|Birth: ||Jan. 13, 1858|
|Death: ||Dec. 24, 1935|
After moving his family from the smaller town of Williamstown to Harrisburg in 1904, former teacher and school director Daniel Romberger became a partner in the building supplies business. In 1911, he sent this letter from the Hotel Werner in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania to his young son Gilbert, my grandpa, who was not quite 14 at the time. Though Daniel had switched careers, he was still teaching:
Sept. 19, 1911
Dear Gilbert and All,
Just now had my supper which consisted of tenderloin steak, fried tomatoes, potatoes, boiled eggs, cold beef, hot rolls, cocoa, sliced peaches and cake. After all that a fellow needs a rest - better still would be a brisk walk. I have an engagement with a fellow to meet me here at 7 o'clock. It is seven now and he hasn't turned up yet. I worked hard at Chambersburg and got only one order of 7,000 brick. I don't know whether there is any chance for an order here. The only way to find out is to get out and hustle, - in fact that is the only way to succeed in any business. The fellow that continually sits on his hunches and never stirs but waits for fried pigeons to fly into his mouth will land in the poorhouse and die in poverty. To catch fish, you must go after them. No matter how good a fisherman you are, no matter how nice a rod or line or good bait you have, unless you cast your line into the stream you can never get any fish in your stringer. I never saw any fish crawl out of the water into a man's basket, who was sitting on the bank with his line and hooks in his pocket and who was too lazy to hold his rod.
I wish I had a hook in that fellow's nose with a good line to it, who promised to be here at 7 o'clock, I would soon have him here. It is now 8 o'clock and he is not here yet. The liars are not all in Harrisburg. I have discovered at least one in Waynesboro. That fellow is lacking in two necessary qualities for success in life, namely - truthfulness and punctuality. I can sympathize with a man that sometimes gets lazy for he may have been born on a hot day, or with a man that is sometimes late for he may have been born a little late (not his fault) but there is no earthly excuse for a man to be a liar. No one likes him; no one cares anything for him and everybody shuns him. Don't be a liar. Be a Washington. Hold your hatchet aloft. Let everybody know that you don't belong to the Ananias club.
Were you to see the air ship? I want you all to go and see it. I'll foot the bill when I get home. I expect to get home on Wednesday evening or Thursday forenoon. I want to see the bloody thing too.
But I must close.
Good night and a kiss for all.
This letter fascinates me, because it is the only personal correspondence of my great grandpa Daniel's known to exist. I have books from the company, yet they show his sales and inventory, not his character. It is only recently that I re-found the letter, and I was happy to find it, not just for what it is, but to check the date on it. I had been researching "air ships" in Harrisburg and the date of this letter tells me exactly what he was urging his children to go see: It was a huge air show sponsored by the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper, featuring young airman Paul Peck. Flying was new and novel, and this show was perhaps the first in Pennsylvania. People flocked to these shows, drawn by the seemingly fearless men who flew, but also by the rickety craft that took them aloft. It wasn't just the thrill- there was genuine danger too. Paul Peck died in a Chicago air show almost exactly a year later, and was one of 45 air deaths that year. Still, aeronautics was a science in its infancy, and I think it's rather progressive that a man in his fifties recognized its potential importance and wanted his children to see planes while they had the chance. Daniel could never have known that his grandson, Daniel's son Gilbert's son (my dad, who would also be named Gilbert) would become a trained pilot in the Army Air Corps for World War II... heck, World War I had not yet happened.
This is a story about my great grandfather, a man who ended up in a life he never envisioned for himself. Probably everyone interested in genealogy has found one forefather or mother who has lived a life so absorbing that they find themselves a bit obsessed by that ancestor. Daniel is that ancestor for me.
Please, pull up a chair and get a nice beverage. Yes, this is a longer bio, but only with as much history as needed to tell you about an interesting life. Daniel lived through shifting times, and the influences of those changes forced him to evolve in unexpected ways.
