Rowley House History
Edwin A. Rowley
May 16, 1836 – July 10, 1893
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, D.C.
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 Etta.
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 Williamsport.
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 country.