When this century dawned the valley where now stands the capital of Schuylkill county, and the metropolis of the southern and middle coal fields, was an unused waste in an uninhabited and almost unknown portion of old Berks beyond the mountains. Surrounded by a district illy adapted to agriculture, and covered with a timber growth promising no rich harvest for the woodman's axe, the families of Lewis Reese and John began in the spring of 1800 to form the nucleus around which, in less than two decades, were to cluster the essential elements of a prosperous city. An humble hut, tenantless and decaying, told these settlers of 1800 where an illfated family, years before, had found their log fortifications unfit to shield them from the savage beast, and red men still more beastly savage. Tradition says-and tradition tells the truth quite as often as though it were called historythat in this log hut, which stood in Mauch Chunk street, the Neiman family were murdered. Tradition, which is never too prolix, here falls sadly short of its duty, and fails to assign the reason for the apparently unjust slaughter. Mr. Neiman came to their hunting grounds, and choosing, instead of some fertile portions of the valley, a veritable mud hole, in which he appeared intent on obtaining a sustenance by the arts of agriculture, they thought him crazy, and killed him as a man unsafe to be at large, even among Indians. Lewis Reese was joint owner with Isaac Thomas and Lew Morris in a tract of land upon a part of which Pottsville now stands, and John Reed was one of their employes who came to assist, with other workmen, in digging a race and building a dam preparatory to the erection of a furnace and forge. About this time, and prior to 1803, several log houses were erected in the vicinity of the furnace for the use of the workmen. One of these, occupied by Mr. Reed's family, was two stories high and superior to the others, as Mr. Reed was regarded as the superintendent of the works. This house stood on a rough woods road, now Mauch Chunk street, on the west bank of the Schuylkill about forty rods, above the furnace, and in that house Jeremiah Reed was born, December 19th, 1800. It has been understood by three generations that he was the first white child born within the district which has since formed the borough of Pottsville. Both his parents were from within five miles of this place, and had passed their lives as residents of this county. Thus the younger Reed had ample opportunity to learn from his relatives the early history of the neighborhood. To his patient recital the historian is indebted for valuable data relative to that history.
Original Tracts and Additions
The present boundaries of the borough of Pottsville include three original tracts of land, which in the respective patents are called Pomona, Stephens Green, and Coal Pit; parts of three other tracts, which are called in the patents Pine Grove, Honor and Norway; and parts of two others, on of which was surveyed on a warrant to Michael Bright, dated October 20th, 1794, and the other (called the Minnich and Zoll tract) on warrants to Conrad Minnich and Jacob Zoll, dated July 10th, 1792, and September 5th, 1794.
On the 29th of July, 1751, a warrant was granted to Edmund Physick, of the county of Philadelphia, reciting that he had requested that the proprietaries "would grant to take up two hundred acres of land, including a large spruce swamp, about four or six miles from James Boone's land, on Schuylkill, county of Lancaster;" and directing the surveyor general to survey the lands. Under this warrant a survey was made November 2nd, 1762, of a tract of land containing 206 1/2 acres, with the customary allowance of six per cent, for roads, and which in the return of survey is described as "situate in Berks, formerly Lancaster county, over the Blue mountains."
On February 12th, 1788, a patent was granted by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for this tract of land, by the name of "Pomona," to Arthur St. Clair, William Morris, Luke Morris, and Samuel Potts, who, by sundry conveyances, succeeded to the right of Edmund Physick, the warrantee. On February 14th, 1788, a patent was granted by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Arthur St. Clair, William Morris, Luke Morris, and Samuel Potts, for a tract of land called "Norway," "situated on the backside of Tuscarora mountain, Berks county;" describing it by metes and bounds, and as containing 337 acres and 131 perches and allowance, and reciting it to be the tract that was surveyed in pursuance of application No. 1,516, entered May 21st, 1766, by Ellis Hughes, whose right had become vested in the persons to whom the patent was granted.
On February 13th, 1788, a patent was granted by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Samuel Potts for a tract of land called "Coal Pit," "situated on the east of Schuylkill, at the north side of Tuscarora mountain, in Brunswigh township, Berks county;" describing it by metes and bounds, as containing seventy-three acres and allowance, and reciting that it was surveyed on a warrant granted to Samuel Potts, dated July 13th, 1751.
On February 13th, 1788, a patent was granted to Arthur St. Clair, William Morris, Luke Morris and Samuel Potts for a tract of land called "Pine Grove," on the Tuscarora mountain, in Brunswick township, Berks county, containing 283 acres and allowance, and referred to as the tract that was surveyed in pursuance of an application, No. 1,520, entered May 21st, 1756, by John Melchior, whose right had become vested by sundry conveyances in the patentees.