I never heard much about my great grandpa Daniel because the living folks I know who knew him were all pretty young when he died. Daniel's life had to be resurrected and reconstructed through bits here and fragments there, and a few scanty memories. Despite all the research and thinking I have done about him, I still have not figured out how much of his life was due to his good planning and how much by accident. No matter how you slice it, it seems Daniel may have had a talent for spotting waves of the future and being on the crest of them when it mattered. First he rode the longer wave of education, and then the quicker but bigger one of entrepreneurship. Whatever his end, his beginnings were earthy and humble.
Daniel H Romberger was a son of Gilbert Romberger, a saddler and farmer, and his wife, Mary Sophia Kiehl. It's hard to say where Daniel was born; the family seems to have been in Pillow (aka Uniontown) PA in 1858, but Daniel's son's marriage license application states that Daniel was born in Millersburg. Whatever the case, in 1860, Daniel's father bought a farm and moved the family to Berrysburg, in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Berrysburg was then, and is now a small town, today having about 350 citizens. Daniel was one of 16 children, and he saw many of his siblings pass away while still children.
The ones who survived to adulthood like him came of age at a time when the agricultural-based society could not hold. How many ways can a father divide the family farm when he dies? Do you even want your children to have the same back-breaking life as a farmer that you had? What could you teach your kids on the farm to make them successful non-farmers? How do you prepare your children for a non-agricultural life, in an age when post-Civil War industrialization was taking hold? If not engaged in farming, who would the men and women of tomorrow be?
Whoever they would become, they would need education. In 1857, the year before Daniel was born, Pennsylvania passed the Normal Schools Act. "Normal schools" was the term used then for "teachers' colleges". The act was intended to establish colleges that could produce good teachers, because the demand for them far exceeded the supply, and those who were teaching were found often to be poorly qualified. Teaching had been a job almost anyone stepped into with no training, probably the reasoning being you just had to maintain classroom order, and then drill your students. Teaching was a job many took as needed, drifting in and out of education, but it wasn't yet a profession with standards. The Normal Schools Act would begin to re-shape what it meant to be a teacher.
A bit ahead of this act, in 1855, the first "normal school" was begun just 4 miles from the city of Lancaster in Millersville. It happened by accident; a private academy was to be opened there, but Governor Pollock had recently made a rousing speech about the need for properly-educated teachers, so the investors of the academy invited Lancaster County School Superintendent James Wickersham to use the place to educate teachers in the interim before the academy was to open later in the year. Wickersham took them up on the offer and ran such a program there the summer of 1855 for three months. The program was deemed so successful that the plans for the academy were scrapped and Lancaster County Normal School was born. It began in fall with 100 students, and by spring had 652. Wickersham assumed the reins of the school that spring when his tenure as county school superintendent ended. It's tempting to think "Millersville? That must have been a dinky operation" but by contrast, Penn State, a land grant school begun a year before Lancaster County Normal School, had a much smaller student body - even by 1886 it had about 60 students, and the graduating class was rarely over six. The founding of Lancaster County Normal School was the beginning of the evolution of teaching as a profession in Pennsylvania.
Besides the need of teachers, education was a growing field in Daniel's day for other reasons as well. The state was exploring possible required education for children. Though it would not pass for years, the need of it was being discussed. The state continued to promote the education of teachers in 1866 when it paid normal school students 50 cents a week toward their education, and fifty dollars to each graduate who pledged to teach at least two terms.
The parents of Daniel's family, Gilbert the farmer and saddler, and his wife Mary must have been progressive parents. Some of their kids who grew to adulthood were educated and had professions. Eldest son George was a teacher and became a lawyer. Daniel taught too, as did his sister Elmira.
For a long time I'd suspected that Daniel and some of his siblings attended the Berrysburg Seminary, a rare place in its time, in that it offered an excellent education in a rural area. It was not until March of 2012 I obtained a rare copy of a 1916 booklet published by the Elizabethville Echo, entitled "History of Berrysburg Seminary". The title of the booklet is taken from an address given by D. G. Lubold (Daniel G. Lubold) on August 11, 1904, though there is much more information within it than the address alone.
