Tag Archives: The President Steam Engine

The only Cornish Engine House in the USA

PresidentPostcardThe President Engine House

This series of posts on the President Steam engine in Philadelphia has led me far further then I expected. It started off with a desire to expand my knowledge of  an engine with William West links; to gain some knowledge that I could use in future talks about the Last Great Engineer.  And now I find myself writing about probably one of the most significant Industrial Heritage sites in the USA.   In this post I bridge the gap between the past and now with a description of the engine house, the structure that links today’s modern landscape with its history.

The remains of the  President’s engine house stands in Allentown Philadelphia, a very long way from where I write this blog in Cornwall. Therefore I will  use the words and images from Mark Connar’s excellent paper on the Ueberroth Zinc Mine to describe the structure.

The Engine House described

“The square shaped pumping engine house is built of Potsdam Sandstone and is three stories high with the first floor at the elevation of the air pumps and condenser, the second floor near the top of the cylinder, and the third at the level of

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The engine house in 2017

the beams. Overall the structure is 40 feet high. The north wall (called the “bob” wall in Cornish pump house design parlance), which supported the beams, is 9 feet thick with slots for the two flywheels, the south wall contains the cylinder opening, above which is the steam inlet and recesses for the two spring beams. This wall is also 9 feet thick and the other two walls (east and west) are 4.5 feet thick. Two square stacks that served the engine’s 16 boilers occupy the rear corners (face Old Bethlehem Pike). The boilers were housed in an adjoining building. The house plan is dominated by a central masonry platform, to which the engine was anchored, with large pits on either side for the flywheels and cranks.”

President2017_2An indication of the sturdiness of this structure is that it sits on a rock formation 114 feet below ground surface and the foundation for the engine is thirty-two feet below the rock face. Another Cornishman named Simeon Noell was charged with the responsibility to oversee the engine house erection that commenced in 1868. Overall, the structure is very typical of engine houses that populate the Cornish and West Devon landscape in the United Kingdom.

The basic structural design is highly functional and little changed from the enginePresidentWingwall houses first built in the early decades of the 18th century. The President was a “house-built” engine in that the engine house was an integral part of the engine, supporting it rather than simply providing weather protection for equipment and staff. The foundation is sturdy; it had to be capable of withstanding the stresses the engine could produce. The “bob-wall” carried the main weight and thrust of the engine. The interior layout of the pumping engine house was a basic Cornish pattern. The first floor, or bottom chamber, was known as the “driving floor” because it accommodated the throttle and other controls. Here the engineers had access to the lower portion of the key equipment. The second floor or middle chamber allowed access to the cylinder head and upper valve chest. The third floor was called the “bobloft” was this level allowed access to the beam for servicing and also held tackling gear used to lift heavy parts of the pump when repairs were necessary.”

The Engine house today

“The current condition of the engine house is derelict. It is enclosed by a security President2017Bobfence and is overgrown with vegetation. The brick chimney stacks are no longer standing (I have observed this structure for over 50 years and do not recall ever seeing the brick stacks, however, they are visible in photographs from the 1930s and early 1940s). The structure is best viewed in the fall and winter when less obscured by vegetation. The pumping house is the only visible remains when viewed from outside the gated area, however, a report by Professor Miller of Lehigh University prepared in 1923 indicated that an office structure was also remaining on the site.” Mark Connar

This now seems to be an appropriate place to take a quick detour from the President Engine, and look at some Cornish engine houses over here in Cornwall for a comparison. So its time to start digging into some of the hidden depths of my laptop filing system and see what suitable images I have hidden away.  So if you are reading this blog from across the pond please keep following, as I hope some of the photos may hint at the potential of this amazing building hidden away in Philadelphia. 


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ The engine house featuring on the cover of the Kindle Edition of William West of Tredenham is that of the famous Austen’s Engine at Fowey Consols, in mid-Cornwall. This 80″ engine was fitted with a lattice beam similar to the one used by the President,

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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

PresidentBW

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.

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Where is the President Steam Engine?

