Sep 10, 2008 | Posted in Essays, People


David L. Weber, 2008

“Figures that don’t lie tell in short notice the story of Franklin’s rock - ribbed ascendancy….

“A choice assortment of industries is mainly responsible for this gratifying condition of affairs. Vast refineries, steel [rolling and casting] works, [machine] tool plants, manifold [forms] works, asbestos mills, paper mills, paint works, boiler works, machine shops, [ferrous and non - ferrous] foundries, soap works, carriage works, flouring mills, brickyards, sucker - rod factory, planing mills, tinware factories, marble works, flagstone quarries, a steam laundry and a brewery whoop it up briskly twelve months a year.” - John J. McLaurin, Franklin (1902)

Lumber yards / planing mills were important operations in oil boom towns and industrialized areas. Ira E. Howard’s Franklin, PA planing mill, one such business, remained in existence over ninety years.

The Howard family originally came lived in Delaware County, NY. Ira, one of seven children of Hezekiah and Margaret Spring Howard, was born in 1823. The family moved to Rockdale Township, Crawford County, PA, 1835.

Ira E. Howard served in the Union Army, as First Lieutenant, 169th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1862 - 1863. He subsequently operated a sawmill near his Rockdale Township home, 1863 - 1871.

Ira Howard married Emily Ames, who died in 1866. He later married Mrs. Charlotte Cochran, a widow, 1868.

Rockdale Township, Crawford County had Atlantic & Great Western Railroad (Erie Railroad) connections via Meadville to Franklin. Ira Howard’s sawmill undoubtedly shipped lumber by rail to the Venango County oilfields, where it was used for construction of derricks and buildings.

Howard founded and managed the Atlantic Planing Mills & Lumber Yard, near the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Thirteenth Street, in Franklin, 1871. According to the History of Venango County, Pennsylvania (1879):

“The business of 1872 - 3, amounted to $60,000, and 1877 - 8, $20,000.”

Ira Howard operated the lumber yard in partnership with his sons Rudolph and William. Rudolph Howard later succeeded his father as owner. A recently - discovered ledger, covering the period January 1, 1879 to July, 1881, reveals the oil industry - related customers served by Howard’s planing mill / lumber yard.

Oil producers and refiners listed include Galena Oil Company, Franklin Oil Works, Bissell Oil Company, Sibley & Gill, Rial & Son, Franklin Gas Works, Baum & Taylor, Albert G. Egbert, Christian and Daniel Grimm, John G. Doyle, Henry F. James, Silas Smith, Lewis H. Fassett and James H. Cain. These are some of the best - known firms and individuals in Franklin history!

Samuel C.T. Dodd frequently purchased woodwork from Howard’s Atlantic Mill for his new, three - story Liberty Street business block. Dodd, a Franklin lawyer, later became well known for his legal work drawing up the Standard Oil Trust incorporation documents.

Carolee Michener wrote the following concerning Dodd, 1995:

“S.CT. Dodd, son of early Franklin settlers, wrote some of the original oil leases and, with other attorneys of the same era, developed documents in the new and challenging industry that have withstood the test of time. He is best remembered as the solicitor for the Standard Oil Company, author of the trust plan which encompassed the entire Standard network.

“Of the hundreds of people who have gone from Franklin…., following the oil industry to the far corners of the world, no one left his mark on history more that S.C.T. Dodd, the attorney who drafted the Standard Oil trust. Whatever people of the time thought of Standard Oil or the lessons learned from history, Mr. Dodd’s legal mind had a bearing on the events of his day.

“There are many newspaper accounts of speeches he gave around the country, of legal issues which he discussed and his loyalty to the trust which he drafted for the Standard Oil conglomerate….

“His abilities became recognized throughout the state and in 1872, he was a delegate to the constitutional convention which framed the Pennsylvania constitution.”

George Maloney purchased 600 feet of hemlock plank for his machine and blacksmith shop buildings (later Producers’ Supply Company / Franklin Valveless Engine Company).

Lumber from the Howard planing mill was also used for repair work at the nearby Third Ward School (Atlantic Avenue).

Wheeler & Dusenbury Lumber Company supplied pine and hemlock lumber from their Forest County, PA sawmills to the Howard planing mill / yard. One railroad car load of boards totaled 9, 152 feet!

W.D. Howard left his family’s firm sometime prior to 1898. He later rejoined the lumber yard and planing mill, according to The New York Industrial Recorder (1904):

“For more than thirty years this business, started by the late Mr. I.E. Howard, has been a leader among the more important commercial industries of Franklin, and controlled a most extensive trade extending throughout this section. On the retirement of Mr. Howard the large wholesale and retail business in lumber, coal, lime and cement was conducted by Mr. R.D. Howard. About three years ago Mr. W.D. Howard became a member of the firm, the name of which became Howard Brothers. This sterling firm occupies about three - quarters of an acre of land on North Thirteenth Street, near the Erie depot, embracing office, vast sheds used for storage purposes and spacious yards. Sidings from the Erie [Railroad] run into the yard. The firm supplies many of the leading manufacturing concerns and leading contractors and builders with their materials.”

Rudolph D. Howard was sole owner of the planing mill / coal and lumber yard for several years, c. 1900. Hettie Howard married Richard D. Nicklin, 1907. Nicklin then became a partner in Howard’s business, which subsequently was known as the Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company.

