Sunday, March 16, 2014

Post Two: Lehighton's Vibrant Business Moves Forward

Lehighton’s growing and prosperous industrial age population fed a vibrant downtown business atmosphere. 
The Packerton Car repair shops employed 762 men in 1901.  This number was augmented by the Packerton Store House, which was the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s supply house, employed 51 men, not to mention the Central Railroad of New Jersey employees adding another 51 men at their repair facility. 
The Mansion House Hotel also known as the Valley House.  The former
Kovatch Jeep dealership eventually took its place on North First Street.

These numbers do not count the numerous men who also worked as engineers, firemen, brakemen, track walkers, and conductors.  .  Not to mention those who worked on the Lehigh Canal as well that operated into the 1930s.

Most of these men lived in the downtown area, some living full-time in hotels, and many others stayed for short times and stop-overs, while working for the railroad.  Needless to say, Lehighton had a bustling hotel trade. 
The Henry Miller Planing Mill on the Flats in Lehighton.  Henry Miller's
mother died in a most unfortunate way.  In July 1899, at the age of
79, she fractured her skull when she fell into her well at her Franklin
Township home.  She was attempting to store some butter and some milk
in it for safe keeping.  His father was George Miller.  After Henry's death
his sons ran the operation as "Miller Brothers."  It was later succeeded
by "City Lumber Company" in the 1930s.  Photo courtesy of
Brad Haupt collection.
But there were many other businesses as well: Henry Miller’s Planing Mill (in the flats) employed 10, the Lehigh Stove Foundry and Manufacture employed another 75.  Not to mention the employees who worked on the Lehigh Canal as well. 
An early 1900s parade in Lehighton showcasing the town's self-sufficiency, this float proudly displays two models of stoves among the many manufactured items that were made in Lehighton.  Cropped photo from the Brad Haupt collection.

Joe Obert’s slaughter and meat packing house had 35 workers, the Baer Silk Mill housed a total of 264 workers in both the Throwing Mill portion of the lower levels of the mill combined with the workers in the upper levels of the Helvetia Weaving Mill.  Men made up the majority of the silk throwers at 165 to 59 female.  The weaving portion employed 25 men and 15 women. 
Here is a 1899 letterhead from Eugene Baer's silk mill written by one
of Baer's accountants to his brother E. J. Kuntz in Treichlers, PA.

In the railroad industry, less than one percent of the workers were younger than twenty-one.  Not true in the silk mills.  A fair percentage was not only younger than adult age but since the mills were allowed to legally employ children down to the age of 13, a fair to large portion of their workers were young.  

Of the 264 workers at Eugene Baer’s mill, 174 of them were under the age of twenty-one.  (That’s 65%.)  Breaking the 174 under twenty-one down further, 47 boys and 20 girls were below sixteen.  That’s 25% of their work force.  Thank goodness our youth have video games today!

Eugene Baer was a third-generation silk weaver.  His parents were Jacob and Louise (Blattner) Baer who were born in Switzerland.  Jacob Baer learned the trade from his father John F. Baer.  Jacob immigrated to the U.S. in 1856 and his son Eugene was born in Patterson New Jersey in 1868.  After a few ups and downs in the business, Jacob once again established his own silk factory in 1888, calling it the Helvetia Silk Mill.  From that time until the early 1900s, it was the leading employer of all Paterson.

The Lehighton plant was built in 1898 being one of the largest employers of that kind in town.  He was also one of the largest shareholders of Citizens' National Bank when it formed.  He married Miss Cora B. Tice in December 1889 and had six children, only the last of which was born in Lehighton: Cora E., Geneviece L., Eugene W. and Rose L. were twins, and Carlos A. and Margie E.

(I have many great uncles who worked in the mills at a young age.  One was killed after a flying shuttle broke free and injured him in the head.  He died on account of the infection that set in.  He was only fourteen.) 
The first three streets of Lehighton buzzed with activity.  There were many homes there for these workers and families, all nestled within the businesses that wished to cater to them. 