Daniel is listed as a graduate of the class of 1879. Probably Daniel began his teaching career there as well, as a faculty list from 1881 shows "D. H. Romberger, Teacher of Penmanship, Geography, and History." His siblings Mary, Elmira, Annie Gertrude, Lillie and Clara are all also listed among the pages as students at the seminary, and the fact the girls of the family were getting a good education at this time in history again suggests a progressive family orientation. In any case, it's not known to me precisely low long Daniel himself remained affiliated with Berrysburg Seminary, or perhaps other area schools, but along the way, in 1892, he was offered and accepted the principalship of the Williams Valley township schools and he moved to Williamstown, a scrappy, booming little coal town 13 miles east of Berrysburg.
During his teaching career, Daniel took a year of courses at the former afore-mentioned Lancaster County Normal School, by then called Millersville Normal School (and later to become Millersville University). A year doesn't sound like much education, but most teachers were working without having had any higher education. Indeed, through most of the nineteenth century, many who attended Millersville had already worked, and the average student age was higher than 20. In Daniel's receiving a year's instruction, he joined other teachers who wanted to become better without taking the entire two year course, and it probably helped his career. Alumni records show that while many did not stay in teaching, those who did, particularly the males, showed increasing levels of responsibility, reflecting the ability of men to progress in a field becoming professional and hierarchical.
While the state was actively encouraging people to become teachers, debate was raging over the possible passage of a compulsory education law, requiring children to attend school. This seems strange now in our world where it's taken for granted that all children attend school, but back then, kids were a source of labor. Pennsylvania was largely agricultural so young people often worked at home on the farm, and some worked outside the home and brought in much-needed income. Despite the tradition of child labor, the need for educating the young was becoming recognized. Our friend Wickersham from Lancaster had gone on to become State Superintendent of Schools, and wrote about the large number of kids, especially orphans, who lacked any true education, and in a report brought out that in almshouses and jails the number of illiterate inmates was disproportionately large.
When compulsory attendance was first proposed, there was huge opposition. It was argued that optional attendance was befitting of a free people, and required attendance was un-American. Similarly, required school attendance was seen as infringing on the rights of parents and employers. Bills for compulsory education were proposed and shot down in 1891 and 1893, but finally it was passed and on May 16, 1895, was signed by Governor Hastings. The law required children between 8 and 13 years of age to attend at least 16 weeks annually of public or private school. It had provisions for fines against parents who kept their children out, and allowed for the establishment of truancy officers. In the next legislative session, the law was amended to require attendance for 70 percent of the time in which the schools are in session in a given district, and the age range extended to age 16, if the student was not regularly engaged in any useful employment. The amendment also gave approval for special schools for insubordinate children. The act of June 14, 1897 (to take effect 6 months later on January 1, 1898) forbade the employment of any minor under the age of 16 who could not read and write English, unless that student had a certificate showing he'd attended 16 weeks of day or night school during the previous year.
During all this, another law was passed in 1895 stating that each high school receiving state money must have at least one teacher who had "advanced scholarship", i.e., college. That law probably made Daniel and others like him rather in demand.
Eventually, "Professor Romberger" as he was called, oversaw the Williams Township schools as school director then called a principalship, a nice title, but it meant some work, including overseeing a night school for the "breaker boys" - young boys about eight to 14, whose job was to sit near the chutes where the coal came down from above, and pull out the slate or other objects mixed in with the coal, before it was ground through giant rollers. While their fathers earned about $6 a week in the mines, the breaker boys pulled in $2.50 weekly.
The overall years of Daniel's tenure in Williamstown as an educator is not known. Some records suggest he served as a principal from 1887 to 1903, overseeing the Williams Township schools. (Similarly, another gent, A. H. Gerberich oversaw the next-door Williamstown schools at the same time, and it is certain these two gents knew each other.) Recently the following was found from the June 18, 1892 Harrisburg Patriot:
[Special to the Patriot.]