The Grimm Block, North Thirteenth and Howard Streets, was erected for Daniel Grimm by Howard Brothers’ Lumber Company, 1906 (this building stood for sixty years).

Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company was essential to the industrial, residential and commercial growth of Franklin’s Third Ward. The Franklin Evening News highlighted industrial growth in that section, nicknamed “Little Pittsburgh,“ October 10, 1900:

“It is not a difficult problem for the citizens of this city to take a look backward, and they do not need to go so very far into the dim past, either, to remember the Third Ward as a cow pasture, almost devoid of houses and with no industries whatsoever. Today it is the busiest part of the city. The wheels of industry within its boundaries are humming night and day.”

The “Little Pittsburgh” feature article described the major Third Ward industrial employers: Galena - Signal Oil Works, Franklin Steel Casting Works, Franklin Manufacturing Company (Asbestos Works and Paper Mill), Franklin Sucker Rod - Joint Factory, Franklin Paving Brick Works, George Maloney & Company Machine Shop and Foundry, Grant Tool Company and Franklin Air Compressor Works.

“Other places of importance” were mentioned:

“In noting the different places of business the [machine] shops of D.L. Lane & Sons which employ 10 men, the Sheridan Machine Shops, the Parsons & Lavery Flouring Mills, the Howard Lumber Yards, the Sibley Soap Works and J.W. Reamer’s Refinery must not be left out.”

Howard & Nicklin also supplied pine pattern lumber to Franklin’s foundries. The Third Ward once contained a heavy concentration of iron and steel foundries: Franklin Air Compressor Works / Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company, Franklin Steel Casting Works / American Steel Foundries, D.T. Lane & Sons / Franklin Foundry (predecessor of Franklin Bronze & Alloy), Franklin Rolling Mill & Foundry (forerunner of Franklin Steel / Franklin Industries), George Maloney & Company (Producers’ Supply Company / Franklin Valveless Engine Company) and the French Creek Foundry (also affiliated with Producers’ Supply Company / Franklin Valveless).

Other sections of Franklin - and surrounding areas - also had foundries in operation during the 19th and 20th Centuries (Emery Manufacturing Company: Franklin Iron Works, Venango Manufacturing Company, Charles N. Hough Manufacturing Company, Angell Manufacturing Company, Dale Engine & Supply Company, etc.).

Four Third Ward industrial plants - Franklin Air Compressor Works (Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company Plant # 1), Maloney & Company / Franklin Valveless Engine Company, Franklin Manufacturing Company, and Sheridan Machine Shop - occupied factory buildings constructed from hemlock lumber. Much of this building material was supplied by Howard’s yard / planing mill.

Galena - Signal Oil Company’s Atlantic Avenue barrelhouse, erected in 1897, was erected with a heavy timber framework. The three - story structure was expanded a decade later with a brick and structural steel addition (the structural steel was found to have deteriorated faster than the heavy wooden framework when the entire brick building was demolished, 1963 - 1964).

Franklin municipal records show that 34 new houses were constructed in the Third Ward, 1898. Two years later (1900) 47 dwellings were erected in this section of town. Business for lumber yards / planing mills!

Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company later operated a sand and gravel bank (exact location unknown) with its builders’ supply and coal yard business, 1930s - 1940s.

Howard & Nicklin Lumber was owned by Fred A. Howard and Richard D. Nicklin, 1942. The firm, according to the 1942 Franklin City Directory, specialized in lumber, millwork and coal. An advertisement listed the yard and mill’s products / services:

“Lumber, Sash, Doors, Interior Finish, Roofing, Glass, Lime, Cement, Sand and Gravel, Plaster, Sewer Pipe, Tile Blocks, Sheetrock, Celotex, Wall Board and Builders’ Hardware.”

Richard and Hattie Nicklin also owned an apartment building at 746 Liberty Street, Franklin. Richard Nicklin was a stockholder / director and vice president of the Exchange Bank & Trust Company, Thirteenth and Liberty Streets, 1942.

Clarence E. Allen and Floyd Jones were the last owners of Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company. Both had been longtime employees of the lumber and coal yard / millwork plant prior to purchasing it from the Ira Howard heirs.

Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company was gradually liquidated in the 1950s and 1960s. Clarence E. Allen, who began his association with H & N in the 1930s, finally retired when the business closed. Floyd Jones purchased the Harry Rial, Jr. retail lumber yard and builders’ supply store, Wood Street, Rocky Grove (Sugarcreek Borough). The Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company site was largely demolished and cleared during the North Thirteenth Street redevelopment project, 1966 - 1970.

Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company was one of several lumber - millwork firms that served the Franklin area (1870 - 1970). Other lumber yards, saw and planing mills included: Franklin Planing Mill, City Planing Mills, Franklin Stair & Hardwood Works, John Osborn Planing Mill and Lumber Yard, Franklin Lumber Company, Galloway Woodworking Manufacturing Company, Liotta Lumber Company, Austin Lumber Company and the James Lumber Company (the last - named firm being the best - remembered by many Franklinites).

Little documentation of the Howard Lumber Company / Howard & Nicklin Lumber Company could be found in the Venango County Historical Society archives for many years. Jack Allen, of Sun City West, AZ, recently gave the lumber yard’s 1879 - 1881 ledger (over 500 pages) to the Society.

Howard Street, Franklin (Third Ward) was named for Ira Howard and family.