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Sunday, April 9, 2017

The "Heating The Country In Columbia, Pennsylvania" Story

Site of what was once the Keeley Stove Company.
It was an ordinary day.  Diving through the riverfront town of Columbia, Pennsyl- vania looking for the remains of the Keeley Stove Company.  Streets run parallel to the Susquehanna River and carry numbers beginning with 1st Street running along the river.  Keeley Stove filled the space between 2nd and 3rd streets and occupied the block between Maple and Linden Streets.  
A postcard show the Keeley Stove Co. in Columbia, PA.
All that remains of the once great stove company is a series of garage units.  Keeley Stove began in 1843 as the Yeager Hunter Stove Company in Spring City, Montogomery County.  After several owners, it was destroyed by fire in 1856, but was rebuilt by the people of the town in 1860 on the same site and was known as the Spring City Stove Company.  Eventually, in the spring of 1881 Oliver Keeley bought the business.  Unfortunately, the business was once again destroyed by fire a few months later.  
A catalog page showing the Pilot Stove.
So, Mr. Keeley continued operations across the river in Royersford.  But, in January of 1882, he as killed in a train accident at the age of 36.  His estate eventually sold the company to a group of investors in Columbia, PA.  Keeley Stove Company continued to operate in Spring City until a new factory could be built in Columbia.  By February of 1883 Columbia had a new factory along the banks of the Susquehanna and five years later were producing 20,000 stoves a year.  They manufactured Columbian stoves, ranges, furnaces and hot water specialties.  The company had its ups and downs in ensuing years as it adopted newer technologies and dealt with unionization of its work force, but finally closed in 1948.  
A receipt for a stove from The Keeley Stove Company.
And today, as I searched the landscape for the remains of the factory, I came up empty except for the rows and rows of garages.  One of the mainstays of the Keeley Stove Company was the Pilot Stove.  It was a cast iron pot belly stove that was offered for sale for $26.00 and for 75 cents extra you could have the bootrails nickel coated.  
A restored cast iron pot belly Pilot Stove.
The stove had an extra door that was used just for poking the charred wood.  Potbelly stoves were cast-iron wood-burning stoves that were round with a bulge in the middle that resembled a fat man's pot belly.  They were designed to heat large spaces and were often found in train stations and one-room schoolhouses.  The flat top of the stove allowed for cooking of food or the heating of water.  Columbia is about twenty minutes from my home in Lancaster and its hard to believe it took me 72 years to realize that one of the biggest manufacturing plants in the USA used to be nearby.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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