BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF HON. JOHN LEISENRING
Hon. John Leisenring, Mauch Chunk’s highly esteemed citizen and widely-known business man, was born in 1819, at Philadelphia, Pa., his paternal ancestors being of Saxon descent, and his maternal ancestors Scotch. His great-grandfather came to America in 1765, and settled in Whitehall township, Lehigh Co., on the Lehigh River, in A. D. 1765, on a farm bought from the original proprietors, while the native Indians still occupied that portion of the state. This farm still remains in possession of his descendants. The judge’s father was a morocco-dresser in Philadelphia, which business he left to engage in the war of 1812. In 1828 he removed with his family to Mauch Chunk, where the family has since resided. His education was directed with special reference to the profession of civil engineering, which he adopted at an early age, under the direction of E. A. Douglass, principal engineer of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, then controlled by Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, who ere engaged in constructing a slack-water navigation of the Lehigh River, from Mauch Chunk to White Haven, and also in building a railroad from White Haven to Wilkesbarre. John Leisenring, at the age of Seventeen years, had full charge of a division of the canal and railroad, while George Law and Asa Packer were contractors on the same division, and he remained in charge until its completion. After completing this work the Morris Canal Company, who were then enlarging their canal from Easton to Jersey City, through their chief engineer, secured his services as assistant, and he was placed in charge of the division between Dover, N. J., and Jersey City. He was also engaged in locating and surveying the railroad now known as the Belvidere Delaware Railroad, in which work he was associated with E. A. Douglass and Gen. H. M. Negley, who now resides in California.
About this time he engaged in the coal business, then in its infancy, which he saw was to be the controlling business of the region. He also built Sharp Mountain planes on the property of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, for conveying the coal which he and others mined. This interesting engineering feature, which, christened the Switchback Railroad, after being used for many years, was abandoned at the completion of the Nesquehoning Valley Railroad tunnel into the Panther Creek Valley.
In 1854 he removed from Ashton, now Lansford, Carbon Co., where he had lived for nine years, to Eckly, Luzerne Co., where he opened the Council Ridge mines, which are now operated by him, as well as many other mines in the same locality, he being specially identified with the production of coal from the Buck Mountain vein, producing in 1881, in all, about one million tons. He organized, and is still president of, the Upper Lehigh Coal Company, known as one of the most successful mining companies in the country. On the death of E. Z. Douglass, in 1859, he was chosen as his successor in charge of the works of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, during which the navigation from White Haven down was almost totally destroyed by the great freshet of June, in 1862. The works form Mauch Chunk to Easton were repaired with wonderful rapidity, and the judge’s energy and efficiency in their construction was on all hands commended.
The navigation from White Haven to Mauch Chunk was not restored, because, in the judgment of the subject of this article, the destruction to life and property was so great as to be sufficient ground for declining to incur the risk of repetition, and in order to retain the business he suggested and recommended the building of a railroad between the same points.
After completing this work, which gave the company a line of railroad from Wilkesbarre to Mauch Chunk, Mr. Leisenring saw that to secure the full benefit of this road it would be necessary to have a railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, to connect with roads in New Jersey, so that the operations of the company need mot be suspended during the winter months, but that business could go on continuously. In carrying out this plan, which promptly adopted by the company, the road was laid out and completed with steel rails, which were the first importation of any consequence, and the whole fifty miles are still in use and doing good service, showing the forethought and sound judgment of its promoter.
The iron bridges crossing the two rivers, Lehigh and Delaware, at Easton have been considered a masterly piece of engineering, both in their location and construction. In view of the large business which he expected from the Wyoming region, he designed and built three inclined planes, which were used to raise the coal from the Wyoming Valley, a perpendicular height of about one thousand feet, divided in planes of about a mile in length each. These planes are constructed with a capacity to raise two thousand cars, or ten thousand to twelve thousand tons, daily, at a cost of but little more than the minimum cost per mile of transportation on a railroad of ordinary grade, thus saving to the company over four-fifths of the cost of hauling the same coal in cars by locomotives, as it would have required over thirteen miles of railroad to overcome the same elevation. These are thought to be the most effective planes in the world.
Having brought to a successful issue all these plans for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company’s canals and railroad, the increasing cares of his various enterprises made it necessary for him to resign the active charge of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company’s extended business; and the company being loath to lose his services, urged upon his acceptance the position of consulting engineer and member of the board of managers, which later position he still holds.
