Jonathan Davis, 1877, 1878; Joseph D. Davis, 1879. The officers for 1880 were: Chief burgess, Joseph D. Davis; councilmen-Thomas, Bracey, Thomas D. Davis, Michael Cook, Louis Blass and Robert Green; town clerk, J.H. Prichard.

The earliest efforts at development of this part of Butler, then Barry township, were made by the distinguished philanthropist after whom the place is named. Stephen Girard, of Philadelphia, having become the possessor of large tracts of coal land in this part of Schuylkill county, sent agents in 1832 to develop them and foster the building of a railroad from Danville to Pottsville. Although a portion of the road was completed, the effort to develop the mines prove unremunerative, and the death of the founder put a stop to the extensive works he had projected. Confident of the brilliant future of this part of his property, he made it a prominent part of the bequest left to the city of his adoption for the support of Girard College. The principal use to which the lands were put prior to 1862 was the clearing and sale of the fine pine timber that shaded the valley of the Mahanoy, three mills having been built by Mr. Girard's agents in the vicinity, which were operated under leases so long as lumbering remained profitable. In 1841 John Hower, now the eldest resident of the place, became the lessee, and he did much to develop the interests of the place, which at that time contained but few inhabitants.

In 1862, the Mine Hill and Schuylkill Railroad and the completion of the Gordon planes having attracted the attention of operators, coal lands on the Preston tract were leased to the Heaton and Colonel J.J. Connor, of Ashland, and in that year the first coal was mined and shipped, the first car load being sent by Colonel Connor as a present to the mayor of Philadelphia, who acknowledged the receipt in a letter of thanks, which stated that he had divided the coal between the two soldiers' restaurants in the city.

Further developments followed rapidly, and from a hamlet of about one hundred inhabitants in 1862 grew a thriving borough, which had a population of three thousand in 1875, and a coal trade for that year of more than nine hundred thousand tons.

The first buildings erected in the village were the real estate office and hotel building, in 1832, the first of which now constitutes a stable building, and the latter a part of the Girard House.

The Presbyterians and Methodists in that part of Butler township occasionally held meetings as early as 1841 in the old office, and in private dwellings; and an occasional term of school was held in the same way, there being at that time not more than ten or twelve children of school age living near enough to attend. The successful opening of not less that ten collieries within a few miles of the place made a market that quick-witted business men were not slow in grasping; and, although fifteen years ago Parker street was a wild country road, cut through the underbrush, it boasted in 1880 as fine a grade and as handsome rows of business blocks as can be found in many an older town.

To this prosperity John Hower, E.C. Wagner, William Gwyther, Dr. A.B. Sherman, Louis Blass and E.J. Becker contributed largely. Mr. Wagner, as the agent of the estate, by his liberal and prudent management made his trust a valuable one to his principals, and incidentally, to the people of the place. In 1872 the inhabitants petitioned for a borough government.

Like many of its sister boroughs, Girardville was the scene of misrule and outrage during the year 1875, when the Mollie Maguires, under the leadership of the notorious Jack Kehoe, had a "division" in the place, which formed a center of attraction for lawless men, and actually became strong enough to secure the election of Kehoe to the position of high constable of the borough. The influence of this man, who kept a drinking saloon dignified by the name of the Hibernian House, was dangerous in the extreme; and in the mad warfare of these miscreants on the mine foremen and their friends they stopped short of nothing, and in one instance imbrued their hands in the blood of a civil magistrate. On the 18th of June, in the year mentioned, the first pay day after a long suspension brought a large number of miners and laborers, many of whom were under the influence of liquor. A party, headed by a man named Hoary, who brandished a pistol and called loudly for some one to shoot, entered Jacob Wendel's hotel, and struck and molested a number of inoffensive persons. Thomas Gwyther, a justice of the peace and an esteemed citizen, was sitting in the room, and was applied to by one of the victims of the gang for a warrant; for issuing which he was fired on and killed while standing on the street near his residence. The assassin, whose name was William Love, escaped; and through the ingenuity of the high constable Kehoe, who arrested a brother of the murderer, who he knew could prove an alibi, search for the real criminal was delayed until he could leave the country, and he has never been apprehended. The friends of law and order were greatly aided by the influence of Father Bridgeman, who sternly cursed the members of the order and brought all the influence of the Catholic church-no feeble weapon-to bear to destroy the organization in Girardville.

The Girardville Gazette was founded in 1878, and its first number was issued March 17th of that years, by T.F. Hoffman, who continued it until August 1st, 1980, when John A. Gilger took charge of it. In February, 1879, he discontinued the subscription price, which had been one dollar a year, and issued it as an advertising sheet distributed gratuitously. In August, 1880, Mr. Gilger disposed of his interest to the firm of Smith & Arnold, who have renewed the practice of charging a regular subscription price of one dollar per annum. It is a six-column folio, issued weekly and well filled with local news.

The only other journalistic venture in the place was undertaken by Smith & Stephens, who issued twenty-five numbers of a paper called the Girardville Herald, a four-column folio, in 1873.

The Girardville school board was organized May 17th, 1872, by the election of Thomas Connor president, Henry Schafsted secretary, and E.C. Wagner treasurer. The first directors were Thomas Connor, E.C. Wagner, Henry Schafsted, George Rogers, Patrick Follard, and Ephraim Goldin.

At that time there were two school buildings in the borough, one of wood, accommodating three schools, the other of brick, with two schools. In 1876 the board erected the elegant and capacious high school building, a fine brick structure, on a lot adjoining the old brick house. It cost $12,000. The expense of erection was defrayed by the issue of bonds. The total value of school property is $16,000. Nine schools are sustained, with the same number of teachers, and an aggregate attendance of five hundred and forty-six scholars. The directors for 1880 were: president, John Johnson; secretary, F.D. Butler; treasurer, George Strong; and William Higgins, Joseph Fetzer and John G. Scott.

  1. History of Schuylkill County PA., 1881, W.W. Munsell & Co., New York