Edwin A. Rowley
May 16, 1836
– July 10, 1893
Edwin A. Rowley
The Rowley House Museum is associated
with events that made a significant contribution to U.S. history
and culture. Edwin A. Rowley, who had this house built as his main
city residence, was nationally known for his woodworking machine
company and gas fireplace company, along with other enterprises.
As a millionaire who influenced much of society at the time, Rowley
was a prime example of late Victorian industrial age leadership
in business and the community. He was prominently identified with
the growth and prosperity of Williamsport for many years.
When he died, the most affluent
street in Williamsport, West Fourth Street, was closed for his funeral
procession. His death made front page news. Previously, his many
accomplishments made front page news including when his home was
built. The local newspaper described this home in glowing detail,
remarking about the craftsmanship as some of the best in the Commonwealth.
Rowley was very much aware of
the national politics of the time though, in spite of being a staunch
Republican and performing the duties of a conscientious American
citizen, he took no active part in political matters. Rowley was
a great admirer of Ulysses S. Grant and immortalized him by placing
a hand-fired tile of Grant in the keystone area of his library fireplace.
He was a liberal supporter of the religious, charitable, and educational
institutions of Williamsport. He was well recognized as a progressive
and public spirited citizen.
Edwin A. Rowley was born in
Lewis County, New York, May 16, 1836, and was a son of Isaac and
Laura Hunt Rowley, natives of the same county, and farmers by occupation.
The family was of English descent. Four brothers of the Rowley name
immigrated to America soon after the coming of the Mayflower and
settled near New London, Connecticut. From them, it is believed,
all of the Rowleys in the United States by the 1890s were descended.
Rowley was raised in Rome, New
York and, in 1852, at the age of 16 he went West and became the
architect of his own future. He located in Michigan and spent a
portion of his time learning the machinist’s trade. He also
operated a large farm for four years, earning money to fund his
education. He attended Michigan Union College, at Leona, Michigan,
a branch of Oberlin University. Rowley remained in the West 14 years
until, in the spring of 1868, he moved to Williamsport and engaged
in a general machine business. In January 1875, he formed a partnership
with A. D. Hermance for the purpose of manufacturing woodworking
machinery and within a few years the firm of Rowley & Hermance
became one of the most prominent and successful institutions of
its kind in Pennsylvania. It also won and retained an enviable reputation
in markets throughout the country.
Rowley’s business interests
were many and varied. He was chairman of the National Furniture
Company from its organization until 1892. He was an organizer and
president of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Williamsport.
Rowley helped organize, and was a director of, the Kettle Creek
Coal Mining Company. He was a director of the Lumberman’s
National Bank, which was succeeded by the Susquehanna Trust and
Safe Deposit Company, an organization backed by many of the leading
business men of the city. He served as vice president until 1891
when he was elected president. He was a stockholder in the First
National Bank and the Merchants National Bank and was a director
of the latter. He helped organize and was president of the Self-Locking
Buckle Suspender Company. Rowley was also president of the Culler
and Hawley Furniture Company and vice president of the Backus Manufacturing
Company (gas fireplaces), two manufacturing firms of Williamsport.
Other interests of Rowley included a fine stock farm outside the
city and valuable real estate holdings in the West and in Washington,
Edwin Rowley was married November
10, 1866 to Emma P. Olmstead, daughter of Judson Olmstead of Hudson,
New York. Together they had a son, Robert E., and a daughter, Georgia
Rowley was busy with the constant
demands of business but he always found time to lend willing and
generous support to worthy causes. As president of the board of
trustees he took much interest in the Young Men’s Christian
Association of Williamsport and was the first man to recommend the
construction of a new YMCA building on West Fourth Street. Rowley
was a member and trustee for many years of the First Baptist Church.
He also was among the first to recognize the potential of Eagles
Mere as a summer resort area and proved his faith by becoming the
first citizen of Williamsport to erect a summer cottage there.
According to a newspaper article
dated July 13, 1893, it was while on his way to Eagles Mere with
his wife, to spend time with his children and relatives at their
summer home that Edwin Rowley died at the age of 57. He had been
in failing health for some time but was feeling greatly improved
and in excellent spirits. It was at the Hall’s Station awaiting
the Williamsport and North Branch train that he became seriously
ill and fainted. He was given every possible attention and was placed
on the Pullman car of the Reading train when it arrived. Word was
telegraphed to Dr. E. B. Campbell to meet them at the Pine Street
station but Rowley died before arriving. ‘His death was due
to apoplexy resulting from Bright’s disease, with which he
was afflicted’. (He suffered a stroke due to kidney disease.)
His son and daughter, together
with relatives in Eagles Mere, were notified of his death by telegraph.
The president of the Williamsport and North Branch Railroad placed
a special train at their disposal for their immediate return to
Prior to his funeral, a viewing was held at his home and hundreds
of people made use of the opportunity to say good bye to the man
who had been the true friend of the working man for many years,
through taking an interest in all new enterprises brought to the
city, who invested much of his money in Williamsport industries
and thereby helped to build the city. This much beloved citizen,
neighbor, employer and friend would truly be missed as was evidenced
by the many tears that were shed that day. As a group, his employees
at the Rowley Hermance Machine Company walked the few blocks to
his home, headed by Albert D. Hermance.
The funeral service was held
at the First Baptist Church, officiated by the pastor Rev. E. A.
Woods, who was assisted by Rev. J. Carter, pastor of the second
Presbyterian Church, and Rev. W. H. Graff, rector of Christ Church.
The singing at the funeral was done by Mrs. Repasz, Miss Ella Culver,
Eber Culver and Trevette Maffet.
The funeral procession, which
was very long, closed Fourth Street as it proceeded to Wildwood
Cemetery where Edwin Rowley was interred. Members of the Hermance
Machine Company were pall bearers. Honorary pall bearers accompanying
the casket to the cemetery included Mayor W. G. Elliot, A. D. Hermance,
Ezra Canfield, J. A. Boeber, H C. McCormick and John M. Young, all
prominent Williamsport businessmen in their own right.
Edwin Rowley’s passing
was a topic of much discussion throughout the city. Many expressions
of regret were made by those who knew him both privately and in
business. He was one of Williamsport’s most distinguished
citizens who took a great interest in the industrial growth of the
city and his presence in business circles was greatly missed. He
personified the spirit of the great entrepreneurs who built this