I started these posts to discover more about the links between this engine house in Allentown USA and William West. In the process of exploring this distant influence of the last great engineer I learnt that this was no ordinary steam engine, this was a very significant piece of 19th Century engineering that deserves more recognition and preservation.
Why should the President Engine be preserved?
On one basic fact the President Engine in Pennsylvania cries out to be preserved- it is the only example of a Cornish Engine house still standing in the Americas outside of Mexico. As shown in my last post, Cornwall is rich in engine house remains but in the USA there stands just this one, hidden away from public view.
Mark Connar gives five reasons to preserve the engine house, five reasons that justify keeping this structure for future generations. I have dipped in to his paper and pulled out these extracts to summarise those reasons.
Reason 1 -It is a National Landmark of Mining History
“The Friedensville pumping engine house held the largest Cornish derivative single-cylinder beam pump ever built for use in a mining application and its’ engine house is the only known existing and extant example of such a structure in the Americas (apart from a few examples in Mexico near El Real and Pachuca).There is a partially
restored, but fragmented, engine house example in Nova Scotia and one very ruined Cornish engine house structure on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.”
“As we consider the evolution of technology, the Friedensville engine house is an archaic form compared to how the Cornish pumping engine was being adapted in North America and, therefore, represents a unique fulcrum point in the technological acculturation of this equipment in the Americas. In the California gold fields, Cornish engineers passed the baton to American designers who adapted this critical equipment to the North American environment.”
“Given the unique architectural character and its interconnected relationship to the pump design, it is the writer’s opinion that the Friedensville engine house structure is worthy of nomination by the US Department of Interior for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a mining property of significance in America’s development. ”
“The Friedensville engine house is a pure example of a Cornish engine house whose use as such is well documented. In this respect it is unique in the United States. Architecturally, the Friedensville engine house could be transposed on to the Devon or Cornwall landscape and fit perfectly into this renowned UNESCO World Heritage location that includes approximately 200 preserved engine houses that form an iconic part of the cultural heritage.”
Reason 2- It is a historical landmark of mechanical engineering
“The President was not first the Cornish Pump located at the Ueberroth Mine in Friedensville. Prior to the construction of the President, Lehigh Zinc’s engineer, John West from Cornwall, designed and installed a pumping engine that was capable of pumping 5700 gallons of water per minute from a depth of 132 feet. He also brought to the Ueberroth Mine a pumping engine he built before 1853 that some consider the first engine built on Cornish principles in America (this Pump most likely came from the Perkiomen copper mines). Some early mining equipment originated from Cornwall, but clearly John West’s work at Perkiomen and Ueberroth collectively are among the earliest representations of American design and manufacture of Cornish Pumps.”
“The President pump was clearly the largest steam driven stationary single-cylinder pumping engine ever used in any application in the Western Hemisphere and the largest Cornish derivative beam pump ever used in a mining application on a global basis.”
“The President pump was not simply a very large “throw back” to the past. In addition to incorporating a latticework beam design, which is attributed to the West family, the President included an innovative float device that “automatically” adjusted the speed of the engine based on the water level at the bottom of the mine.”
“It has been argued that without the Cornish Pump, the development of the deep, hard-rock gold mines in California would have been delayed for nearly half a century (until the introduction of electric motor-driven pumps).”
“Given the importance of the Friedensville site in the development of the steam engine technology and the fact that it once was home for the largest stationary single-cylinder pumping engine in the Western Hemisphere and largest Cornish derivative single-cylinder beam pumping engine in the world in a mining application, the pumping engine site deserves consideration as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Site as part of the American Association of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Landmarks program. Also, as noted above, its design was not a technological “dead end”, but rather an important linchpin in the adoption of this technology in the United States. Further, as discussed above, the physical remains of the engine house are more than just stonewalls; as a “house-built” engine much can be learned of the engine’s design, layout and operation from the engine house, even though the engine itself is long gone. The Landmarks program has recognized about 250 landmarks since its inception in 1971. Such designation would foster the preservation of the physical remains, encourage engineers to become aware of their technological heritage and further inform the public of the heritage site’s contribution.”
Reason 3-It is a heritage site of importance to Cornish American Studies
“While Friedensville was largely a village peopled by those of German descent, the Cornish presence would have been in much evidence during the zinc mine’s operations. Technicians, engineers and some of the skilled labor force were Cornishmen.”
“The Cornish are understandably proud of their contribution to the mining industry and related technologies, not only as practiced in Great Britain, but also globally given the significant export and migration history emanating from this small county. The President pump and its engine house are known to The Trevithick Society thanks to the efforts of Professor Nance. The writer believes that other organizations dedicated to Cornish studies and the history of Cornish contributions to mining and steam technology would likewise find the site to be of great interest.”.
Reason 4-It is a heritage site of regional importance
“The Ueberroth Zinc Mine Historic District has suffered a large number of losses in recent years. The extension of Interstate 78 through Saucon Valley, the routing of
Saucon Valley Parkway and the development of the Stabler Land properties has all served to comprise this historic area. Among the structures, which have been lost, include the Correll miner cottages (between Oakhurst Drive and Route 78), the Methodist Church (on Old Bethlehem Pike) and the secondary structures around the President pumping engine house. The Mine Master’s House (1868) on Friedensville Road will soon be lost to the wreaker’s ball to make room for office suites. With this last loss, the only significant above ground, visible remnant of 19th century mining activity will be the water filled quarry pits and the Cornish engine house that contained the President pump.”
Reason 5- It is in a location of scenic Beauty
“With clearance, preservation, historic interpretation and development, it is very
easy to picture the location as being a highly scenic and valued destination. It would attract historically minded tourists as well as the general public who would find the view “romantic”. The ruined pumping engine house, even after preservation, overlooking a lake with beautifully colored water, would attract photography buffs and possibly even filmmakers. The location would be perfect for wedding photos and other special occasions. With the medieval character of the pumping house in the background, the site would be hard to duplicate in the region.”
I will keep this blog updated with news of progress towards preservation of the engine house. Meanwhile Mark’s first reason for preservation has offered me a great excuse to take a quick detour to explore my photograph’s for images of the Virgin Gorda engine house, the topic for my next post.
To learn more about John West’s Cornish Uncle, visit on this blog’s William West Page.