"Elizabethville, June 17 - Professor D. H. Romberger has accepted the principalship of the Williams' Valley township schools at a salary of $75 a month with $30 additional per month for night school. Mr. Romberger is a number one educator and we are sorry that he will leave."
Probably Daniel's working in an administrative capacity was a good thing; it is said in the family that easy-going Daniel had always had difficulty maintaining order in the classroom.
A snapshot of his work remains: June 10, 1897, Daniel gave the following report on the Township schools at a school board meeting:
Dayton school, 54 pupils enrolled
West End, 70 pupils enrolled
Greenfields, 31 pupils enrolled
Primary, 61 pupils enrolled
Secondary, 47 pupils enrolled
Grammar, 40 pupils enrolled
High school, 34 pupils enrolled
Total, 337 pupils enrolled.
School rooms in operation, 7.
Number of male teachers, 4.
Number of female teachers, 3.
Average monthly salary- male, $50.00
Average monthly salary- female, $33.00
Remembering that Williamstown was a hard-working coal town, if you look at a surviving 1900 picture of a class at the Dayton school, you can see the feet of eight students; three are shoeless.
For many years Daniel was a bachelor. Perhaps it was during those days as a single man that he was able to save his modest earnings and use them later in life. His status changed in 1892 (apparently when he accepted the principalship in William Township) when he was about 34. If he asked his wife-to-be's father for her hand, her father, Rev. Jacob Runk, might have been impressed by the enterprising educator my great grandpa was, because Runk's father had also been a school superintendent. Daniel's first wife was M. Ella Runk, who is believed sadly to have died in childbirth, since her passing happened after she and Daniel had been married less than a year. That is likely another point of empathy between the men, because Reverend Runk seems to have lost both his wives to giving birth.
Daniel's second marriage was to Minnie (nee Kepler) Romberger, who had herself been widowed. Minnie's first husband was J J Greenhoe, a physician who passed young from a known heart ailment. While Greenhoe's practice was in Williamstown, he and Minnie lived in nearby Tower City, about four miles away. After her husband's untimely death, it is probable she came to Williamstown to live with or be close to her sister, who had married into a prominent Williamstown lumbering family, the Budds. It seems probable Daniel and Minnie met in Williamstown, as their marriage certificate states they were both residents; he is listed as a public school teacher, and she as a housekeeper. For many years I have puzzled over their marriage certificate which appears to say they married in "River City" but only in 2013 did I find out that Allen Budd had moved to Reiner City to take over running his father's place, and then found that Daniel and Minnie had married at Mr. Budd's home March 6, of 1895. Ah handwriting... not River, but Reiner City. The whole thing is laughable anyway, because on the marriage license, it is very clearly written "Do Not Publish" but there it was in the Harrisburg Telegraph, run by the McAlarneys who married into my family via Daniel's grandma Eva's kids from her second marriage. A joke perhaps?
Daniel and Minnie were parents to Edna May (Romberger) Gackenbach, Gilbert Allen Romberger, and Amy I. (Romberger) Strobel. Their children were born in Williamstown, and raised there in their very early years.
Daniel and his wife Minnie and their three kids left Williamstown, Dauphin County for Harrisburg shortly after the beginning of the 1900's, about 1904. One has to wonder if teaching children who would end up miners not using their educations felt fruitless, or if perhaps the strikes and mine accidents were things the couple didn't want to expose to their children.
You have to think about what Daniel saw during his time in Williamstown. We know he was there at least from 1887 to 1903 when records show him as school director (and he may have been there even before in a teaching capacity). If you count documented Williamstown mine deaths in that 16 year period, they total 72, averaging four or five deaths a year. The borough population in 1900 was only 2900, so you can bet the family knew plenty of the folks who perished, let alone the uncounted men who were injured over the years. On a different note, in 1900, a general mine strike occurred that lasted over a month, when the men sought a 10 percent wage increase. On October 11th of that year they held a huge (very orderly) strike parade of over 1000 men, marching about five miles from Lykens, through Wiconisco, Dayton, and Williamstown. Imagine the sight of 1000 men marching through your town, especially when that equals a third of its population! One good thing to come of this strike until it was settled was that the "breaker boys" got to go to school by day, instead of at night. In 1902, the miners would strike again, this time for 144 days. In 1904, not long before the Romberger family left, Williamstown saw its single worst mine tragedy in terms of fatalities, when 10 miners on a train were asphyxiated in the Williamstown Tunnel by gas from the locomotive. Just like his father, Daniel might have looked at life around him and asked "Is this what you want for your children?"