With taut backs and gritty skin, these men sought out a strong drink and a good cigar to soften the blows of the day.  The many taprooms and hotels accommodated this need as well as the numerous cigar manufacturers that existed in town too.  (See Post #1 and Isborn S. Koch cigar maker who solved a mysterious death.) 
The Leuckel Building as it stood over 100 years ago.  It was housed a bank and the post office and was considered a modern building of its day.  Photo courtesy of Brad Haupt.

One of many early business people who came here near penniless was Frederick Leuckel.  Born in Hessen Germany in 1807, he came to America trained as a butcher with $40.  He first started a meat market in Easton and then opened one in Lehighton in 1834.  By 1875 his meat market earned him enough to retire, having invested in real estate and stocks in the First National Bank of Lehighton, the First and Second National Banks of Mauch Chunk, and the First National Bank of Catasauqua.  

His son John amassed a fortune of his own in pottery factories in New Jersey.  He oversaw the construction of the Leuckel Building, a most prominent of the modern buildings of the downtown business sector in 1894.  It housed the bank and the post office.  In 1928 Samuel Sondheim had a store there as well.  In the 1980s it was Rea & Derrick Drugs and is today a dentist office.

Both Frederick and son John Leuckel died in 1899 within five months of each other.  John had stomach trouble and was only sixty.  He was never married. 
The Steam Laundry of Lehighton was owned by "J. D. Kistler,"  It
is unclear if this was owned by Daniel "Jacob" Kistler.  It was located
between the Carbon House and T. D. Clauss's tailor shop on North First.
Photo courtesy of Brad Haupt.

One business owner who bridged the gap from the old horse and buggy days was a man by the name of Daniel “Jacob” Kistler (1862-1937).  (Daniel’s father was also named Daniel prompting him to sign papers by his rightful name, but preferred to be called “Jacob.”) 
Daniel "Jacob" Kistler owned this livery which would be located in the
parking lot of the bank at North and First Streets, below present
day Lehighton Memorial Library.  Photo courtesy of Brad Haupt.

He owned Kistler’s Livery on North Street in Lehighton, located in what is today the bank parking lot by the Lehighton Memorial Library.  One could rent a horse and buggy there for $2 a day in the 1890s.   

But Kistler too was a smart businessperson.  He saw the newly rising automobile as a challenge to his old business, so he branched out into the lucrative Lehighton hotel trade.  He bought the Lehighton Exhange Hotel, scene to at least one trolley mishap (click here).  At first he partnered with George Reichard, but later continued it on his own.

The former tannery business started by the Olewine family atop land
originally tamed by the Moravians later became the Penn Lace building.
The building still stands catty-corner from the Baer Silk Mill, which is
now the Body and Soul Complex owned by Woody Frey on Bridge St.
Photo courtesy of Brad Haupt.
Kistler married Minnie Reichard (1868-before 1930).  They had at least two children, Mahlon who took over many of his father’s business holdings and a daughter Mary who married Lee Gaumer.  Jacob lived in his widowhood with his daughter on Lentz Ave into the 1930s.  He continued operating the Penn Lace Mill Company, catty-corner from the Eugene Baer Silk Mill on Bridge St, until that time.
Daniel "Jacob" Kistler with son Mahlon "Milo" and daughter Mary
(married Lee Gaumer) and wife Minnie Reichard.  Photo courtesy of
Paula Ewaniuk.

The Lehighton Exchange Hotel, later to be called the Hotel Lehighton, not only housed Mr. and Mrs Kistler, but partner Reichard and six servants who did the cooking and cleaning lived there as well.  Sometime after around 1904, one of those cooks at the hotel was Alma Young, the recently widowed wife of Theodore Young.  She was the mother of Marcus V. Young, the founder of Young’s Bakery (More on the Youngs in Post Three.) 
Lehighton Exchange Hotel owned by Kistler and Reichard.  Photo courtesy
of Brad Haupt collection.  The scene of at least one trolley crash (click here 
for link to post of Blakslee's Trolleys.)

In 1900, the hotel also had twenty-one permanent resident customers as well.  Among them were two ambitious young men who boarded there: Benjamin Losos and Samuel Sondheim.  They were partners in gentleman’s clothing and they ran their first business in the front corner store of the Obert Packing house building.  The later had other locations in Lehighton and Mauch Chunk as well.

