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Why Industrial History?

1. Agricultural Beginnings

2. The Thomas Family Busines

3. Central Chemical and the Fertilizer Industry

Agricultural Beginnings: The Fertilizer Industry in Hagerstown

Hagerstown was well situated to participate in the rapidly developing fertilizer industry of the late nineteenth century. In addition to being near the major centers of production and distribution in Baltimore, the city was ideally placed between the two regions of the country using fertilizer most intensely – the Mid-Atlantic States and the soil-depleted South. Furthermore, when an extensive system of railroads was laid in the 1870s, Hagerstown found itself at an important intersection of rail lines with direct access to major seaports and other urban centers.

Most of the fertilizer companies in the 1880s were independent and owned only a single factory. The fertilizer industry in Hagerstown in the 1880s was made up of a handful of small factories in the second category of fertilizer companies – those producing only mixed fertilizers.

Lechlider Bros. Fertilizer Works was a one- and two-story building located on a railroad spur a small distance to the west of the Cumberland Valley Railroad Round House, but still near downtown. It had an engine room powered by steam, suggesting mechanized mixing processes.It appears that the company contracted for rail delivery of guano and other fertilizer materials, mixed them, and distributed them locally. Lechlider Bros. continued operation at least until1897, but by 1904 their Hagerstown presence seems to have been limited to storage in warehouses. The business may have figured that simply distributing fertilizer materials was more economical than mixing them.

Further north on the Cumberland Railroad – just west of present-day Prospect Street – were the two- and three-story buildings of Huyett, Schindel & Co., Fertilizer & Agricultural Chemical Works. Huyett had a room for steaming bones and a room for “grinding and mixing.” In this second room was a bone mill to grind the steamed bones and ample space to mix it with other materials. Across the railroad spur from Huyett was a one-story warehouse to store the finished product. South of the warehouse and between the spur and the main railroad line was a large stock yard owned by the Cumberland Valley Railroad. Despite the company’s name, the operation seems to have consisted of mixing bone meal with other fertilizer materials. By 1892, Schindle and Schindle Sawing and Turning had occupied the plant.

Attached to the Huyett buildings were two warehouses for J.D. Simmons. These warehouses remained in 1892 even after the Huyett operations moved out of the adjoining buildings. By 1897, however, Simmons no longer used the warehouses.

In 1887 Stonebreaker & Son Bone Mills was a building in Funkstown (just outside of Hagerstown) on the Antietam River. The operation here appears to have consisted entirely of grinding bone for mixing companies or for direct sale to farmers. In the one-story rear of the building, along the tail race leading into the river, a steam boiler was used to steam the bones prior to grinding. Two turbine water wheels on the tail race powered the bone mill. In the front part of the building (facing Baltimore Street) ground bone was mixed on the first floor and then stored on the three upper floors. The elevator shaft in used for raising and lowering the bone meal addressed Baltimore street in the manner of a projecting church steeple and was topped with a decorative cupola. A set of scales located just outside the elevator shaft and practically in the street indicates that the elevator was also the point at which bone meal left the mill to be loaded onto carriages. The mill had no heat or light and probably operated only in the warmer months of the year. Fifteen people worked here.

By 1892 J.W. Stonebreaker & Sons, Makers of Fertilizers had begun operations on the banks of the Antietam River. Unlike its more horizontal predecessors, Stonebreaker’s plant was four stories tall, with operations stacked on top of each other: the part of the plant closest the spur was three stories: the first floor for materials storage, the second for mixed fertilizer, and the 3rd for “shipping.” Behind this room was the four-story portion with storage of bones on the first floor, a stock room on the second floor, steaming and grinding on the third floor, and sifting on the fourth floor. Steam was obtained from the Antietam Paper Mill. The Stonebreakers apparently felt they could do better by integrating their bone mill operation with fertilizer mixing. Also on the railroad spur and slightly to the west of the main plant was a small warehouse (apparently a ware house for fertilizer bags in 1897). By 1897, the firm had added an extra room for bone storage and an iron-clad boiler house cut into the banks of the river (Figure 5). The operation does not appear to have survived past 1910.

In summary, though showing some variation in architecture and processes, the fertilizer companies in Hagerstown at the end of the nineteenth century were all of the same sort: small, family-owned, locally-oriented businesses which contracted for materials that were either mixed and ground and then sold, or simply distributed directly to farmers.

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