Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area

204 Church Street, Phoenixville, PA 19460

610-935-7646   hspa@verizon.net

www.hspa-pa.org   or   www.phoenixvillehistoricalsociety.org

 

Phoenix Iron Company Marker

 

On October 29, 2005, a Phoenixville Community Health Foundation project came to fruition as Ryan Conroy unveiled a historical marker commemorating the Phoenix Iron Company that started in 1783 and closed in 1987.

Robert Weibel, the Director of Public History for the State Museum of Pennsylvania, said in order to obtain a historical marker the applicant must show the subject has state-wide significance.  Mr. Weibel noted the historical significance of the Phoenix Iron Company with the unveiling of the Phoenix Iron Co. historical marker near the Foundry Building, which is now the home of the Schuylkill River Heritage Center.   Please click for their web site, www.phoenixvillefoundry.org.

Mr. Weibel congratulated Ryan Conroy on acquiring the marker for Phoenixville.  Other speakers at the ceremony included Jack Ertell, the President of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area, PA State Senator Robert Thompson, and Leo Scoda, the Mayor of Phoenixville.

Ryan Conroy, who is a member of the Board of Directors for the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area, began his quest to recognize the history of the former Phoenix Iron Company as part of a project in 2004 for the Leadership Academy hosted by the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

Each participant in the Leadership Academy was given $500 to pursue a venture that would benefit the community.  Because of his intense love of history, especially the history of the Phoenix Iron Company where his family worked since the days of his great-great grandfather, Ryan Conroy chose to dedicate his time to obtaining the PA state marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Ryan Conroy, who is a fifth-generation Phoenixville resident, gave a presentation in the Phoenixville Borough parking lot off Mill Street.  His speech encompassed the history of the Phoenix Iron Company from its humble beginnings in 1783 to 1987 when the mill closed.Ryan Conroy, who has been exposed to history throughout his life, began by thanking the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation for giving him the grant.  He also thanked members of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area who assisted him with his research before describing to the crowd the historical significance of the former Phoenix Steel Company.

The Phoenix Steel Company, which changed its names and owners several times, was established in 1783 by David Reeves and was responsible for the creation of many significant products, including the Griffen Gun. The mill produced about 1200 cannons (3" rifles) during the Civil War.  Forty five percent of Union artillery was made by the Phoenix Iron Company.  The company invented the famous Phoenix Column in 1862.

The location for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker, along Main Street in Phoenixville near the entrance to the Mill Street parking lot, was chosen because the lot was the approximate site of the first nail-making factory in the U. S. that was started in 1790 by Benjamin Longstreth.

After giving his presentation, Ryan Conroy stood before the marker, which was covered with a blue canvas sleeve, and prepared to unveil the fruit of his yearlong labor.

The historical marker, Ryan Conroy said, is dedicated in honor of the employees of the Phoenix Steel Company, including former President and CEO Harold Freeman and 40 year-employee Anthony "Shorty" Cionti, who were present at the ceremony.

Ryan Conroy also took the opportunity to honor the late Alexander Kovach, who was employed by the mill for several decades.

The Phoenix newspaper article on October 31, 2005 reporting on the event quoted Ryan Conroy as telling the audience "Alex Kovach really took the heart of this place" and "This marker is dedicated to the town of Phoenixville in memory of Alex Kovach."

As he lifted the cover off the new historical marker, Ryan Conroy received applause and congratulations.  Ryan Conroy's father, Joe Conroy, said he was immensely proud of his son.

The Phoenix newspaper account quoted Joe Conroy "I am so grateful for his efforts to preserve the history of Phoenixville" and "this project is something he was passionate about."

Joe Conroy said his son learned about the history of Phoenixville mostly from his grandparents - his grandfather worked for the steel mill and his grandmother used to make lunches for the workers.

According to The Phoenix newspaper account, Ryan Conroy told the audience  "I chose this because of the significance to the town" and "my family worked here, and I'm very proud of this. I'm happy to have it up."

Ryan Conroy always felt the town should create a memorial to the Phoenix Iron Company because it was such an important part of the town's history, so he set out to learn the history of the mill.

According to The Phoenix newspaper account, Joe Conroy said of Ryan "He's got a great knack for seeking out stories".

Ryan Conroy said in the 1840s, the Phoenix Iron Company was in full production, manufacturing nails and rails for the expansion of railroads.

After a fire in 1848, the nail factory was never rebuilt.  It was located where the future Foundry Building was constructed in 1882 by the Phoenix Iron Company.  Phoenix Iron Company began bringing in immigrant labor and between 1830 and 1860, the town's population grew by more tha 4,000 people. In 1850, 51 percent of the population of Phoenixville was Irish.

The Iron Works owned 800 houses in the mid -1800s, including the 100 homes on Mill Street, known then as Nailer's Row or Puddler's Row, so named for the residents of the homes who worked in the mill "puddling" or melting steel furnaces.

In 1862, the Phoenix Iron Company patented the famous Phoenix Column, which was used to construct the elevated subway system in New York City as well as many bridges and tall buildings. The Phoenix Column is hollow and circular and it is made up of four, six, or eight wrought-iron segments that are flanged and riveted together.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the mill saw an influx of workers from Eastern Europe and by World War II the majority of men in the Phoenixville area were employed by the Phoenix Steel Company.

During World War II, 350 employees of the mill were in the armed forces and 70 of those men were killed in combat.

Phoenix Iron Company grew from a small nail factory into Phoenix Steel Company and eventually at its peak employed 2,000 workers.  The Phoenix Steel Company encompased over 130 acres.  Phoenix Steel Company continued steel production until 1987 when the company closed.


HSPA President Jack Ertell speaks

 

 

 

 

 

Phoenixville Mayor Leo Scoda speaks.

 


PA State Senator Robert Thompson speaks.

 




Ryan Conroy speaks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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