There was I. S. Koch’s cigar factory employed eight men and two women.  A. F. Diefenderfer, also in cigars employed 5 men.  These were just two names of at least five cigar factories that existed in downtown Lehighton.  There was a Kutz Cigar store near the Carbon House (which was located on the corner below the library where the bank is today.)  This was next door to Tilghman Clauss (and later son Frank Clauss) and his tailor shop (More Clauss genealogycan be found in Post 1.)
T. D. Clauss's tailor shop in 1900.  Photo
courtesy of Paula Kistler Ewaniuk.
For more on T. D. Clauss, see Post One by clicking here.

Lehighton also had a fair number of candy confectioners, premise-made ice cream shops, as well as bread and pastry bakers and ones that also specialized in pretzel baking.

Area bakers were T. E. Arner (employed 3 men), C. W. Laury (employed 5 and 1) and F. A. Graver (2 men and 2 women).  All were bakers in Weissport.   John B. Coles of Lehighton employed three men and a woman, of those, two were under twenty-one, one of those was under sixteen.    Lehighton also had Leopold A. Kuehn who employed 4 men and 1 woman.  All of them baked bread and pastries but Graver of Weissport specialized in bread and pretzels.

Benjamin K. Culton started as a confectioner in the 1890s, and sometime around 1900 bought out the bakery of George Snyder on First Street.  He became the third husband of Maria Horn Nusbaum Guth who amassed a small fortune as a hat-maker.  (See Post One for the Maria Culton Empire story.)  

According to a current long-time Lehighton resident, that bakery was located in the basement of what was once “Rene’s Beauty Salon,” catty-corner from “Alfies Pizza” of today.  As a young child of about twelve, young Marcus V. Young got his start in the baking business with Culton.  “Bums,” or hobos, were said to line the streets in those days.   

Part of Marcus’s job was to run trays of pastries across the still dirt First St to the storage area in the basement of Obert’s building.  And each day he’d risk his job by nudging a pastry to the ground to help feed these men who seemed to line the street at times.   (More on this in Post Three.)
One of several early Lehighton bakers, J. B. Cole of either First or Second St.  This photo looks like a residence of Second St.  Photo courtesy of Bill Schwab.

Both the building housing Culton’s bakery and the building housing Losos and Sondheim’s clothing store, the front office and housing of Joe Obert’s meat packing business were owned by Obert. 

Joe Obert not only owned one of the largest slaughter houses of anywhere in the immediate vicinity, but he held a fair amount of other property holdings in the downtown such as his Bone Meal Grinding Mill down on the flats. 

Shortly after emigrating here at the age of 20 in 1841, he established himself first as a cabinet maker and then he went into farming.  Later he ran a grocery and dry goods store among many property holdings all along First Street.    

By 1867, these ventures grew into the slaughter house, at first and mainly in pigs.  The entire works burned to the ground in 1875.  But he rebuilt it, better than before, a 4-story mammoth brick building, unlike any other slaughter house in the whole Lehigh Valley.  In 1897, the year of Obert’s death, he had recently added a $25,000 addition to the building. 
Joseph Obert was among the many who came here near penniless and was able to build a substantial fortune.  To the rear of the photo you can see the huge four-story meat slaughtering facility.  The photographer is standing amid the stock pen, as evidenced by the partial picket fence in the foreground left.  The business in the right of the building (today's "Alfie's Pizza") was the first clothing shop of partners Losos and Sondheim.  If you download this picture from the Brad Haupt collection, you will see a cast of characters: An older man with a white beard dressed ala Abe Lincoln hidden amid the ivy covering the building, a clean and dirty butcher in white in the front, and a few creepy looking mannequins in front of the clothing shop.  According to lore, pastries from the former George Snyder/Benjamin K. Culton Bakery were stored in the basement of this building.  Photo courtesy of the Brad Haupt collection.  See the end of this post for some high resolution close-ups of the people in this picture.

The above two advertisements appeared
in the 1928 Lehighton "Gachtin Bambil
yearbook and apparently shows
the eventual separation of the
Sondheim and Losos partnership.

