Carriages Were King in Saucon Valley's Olden Days
In Hellertown, a carriage factory was located in the building that would later become Carson's Hardware. The Jordan Carriage Factory was the first such establishment in Coopersburg.
Well before the "horseless carriage," or automobile, transportation often depended on one or two horsepower vehicles that made no dents in the Earth's ozone layer. Each year in the 21st century about 30,000 deaths occur due to vehicular accidents, but not 150 years ago. Were those the good old days? It all depends on how one defines these oft-spoken-about eras.
To the point, the Jordan Carriage Factory was the first in Coopersburg in 1850. Brothers Franklin and Milton eventually employed 18 workers. Milton Jordan had learned the trade in Macungie as an apprentice to George Hinkle for three years at a wage of $12.75 per year. The brothers retired in 1909.
The Kern Carriage Shop was begun by Samuel Y. Kern at the corner of Station Avenue and Main Street, and then he sold the business to his son, Harvey Y. Kern. The Y. signified their middle name, Yeager, as it does today in 2013 for Sam Y. Kern, the family historian. A book published in 1891 names "Industries and Commercial Growth of Montgomery and Bucks Counties" contains the following description:
"A fine business is conducted, and the trade is derived from Philadelphia, Coopersburg and surrounding county districts. A large repository occupies a portion of the premises, where samples of all the various styles made are on exhibition."
Both of the carriage shops necessarily had adjoining blacksmith shops. Carriages were constructed on the first floor and then pulled to the second story for upholstery and finishing touches. "Rubber tired carriages became a fashion followed by the era of the FORD. Harvey Kern became the first Ford authorized dealer in the area." Russel Kern and Wallace Eisenhard continued the business until 1925.
Until 1928 the business was continued by S.Y. Kern and John Heffer, the latter who serviced automobiles. Then a devastating fire destroyed the business.
During this activity in Coopersburg, in Hellertown T.R. Laubach erected the building that would eventually become Carson's Hardware in the 20th century, about 1866. Laubach was a lumberman and Hellertown's first Chief Burgess. The two-story structure housed the carriage factory to the north. The center was occupied by blacksmith, William Heffner.
As Herbert Weisel once wrote, "The carriage builder also contributed a much needed service to the Saucon Valley community. People were in need of transportation to travel to various parts of the township and to take their farm produce to the town markets. This need was provided by the builder of horse-drawn vehicles."
Harrison Klein was the carriage builder, who also served three terms as the borough's Chief Burgess. "There were wooden hubs, spokes and circular rims for wheels, the frameworks of a carriage for the purpose of carrying persons or a wagon for carrying goods, crops and heavy loads."
Several apprentices, one Victor Fluck, took over the business after Klein. "It was here that the various parts made by the blacksmith, tinsmith and carriage shops were assembled and the vehicle built." Just as in Coopersburg, a wooden ramp behind the building led to the second floor. The bodies of carriages built for individuals were painted black, while farm wagons were blue, both with red wheels. The nature of the customer's business was hand-painted on the side or back of the carriage, such as a sack of flour for a miller.
It is told that children nearby would enjoy the wooden ramps as a sledding run after a snowfall. These urban children in the center of town lacked the long hills of mountainous country roads in the surrounding townships and other areas within the towns.
Remember that one should never put his cart--or carriage--before his horse.
Sources of preceding information: "Coopersburg, A Town of Possibilities" and "Saucon Secrets, Volume 2."