The President Steam engine- an update

Protecting the only Cornish Engine House in the USA

screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgA quick break from the South Caradon series of posts to pass on some news about from across the Atlantic. Here is an update from Mark Connar on activity a the President Engine house, a house that had close connections with William West.

 

Work by Lehigh University

Lehigh University (the property owner) has now leveled the land surrounding the engine house, removed much of the destructive vegetation and has installed a protective fence around the engine house and the pump shaft immediately in front of the engine house. Unfortunately, the site continues to experience vandalism largely in the form of graffiti tagging and Lehigh is seeking solutions to this problem.
The Lehigh University has submitted at the end of February an application for a preservation planning grant to the PA Historical and Museum Commission. Lehigh, through the grant process, is requesting funding to evaluate the engine house and other remains on the site as well as the potential to convert the site into a public recreation/heritage location. Some of the activities contemplated as part of the grant includes structural/stabilization analysis of the engine house and the creation of a 3-D scan of the existing structure to establish a current condition baseline. Other activities include a cultural resource assessment and other property survey work which would support future development.

Lehigh has an innovative, award winning academic program called the Technical Entrepreneurship Capstone program. One of the Capstone classes underway for this Spring and next Fall semester involves 7 undergraduate students, with concentrations in multiple disciplines, working together to develop heritage park concepts and to create an animated virtual reality model of the President pumping engine. The funding for this initiative is also being partially provided by Lehigh’s Office of Sustainability Green Fund. It is very exciting to follow the progress of these motivated students!”

A boiler is found

President Engine Boiler
Access to take the pictures was courtesy of American Atelier, Inc.r

“One of the boiler’s riveted 30-foot-long steam drums was found to still exist, resting on saddles on the mud floor basement of a former furniture factory on Front Street in Allentown  still in use as a water holding tank!”

A date for the diary

Michael Kaas, Dr. Gerard Lennon and Mark Connar are scheduled to present on the Ueberroth Mine/President Pump and how Lehigh University students are supporting the preservation efforts at the 47th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Archeology in Richmond Va. in June 2018.


wpid-wp-1415226867597.jpeg William West the Last Great Cornish Engineer

William West was the uncle of John West, the President engine’s engineer. ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’ tells the fascinating rags to riches story of William West of Tredenham.

 

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The President Steam Engine- an index of posts so far

screenshot_2017-06-13-12-11-12_kindlephoto-18516640.jpgA Cornish Engine in the USA

“The only two non-William West lattice beams I know of is the Harleem Meer Engines in the Netherlands and the President Engine in the USA. The former was influenced by his Austen’s engine, and the latter designed by his nephew, John West”  From a talk given to the Friends of Luxuylan  Valley

This was my sole knowledge of the President Engine before I started this short series of posts; some throw away lines that I soon discovered greatly undersold this very important piece of Industrial heritage.  Before this blog moves on to new topics, I will gather together the posts in an index. 


The President Engine

The President Engine was claimed to be the largest stationary engine in the world, and is

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The engine house in 2017

the it is the only remaining Cornish Engine house still standing in the USA. It was built by John West from Cornwall, forming an important example of how the Cornish engine concept being developed to meet the needs of North American mining industry.

This is an engine that deserves more recognition; a site that forms not only an important part of the USA’s industrial heritage, but also that of Cornwall’s rich engineering history.

The President Engine posts

Related Posts

External links

 

PresidentPostcardDuring the writing of these posts I discovered that there was a large amount of activity underway in the USA to preserve the President Engine house. I will update this blog with progress of that work, and hopefully will sometime in the future have the pleasure of hosting a post starting with the title “Reasons to visit the President engine house”. Meanwhile, if any readers know of websites or publications relating to the engine please drop me a message and I will gladly pass on the information here.

And finally, many thanks to  Mark Connar for providing much of the information within these recent posts. Good luck over there across the pond in preserving this wonderful piece of mining heritage.


 

To learn more about John West’s famous Uncle

Here are two publications on William West of Tredenham, the last Great Cornish Engineer; one a paperback, one a Kindle publication.

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Reasons to preserve the President Steam Engine

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

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The Virgin Gorda Engine housed

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 screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgaddition 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 industryDSCN0137 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

PresidentMap
Ueberroth mine map from
Kent Littlefield’s 2014 presentation

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

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The engine house in 2017 Mark Connar

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.


wpid-image.jpgTo learn more about John West’s Cornish Uncle, visit on this blog’s William West Page.

