Tuesday, March 22, 2011

John Brown's Tannery (Part 2)

John Brown Tannery Second Marker, Crawford Co., PACrawford County, PA

Marker Text:  John Brown of Ossawatomie and Harper's Ferry worked here as a tanner, 1825-35. The nearby house was then his home. His first wife and son are buried near.

Location:  On John Brown Road, a short distance south of PA Route 77, New Richmond, PA. (There is another marker same title on Route 77, just west of this road.) Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1946.

John Brown Tannery marker and museum entrance

Photo taken looking toward Route 77 with the path to the museum on the right.

  This is the second marker of two historical markers related to John Brown. (see Part 1) This marker is the older of the two and located on a secondary road across from the old tannery foundation. The newer one (1969) was probably erected to point people to this location, since you would not see this marker, unless you happened to drive this road or knew the tannery was here.

John Brown Tannery marker across road from Tannery  John Brown lived here for a little over 10 years and erected the stone foundation (which still remains) for a tannery he started in 1826. Within five months after coming to the township, the 26 year old John Brown had cleared boulders and virgin forest into a business, farm and homestead. The tannery spanned 26 feet by 50 feet, was equipped with 18 vats and had two levels. The upper floor was wood, the lower, stone, its walls are two feet thick.

  Brown erected a barn with a secret room for hiding runaway slaves and a two-story log cabin that saw double duty as a schoolhouse. Both buildings, no longer standing, were near the pond across the road from this site.

John Brown Tannery remains of the foundation  At times the tannery employed up to 15, many boarded with Brown. Brown supplied weekly newspapers for keeping his family and employees informed. Although not of great formal education, he was an avid reader and had a small library of classical, historical and religious works. The Bible was his favorite. Before bed each day, his daughter, Ruth remembered, he would ask a family member to read “one of David's Psalms.”

Plaque located on foundation of the Tannery

This is the
Foundation Wall
of a Tannery
built and
operated by
John Brown
1826 to 1835

(this plaque is located in the middle of photo above on the foundation, click any photo to enlarge)

  While living here his personal and business life eventually encountered setbacks. Illness and grief almost forced John Brown to close his tannery in 1832. First, he became severely ill, as did other family members. Then on August 10, 1832, heart trouble and the drain of another pregnancy claimed the life of his 31 year old wife, Dianthe. They had been married for 12 years. She was preceded in death by an unnamed son she bore three days earlier. They were buried beside the grave of Frederick I in the family cemetery. The tombstone's still can be seen on the high ground overlooking where Brown's barn and house stood.

  Brown became despondent and was described as becoming “more and more unfit for everything.” His neighbors tried to help, sending a housekeeper to help care for his five surviving children.

John Brown Tannery Foundation across from marker  On July 11, 1833, 17 year old Mary Ann Day became the second Mrs. Brown. She was the daughter of blacksmith Charles Day of Troy Township, 15 miles away and the sister of Brown's housekeeper. Brown was twice Mary's age and she went on to have 13 children. The first was Sarah I in 1834, the only one of Mary's offspring born in Pennsylvania. Of the 20 children from Brown's two marriages, five were born in Crawford County.

John Brown Tannery Photo from interpretative marker

Photo (right) of the original building taken from the interpretative marker in front of foundation in the above photo.

    Despite periods of success, Brown began having financial troubles that stalked him in a variety of businesses for the rest of his life. In May 1835, financial setbacks made it difficult for him to continue operating his tannery and he borrowed money to move his family to Franklin Mills, Ohio in the Western Reserve, then booming due to the advent of canals.  One might wonder that if he had made the tannery a going enterprise and he stayed in Crawford County whether history would have been different than we know it today.

  The tannery where Brown once toiled was converted to other uses after he left Crawford County. It became a creamery, cheese and jelly factory and corn gristmill over the years. In 1907, fire destroyed the second story, a dwelling at the time.

John Brown Homestead site across from Tannery

Photo taken across road from tannery, where graveyard is located.  Stone marker in middle of photo is a stone marker engraved with John Brown’s name and is part of old foundation for one of his buildings, either the old house or barn, not sure which.

  Across from the old tannery is a small museum about John Brown's life in Crawford County where you can visit the graves of his first wife and two children. The museum is operated by a very lovely woman I meet while taking these photos. Unfortunately, though I don't remember her name, she owns and operates the museum and the grounds. It is open generally between April 15 and October 15, when she is not working her other job. With prior arrangements it can be visited in the off season. The tannery is quite a bit off the beaten path, where most people might not travel when visiting Crawford County, PA, but it is worth a visit, particularly if you have ever been to Harpers Ferry. It gives you a different perspective on the man named John Brown.

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