On February 11th, 1788, a patent was granted to Samuel Potts for a tract of land called "Honor," described as situate on a branch of the Norwegian creek, over the Second mountain, in Brunswick, Berks county, containing 141 acres and allowance, being "the tract of land which was surveyed in pursuance of a warrant granted to the said Samuel Potts, dated August 4th, 1787." The whole of the Physick or Pomona tract, Coal Pit tract, part of the Pine Grove tract, and a small part of Norway, by sundry conveyances became vested, in the year 1808, in John Pott, who in 1816 or 1817 laid out, on part of the Pomona tract, the original plot of Pottsville.
The original town plot included only the lots on each side of Center street, between Union and Race streets, and the lots on each side of Mahantongo street to Sixth or Courtland street. Some time afterward John Pott laid out additional lots, which included the lots on the west side of Second street as now laid out, between Norwegian street on the north side of Center street, two hundred and eight feet north of Laurel street, and on the south side of Market street between Second street and a point about one hundred feet west of Fifth street.
Several years after laying out this town plot John Pott sold to Jacob Alter a part of the Pine Grove tract, on which he laid out Coal street north of Norwegian street, and the lots on the eastern and western sided of Coal street, and which is known as Alter's Addition. John Pott sold to his son Benjamin a part of the Pomona or Physick tract, lying between the south line of the original town plot and the Stephens Green tract, on which Benjamin laid out a plan of lots that was known as Ben. Pott's Addition. John Pott also sold to Jonathan Wynn a part of the Physick tract and of Norway on the east side of Centre street, on which lots were laid out and it was known as Wynn's Addition. John Pott died intestate October 23d, 1877, and after his death proceedings were commenced by his heirs, in the Orphans' Court of Schuylkill county, for a partition of his real estate. The real estate was divided by the proceedings in the Orphans' Court into purparts, and a valuation placed upon each purpart. Purpart No. 4 included that part of the Pomona or Physick tract not included within the town plot of Pottsville, containing 101 acres and 113 perches, now valued at $7,763; and on July 28th, 1829, was adjudged to Abraham Pott, one of the sons of the decedent. Abraham Pott conveyed one undivided half of these premises to Burd Patterson. On this part of the Pomona tract that part of the borough of Pottsville known as Pott & Patterson's Addition was laid out, by Pott & Patterson, in the latter part of the year 1829.
Purpart No. 2 included part of the Pine Grove tract, lying east of Norwegian street, and contained 68 acres and 70 perches. This purpart was adjudged to William Pott, one of the sons of the decedent. The title to this purpart, by sundry conveyances, became vested in Charles Loeser, as trustee, and on it was laid out, in the latter part of the year 1829, that part of the town plot of the borough known as Rhodes's Addition, or the eastern addition to Pottsville.
Purpart No. 1 included the dwelling house of John Pott and the furnace, forge and Coal Pit tract, and part of Pine Grove; and contained 72 1/2 acres, valued at $23,287, and was adjudged to Benjamin Pott, a son of the decedent. The land included in this purpart became, by sundry conveyances, vested in Mr. Buckley and others, who, in 1830, laid out a town plot which was known as Buckley's Addition, and afterward as the Greenwood Addition; and, from the fact that there was an orchard upon it, it was sometimes called "The Orchard." Adjoining the Pomona tract on the south is the tract of land called "Stephens Green," for which, on February 24th, 1792, a patent was granted to Stephen Parchall, describing it as in Manheim township, Berks county, and as containing 52 acres and allowance. This tract, by sundry conveyances, became vested in Israel W. Morris. A town plot was laid out on part of this tract by his son Henry Morris in the year 1829, and it is known as Morris's Addition.
By sundry conveyances the greater part of the Norway tract and part of the tract of land called Honor became vested in Samuel Kepner, who on January 20th, 1816, conveyed the same to the Schuylkill Navigation Company. This land was afterward known as the Navigation tract. The title to the Navigation tract, by sundry conveyances, became vested in Abigail McKnight, as trustee for the Bank of Kentucky, and in the Miners' Bank of Pottsville. The town plot known as "the Norwegian Addition" was laid out on this tract of land in the year 1852. That part of the Norwegian tract which lies in the valley of the West Norwegian creek has been known for forty years by the name of Fishback. The origin of the name, as applied to the locality, cannot be traced to any certain source.
That part of Norway west of the Navigation tract is called, from its shape, "the Square tract."
The title to the tract of land surveyed on the warrant of Michael Bright, adjoining the Physick or Pomona tract, on the west, in the year 1830, became vested in Joseph Wood and others, who laid out on it that part of the town plot of Pottsville known as Wood's Addition. Before Wood's Addition was laid out this land was known as the Eyre tract.
