Skip to main content

Wurts family papers

1699-1964
 Collection
Identifier: 1982

Abstract

The Wurts family were involved in the anthracite coal industry. In 1823 four brothers: Maurice Wurts (1783-1854), William Wurts (1788-1858), Charles Stewart Wurts (1790–1859), and John Wurts (1792-1861) founded the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company originally to mine anthracite coal and transport the resource to New York. The company built the Delaware and Hudson Canal and later became the Delaware and Hudson Railway. The Wurts family papers were collected by John Sparhawk Wurts (1876-1958) and reflect both family papers and business records.

Dates

  • 1699-1964

Creator

Extent

9 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

The Wurts family were involved in the anthracite coal industry. In 1823 four brothers: Maurice Wurts (1783-1854), William Wurts (1788-1858), Charles Stewart Wurts (1790–1859), and John Wurts (1792-1861) founded the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company originally to mine anthracite coal and transport the resource to New York. The company built the Delaware and Hudson Canal and later became the Delaware and Hudson Railway.

Vanuxem Family

Among the earliest papers in the collection are the Vanuxem Papers (1778-1937). James Vanuxem (1745-1824), the family patriarch, was born in Dunkerque, France. He emigrated to America at age twenty-nine and soon settled in Philadelphia. Vanuxem married Rebecca Clark (daughter of Colonel Elijah Clark and Jane Lardner Clark) in 1779 and they had fifteen children, of which eight died before reaching adulthood.

Vanuxem became engaged in the shipping trade by 1779 and was also a merchant in Philadelphia from the 1780s through at least the first decade of the nineteenth century. Vanuxem had several partners in business at various times that included his brother-in-law John Lardner Clark and Herman Joseph Lombaert. In 1816 Vanuxem and his then-business partner J. B. Sartori purchased the Robert Morris property in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There, they leased to two of Vanuxem's sons, Louis C. and James Jr., a grist and saw mill.

James Vanuxem was involved in many activities such as the French Benevolent Society of Philadelphia and the Female Association of Philadelphia for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances and was a director of the Bank of Pennsylvania, an organizer of the Pennsylvania Improvement Company, an incorporator and director of the Union Mutual Insurance Company, an organizer of the American Fire Insurance Company, and a member of the Select Council of Philadelphia and its water committee. Vanuxem died in Morrisville.

Louis C. Vanuxem (1788-circa 1832) was born in Philadelphia and like his father was known as a shipping merchant. Louis C. Vanuxem married Esther ("Hetty") Shoemaker in 1815 and they had six children. Along with his brother James, Louis and family moved to Morrisville with their father in 1816 and leased the mills owned by Vanuxem and Sartori. In 1823, Louis, his wife and children moved with his wife's family to Matanzas, Cuba where he took up farming and was a merchant. He returned to the United States for visits, but maintained his permanent residence in Cuba until he was lost at sea, circa 1832.

James Vanuxem Jr. (1790-1877) was born in Philadelphia. He married Susannah Lombaert, daughter of Herman Joseph Lombaert and Margaretta Wynkoop Lombaert, in 1813. After the death of his father and sale of the Morrisville property James Vanuxem, Jr. and his family moved west in 1825 to Ohio, where he lived in several places and was involved in mercantile business and farming. He subsequently moved to Dublin, Indiana and opened a store. After his wife's death in 1838 Vanuxem left the operation of the store to one of his sons, James, and went to Hazleton, Pennsylvania where he became superintendent of the Sugar Loaf Collieries. He was remarried in 1842 to Elizabeth Newbold and returned to his store in Dublin, Indiana. He finally moved to Richmond, Indiana where he died.

Edward Vanuxem (1818-1898), a son of James Vanuxem, Jr. and Susannah Lombaert Vanuxem, was born in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. While the rest of his family was living in Ohio and Indiana, he was sent east and lived with Wynkoop and Vanuxem relatives in Pennsylvania. He married Elizabeth Krusen in 1843 and they had one child, Anna (1846-1916), who married Theodore F. Wurts. Edward Vanuxem held different occupations in New Jersey such as storekeeper, station agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Lambertville, and proprietor of Excelsior Spoke Works. He also lived in Chicago for a time and manufactured wooden boxes. Upon his wife's death in 1884 he moved to Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he lived with his daughter until his death.

Delaware & Hudson Canal Company

The early history of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company is linked with that of the Wurts family. Three Wurts brothers -- Maurice, William and John -- were instrumental in the formation of the company.

