WOYM: Early Roanoke iron tycoons are part of a long and historic line | Story


Reverend David A. MacQueen identified two categories of wealthy people. Most disappointing were the disengaged “idle rich,” as he called them a longtime pejorative.

In this group were people “who empty their conscience by sending their money to charity and thus leaving their spirit free”.

In contrast, families who give “of themselves; their constant thoughts and much of their time.

To these well-heeled exemplars of citizenship and humanity, Reverend MacQueen recently placed a prominent Pennsylvania family mentioned in this space. In MacQueen’s 1982 “The Crozers of Upland”, the late Upland Baptist Church pastor, while tracing the family’s history back to its beginnings in early 18th century America, argued that the Crozers were indeed rare aristocrats.

“Considering the beneficial good created by the Crozers, it must be said that they have not taken the easy route to continuously helping people.”

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The record covers vast contributions to education, health care, missionary work, public spaces, and many other great and noble causes.

The many small fine works of the original builder of the Crozer empire, John P. Crozer, should not be overlooked. One of his Fourth of July traditions was to give the children of Upland Baptist Sunday School what he called a “feast” of ice cream, cakes, other sweets, and lemonade. Another example of his warm heart was his annual underwriting of summer seaside excursions, usually to Atlantic City, for municipal employees of the city of Chester, Pennsylvania.

During this time, these Crozers have consistently and successfully devised methods to earn honest money from charging the Vault.

Crozer’s talent for juggling public and private good for the good of both was particularly on display during the life of Samuel Aldrich Crozer (1825-1910), a dynamic industrialist and philanthropist. Crozer pioneered Roanoke manufacturing with their Crozer Iron Works featured here previously.

This report prompted reader Shirley McNeil to email that she had a book about the Crozers and an interesting story about her writing.

“My sister attended Reverend MacQueen’s Church,” McNeil said. “When she heard he was coming to Roanoke to research his book, she told him she had a sister there.”

MacQueen held office at Upland Baptist, a church built by Samuel Crozer’s father, John P. Crozer, from 1947 until his retirement in 1984, two years after the Crozers’ story was published. MacQueen died in 1989 according to a footnote to a biographical sketch made for the silver anniversary of his ministry at Upland Baptist.

Before MacQueen arrived in Roanoke to do his research, a stroke of luck involved Shirley McNeil’s employer at the time and one of her salespeople who happened to have a real estate corner marker forged at Crozer Iron. She arranged for the artifact to be given to the preacher as a welcome gift and he told her it would be displayed at home at the church.

The minister/biographer looked around the room, remembering McNeil.

“Suit, tie, white shirt – if you saw him in a group of men, you’d think this one was the minister.”

The details of MacQueen’s subject family included in the 112-page book along with an additional 33 pages of family trees, bibliography and acknowledgments (including “especially” Shirley McNeil) make for a good read.

  • The first Crozers, Huguenots or French Protestants, arrived in America after members of the family were driven from their homeland by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The revocation by order of King Louis XIV caused an exodus French Protestants to other lands.
  • The origin of the family’s American fortune was the Industrial Revolution downstairs interest in textile milling. After several unsuccessful attempts at other ventures, John Crozer, with the support of his sister’s husband, bought an old paper mill near Chester, refitted it with modern looms and jennies, and found success. The mill opened in 1824.
  • Samuel, John and Sallie Crozer’s first child, was born on Christmas Day.
  • Among his countless charitable works, John Crozer built a teachers’ training or “normal” school in Chester in 1857 which ceased operations in 1861 after the institution was ravaged by successive epidemics of scarlet fever and smallpox. The facility was later sold to the federal government to be converted into a military hospital to accommodate 945 patients. After the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, 1,700 wounded both Unionists and Confederates were treated there.
  • There were other major Crozer setbacks before the Civil War. John Crozer was returning home in a snowy February of 1843 when something spooked his sleigh horse whose kick knocked the cotton magnate off his seat and into the snow with a broken thigh. He lay where he had fallen and could have frozen to death if luck had not brought a rescuer just before nightfall.
  • Later that year, massive floods destroyed three of his mills. They rebuilt immediately.
  • When the elder Crozer was injured in the sledding accident, he was out of work for months. His youngest son Samuel was summoned home from the boarding school to manage the family affairs. Samuel was then 18 years old.
  • Samuel oversaw the reconstruction of the destroyed mills. When they came back online, his father made him a full partner in the business.
  • The Crozers had been leaders of the anti-slavery movement since “at least” 1820. Samuel’s uncle of the same name was an American Colonization Society agent who sought to repatriate freed slaves to an African homeland. The uncle accompanied the first such return trip to the mainland. After losing a quarter of its passengers to disease en route, 60 would-be settlers arrived on the west coast of Africa and received what they needed to establish new homes. Such were the origins of the present nation of Liberia.
  • Samuel A. Crozer turned his share of the cotton mill empire he owned into joint ownership with his brothers in the Roanoke Kiln and related businesses; vast coalfields in Virginia and West Virginia; substantial stakes in at least three railroads, including early Norfolk and Western; partnership with a natural gas supplier for municipal lighting; and owned valuable downtown real estate in several US cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago. Some of what he owned in Chicago was lost in the Great Chicago Fire.
  • On top of all that, he founded Crozer Seminary and was president for over 40 years of the Pennsylvania Institute for the Feeble-minded Children. A future student at Crozer Seminary: Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Subsequent generations of Crozers solidified the family’s status as American royalty. Intermarriage led to ties to the DuPonts, Ludlows, Latrobes, Auchinclosses, Sailers and Beales.
  • Lana Allaire DuPont, whose mother was a Crozer, was the first female member of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and was part of the silver medal team at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Her mother, also named Allaire, bred thoroughbred horses including Kelso, considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

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