Part of the Minnich and Zoll tract, adjoining Morris's Addition on the south, in the year 1830 became vested in N. Thomon, who laid out a plan of lots called Thomon's Addition.
A copy of the original town plot of Pottsville, and addition thereto by John Pott, and of drafts of the purparts with which his real estate was divided can be found in "Orphans court Docket No. 7, page 275, A seg." in the office of the clerk of the Orphans' Court of Schuylkill county. The original town plot and the addition made to it by John Pott in his life time, and the several additions above mentioned, excepting the Norwegian Addition, are laid down in Fisher's Plan of Pottsville, published in the year 1831.
Early Coal Explorations
About 1,800 acres of these lands were owned or controlled by Samuel and Thomas Potts, of Pottstown, and they associated with themselves General Arthur St. Clair, Jesse Potts, Samuel Baird, Thomas Rutter, and Thomas Maybury as a company to explore and develop the property. Of the character and extent of their labors very little is known, but the landmarks they left when they abandoned the experiment and dissolved the company, about 1798, indicated that a saw-mill on Norwegian creek and a few rafts down the river were the limit of the enterprise. It was while these lumbermen were here that the first anthracite was found, says a local tradition; but the efforts to burn it were not successful, and the explorers were persuaded that it was only a kind of rock, and so all notice of it was lost until John Pott, sen., was erecting the Greenwood furnace and forge in 1807, when another and more satisfactory experiment was made with the "black rock" as a fuel. This discovery was followed three years later by the opening of a vein of anthracite nine feet thick, while the same Mr. Pott was sinking the foundations for Orchard grist-mill. To these fortuitous circumstances, which unexpectedly attended the business opera- tions of the first ten years of this century, the importance-and it may as well be written the existence-of Pottsville is due.
The coal development having been made the subject of a previous chapter no father mention of it need by made here; but these early accidents are of local importance as determining where first should commence the great industry which secures, now and for years to come, the wealth and importance of Schuylkill county.
First Permanent Settlers
The operations of John Pott, sen., were carried on at Pottsville prior to 1810 by John Pott, jr., and Daniel Focht, as his superin- tendents. They found here the Reed house, previously mentioned; a log house occupied by one Alspach, where Charles Baber's residence now is one occupied by Anthony Schutt, on Lawton Hill; Thomas Swoyer's house, which stood where the livery stable on Union street now is; Nathan Taylor's house, on the present site of the Philadelphia and Reading freight depot, and the old Neiman house-or what remained of it.
The reader is not familiar with all, or nearly all, the family names at Pottsville prior to 1809. The Pott furnace was completed in 1808, and the proprietor fitted up the Alspach house as a residence for himself and family, and in 1810 he came here to reside. His family record included these names: Maria, his wife, and their children, John, jr., Magdalina, Benjamin, James, Abraham, Mary, Catherine, William, and Jacob. This family constituted no small accession to the population of the place, which, by this time, included the families of several workmen who were attracted here by the prospects of profitable labor in the furnace.
The Alspach house, orignally built of logs, was sided and painted, and was made the home of three generations of this old family. Here was born Benjamin Pott's daughter Hannah, the first white girl in the settlement.
Early Business Establishments
There was very little need of merchants in Pottsville as it was in 1824, when the place contained less than a dozen houses, but before June, 1831, the number of houses had increased to over five hundred, and within that period several commercial enterprises were undertaken. A few quotations from notices in a very rare copy of the Miners' Journal will show some facts worth recording. The old paper is No. 24, vol. III., and bears date September 8th, 1827.
"New Store adjoining Morris's Tavern.-The subscribers beg leave to inform the public that they continue business in the store occupied by Sillyman, Fister & Co. Just received: a general assortment of dry goods, groceries, hardware, glass and queen's ware, &c, which they will sell for cash or country produce. Thomas Sillyman. Samuel Sillyman."
"New store-Dry Goods and Groceries. At the former stand of John C. Offerman, in the town of Pottsville. Daniel Stall." This was a two story-framed house on the present site of R.R. Morris's elegant brick block.
"Pottsville Hardware Store.-The subscriber has received an assortment of knives, anvils, forks, nails, razors, files, plane irons, shears, locks, chisels, &c., which he will dispose of at Philadelphia prices. Samuel J. Potts."
Mr. Potts came to Pottsville in December previous. His store, which was on the site of the Safe Deposit bank, was the first hardware store in the place. Fairchild Hodgeson and Charles Clemens were also early merchants in this line.
"John C. Offerman informs the public that he continues the commission and transportation business at his storehouse at Mount Carbon, having sold his retail store at Pottsville. also that he runs a line of covered boats to Philadelphia." Freight was $4.37 1/2 to $5.00 per ton.