Maurice Wurts (1783-1854) was born in Flanders, New Jersey as were all of his siblings. At age eighteen he moved to Philadelphia and went into the dry goods business. His brother William (1788-1858) went into partnership with Maurice in Philadelphia in the dry goods shop around 1810.

Because the War of 1812 halted the importation of bituminous coal from England, there was a shortage of fuel for manufacturing in the United States. Aware of this shortage, William and Maurice Wurts decided to find an alternative fuel for bituminous coal. Around 1814, William discovered anthracite coal in the Carbondale area and the brothers purchased property there. They mined some anthracite in 1816, but had problems selling it as it was not widely used at that time. In 1822, they went to Carbondale and built a loghouse for themselves and opened a mine. In late 1822, the Wurtses mined approximately 1,000 tons of anthracite. In the winter some of the coal was transported to Philadelphia, but it was difficult and expensive to transport the anthracite there. The small quantities of coal were taken by sled to Lackawaxen where it was put on rafts and floated down the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers to Philadelphia. In the 1820s, most of Philadelphia's coal came from the Lehigh area, so the Wurtses turned their attention to a different market: New York. This led in turn to the creation of the Delaware and Hudson Canal as a means of transporting the coal. The Wurtses' dry goods business financed the coal business and enabled the purchase of coal lands.

The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company's original object was to mine anthracite coal and transport it to New York City and New York State. The Wurts brothers in 1823 engaged Benjamin Wright, chief engineer for the construction of the Erie Canal, to survey from the Hudson River to as near the coal mines at Carbondale as possible. The Wurtses circulated copies of their own map showing their coal deposits in early 1823 in an attempt to find sources of money in New York City to build the canal because they could not afford to do it themselves.

One of the first steps in the construction of the canal was to get the support of the Pennsylvania and New York state legislatures. The Pennsylvania legislature passed an act in March 1823 authorizing Maurice Wurts and others to canalize the Lackawaxen River for descending navigation. John Wurts (1792-1861), the youngest of the Wurts brothers, was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature at this time and was instrumental in the passage of the legislation. The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company was incorporated on April 23, 1823 by an act of the New York legislature empowering the company to open water communication between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers and conferring the right to purchase coal lands and transport coal. The Wurtses had been aided by such influential men as former New York governor DeWitt Clinton who had written letters expressing support for the canal.

In late 1824 the Wurts brothers formed the Lackawaxen Coal Mine and Navigation Company to handle their coal mining in the Lackawaxen area. In December the first Lackawaxen coal arrived in New York City via ship from Philadelphia. By January 1825, subscriptions for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company stock opened and the stock was oversubscribed. The first board of managers was elected in March 1825 consisting of thirteen prominent men, mostly from the New York City area, with Philip Hone as president, and the company opened an office on Wall Street in New York City. In April the Pennsylvania legislature passed an act allowing the company to succeed to the rights of Maurice Wurts for improving the navigation of the Lackawaxen River and its branches. This act enabled the company to have full control of both the canal and mining operations. Benjamin Wright submitted a report to the board of managers in June recommending a route for the canal and proposing the construction of a railroad to link the mines and the canal because the Moosic Mountain lay between the mines and the headwater of the Lackawaxen River. Also in June the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company's bank opened for business and Maurice Wurts was appointed the company's agent to contract for the canal construction.

The Wurts' vested interests in the Lackawaxen Coal Mine and Navigation Company were purchased by the board of managers of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company in July 1825; the Wurtses received cash and Delaware & Hudson Canal Company stock. Also that month, the first contracts were let for canal construction and ground was broken at Mamakating, Sullivan County, New York. By early summer 1827 part of the canal was navigable and ready for use and it began to function by April 1828. In October, the first boats to navigate the entire length of the canal carried coal. Upon completion of the canal, Maurice Wurts was appointed agent of the company at Rondout, New York. The canal's route began at Kingston, New York on the Hudson River and extended southwest through Ulster, Sullivan and Orange Counties to the mouth of the Lackawaxen River in Pike County, Pennsylvania and up the Lackawaxen to the junction of Dyberry and the west branch of the Lackawaxen at Honesdale in Wayne County.

Benjamin Wright, who had been appointed as chief engineer for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company in 1825, resigned in March 1827 and was succeeded by assistant engineer John B. Jervis. Jervis surveyed and located a railroad route from the end of the canal at Honesdale to the coal mines at Carbondale. He made a report about the railroad to the board of managers in October that recommended double-rail for the railroad, the use of inclined planes and chains to haul cars up the inclined planes. He suggested employing steam locomotives on level distances between the planes. In January 1828 the board of managers sent Horatio Allen, an engineer under Jervis during the canal construction, to England to purchase railroad iron and have four locomotives built. The Stourbridge Lion was the first locomotive taken on the historic three-mile trial run on the railroad on August 8, 1829 by Allen. It was the first locomotive to be operated in the United States.