Joseph married Catherine Heberling of Kreidersville on December 26th, 1849.  They had four sons and a daughter: John (1850-1921), Charles (1858-1921), William (1861-1936), Franklin (1868-1951) and Emma (1865-1939) who married Henry B. Kennell.  Catherine died on the very first day of 1900. 
All the sons and Kennell served in various managerial capacities and as officers of the corporation after Joseph’s death in 1897 and into the 1930s.    All lived in and around the Second to Fourth Street area.  All are buried in Lehighton Cemetery.
Another ad from the 1928 Lehighton yearbook placed by the Obert family.

The Obert and Bretney families were connected in friendship.  Clinton Bretney the cobbler, at the age 65, was one of a few friends who bore up the industrious and philanthropic Obert’s pall at his funeral.

The Thomas Bretney family lived at 120 South Second St in Lehighton.  The building still stands across the alley from today’s Lehighton Hardware.  Thomas (1850) was known to be both a confectioner and a baker of bread.  He was of the youngest sons of shoe cobbler Henry (1803-1881; the first of three Henrys) and Salome (Beck) Bretney (1809-1883) of the Mahoning Valley.  (They are both buried at St. John’s Cemetery.)
The father son Bretney's bakery
and photo studio.  Photo courtesy of Brad Haupt Collection.

Thomas operated his business from about 1900 until about 1920.  His son Clement “Clem” (1873-) ran Lehighton’s well-known photography studio right along-side of his father’s bakery. 

One of the oldest of Henry and Salome’s children was their son Clinton Bretney (1833-) who followed his father in the shoemaking business.  He had a son named Henry II (1856-) who became the cashier at the First National Bank in Lehighton. 

He and his wife had four children: Clara (1879-), Charles (1880-), Bessie (1882-), and Florence (1887-).  Clara was a school teacher and Florence stayed with her mother, unemployed much of her early adult life until she became a telephone operator around the time of her father’s death. 

It was son Charles who followed in his father’s career in the banking trade, taking one of his first jobs as cashier of a bank in Lynn Township.  Here, he started his family and where his eldest son Henry Bretney III (1909-1992) was born. 

Henry and his wife Dorothy lived at the corner of Seventh and Coal Sts for many years.  He started out as a clerk in a butcher shop and soon started his life’s work as a gas station attendant.  He owned and operated the Atlantic (later ARCO) service station at Seventh and Mahoning since the late 1930s and on up through the 1970s until he sold it to Joe Muffley in 1978. 
The Bretney Bakery and Photo Studio behind what looks to be Henry Bretney III's father Charles.  The car is a 1910.  In 1910 Charles would have been about 30 years old.  The man behind the wheel to me looks to be the spitting image of the same Henry who owned the ARCO station on Mahoning St for many years of my childhood.

Henry’s character is embedded in our family history as I was growing up.  My older brothers and I all spent time there.  We’d sip 10-oz returnable A-Treat sodas from his refrigerator at 25 cents a pop, placing the debt on Dad’s open account.  (We were entitled to one soda a week by Dad.)  We’d listen to the parade of characters and old time and unique expressions of this cagey, somewhat cantankerous and extremely lovable man. 

I can remember how one neighborhood youngster would parade around the station, the staccato bangings of the his “Big Wheel’s” front tire onto the ground, along with what must have been to Henry some annoying whoops and unreasonable shouting of youth as the child seemingly circled the station in an endless cycle. 

As I remember it, there truly was something significantly amiss in that family.  Henry would catch one look at this child and a visible shift in his load would take place.  A load of dismay that could only be shed with the muttering refrains that would trail off into a whisper: “Strange child…strange child...”

One of Henry’s hallmarks was his drawn out “sunna-ya-beech.”   This could be heard anytime something upset the cosmos of Henry’s life.   Anything from low-grade dismay to amazement to out and out frustration could elicit one. 

To me, he embodied what small town supporting characters were all about, someone right out of a Frank Capra movie, complete in his winter jumpsuit and his trumpet gold 1966 Olds Toronado.  Henry certainly had a taste in cars much like his father.
Henry Bretney's 1966 Olds Toronado.  