A melody of Cornish Engine Houses

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This series of posts on the President Steam Engine in Philadelphia USA now takes a brief DSCF2663diversion that takes it back to Cornwall.  When I started to build this post my idea was a simple one of hunting around the corners of my laptop to discover some photographs of Cornish Engine houses that could be used as a comparison with the images of the President.  However, as I started to copy the images onto this page it dawned on me that here was an opportunity to reflect on the role of the engine houses in our landscape, a reflection that may form an introduction to the final part of the President series.

Cornish Engine Houses a reflection

Cornwall’s landscape is adorned with the iconic shape of disused mine engine houses, DSCF2658and their images are scattered throughout its culture. Book covers, websites, gifts,  postcards, calendars, business logos, and road signs all pull on the strong identity it portrays. Some of its importance in the Cornish physical and cultural landscapes arises from the sheer physical bulk of the structures; apart from castles there are no other historic remains that demand such attention as the empty shells that once housed the large Cornish Steam engines. However, there is more to their importance than just physical size, and this post will reflect on some of those other factors.

Aesthetic value

A combination of dramatic landscapes and dramatic buildings often combined to DSCF4135produce some amazing scenery. Sometimes it is the setting of the engine house, sometimes it is the architecture of the building, sometimes it is nature’s encroachment and occasionally it is a combination of all of these that provides such rich landscape value.

There is a great irony is this, for many of these views started as scenes of industrial chaos. Every square foot of ground around the engine houses would have been taken up with a haphazard mess of tips, buildings, shafts, tramways and debris. The air would have been thick with smoke and fumes, the streams running with toxic waste and the defining sounds of stamps would have drowned out nature.DSCF9727

But time and nature have now softened these grand industrial landscapes, a process that has left just the engine houses standing as isolated remains of the once huge industrial complexes.

Not all engine houses have such value, some are unfortunate to be in locations that hold no visual pleasure, and others are of designs or proportions that simply do not please the eye. But there are a few engine houses whose presence creates some of the most memorable scenery in the world, Wheal Coates and Bottallack fall firmly into that category.

Political value

whimsillThis may a appear an unusual value to place on industrial heritage, however the visual reminder of the engine houses keep within the public consciousness that this once a land alive with industry, a land of mass employment.

The UK has transformed itself into a service industry based society, and Cornwall is perceived from the outside as a holiday destination or bolt hole for second home owners or those seeking lifestyle changes. And yet Cornwall was once one of the biggest industrialised regions in the world. Mining and its associated industries employed tens of thousands or workers, whilst Cornish Technology and engineering lead the world.

PumpviewupWhilst the engine houses still stand, they act as a reminder that this was once a working landscape, that there is more to the economy that property prices, holiday lets and Poldark souvenirs. Such a reminder has a value for the future, especially for future generations wishing to find work west of the Tamar.

Historic Value

Many engine houses remain standing whilst the scenes of industry that once surrounded dscf9312them have long disappeared. In doing so they act as pegs onto which to hang tales of history. Without them there would be little left to mark the existence of the thousands of Huels, Wheals, and Consols that once crammed every corner of Cornwall.

Each mine had a stories worth discovering; sometimes wealth, sometimes losses and sometimes fraud. There are tales of death, tales of innovation and countless tales of hope.  In some cases it is the engine house itself thatW7 provides a stepping stone into history, marking technological advances or famous engineers.

Such an example is Austen’s engine house at Fowey Consols, at which so many threads of history can be followed back and forward in time. Those threads lead to many other engine houses, many of which have fascinating stories to tell.

Amenity Value

We are in an era dominated by the virtual world, a world where the physical holds less and less

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importance. In such a world some of the  Cornish Engine houses have found a small, but important role of providing purpose  to a location.  Such a purpose can attract us into the location to photograph, paint, record, explore, or just look at the building. They can become the reason for a journey, or a ‘croust’ stop along the way. Often such stops may stir up some curiosity to discover more, to ask questions that may lead to more journeys.

I find a walk in Cornwall is rarely historically sterile, every bump, dip, building relic or lump of fallen masonry seems to have the potential for significance. This richness

wpid-wp-1422994037468.jpegof landscape only became truly apparent tome on walks in many other parts of Britain where a footpath was just a footpath; nothing to find, nothing to explore.

A reflection taken forward

After that brief detour into Cornish engine house I will return in the next post to the USA  with some more words about the President Engine.  In doing so I should;  now be able to grasp the significance of its engine house more clearly after reflecting some of our own heritage here in Kernow.

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 The President Steam Engine described

 A Cornish engine in the USA

Now this series of posts on John West’s massive steam engine arrives at the point where it digs into the technical details. I have extracted various facts from the Damian Nance’s article, sifted, sorted and summarised to give a summary of the engine.

What was the President Engine?