The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company coal sales were successful. The company delivered coal in New York City and adjacent locations at slightly lower prices than its rivals and began selling coal in Boston and Providence in 1830. There was a change of management in 1831 when the president of the board of managers, John Bolton (who had succeeded Philip Hone in 1826), resigned. John Wurts was elected his successor and held the position until 1858. He was an attorney and had served in the United States Congress from 1825-1827. Wurts assumed the position of president when the company was in much debt and immediately instituted successful cost-cutting measures.

From 1842 through 1850 the canal was enlarged, the railroad was extended, and the supply of mineable coal was increased. R. F. Lord, employed by the company since 1826, was the chief engineer for the canal. When the enlargement was completed, the canal's annual capacity was five times that of 1842. James Archbald, with the company since the mid 1820s, was chief engineer for the railroad and mines. Improvements were made from 1841 through 1848 and the railroad was extended seven miles south. Archbald also surveyed and purchased additional coal lands for the company in the 1850s. William Musgrave (a member of the firm Wurts, Musgrave and Wurts in Philadelphia) was appointed vice president of the company in July 1850 due to John Wurts's declining health. Wurts then spent much time traveling abroad and away from business and finally resigned as president in 1858. George Talbot Olyphant, one of the company's board of managers, was elected president in 1858 to succeed Wurts. The railroad was again enlarged from 1856 to 1858 to help meet the demand for anthracite coal; because of this demand the company prospered during the Civil War.

In 1864 there was a major staff reorganization at the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. R. F. Lord resigned his position as chief engineer of the canal and was appointed consulting engineer. Charles Pemberton Wurts, previously superintendent of the railroad department, was named chief engineer and Colonel F. Young was appointed superintendent of the canal. Thomas Dickson, formerly superintendent of the coal department, was named to head the newly created office of general superintendent. An executive committee was created in 1865 that consisted of the president and four appointed members of the board of managers to meet at least once a week.

In the years immediately following the Civil War, the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company acquired additional coal lands and in 1868 again commenced railroad expansion. By 1870 there were no longer any men from the company's early years to link the company's past with its future. The company railroad continued to expand and coal was primarily transported by rail. In the years prior to turn of the century the company made additional changes to break with its past. The final boat carried the company's anthracite coal on the canal in November 1898 and in February 1899 the canal was formally abandoned and the name of the company officially changed from "The President, Managers and Company of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company" to "The Delaware and Hudson Company."

Wurts Family

The founding father of the Wurts family in America, Johannes Conrad Wirz (1706-1763), was born in Switzerland and emigrated to America in 1734. He settled in Pennsylvania and upon his death, was a minister of a German Reformed Church at York. The first of his four sons, John (1744-1793), settled in Flanders, Morris County, New Jersey. John married Sarah Grandin in 1773 and they had nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. He was an iron manufacturer and owned several forges.

Charles Stewart Wurts (1790-1859), a son of John and Sarah Grandin Wurts, went into the dry goods business with his brother William around 1820. The former partnership of Maurice and William Wurts had gone into liquidation. By 1824 the business was known as Wurts & Co. Several years later William Musgrave joined the company as a partner and the name of the business was changed to Wurts, Musgrave and Wurts. Charles Stewart Wurts was also involved with the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company and held stock in the company, but was not as active to the same extent as were his brothers Maurice, William, and John. Charles Stewart Wurts married Mary Vanuxem, daughter of James and Rebecca Clark Vanuxem, in 1826.

George Wurts (1777-1835), another son of John and Sarah Grandin Wurts, and his wife Abigail Petit Wurts had thirteen children, of which nine reached adulthood. One of their sons, William Wurts (1809-1858) had attended Amherst College and began a career as an engineer but then studied law under his brother John Jacob. He became an attorney and practiced law in Carbondale and then in Wilkes-Barre from 1836 through 1847. When he returned to Carbondale in 1847 he practiced law, operated a lumber business, and was involved in buying and selling real estate. He was an attorney for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. William Wurts and his wife Lucretia Jeanette Lathrop Wurts had eight children, of which six reached adulthood.

