Pierce, James - Gen.

Submitted by mercercounty on Thu, 08/12/2010 - 03:18

JAMES PIERCE. - - It is now more than a third of a century since General James Pierce, of Sharpsville, Mercer county, passed from the scene of his earthly labors, but the influence of his strong mind, his practical work and his warm heart is still vital in western Pennsylvania. He more than any other man who ever lived saved the iron industries of the Shenango and the Mahoning valleys from a profound depression which might have brought death to them; first, by organizing and developing necessary transportation facilities, and, secondly, by introducing Lake Superior ore to the region and opening to its blast furnaces an inexhaustible supply of unexcelled raw material. These were the most pronounced exhibitions of his genius as a man of affairs, while the kindly, warm and Christian traits of his character spread, in a wide radius, from his beautiful old homestead near Sharpsville, known so widely and affectionately as “Mount Hickory Farm.”

James Pierce, of this review, was a native of the Granite state, born on the 24th of September, 1810. Working faithfully on his father’s farm and receiving the education of the neighboring country schools, he renamed at home until he had attained his majority, when he left the paternal homestead and commenced the work in the lumber business by the month. As enterprise accompanied his industry, however, he was soon engaged in the project of manufacturing shooks for sugar hogsheads, conveying his product to market down the Connecticut river. Immediately after his marriage in 1839 he added farming pursuits to his manufacturing enterprise, but even this extension of his activities was not satisfactory to the energetic and ambitious young man, and in 1844 he ventured into the mercantile field. Forming a partnership with his cousin, Jervis Bates, he transported a stock of cotton and woolen cloth to Erie county, Pennsylvania, and turned the proceeds into horses, which they took back with them to their New Hampshire home. In December of that year Mr. Pierce was engaged in selling clocks through Erie and Crawford counties and, as money was scarce, he found that the net results of his venture consisted of $1,000 in Erie extension canal bonds, which he exchanged for a stock of stoves. This first territory of his mercantile ventures seemed so promising that in 1845 he sold his property in New Hampshire and removed with his family to Cranesville, Erie county, where he remained until his removal to Clarksville, Mercer county, in the spring of 1847.

Mr. Pierce’s first business enterprise in Clarksville, inaugurated in the above year, was the mining of coal in the vicinity and shipping it to its market in Erie via the Extension canal. He was a pioneer in the business and, although his first venture was only moderately profitable, he showed characteristic confidence in his judgment; for when the small mine from which he drew his first supplies was exhausted he opened new coal deposits on his land in Hickory township, near the location of his future homestead. The mines proved productive, and to convey the output to canal water he constructed a tram road operated by horse power, an exhibition of individual enterprise which brought him into wide prominence. Later he showed his ability to keep even in advance of the times by abandoning his tramway in favor of the Erie and Pittsburg and the Sharpsville and Oakland railroads, in whose construction he took an active part and a large financial interest; in fact, he was the president, general manager and principal stockholder in the Sharpsville and Oakland road from its establishment until his death in 1874. As no two agencies have more greatly contributed to the industrial development of this part of the state than these lines, Mr. Pierce’s eminence as a “captain of industry” cannot he overrated to the people of the Shenango and Mahoning valleys. To the day of his death be continued the foremost figure connected with these strategic transportation lines, as well as one of the most prominent coal operators of western Pennsylvania.

The connection of General Pierce with the furnace business commenced in 1859, when he began to operate the Sharpsville plant, of which he was proprietor, and began his experiments with the Jackson ore of Lake Superior, succeeding in producing from it, in combination with bituminous coal, a good grade of red short pig iron—which was the first to be manufactured in the country. This was the cause of the revival of the iron industry in the Shenango and Mahoning valleys, and in 1865 General Pierce, with William L. Scott, of Erie, began a large expansion of his own interests, erecting the Mount Hickory furnaces (two stacks), and later, in company with his sons, Jonas J. and Wallace Pierce, and George D. Kelly, he built the Douglas furnaces, also two stacks. As another son, Walter, was associated with him in the Spearman Iron Works, he was identified with seven of the nine large furnaces located at Sharpsville, and he had investments in the Lake Superior mines. To add to the complete ness of his combinations he was president and principal owner of the Sharpsville Iron Banking Company and a stockholder in the Sharon Banking Company.

Mr. Pierce’s standing as a householder and a citizen was equally noteworthy. In the early years of his residence he became widely known as a scientific farmer and stock-raiser, and Mount Hickory Farm, with its spacious mansion and large outbuildings, was considered a model country place. This was the scene of his death, on Wednesday morning, December 2, 1874, his decease being the ultimate effect of a shock caused by a fall during the week previous, his partial unconsciousness gradually merging into the sleep of death.

During his life Mr. Pierce manifested his appreciation of the wide spread advantages of public education in many practical ways, being a large taxpayer in support of the schools, a liberal contributor in lands and money for their sites and erection, and for a number of years an active member of the hoard. The churches of Sharpsville and vicinity were also warmly supported through the generous expenditure of money and the benefit of his moral influence. His special religious faith was that of Universalism, and it was through his exertions and liberality that the first organization of that denomination in the county was effected at Sharpsville, his generous support continuing through life.

General Pierce was one of the leading members of the Democratic party in northwestern Pennsylvania and influential in the shaping of legislation generally beneficial to the state, and especially to the section in which he was most vitally interested, but his large and straightforward character was utterly at variance with the makeshifts and schemes of common politics, and he therefore never sought office. He was once, however, the Democratic candidate for the legislature and, although defeated, polled a far larger vote than the full strength of his Party. His broad usefulness, his unimpeachable character, his attractive, generous, charitable and kindly personality brought him the loyal support of many irrespective of partisan considerations. It will never be known how many he assisted along the hard roads of life by his encouragement both of kindly words and pecuniary aid, but when such as these are added to the thousands who admired him for his rare and substantial ability it will be readily understood why it was that General Pierce carried with him to the last such a large and stanch following of men, women and children.

On the 1st of January, 1839, General Pierce was married to Miss Chloe Holbrook, a native of New Hampshire, born on the 20th of March, 1816, and the following were born to their union: Jonas J., born September 23, 1839, who married Miss Kate Pritz, of Baltimore, Maryland, who bore him five children; Walter and Wallace (twins), born October 19, 1842, a sketch of the former appearing elsewhere in this work; Frank, whose biography is also published elsewhere; and James B., born September 2, 1856, who married Miss Albertine Pomplitz (also a Baltimore lady), June 17. 1880 General Pierce’s widow survived him until August 16, 1886, when she died at the age of seventy years. It is needless to say that the sons have enjoyed most honorable careers as public citizens and industrial promoters of the Shenango valley.

Twentieth Century History of Mercer County, 1909, pages 360-362.

 
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