General James Pierce  

The Pierce Family - -The growth of Sharpsville was brought about by the furnaces which the canal made possible. The leading figure in the iron furnace industry was General James Pierce, who came to Sharpsville before 1860.

Evidence of Mr. Pierce’s success is the mansion which he built, which was the most impressive house in town. It was built on an attractive five acres of ground. The building, completed in 1874 was of brick three stories high and about 50 by 150 feet: the wrought iron work, the tower and the tall pillars were characteristic of the period in which the house was built. There were 30 rooms, a basement and three finished stories in the mansion. These rooms were large, having brick walls, frescoed ceilings and woodwork of heavy oak.

This wasn’t the only Pierce residence in Sharpsville, there were at least three other homes built by Mr. Pierce.  One of these was occupied by the Eckles family and more recently by Mr. and Mrs. Francis O'Donnell and another by Dr. Walter Alexander and now by Mr. and Mrs. George Stahl. The oldest home in Sharpsville was known for more than a half century as the Pierce House. It was built for General Pierce but when he erected another house it was used as a hotel, formerly known as the Park Way Apartments, located near the Pennsylvania Depot.

General Pierce was born on September 24, 1810, in Swanzey, Cheshire County, New Hampshire. He worked on his father’s farm until he was 21 years of age; he worked in the lumber business for two years and went into the business for himself, manufacturing staves for sugar barrels. In 1839 he married Miss Chloe Holbrook, also a native of New Hampshire.

Besides taking an interest in the lumber business, he took up farming. He and a cousin, Jervis Bates, came to Erie County. Pennsylvania in 1844, bringing with them cotton and woolen cloth. The bought horses with the proceeds and made the journey back with wagons and sleighs. Mr. Pierce returned to Erie County in the winter selling clocks. There was very little money in this section at time and his profit of one thousand dollars consisted wholly of Beaver and Erie Canal bonds.  He was unable to obtain the interest on the bonds at Erie so he sold them for stoves. He sold his property in New Hampshire and moved to Cranesvil, Erie County, Pennsylvania.  In 1847,  he came to Clarksville. 

The first businesses in which he was engaged in Mercer County were mining and shipping coal in the vicinity of Clarksville. The coal was shipped to Erie by the Beaver and Erie Canal. The business was still in its infancy in the Shenango Valley and was only moderately successful. The mines soon became exhausted and he then opened new mines at Mt. Hickory near Hermitage, Hickory Township. These mines were very valuable and laid the foundation for a successful business career.  He constructed a tram-road operated by horsepower which conveyed the coal from the mines.  This was considered a wonderful achievement and proved to be successful until it was superseded by the Sharpsville and Oakland Railroad. Mr. Pierce took a great interest in railroads and was a stockholder in both. He was one of the first to engage in the coal business in Mercer County. Until the day of death he was one of the most prominent and successful operators in Mercer and Lawrence Counties.

In 1859 he became the owner of the Sharpsville furnace and started to work on the Jackson iron ore of Lake Superior: it was then that the blast furnaces of the Shenango and Mahoning Valleys were revived.  In 1868 Mr. Pierce and William L. Scott of Erie built the two-stack Douglas furnace. money invested in seven of the nine furnaces located in Sharpsville and had large investments in the iron mines at Lake Superior. These comprise his mining, manufacturing and railroad enterprise, but he was also president and principal owner of the Iron Banking Company of Sharpsville and a stockholder in the Sharon Banking Company. His farming operations were conducted on an extensive scale. Mt. Hickory was a model farm and was equal to any of its kind and perhaps was not surpassed by any in western Pennsylvania.

Despite his many business activities, he had an active interest in the community. He took a interest in education and was for a number of years a school director. He made liberal contributions and and money for the erection of school houses. One of his contributions of $10,000 was made in his wife’s name toward the female professorship at Buchtel College, Akron, Ohio.  It was to be called the Chloe Pierce Professorship.  Several of the churches in Sharpsville received generous donations and private and public enterprises were greatly aided by his contributions. The Baptist Church was built in 1872 on lots which he donated.  Mr. Pierce, himself, however, was a Universalist and built a brick church and a frame parsonage on his estate facing Mercer Avenue.  

General Pierce died at Mt. Hickory on December 2, 1874 after an illness caused by a fall. His wife survived him 12 years and died on August 16, 1886. His sons, Jonas J., Walter, Wallace, Frank and James B. Pierce were all engaged in large business enterprises and were prominent men in this portion of the state. One of these, James B. Pierce, was burgess of Sharpsville from 1922 until 1926. Frank and Wallace were affiliated with the Sharpsville schools as members of the board of directors.  Walter Pierce established the first Sharpsville newspaper, “The Advertiser”, in 1870.

Now, however, the Pierce family have all left Sharpsville, and the mansion has been torn down to make room for public housing, the house being too large for a residence by modern standards. Suggestions had been made for using it as a hospital or some other public building, but none of these were carried out.

In looking at the life of General Pierce one could rightfully say perhaps Sharpsville should have been called "Pierceville" in 1874. When General Pierce came here the community had about 12 dwellings.  It was his genius that stimulated the coal, iron, railroad and banking industries to support this community. He, too, concerned himself with public education and donated the land and much money for the Deeter school.

His untimely death was a mortal blow to our then developing complimentary industries. The area was fast becoming the Iron Capital of the World. The role that iron played in winning the Civil War was enormous but can hardly be told here. General Pierce was a pioneer in these then fledging without peer.

Source: (Sharpsville Centennial Commemorative Booklet, 1874-1974, by the Sharpsville Centennial Committee, 1974, pgs 17-19)

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