Sykes/Atwater Family

Eliza Ann Wurts (1802-1881), a daughter of George and Abigail Petit Wurts married Lorenzo A. Sykes (1805-1878) in 1831 and they had one child, Caroline Augusta (born c. 1835). Sykes was born in Springfield, Oswego County, New York. He was a civil engineer and began his career at age twenty in Newark, New Jersey as the assistant engineer of the Morris Canal, becoming chief engineer. In 1832 he resigned that position and became assistant engineer with the New Jersey Railroad from Jersey City to New Brunswick, becoming chief engineer. He resigned that position in 1843 when he and George S. Mills became lessees of the Morris Canal and operated it for their own account for one year. Sykes worked for several years at public works and then joined the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company around 1851 and in 1856 was appointed general agent/superintendent. He resigned from the company in 1866.

After his resignation from the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company Sykes, his wife Eliza, and daughter Caroline ("Carrie") traveled to and throughout Europe in 1867 and Carrie's husband, Robert H. Atwater, accompanied them from 1872 through 1874. In 1875, the family settled in Orange, New Jersey where Sykes died.

Caroline A. Sykes and Robert H. Atwater were married in 1859 and had one child, Grace. Atwater held several positions: he was secretary of the Rondout and Oswego Railroad Company until 1867 and was paymaster for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company until his resignation in 1868. In the 1890s, Atwater wrote articles and a genealogical book about the Atwater family and he and his wife lived in Washington, D.C. He died circa 1900. Atwater's uncle was Lyman H. Atwater (1813-1883), the prominent clergyman, educator, scholar and editor of the Princeton Review.

Charles Pemberton Wurts/Laura Jay Wurts Family

Charles Pemberton Wurts (1824-1892) a son of George and Abigail Petit Wurts was born in Montville, New Jersey. He married Laura Jay in 1854. She was the granddaughter of Peter Augustus Jay and the great-granddaughter of Supreme Court justice and diplomat John Jay. They had six children.

Wurts along with his brother Maurice and members of the Dickson and Pierson families went to Scranton from Carbondale in 1856 and erected a foundry and machine shops. Known as Dickson & Company, it manufactured and repaired mining machinery. Charles Pemberton Wurts also worked for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company as superintendent of the railroad department and was named chief engineer in 1864. Upon the death of his aunt Martha Potts Haskins Wurts (widow of former Delaware & Hudson Canal Company president John Wurts) in 1871, Charles Pemberton Wurts was named the main beneficiary of her considerable estate, which caused some friction within the family. Wurts and his family moved to New Haven, Connecticut in the mid 1870s. He and his wife Laura and some of their children traveled to and throughout Europe from 1884 through 1886.

Theodore F. Wurts

Theodore F. Wurts (1844-1911), a son of William and Lucretia Jeannette Lathrop Wurts, was born in Wilkes-Barre and at age sixteen worked in the railroad shops of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company at Carbondale. During the Civil War, he enlisted in "The Wurts Guard" that was part of the Thirteenth Regiment, Pennsylvania and then enlisted in the Seventy-seventh Pennsylvania Infantry. After service he held several civilian jobs and in 1864 he began his career as an engineer. Wurts was an instructor at the Massachusetts Agricultural College and Amherst College in the 1870s. He was the chief engineer for the construction of a division of the Connecticut Western Railroad (1870) and for sixty miles of the Massachusetts Central Railroad (1873), and he oversaw the building of bridges over the Connecticut River at Northampton, Massachusetts (1873). In 1877 he located the Short Line Railroad from Camden to Atlantic City, New Jersey and was consulting engineer and superintendent of the Atlantic City Railroad (1876-1877). Wurts worked as a civil engineer in Florida in 1881 and 1892.

In addition to railroads, Theodore Wurts's engineering work also included surveying and reporting on coal mines in Pennsylvania coal fields. He also surveyed and laid out several New Jersey beach towns. Wurts received two United States patents in 1889 and 1891 for his system of coast protection that entailed constructing breakwaters, sea-walls and jetties and reclaiming overflowed lands.

Wurts was very active in the Presbyterian Church wherever he lived and spent several years in voluntary missionary work establishing Sunday schools for the American Sunday School Union in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Theodore F. Wurts married Anna Vanuxem in 1868 and they had ten children, of which five reached adulthood. After living in New Jersey (Bridgeton, Atlantic City, and Belvidere) for many years, Wurts and his family in 1896 moved to Germantown, where he died.