The President was a rotative double acting engine with a 110″ cylinder, a 10 foot stroke screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgand weight of 675 tons Although described as a Cornish engine, but had many features not common to pumping engines in Cornwall, i.e. it was rotative had flywheels, and was  double acting.

The engine was named after president Ulysses S. Grant, who had been invited to its dedication but  then failed to arrive.

Who built the engine?

The Cornish Engineer John West built the engine (the nephew  of William West, the Last Great Cornish Engineer), and its components were built by various companies in Eastern USA. Merrick and sons built the engine at their Southwark factory Philadelphia, but  much of the casting was  done at Lazell Perkins and co Bridgewater Massachusetts. The Pumps, boilers and  mountings were produced by  LP  Morris and co, Philadelphia.

Click here for information on Merrick and sons on the Philadelphia encyclopedia>

What did the engine do?

The engine was built to pump large quantities of water from a relatively shallow  mine shaft. Accounts of the engine differ in the number of pumps installed. Some state two pair, some three. Each pair of pumps consisted of a  lifting pump at the bottom of the shaft, and a 30″ plunger pump part way up. The lifting pumps were only  at a depth of 127 feet, very shallow compared to the Cornish mines of the time which were down to thousands of feet deep. The engine pumped at  15000 gallons per minute at 12 strokes per minute, and discharged into an adit and into a tank for use as boiler and condenser feed-water.

 

How was the steam provided?

screenshot_2017-06-13-12-11-46_kindlephoto-18656545.jpg
The three roofs of the boiler house.

An engine of this size demanded large quantities of steam, and so it had an impressive array of boilers. The President was served  by 16 boilers in a boiler house to the rear of the engine house, each boiler was 50 feet long with a 36 inch diameter.

The engine was designed to run at 60 psi at which pressure it produced 3000  horsepower, although in use it was normally run at a lower pressure.

What was the key features of the President Engine?

Apart from its sheer size the President had several interesting features that set it apart from the standard arrangement of a pumping engine back in Cornwall. These differences arose from the shallow depth of the mine. Engines running expensively on the Cornish cycle are more effective if they have a load of the heavy pump rods in the shaft. To replace this John West designed the engine with large 92 ton flywheels of over 30 foot diameter. For smoother operation of the flywheel West made the engine double acting (powered on both up and down strokes).

Note: The weight and diameter of the flywheel has been shown differently on some engine descriptions.  These figures have been confirmed as the most likely to be correct by Mark Connar, who I thank for the additional information.

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Although he installed Cornish style steam valves, the operating method was unusual. Valve operation was through cams fitted on the flywheel shaft, three cams for three different values of cut-off. The  throttle valve was fitted with an automatic control using a block of wood in the sump of the shaft connected by wire to the valve. An ingenious arrangement that allowed more steam to enter the engine as the water level rose.

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The lattice beams

These are the features that attracted me to the engine. Although Open-work beams are graceful and light, they did not become widely adopted. Their main user was John West’s Uncle, William West of Tredenham. All of his most important engines used this design, and it is no doubt the family influence that resulted in their distinctive form being adopted for the President.

Reference

Damian Nance, The International Steam Engine Society Bulletin volume 34 no 4

 


wpid-westcover.jpg The story of William West is told in the Trevthick Society papaerback ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer‘.

John West- A Cornish Engineer in the USA

JwestDeathBanner

An Obituary of John West (Jnr)

The connection between the great Cornish Beam engines in Cornwall and the greatest of the Cornish engines in the USA is a family one.  It is a link that will be explored in this post through a transcript kindly provided by Mark Connar.

John and William West

John G. West was one of the many Cornish miners and engineers who emigrated to the USA. An emigration that included not only the men and their families, but also the skills, knowledge and systems developed in the centuries of hard rock mining in their home country.

John West was the son of another well respected engineer, who was also  called John. His father’s brother was the famous engineer, William West of Tredenham, the ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’. William became famous for building the most efficient Cornish Engine ever built, and John G. West was famous for building the largest Cornish Engine in the USA.

This engine is the subject of this series of posts; it is normally refereed to as the ‘President’ but interestingly in newspaper extract below it is called the ‘General Grant’.