Whatever their motivation, the family left Williamstown, and they were not alone. Looking at the 1900 census from before their leaving, the Rombergers (who owned their West Market Street home on a mortgage, probably a twin) rented out part of it to a mining family headed by Albert and Pearl Warfield. Next door on one side was the family of Samuel (a miner) and Martha Temple, and next to them, Edward (a miner) and Minnie Lewis. On the other side was Hannah Jones (a widowed dressmaker) and next to her, the family of Joseph (a miner) and Myrtle Schoffstall. The 1910 census shows us that the Warfields and Temples, like the Rombergers (or possibly with them, or by example) have all moved to Harrisburg. Of the six households, the Schoffstalls can't be found anywhere, and only the Lewises and the Widow Jones remain. A surviving remnant of Daniel's departure is a large Bible given to him by the class of 1904.
So the family moved, and it's not known if Daniel continued teaching in Harrisburg. He appears in the city directory as a teacher in 1905 (based on info probably collected in 1904), but he may have just been stating his usual or intended profession. Changes lay ahead.
In a midlife career change at age 46, Daniel H. Romberger and Samuel F. Mentzer formed a partnership as Mentzer and Romberger, a building supply and cast stone business in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA in 1904. Mentzer had already been in the business solo, and had had a father in building trades going back to 1880, so he knew the business well. How the educator and the cast stone man met up, and why they joined forces is presently a mystery. My one theory on their meeting at church was shot down when I found that was impossible, because Daniel's family did not join the Mentzer's church, Memorial Lutheran, until after the partnership was established.
Still, it's not hard to guess how Daniel might have been drawn to the field of stonework, masonry and cast stone. Imagine yourself a man in your middle forties who's spent most of your life in green little Berrysburg and the busy but small, dusty town of Williamstown with less than 3000 people. Suddenly you come to Harrisburg, population over 50,000 and see paved streets, sidewalks going in, big train stations. There are sewers, to keep people from walking in raw sewerage which ran the muddy gutters in most towns. The new state capitol building is going up, to be finished in 1906, with much cast stone in it. Iron and wood are yesterday's news, because stone, masonry and brick construction is on the rise. Many of the old large wood structures - like the Opera House- are disappearing, lost to fires, to be replaced by brick and stone structures trimmed with cast stone. The new Rockville Bridge, completed in 1902, just north of your new home of Harrisburg, is the longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world.
Following Daniel's footsteps, you move your family into a small brick twin home on 15th street, and then onto 18th street, in Allison Hill, where the old fire-prone iron and wood-deck Mulberry Street Bridge will soon be replaced in two years of construction, 1907 to 1909, with concrete. Your next home on North 18th Street is just across the street from Reservoir Park, which is going through many changes due to the nationwide, turn of the century "City Beautiful" movement, which had at its core the belief that beautiful public spaces and noble buildings had the power to elevate the aspirations and spirit of the citizenry. Reservoir Park is filling up with beautiful statues, cast stone walled gardens, cast stone fountains, of course, the reservoir itself, and 13 cast stone steps (one for each original colony) leading down to the river. Compared to life as you've known it, Harrisburg is busy, full, loud and above all, showing major progress. So in his shoes, if you opened up your front door every day and looked out onto Reservoir Park where large and lovely changes were being wrought, it must have looked like you'd moved into the middle of a very promising future. Perhaps Daniel had strolled into the park to observe the men at work, and met Mentzer that way. If Daniel did teach his first year in Harrisburg, that would offer another way they might have met, because Mentzer's firm did a lot of work on school buildings.