One story my brother loves to tell centers on a spooked deer that ran into town one afternoon.  As Randy remembers, it was a long “sunna-ya-beech” as the animal crossed Mahoning Street, reaching a peak of faster, more intense ones after the poor animal broke its neck when it slammed into a house on South Seventh St. 

The buck was flailing, sending Henry scrambling for his snub-nosed 32-caliber from the storage area of his garage bay.  Just then, Postman Hinkle arrived on the scene, halting Henry’s plan and supplanted it with his own: to give a “clean” death he’d use his pen knife. 

It turned into a spectacle fury of cursing and fur that ended with Hinkle’s postal blues covered in blood.
Perhaps one of the last vestiges of that former time of our town of Lehighton, a link to the past that will never return, was working at Henry’s station after Joe Muffley took over. 

Henry always seemed to have been from another time.  And even though both men were veterans of the WWII, Henry was nearly twenty years older than Joe.  When ownership was passed onto Joe, even my young eyes could sense the shift from that older time of our past, dawning into a new generation of Lehighton business. 

The Carbon County Fair was just a few blocks west of the station and Joe’s business depended on the influx of travelers during that week.  Perhaps for Joe, the annual demolition derby of the Fair was his release, an opportunity to once again exhilarate him to a bit of danger within a perhaps mundane civilian life.

I guess you could say at the young age of 12 I was already a relic, a carryover from the Bretney to the Muffley days.  New in the business, Joe had a conundrum during fair week.  He didn’t want to miss competing in the demolition derby but he surely couldn’t miss the evening business of Fair Week either. 

It was 1980 and I don’t believe most of any places had “self-serve” yet, at least nowhere in Lehighton.  Joe asked me to work the two nights of the derby and I remember how thrilled I was to have such a glorious job!  This, I was certain, was every young boy’s dream come true.  To run a gas station alone.  

I suppose Joe’s faith in me was rooted in my early retail experience at Haas’s Store at Fifth and Coal Sts.  It was the family business started by my grandfather.  It was a place were I had worked  since my early grade school days on up through high school.

Even though most people paid in cash, I remember with anxiousness how Joe showed me how to operate the all manual credit card machine: how the card laid in the bed of the machine, how you set the numbers of the amount with these handles that stuck up and went click-click as you moved them to the right amount, how there was no “authorization” then, how you took the card in faith, and how they signed the triplicate carbon copy in the car, and how the merchant only got the money after mailing the forms into the credit company.

To this day, I cannot remember exactly how I was to close down or until what time I stayed open.  I do remember doing it more than once and I can remember Joe coming for my relief once or twice, but I too remember how I’d padlock the two pumps, the blue one with “unleaded” that no one bought because it was more expensive, and the red pump with “regular.” 

I seem to remember the sun going down, the gaining darkness, trying to remember if I took care of everything.  I can still feel the rather small silver door knob of the half-glass white wooden door in my hand, sensing that it was locked, and that brief moment of uncertainty I felt just before I pulled it all the way shut.  I did not have a key to re-enter.  Had I had a good reason or need to go back in I would have been stuck.  

Funny how that knot in my stomach returns to me now just thinking about those early days of responsibility.
Maybe it was just Joe or maybe it was it was a totally different time than the one in which we currently live.  But even so, I admire Joe and his faith in me. 

And that is how this chapter of history closes, like all those doors of our past that we can no longer open.

Well Henry and Joe, if you’re out there listening somewhere, know that you are missed.  I think of you fondly.
Joe Muffley: World War II veteran and
 gas station owner.

 John Faga's Sewing Machines and Organs - Not sure who the men were but it is interesting just the same.  Their manner of pose and how the one man, perhaps a butcher in the slaughter house with some sort of dirt, while the worker next to him is clean as a whistle. 

Another man who looks to work in daily grim highlights the people in the yard in the finest of the day.  Interesting how everyone in this frame is intently focused on the photographer yet most look like their days couldn't be more different.

These wardrobe models really have a time period look in style and in their apparent stiffness compared to modern ones.

The Leuckel family plot as it looks in Lehighton Cemetery today.  The First Ward School is in the background.

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