From Reading Times (Reading. Pa), Wednesday, May 10, 1893

Death of John G. West

Sketch of the Well-Known Mechanical Engineer and Inventor – Other Deaths
John Gartrell West, mechanical engineer, passed to his rest Tuesday forenoon. He was born in the village of Crowan, in the Parish of Crowan, Cornwall, England, on the 28th day of May 1822, thus making his length of life 70 years, 11 months and 14 days. He came to the United States forty-four years ago and for a time was engineer on one of the Ohio River steamboats. Afterwards, through his intimate knowledge of the construction, and erection of the Cornish pumping engine, he was engaged to erect one purchased in England for the Perkiomen Cooper Ore Company, at Shannonville, Montgomery county. When his contract expired with the aboveJohnWestOBT named company, he entered into partnership with the Messrs. Richard Corson and Samuel Thomas, the firm name being that of Thomas, Corson & West, mechanical engineers of the Norris Works, Norristown, Pa.
He designed and superintended the construction of the pumping engine for the Lehigh Zinc Company, of Bethlehem, Pa, known as the General Grant engine, which is the largest stationary engine ever made in the United States, before or since. This is a high-pressure condensing engine; the diameter of the cylinder is 110 1/4 inches, length of stroke 10 feet and weight of the engine is 1096 tons. Mr. West was engineer and superintendent of the Providence R.I. water works for a year and a half.
He was afterwards engaged in the construction and erection of pumping and mining engines for the Yellow Jacket and other gold mines in Virginia City, Nevada and elsewhere. He came to Reading in January 1878, as the superintendent and manger of the Scott foundry, which position he held until about three years ago, since which time he was employed in the capacity of mechanical engineer of the Reading Iron Company.
 
He was the son of John G. West, also a famous mechanical engineer. He was married fifty years ago to Miss Jane Henwood, who survives, but has been an invalid for years. Deceased was in good health up to two weeks ago, when he was prostated with an abscess which developed into blood poisoning, causing great agony and unconsciousness for several days. Mr. West was a man of sterling integrity, unusual amount of caution, and absolutely honest, scorning deceit and littleness wherever found. He was a member of Christ Cathedral, a prominent mason, and leaves the follow – children and sisters: Mrs. Sophia Von Hummell, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Barnet H. West, late manager of the Reading Iron Works, but now with the Messrs. Cramp Ship Building Company; Mrs. Henrietta Stephens, of this city; Miss Viola West, also of this city; Wye H. West, with the Phoenix Iron Company, Phoenixville. The sisters are: Mrs. Dr. Rowana, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Lovinia Dalty, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Bethia Chant, of Ridley Park and Mrs. Frances G. Jones, of this city, wife of G.W. Jones, superintendent of the McIlvain & Sons’ rolling mills. Transcript by Mark Connar

The President Steam Engine- Key dates

A Cornish Engine in the USA

These dates have been derived from a quick dip into Damian Nance’s article on the engine, and correspondence from Mark Connar; I dived in, grabbed a few dates and sorted them out into an order. Then to add some context I have added a few dates from the life of William West, John West’s famous uncle.

Events leading up to the engine’s creation

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1801 William West is born at Dolcoath

1835 Austen Engine’s Trial

1838 East London Waterworks engine started

1845 A rich zinc ore deposit in the dolomite limestone of Saucon Valley was discovered

1853 A  predecessor company to the Lehigh Zinc Company was formed to extract and smelt this primary material.

1854 Ueberotth mine was opencast operation

1860 Lehigh Zinc Company formed

1866 John West erected a 32″ double acting engine

1868  the Company’s engineer, John West from Cornwall as commissioned to design an engine capable of pumping 12,000 gallons/minute from a depth of 300 feet.

By 1869 three different engines were being used to clear the mines of water

The Engine’s operating years

1872 The President  was erected

1874 the engine’s crank broke and it took a number of days for it to be repaired and there was concern that the mines would fill with water.

1876 Operations were suspended

1879 William West dies

The President’s later life

1881 One of the owners of the Correll Mine in Friedensville purchased the mining assets of Lehigh Zinc and unified them under the name “Friedensville Zinc Company”

1883 New shafts were being dug and that the plan was to move the President to the new shaft location. This equipment move never transpired.

1884, Water was controlled in the mines by using two new steam pumps with the President was being kept in operational condition as a backup pump. Later that year, in May, the President was restarted.

By 1890 The Ueberroth mine was no longer being worked and the President was being used to lower the water in the other, still active, mine works.

1891 The last reported time that the President Pump operated

Events after the engine’s final steaming

1898 Unsuccessful efforts were made to raise capital in Europe to restart the Friedensville mine.

1893 All mining activities in the Friedensville area ceased

1899 The President was for sale

1900 The President was sold to Philadelphia based scrap dealers for $10,000

1901 The sixteen boilers were removed from the site to South Bethlehem by the New Jersey Zinc Company. The plan was to reuse these equipment pieces at other New Jersey Zinc mines.

1940s A new Friedensville mine was opened by the New Jersey Zinc Company which operated until 1983

Other Time Lines on this blog


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

This publication describes the life and work of John West’s uncle through the eyes of a Victorian biographer.

Available on kindle>

The paperback “Last Great Cornish Engineer” explores the Engineer’s life beyond the words of the sketch.