However it happened, the men joined forces and had their business at the corner of 18th and Chestnut in Harrisburg in 1904. For about 10 years, they worked together, and this is how Daniel learned the business. They appear annually in the Polk City Directory of Harrisburg, and correspondence from Mentzer & Romberger Builders' Supplies, Harrisburg, Penna. dated February 25, 1908 is in the state archives, in the Pine Grove Furnace collection. They officially applied for a charter for their company about nine years later, and notice of the incorporation appears in the March 28, 1913 Harrisburg Telegraph. The Journal of the Engineers Society of Pennsylvania authored by that society and published in 1913, has the following on page 32, under new industrial charters:
Harrisburg: Mentzer-Romberger Manufacturing Company, manufacturing cement and clay products; capital, $20,000; treasurer, Daniel H. Romberger, Harrisburg.
The capital seems a respectable amount in its time, as most new companies listed on the same page show capital of $10,000 to $25,000. Daniel may have been made treasurer if he contributed a majority of the capital, which it is believed he did.
Cast stone is essentially man-made limestone, so it is thus a masonry product that can be cast in molds to create the desired shape and part, whether it is ornamental or functional. Think of a brick or stone building. How boring it would be to the eye if made only of brick or stone, but usually it is offset and accented by light tan or white "concrete-looking" sections, windowsills, doorways, keystones, columns, arches and such. Cast stone is made from Portland cement, fine and coarse aggregates, mineral oxide color pigments, chemicals and water. You pour it into a mold, and allow it to dry, then remove it and add a finish to create the desired surface texture. A cast stone business like Mentzer & Romberger would require sales and estimation work based on a contractor's specifications, artistic men to make the molds, laborers to do the pouring, recovery and finishing, and then loading of the materials onto whatever would take it to the contractor's building site.
In such a radical departure from education, Daniel found himself sometimes on the road to sell the company's services. The straightforward man from simple Berrysburg and gritty Williamstown was out in the faster world. A letter of his to his children survives, and former teacher that he was, the letter takes on an instructional tone. He writes it from a Waynesboro hotel's restaurant, where he was to meet a potential client, who is, at the time of writing, late. This proves, he says, "not all the liars are in Harrisburg." He goes on a short diatribe, explaining he does not know if there is any business to be had in Wayneboro, but the only way to find out is to get out and hustle, that fish do not leap from the waters into one's basket, and that no matter how nice your tackle or bait, you need to put your hook in the water. He urges his children never to be liars, describing the drawbacks of being one, and how everyone shuns a liar. He opens the next paragraph by saying "I wish I had a hook in that fellow's nose with a good line to it, who promised to be here at 7 o'clock, I would soon have him here."
Mentzer-Romberger ran from about 1904 to 1914, the partnership dying a year after official incorporation, though there are indications the name lived on after Daniel left in 1914. In January of 2010, an eBay seller listed a shipping notice from 1915 from Mentzer-Romberger for sale. Also, state taxes were paid in that name until about 1919. The dual name of the old Harrisburg firm may have been kept after my great grandfather's departure because it was known and recognized, or perhaps he remained an investor for some time after he left, or perhaps because he hoped to ge his investment back.
Whatever the case, something in that partnership changed. It's not known why for certain, but the two men went their separate ways only a bit over a year after incorporation. Daniel moved east in Pennsylvania to Allentown, Lehigh County, about an hour north of Philadelphia.
Mentzer has his hand in many pies; he was a car enthusiast, he advertised for picture framing and invitation printing, he was a contractor as well as selling building supplies. The 1905-1915 newspapers are full of him selling homes, as well as announcements that he had bid and won the right to build some. In July 1905, the Telegraph speaks of him having built over 300 homes in Harrisburg. He seems to have been very busy, and this flurry was when he was partners with Romberger, so it is hard to understand why the business agreement came to an end.