Sat here in Cornwall its very hard to imagine the location of the President Cornish Engine house, many miles away across the other side of the Atlantic.  In this blog I will therefore delve into the wonders of the internet to  pin down this important reminder of Cornish engineering in the USA.  Have a go at armchair mine exploration.

Damian Nance in his article in the International Steam engine Society Bulletin describes the engine’s location as:

“On the south-eastern outskirts of Allentown, Pennsylvania, just over half a kilometer south of interstate 78”

Where is Allentown?

My first stop, was  to use google Earth to find Allentown-

allentown

Click here for map>

Where is the engine house?

Mark Connor describes the engine house’s location as

“The remains of the massive pump which provided water control for the mine consist of the stone walls of the engine house structure and they are located on the south west corner of Old Bethlehem Pike and Center Valley Parkway in Friedensville, Upper Saucon”

Using this information, and some wandering around google maps, I managed to find its location, and here it is on Google earth:

PresidentEHGE

This view looked promising,  a large flooded working with some obvious mine waste surrounding it, but no obvious engine house. But, When I clicked on the  google earth 3D button, and wandered around...and there it was!

PresidentEH3dGoogle

Stood on the edge of the flooded workings, surrounded by trees was the massive walls of the house. I next tried street view, but no how many times I wandered the roads around the location using googles little yellow man, I could not grasp a glimpse of the engine house remains. There is just far too much vegetation obscuring the view.

PresidentEH3dGoogle2

Now that I have tracked down where the mine is, my next task in this series will be to explore when the engine operated, to link its time line with that of William West. However, after that little journey into the world of Google Earth I am tempted to have a few more hunts around the world for Cornish Engine Houses.

 

 


 

wpid-wp-1435842521499.jpeg For an exploration of a Victorian Cornish Mining Map download a sample of my Kindle edition of The Liskeard Mining District in 1863.

Prime members can borrow the book for free.

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The Largest stationary Engine in the World-1872

PresidentNewspaperheading

The President steam engine described in in the Australian Advertiser

Whilst pondering on how to start this dive into the history of the President steam I stumbled across this real gem of an article, and also an amazing website for historical research. Although written in 1872 the article was perfect to introduce this series of posts- a gift-thanks the National Library of Australia.

On the Trove website of the National  Library of Australia is a newspaper article from the South Australian Advertiser, published May 13th, 1872 that describes the President Engine, and also refers to John West and several other Cornish Engineers. The Trove site is a fascinatingTroveIcon resource, and whilst there, I was quickly sidetracked into doing my bit by correcting the transcript of the article. I highly recommend a visit to Trove, and having a session at correcting some text for them.