John S. Wurts

John S. Wurts (1876-1958) was born in Carbondale and was educated at the West Jersey Military Academy graduating in 1893. He worked with his father Theodore F. Wurts in civil engineering and then took up the insurance business in Philadelphia in 1894. In 1898 he added real estate work to his career, beginning first in the office of Frederick Sylvester, and then opening an office of his own. Wurts also sold investment securities. He began studying law at the University of Pennsylvania but because he was so occupied with his business, he instead studied law with attorney S. Davis Page. He was admitted to the Philadelphia bar and the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1904. Along with his father and several others, John S. Wurts formed the City Real Estate Company of Philadelphia. The company was incorporated in 1904 for the purpose of purchasing and selling real estate; holding, leasing, mortgaging, selling and improving real estate for purchasing; selling securities pertaining to real estate; and maintaining or erecting walls or banks for the protection of low-lying lands.

In addition to his business John S. Wurts, like his father, was involved in religious activities. He was a lay preacher and was a president of the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible Schools. Wurts was an active member in the Westside Presbyterian Church in Germantown. He also published pamphlets on religious topics such as "A Brief Statement of the Christian Faith." He was a member of the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Y.M.C.A.

Wurts was very interested in history and was a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the Bucks County Historical Society; the Pennsylvania Society, Sons of the Revolution; Site and Relic Society of Germantown; and was president of both the Pennsylvania Legal Historical Society and Descendants of the Continental Congress. He published a two volume set entitled Magna Charta examining the history of the document and the containing biographies and genealogies of those men responsible for it. Another of his interests was genealogy and he frequently wrote to family members, both distantly and closely related, for information. He was instrumental in having articles published about his family's genealogy. Because of his interest in genealogy, Wurts became the custodian of family papers.

John S. Wurts married Dorothy B. Williams and they had four children, two sons and two daughters. He and his family resided in Germantown.

Mermaid Club

Although no members of the Vanuxem or Wurts families were members of the Mermaid Club, the papers ended up in the care of John S. Wurts because, according to his son John S. Wurts, his father was known for his interest in history. The Mermaid Club was organized in 1877 by Henry S. Pancoast as a literary organization to improve the intellect of its members and others. The club read books, plays, poems, and essays as part of a year's course of study on a particular topic emphasizing American and English literature. The club also held debates, lectures, receptions, and members wrote papers for the club magazine The Mermaid Inn.

The Mermaid Club's membership was made up of men residing in Germantown. The club held meetings and other activities in various locations over the years such as St. Michael's Church in Germantown, the People's Institute Building, the Workingmen's Club Hall, the Wister House, and members' homes. It is not known when the club stopped meeting but the papers collected by John S. Wurts end in 1902.

Arrangement

Although the papers were not in any specific order, some of the papers were tri-folded and tied together or were found together in envelopes labeled either by the creator of the documents or by John S. Wurts. In most cases, this arrangement determined most of the series and subseries.

Arranged in chronological order within each subseries unless otherwise noted.

Scope and Content

The Wurts family papers were collected by John Sparhawk Wurts (1876-1958) and reflect both family papers and business records. The family was a large one and the papers were generated by several branches of the family tree. Their papers offer an opportunity to examine in detail the early history of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and nineteenth-century family and social history.

The collection is strongest in two areas: family history and the early history of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. The Vanuxem Family Papers (Series I, Subseries C), the Wurts Family Papers (Series III), the Sykes/Atwater Papers (Series IV), the Charles Pemberton Wurts/Laura Jay Wurts Papers (Series IV) and the correspondence in the John S. Wurts Papers (Series VII, Subseries F) are the series that most clearly illustrate the relationships between family members. These papers also reveal the concerns, amusements, interests, and attitudes of nineteenth century Americans in the professional class. The other primary strength of the collection is the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company Records (Series II). In particular, the Maurice Wurts Papers (Subseries A) clearly illustrate the early history and the obstacles that had to be overcome to build the company. The papers depict the struggles faced by the founders of the early company such as convincing both the Pennsylvania and New York state legislatures to pass legislation favorable to the company, acquiring backing from men of influence and money, gaining support of local residents, and constructing the canal and railroad.

The collection is weakest in its incompleteness of business papers for key family members such as Lorenzo A. Sykes (there are few papers of his work with the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company), Robert H. Atwater (he worked for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and other firms but there is little mention of this in his papers), Charles Pemberton Wurts (for whom there are no business papers), Theodore F. Wurts (missing are papers in his work with Presbyterian Church-affiliated religious organizations and there are gaps in civil engineering work, especially his railroad work), and John S. Wurts (particularly in his religious work and genealogical writings; his legal work and investment papers also seem fragmentary).

Related Material

Horatio Allen papers (Accession 1978), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

John B. Jervis papers (Accession 1428), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

See Series II (Delaware and Hudson Canal Company records), Subseries I (Maurice Wurts papers) for Sykes's "Private Journal," April-October 1827

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

Gift from John S. Wurts, 1990

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Wurts family papers
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400