If one branch of our family can be believed, Daniel's first lesson in the cast stone business might have been quite harsh, as it has been said he was swindled out of his assets. Probably no proof of this will ever be found, and assigning blame at this late date serves no one. The bottom line however, is that in 1914, when Daniel was not a very young man, about 56, he had to start over.
Daniel and his family left their old Harrisburg church, being removed from the rolls in October of 1914. Because I have the surviving minutes of the meeting, I know that two months later in December of 1914, Daniel and several men met to establish Romberger Manufacturing Company, aka, Romberger Cast Stone. One of those men, Charles F. Brymeser, came along with him from Harrisburg, became a new investor in Allentown, and became plant foreman until he retired. Daniel was co-founder/secretary (1914), and later sole owner (1915). The company made its home on South Aubrey Street, East Allentown, PA., but for some early years used Daniel's home address for office correspondence.
It started small and slow, or at least what was reported was not impressive. In the 1920 Industrial directory of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania published by the Pennsylvania. Dept. of Labor and Industry, the old Harrisburg partnership makes this final appearance:
Mentzer-Romberger Mfg. Co.
18th & Chestnut Sts.
Employees: 28 males, 0 females, 0 employees under 16, 2 employees in the "office force", 28 employees total.
Contrast this, if you will, with my great grandfather's new enterprise across the state in Allentown, listed in the same book:
Romberger Mfg. Co.
137 S. 14th St
Employees: 12 males, 0 females, 0 employees under 16, 1 employee in "office force", 12 employees total.
An undated company photo (shown in the picture section of this memorial) from around this time, possibly a few years later, shows about 40 employees, so either Daniel was keeping a low profile, or the business grew fast. By March 25, 1926 it had been granted a Pennsylvania Domestic Fictitious Name for business.
Early employees of the company included Fred "Pat" Surman and Steward Barlip. Both men are mentioned in the company books as early employees and recommended for raises. Pat stayed with the company until its closure, working with my great grandpa, my grandpa, and my dad, and remaining a trusted family friend, as well as a skilled artist. Some of Pat's handiwork that survives in our home includes a small stool he made for me to use when I was a child, a windowseat in my parents' bedroom, and a lovely grandmother clock he carved, installed a motor in, and laid on a lovely shellacked painted rose face. One of Pat's duties at Romberger Cast Stone was creating decorative molds which shaped the detailed fancy finished products. My family still has a few, and I like to think they probably came from Pat's loving hands.
The young company grew to include a quarry, time keeper's shack, an office, and several plant buildings. Cast stone requires crushed binding stone, so the quarry served the purpose, and early work was done by dynamiting the rock, dragging stone up by horse, and unloading by hand. Daniel's careful notes show allowances made annually for costs and depreciation of the horse, his food and equipment. Trust the son of a saddler to not miss that detail. The company employed many off the boat craftsmen who worked at carving molds of wood, which would then be pressed into wet sand, to make the final mold. Cast stone would then be poured in and allowed to dry. The piece would be removed from the mold and finished by a chemical process or by sandblasting. A railroad siding backed up to the rear of the plant making receipt of materials and shipment of goods possible. The reason this company was revolutionary for its time is that before it existed, a building contractor would have to do all this work and employ such skilled labor himself. He would have to have the items poured at the building site- a laborious and time consuming step. With the advent of a specialized cast stone company, the same contractor could simply order parts as needed, and then build them into his structure.
The business did well in its early years due in part to a young sales manager named Davies, who married Daniel's daughter Amy. A few years later however, it did exponentially better when World War I erupted and necessitated the building of many new shipyards, train depots, and factories. While industry remained the largest user of cast stone, in later years, the company would become more involved with schools, colleges, homes, and houses of worship. Family connections were made with the Everett and Ochs families, who were locally prominent in architecture. Everett used Romberger Cast Stone in many of his buildings, and also helped in the final design of four Romberger Homes. Later, these same families built and enjoyed summer homes together at Pine Run, in Pennsylvania.