"William Locker has taken the large dwelling house of Mr. Alter, opposite Miller & Rex's store, where he intends to keep a genteel boarding house."
The old York store stood for years where Charles M. Atkins's residence is. It was a company store in connection with the coal company operating at the York farm.
Neil and Patrick Crosby kept a primitive store in a log building near the present Bright & Co.'s, hardware store.
In 1827, by reason of the increase of population, a more convenient system of local government was found desirable, and the subject of incorporating a borough was earnestly discussed. The inhabitants of Pottsville wished to have the town as then bounded incorporated into a borough and given the original name of the town, in honor of one of its oldest and most prominent families; but their Mount Carbon neighbors wished to have their town included in the borough. They also insisted on dropping the name the town had always borne, and styling the new borough Mount Carbon, in allusion to its local resources. Much ill-feeling was engendered by this discussion, but the borough line was finally settled to exclude Mount Carbon, and this town was incorporated by act of the General Assembly opposed by Governor Andrew J. Shulze, on the 19th of February, 1828. The corporate name given by the act was "the burgess and inhabitants of the town of Pottsville, in the county of Schuylkill." The first borough election was held at the house of John Weaver, on Monday, May 7th, 1828, when Francis B. Nichols was elected chief burgess; John Pott, assistant burgess; Daniel Hill, high constable; Samuel Rex, clerk; and Jacob Kline, John Strouch, Benjamin Thurston, David Phillips and Samuel Brooks, councilmen. The first meeting of the council was at the house of George Shoemaker, May 9th, 1828. The Assembly of 1831 put a little more of that soul of wit called brevity into the name, and erected the town of Pottsville into a borough styled the corporation of the borough of Pottsville.
The principal borough officers have been as follows: Chief Burgesses.-George Shoemaker, 1829; F.B. Nichols, 1830-32; John C. Ernst, 1833; Jacob Seitzinger, 1834; John P. Shinkle, 1835, 1836; Benjamin Coombe, 1837; Jacob Reed, 1838-40; Daniel Klapp, 1841; John M. Crossland, 1842; William F. Dean, 1843; Andrew Mortimer, 1844; Charles W. Clemens, 1845; Jacob Reed, 1846, 1847; B.T. Taylor, 1848, 1849; John C. Lessig, 1850; Jacob Reed, 1851; Jacob Kline, 1852; Jacob Reed, 1853; Nicholas Fox, 1854; George Jennings, 1855; Nicholas Fox, 1856; Daniel B. Christ, 1857-59; Samuel Chrisman, 1860, 1861; Daniel B. Christ, 1862; M.B. Bell, 1863-68; Daniel Christian, Sen., 1869-72; N. Fox, 1873; William M. McAdams, 1874; M.B. Bell, 1875-80; Joseph Derr, 1881 Treasurers.-Samuel Sillyman, 1828-44, 1846, 1847; Thomas Foster, 1845; William Fox, 1848-51; Hiram Rigg, 1852, 1855-57; Alexander S. Morehead, 1853, 1854; Adam Shertel, 1858-76; Daniel R. Shertel, appointed to fill vacancy; Samuel M. Mortimer, appointed to vacancy, 1877; elected 1878-81.
Solicitors.-Christopher Loeser, 1828; Thomas Morris, 1829; Edward Owen Parry, 1830, 1831, 1836-41, 1843-48, 1856-68; David Candor, 1832; William F. Dean, 1833-35; F.W. Hughes, 1842; James H. Campbell, 1849; Benjamin W. Cummings, 1850-54; Robert M. Palmer, 1855; B. Bryson McCool, 1869-81.
Surveyors.-Enoch Lewis, Samuel B. Fisher, Samuel Lewis, Kinber Cleaver, Jesse S. Hawley, A.B. Cochran.
Town Clerks.-Samuel Rex, 1828; Samuel J. Potts, 1829; Robert Woodside, 1830; David Candor, 1831; William F. Dean, 1832; Jacob Eyer, 1833, 1834; William F. Dean, 1835; Edward Owen Parry, 1836-41; Francis W. Hughes, 1842; Isaac Beck, 1843-45; Samuel Hartz, 1846-48; John H. Downing, 1849-51; James A. McBarron, 1852, 1853; Samuel Hartz, 1854-58; William L. Whitney, 1859; resigned in June and was succeeded by A.R. Whitner, who was reelected 17 years; Daniel L. Krebs, 1875-81.
Census returns for fifty years show the steady growth of the borough in population. They are as follows: 1830, 2,464; 1840, 4,337; 1850, 7,575; 1860, 9,444; 1870, 12,384; 1880, 13,246.
† History of Schuylkill County, PA,, New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 1881, usgwarchives.net, accessed August, 2022.
Nearby Towns: Frackville Boro • New Philadelphia Boro •