 Here is the text of the article-

THE LARGEST STATIONARY ENGINE IN THE WORLD


A recent number of the Mining Journal gives an interesting account of the starting of the Lehigh Zinc Company’s mammoth engine, in America. After describing the progress of fine ore mining generally, the following brief description of the great pumping engine is added:—
The engine was three years building, and was designed by Mr. John West, engineer of thePresidentNewspaper Lehigh Zinc Company, who personally superintended its erection in all its parts, down to the minutest particular. The engine was built by Merries: & Sons, Philadelphia, and the
pumps and boilers by I. P. Morris & Co., Philadelphia. The object for which the engine was built was to concentrate the greatest amount of power on one particular spot in the mines in the most economical manner. These new pumps drain the whole property of the Company, and are erected on the particular spot on which they stand on account of the presence of a firm rock to plant upon. Following is a description of the mammoth engine, as we gathered it from a conversation with Mr.West, which will be found to contain technical facts which Mr. Webster did not give in his remarks.
The engine has a pumping capacity of 15,000 gallons per minute, and may be run to 17,000 in case of emergency, raising water from a depth of 300 feet The engine alone weighs 650 tons, and including the pumps and boilers the total weight of the machinery is 1,000 tons. Size of cylinder, 110 inches in diameter; length of stroke, 10 feet. The heaviest pieces of iron in the engine are the sections of beams, and weigh 24 tons. There are two pieces of wrought-iron -weighing 16 tons each. The fly-wheels weigh 75 tons each; crank pins 1 ton each. The piston rod is 14 inches in diameter. The cross head weighs 8 tons. The connecting rods have 9-inch necks, and are 15 inches in the middle, 41 feet 2 1/2  inches long, and weigh 11 tons each.
There are two air pumps, 50 inches in diameter each.
PresidentNewspaper2This is, so far as known, the most powerful stationary engine in the world. Next to it in point of size and capacity is the engine at the Cincinnati Waterworks, cylinder 109 inches in diameter. Next is the engine at the Brooklyn Works, cylinder 90 inches; and next the engines used to drain the Meer at Haarlem, in Holland, There are three of these cylinders, 84 inches steam, with 12 feet Sims’compound, 600 -horse-power each. Next are the large Cornish engines used in the Cornish mines in England, and in the London Waterworks.
The work of the “President” will be to drive four plunger pumps, each 30 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke ; four lifting pumps, each 31 1/2 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke—the plunger pumps being uppermost and stationary. The lifting pumps will be used in the bottom of the shaft, and are movable, so as to go down as the shaft is sunk;and the lifting pumps, on account of veins of ore running through the
 shaft, are and will continue to be suspended, or the weight of the pumps would force them down into the ore to an indefinite depth. To handle these lifting pumps, hoisting or PresidentNewspaper3lowering them at pleasure, a steam capstan, capable of lifting 50 tons vertically, is used. By a series of strong gearing, a drum and a steel wire rope, with this capstan, if anything goes wrong with the pumps they can be taken hold of by the top and pulled out of water, repaired, and put back in a very short time. Everything that past experience could dictate is here applied, or at least, as Mr. West said, so it is thought, so far as known.
Mr. John West, who has brought this massive engine to its present state of perfect working, has been employed by the Lehigh Zinc Company for about five years, and designed and superintended the construction of all the machinery in and about these mines. This engine is certainly a triumph of skill, pluck, and per severance, of which the Company, who backed
up the President, Mr. Webster, who backed up
and sustained Mr. West, the engineer, who conceived
and carried out the only feasible plan for relief from the difficulties under which the
Company labored—too much water—may all feel very proud.
The erector of this mammoth engine, under Mr. West’s supervision, is Simeon Noell, a Cornishman, who has had 21 years’ experience in this kind of work in Cornwall, England.. The engineers who will run the “President” hereafter are William Harry, a Cornishman, age 35 years, with 17 years’ experience; and John Beddington, also a Comishman, age 37 years, 21 years’ experience as engineer. Bothsaw the engine go up from its foundation, and know every piece of it, and will keep a watchful and intelligent eye on the mammoth engine.
The John West refereed to in the article was the son of another Cornish engineer, who was also called John West, and that John West was the brother of William West, the subject of my two publications and many of the post in this blog.

And now I will read through the article again and pick up some threads to explore.


Books about William West

wpid-westcover.jpgOne paperback, one Kindle  51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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The tale of a Cornish engine across the Atlantic starts

The President Steam engine and its lattice beam

In my  threads of history talk on the William West, ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’ I gave a passing mention to an example of a lattice work beam in the USA. Now that the preparation for that talk is over, I have the chance to follow that thread of history, a thread that leads to events many miles away across the Atlantic.

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The open lattice work beam was a design used on by William West on all his most important engines, but it was a design rarely copied by other engineers. The only two non William West lattice beams I know of is the  massive Cruquius engine in the Netherlands the  ‘President’ engine at Pennsylvania. Both engines are examples of the massive size that the Cornish Engine principle reached towards the end of its development, and both engine have indirect links with William West.

The Cruquius was the largest steam engine in the world, and the President was the largest beam engine in the USA.  The latter engine had family connections with William West, so it is the history of that engine that I hope to explore in a bit more depth in this blog.

I will  dig into two rich sources of material as I explore; the research  of Damian Nance, and Mark Connar.  I am not yet sure where this wander across the Atlantic will take this blog,  but I am sure there will be some fascinating stories to uncover.  So feel free to follow this blog, and enjoy the journey

 

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