While many of the company's WW I buildings have since met the wrecking ball, one still standing was recently located in Bloomfield, NJ which was the Sprague Electric works, then bought by General Electric. Built 1917-1918, it is currently home to a number of businesses (and artists as well) and is being considered for development and conversion to loft apartments, a lovely idea for an older building which has held up pretty well to the passage of time, and needs only some surface clean-up and minor exterior repair. A picture of it is shown if you click on "Click here to view all images" to the right.
In preparing to move in January 2010, I found in our family basement an impressive photo of a large hotel, apparently taken in the 1920's. I knew it had been kept because it showed the company's work, but what was the dazzling edifice? The only clue visible was that it was on a boardwalk. Through much research, I finally determined it was the Ritz-Carlton Atlantic City. Designed by New York City architect Sir Charles Wetmore and constructed by the Thompson-Starrett Company, in its day it was the tallest building on the Jersey coast, boasting 17 stories with a radio operation on the roof for employee in-house communication to ensure guests were well-attended to. It was nice enough that Bugsy Siegel honeymooned there. Built at the obscene price of $6 million in 1921 dollars (about $70 million today), the Ritz is one of the last vintage hotels standing in Atlantic City, and houses a condominium complex now. The other survivors are the Claridge and the Dennis (both part of Bally's) and Haddon Hall (now part of Resorts Atlantic City).
Later in 2010, interest in the building increased for two reasons. September 2010 saw the advent of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The central character, "The Czar of The Ritz," Enoch "Nucky" Thompson portrayed by Steve Buscemi is based on real-life boss Nucky Johnson, whose base of operations was on the ninth floor of the Atlantic City Ritz-Carlton (though the series has his nest on the eighth floor). The show is shot in New York, and the Ritz depicted onscreen is digital only, and is shown as more of a castle-like structure, but the series has it right about Nucky living in a posh AC hotel.
2010 also saw the application of the Ritz to become registered with the National and New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Hopefully the property will be accepted so its future preservation can be assured. To see a slideshow of this beautiful building, please see this link. Even if you are not architecturally-versed, you will grasp the art in much of it, including many great shots of the cast stone work done by Romberger Cast Stone.
After many bachelor years on a teacher's salary, Daniel finally prospered. That he did so in an era when times were hard for many Americans is in part due to the first world war, but also to his conservative fiscal nature. Not speculating in stock, Daniel invested his money in real estate and so managed to ride out the Great Depression. His money went into building homes for himself and his three children as they married.
These unique Italian villa-style homes, still known as "Romberger Homes" among local real estate agents, were built in Allentown's West End during the 1920's when little else stood in that area. They were all built on the same plans, two were of stone, one of yellow brick, and another of red brick. All featured cast stone trim and balustrades, as well as terracotta roofs. Thankfully, all are owned now by families who recognize their vintage beauty and who take excellent care of them.
The first Romberger Home was built for Daniel's son Gilbert, my grandfather, in 1920, and the next for himself in 1923, followed by one each for his daughters. He must have been thinking ahead and planning his retirement, because he bowed out of the business, leaving it to his son Gilbert in 1925. That meant he had only 12 years in his glorious home, 10 in retirement, because for reasons not known at this time, Daniel H. Romberger died in his hard-won, lovely home on Tilghman Street in 1935 on Christmas Eve. His wife Minnie would die only two weeks later.
Full advantage of the sponsorship of this memorial for Daniel has been taken, and there are several photos you can view by clicking here to view all images. Some are excellent and interesting vintage pictures that are fun to look at, regardless of one's interest in this particular story. I hope you'll take a moment to step back in time. Thank you for honoring my great grandpa with your visit today.
Gilbert Romberger (1829 - 1894)
Mary Sophia Kiehl Romberger (1834 - 1920)
Minnie Kepler Romberger (1867 - 1936)
Martha Ella/Ellis Runk Romberger (1870 - 1893)
Amy Irene Romberger Strobel (1896 - 1965)*
Gilbert Allen Romberger (1897 - 1961)*
Edna May Romberger Gackenbach (1900 - 1984)*
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 20, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14663000