About this time there came a struggle among transporting companies to secure control of coal lands, in which, owing to his well-known familiarity with the geological formations in the coal regions, Mr. Leisenring was invited to join the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey, of which he was elect4ed a director, and whose terminal facilities were such as to enable them to compete successfully for a large business. A lease was secured by the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey of the canal and roads of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, securing thereby the tonnage of the mines owned by that company and others, including those of the Wilkesbarre Coal and Iron Company. The mines were merged into the property of the company, now known as the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Coal and Iron Company. IN gathering these properties the advice and counsel of Mr. Leisenring was sought, and he selected the lands, which are now conceded to be as valuable as any, and to be the finest body of connect4ed coal land owned by any corporations in the same neighborhood, and having all the best veins of coal in perfection.
Mr. Leisenring was also a director of this latter company and was appointed its consulting engineer. He originated the Lehigh and Luzerne Coal Company, which purchased three thousand acres of excellent coal land in Newport township, Luzerne Co., and was made its president, which office he continued until the property passed into ;the possession of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company by an advantageous sale. This property afterward was merged into the Lehigh and Wilkesbarre Coal and Iron Company. The near approach of the time when the anthracite coal fields would be unable to supply the increasing demands made upon them, and the necessity of providing new avenues for business operations, led him to the consideration of coke as a fuel for the manufacture of iron, steel, and other manufactures. With this end in view and examination was made of several tracts, from which he and his associates selected the property which now belongs to the Connellsville Coke and iron Company.
The Connellsville coking-coal basin is about thirty miles long, by average of two and one half miles wide.
The company’s property occupies about six miles in length of the heart of this basin, covering eight thousand five hundred acres of land, every foot of which contains the celebrated seam of coking-coal. These facts, together with other advantages, demonstrate the great value of this company’s estate. Judge Leisenring is president of the board of directors.
After the dissolution of the Carbon Iron Company, at Parryville, in 1876, Judge Leisenring, together with others, bought the property and organized the Carbon ;Iron and Pipe Company, which has since been doing a prosperous business.
Among the more recent extensive enterprises he has engaged in is the organization of the Virginia Coal and Iron Company, in 1881, under the laws of the Sate of Virginia, he being the elected president of the same.
The property bought by this company embraces one hundred thousand acres of land located in Virginia, near the Tennessee and Kentucky border line, covering a fine agricultural county, and containing large quantities of hematite and fossil iron ore, together with six veins of different varieties of coal, among others a rich vein of cannel coal which until late years was imported and sold at exorbitant price. There is enough coal above the water-level on this land alone to supply the market with one million tons a year for one thousand years. It also contains large quantities of valuable black-walnut and white-oak. In the following year the Holsten Steel and Iron Company was organized, with Judge Leisenring as president, its object being to utilize the products of the above company in preparing them for market. They are now building a narrow gauge railroad from Bristol, Tenn., sixty five miles long, which when completed will give them an outlet for their products. He is also owner of a tract of land that contains large beds of Tennessee marble, and one of the originators and heaviest stockholders of the Shenandoah National Bank, which has just been incorporated.
In the year 1861, Mr. Leisenring returned to Mauch Chunk, taking up his abode in his present beautiful residence, which, together with its desirable location and handsomely laid-out and well-cared for grounds, places it among the most elegant homes in the State.
Being a man of generous heart, his acts of kindness and benevolence have been many. His sympathies and assistance have always been with the citizens of Mauch Chunk in their hour of need, or when any public improvement was desired. In him we have a man who is universally esteemed, honored and respected by all who know him. He has no desire for political advancement, preferring the more congenial walks of private life, though he accepted the office of associate, judge, to which he was elected in 1871, for a five-year term, by a very handsome majority. The Republican State Convention, which met at Harrisburg, Pa., May 16, 1884, showed its appreciation of a trusted member of the party and citizen of the commonwealth by placing his name at the head of the list of presidential electors.
He married, on May 12, 1844, Caroline, eldest daughter of Daniel and Katherine Bertsch, five children being the issue of their union, three daughters and two sons.
The History of the Counties of Lehigh & Carbon, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
Alfred Mathews & Austin N. Hungerford
Published in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1884
Page 706 to 708
Transcribed from the original in March, 2003
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