Daily Archives: July 24, 2015

Phoenixville Phriday: Free rent and cannons

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A volume called “Chester County and Its People,” by W.W. Thomson in 1898, relates that during the War of the Rebellion,

“At Phoenixville David Reeves, president of the Phoenix Iron Works, gave notice that any of his employes [sic] enlisted in the army they should have the houses they lived in, owned by the company, free of rent during their absence in the service of their Government. In a few hours a subscription of $4,000 was raised for the support of the families of such as should enlist.” Many of those who did enlist likely joined up with the company raised at West Chester called the Reserve Guards, “composed of men under forty years of age and armed with Sharp’s rifles,” or another company called the Union Guards or the Anderson Light Artillery.  “The Phoenixville Iron Works during the month of April or early in May, 1861, made a number of wrought-iron cannon for the government, six and twelve pounders, for Philadelphia, and turned out several thousand solid 12-pound balls and shells. It was thus in all parts of the county, everyone talking about and preparing for war. The Phoenixville field piece was known as the Griffen gun, the patentee being John Griffen, superintendent of the works at that time.”

The Griffen gun, of course, is well-known in these parts and an example still sits in Reeves Park. The Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area has a number of images of the gun and its manufacture on this page.

An undated but contemporary biography of Griffen says that he was a burgess and was instrumental in the construction of Phoenixville schools. “He designed and superintended their erection, and had the schools properly graded.  He was unanimously re-elected as a school director, being the first person in the borough to receive that honor.”