Big Business Along The Schuylkill's Banks Royersford: Once Stove Town U.s.a.

Posted: December 30, 1993

ROYERSFORD — Though its present-day look recalls a small town on the edge of farmland - there's a feed store and a family five-and-dime in the center of town - this borough's heritage is industrial rather than agricultural.

Archaeological evidence can be found in the old manufacturing zone on the banks of the Schuylkill, where the remains of a multistory foundry complex stand.

They are what is left of the Buckwalter stove company works, whose products warmed hundreds of thousands of homes around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Lawrence Shaner, 86, historian for the Spring Ford Area Historical Society, remembers when Royersford was known as Stove Town U.S.A.

"There were a number of stove works both here in Royersford and across the river in Spring City, but the Buckwalter Works was the biggest," Shaner said. ''They provided work and pride in work for a great many people over a long period of time."

Before the Civil War, several factors made Royersford a prime site for the iron-foundry business. Iron ore and water were abundant. The Schuylkill Canal provided a transportation link between the town and the port of Philadelphia.

And when the entire country was caught up in a surge of industrial expansion after the Civil War, Royersford was no exception.

Brothers Henry and Joseph Addison Buckwalter came to the area in 1865 with the idea of using the already established iron-foundry business to make stoves. After a series of mergers and expansions, the Buckwalter stove company was by the end of the 19th century the largest stove foundry in Pennsylvania. Its 142 workers made not only stoves, but heaters, ranges and furnaces for a market that included both North and South America and parts of Europe.

According to Spring Ford Historical Society files, at the height of its production, the Buckwalter foundry was turning out 25,000 units annually.

Such success fostered similar businesses to set up shop in Royersford.

Grander Stove Co. began operation in 1880 and eventually employed about 82 workers.

Floyd Wells & Co. started its stove works in 1883 and by 1898 had 103 workers. The company also had the distinction of being the longest surviving stove manufacturer in town. It closed its doors in 1953.

Across the river in Spring City, Chester County, Shantz & Keeley Stove Works, started in 1870, employed about 40 workers, and Yeager & Hunter Stove Co., founded in 1890, had about 100 people on its payroll.

The stove business brought to Royersford other iron-related industry, such as brick works, structural-steel companies, plumbing concerns, wrought-iron works and hardware-tool firms.

To move the stoves and other products, both the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads established regular runs into Royersford.

Royersford's roots go back to colonial times, when the area was settled by German immigrants, Shaner said. "The stove business brought in foundry molders from different backgrounds such as English, Irish and Italian. It gave the town more of a mix."

Buckwalter was an innovator in the stove business, introducing enameled stoves in the early years of the 20th century.

The new models were a success, and for a time output at the foundry increased to 40,000 units. In the years just before World War I, the company employed about 300 people.

But as other industrial giants have, Buckwalter fell victim to changing technology and downturns in the economy.

As coal gave way to gas in cooking stoves, so did gas give way to electricity. The dawn of central heating spelled the beginning of the end for the heating stove.

Buckwalter made its last stove around 1925 and continued to make parts thereafter. The first effects of the Great Depression proved too much to overcome, and Buckwalter shut down in 1930.

But the memory of Buckwalter and Royersford's other stove works lives on in the museum of the Spring Ford Historical Society. The museum, located in the old Reading Railroad station next to the Buckwalter foundry complex, has restored and preserved examples of stoves produced in the local foundries. It also has a growing collection of artifacts, documents and photographs that pertain to the old Stove Town days.

Bob Hollenbach is president-elect of the historical society, which was formed 10 years ago and has 130 members, 25 of whom are active.

"Maintaining this museum is a way that we are preserving our local heritage," Hollenbach said. "We think this is important."

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