Other than having a Listing, Owning a Home, Having Friends and hanging in Bridgeport, PA I find the history intoxicating! Thinking about how the older large industrial businesses utilized the Schuylkill River as a primary means of shipping is nothing short of amazing. These small industrial towns up and down the river have changed almost to the point where it is hard to recognize them anymore. While Bridgeport, PA has changed for the better is has stayed true to value’s that make it so lovable. Bridgeport has a great mix of Family Owned Restaurants/Pub, Large Commercial Companies, Small Businesses and a great mix between old and new homes. I can say that Bridgeport is on the rise due to the stability of the locals, beyond convenient location and a housing market that allows a great price point.
Below you will find a great article on Bridgeport’s History Courtesy of Ed Pinkowski (Link to book attached below)
Some interest exists in the old industries of Bridgeport. The first industry was probably the shad fisheries kept by Du Portail in the eighteenth century. In 1824 Joseph Pastorius, a German immigrant, built a saw mill along the Schuylkill River and two years later converted it into a grist mill. Cadwallader Evans operated the mill until the Schuylkill Navigation Company bought the property and leased it to different millers.
Christopher Heebner leased it in the 1840’s and tightened his grip on the flour trade in the Schuylkill Valley. He didn’t meet any opposition until 1856 when Samuel Beaver, Jr., built a flour mill, with two stones, on Second Street, near De Kalb. Heebner’s fortunes declined rapidly and the mill was taken over in 1862 by William Davis and his son to make phosphate from bones. The father and son also added a lumber and coal yard. In 1874 Jesse R. Eastburn bought the business and later took in a partner, John C. Richardson, who extended the interests of the partnership into a number of other activities. Richardson himself became a member of the State Assembly.
The two decades following the incorporation of the borough were marked by the appearance of self-made manufacturers. Owen Raysor and John Templeton, two carpenters in their thirties, built a planing mill on Front Street, below Depot. Three years later, in 1855, Swan’s iron foundry was located at the corner of Depot and Rambo streets. It produced agricultural implements and castings.
On Fourth Street, below Depot, young Isaac Ramsey had a planing mill, and not far away, standing next to a swamp, Isaac Richards manufactured elevators. Up Fourth Street, near Green, John Taylor built coaches and carriages.
Across the street Joel Andrews, a bricklayer from Philadelphia who bought three acres of land from Evans, had large kilns for burning brick and employed as many as seven gangs of moulders. In 1839, when he built a store building at De Kalb and Third Streets, bricks were burned with wood. As the supply became scarce, Andrews conceived the idea of using anthracite coal to burn brick. During the 35 years he was in business he furnished brick for most of the buildings that were put up in Bridgeport and the Montgomery County Court House in 1853.
The same year as Swan’s foundry was opened two brothers, Thomas and John White, built a factory on Ford Street, opposite Depot Street, for the manufacture of bonnets and straw hats. Within two years it became the largest manufacturer of headgear in Pennsylvania. In 1857, the bonnet factory produced 49,328 hats and 27,734 bonnets.
Shortly before 1860, Charles Whitman started butchering in a pork-packing factory on Front Street, east of De Kalb, and the Norristown market depended for years upon its products. When Jacob L. Tripler took over in 1877, he found business so dull that he quit and started soon afterwards the Schuylkill Valley Creamery on Fifth Street, near Mill.
In 1874, nearly across the street from the Worrall and Ratcliffe mill, William W. Potts began construction of cars for use in his marble quarries. His car works was located on Front Street. Later Ridgway and Carr turned it into a spinning mill for woolen yarn.
In 1852, John Ogden, a young English weaver, erected a building on Front Street, below Depot, for the manufacture of cotton. His spindles and looms were kept busy until the end of the war. It lay in ruins until 1868 when it was purchased by Dr. Henry T. Slemmer.
The story of Dr. Slemmer is unique. Soon after the discovery of oil in 1860 his brothers went to the oil regions of Pennsylvania and sent him some of the petroleum. He started to experiment with it in his drug store on Main Street in Norristown and soon converted it in a clear liquid, called kerosene, which almost overnight became the standard means of household illumination through the country.
When he needed a larger place, he bought the Odgen site in 1868 to carry on oil refining. He added another building with numerous skylights and fire-proof compartments. He installed a hundred barrel still with numerous iron tanks for storing and deodorizing oils before shipment. The crude oil came from Venango County, first in barrels and later in tank cars, and the Norris Oil Works processed it as fast as it came. From 1869 to 1877 he did a large business in kerosene and lubricating oils. The place went out of existence when the company was purchased by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company.