Harry Clay Trexler

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Harry C. Trexler
Harry C Trexler Portrait.jpg
Born April 17, 1854
Easton, Pennsylvania
Died November 17, 1933
Easton Pennsylvania
Occupation Industrialist, Businessman, and Philanthropist
Spouse(s) Mary Mosser Trexler (1852 - 1934)
Parent(s)

Edwin Trexler

Matilda (Sauerbeck) Trexler


Henry Clay Trexler (April 17, 1854 – November 17, 1933) was an American industrialist, businessman and major philanthropist. During his lifetime, he was often referred to as a Captain of Industry. [1] Through a charitable trust Trexler set up prior to his death, his wealth provides a major benefit to the people and community of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.[2]

Harry Clay Trexler was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, to Edwin (1826-1900) and Matilda (Sauerbeck) Trexler (1827-1914). In the 1860 U.S. Census, Trexler’s full name appears as Henry C. Trexler. In 1870 his name appears as Harry, the name he would use for the rest of his life. Harry was the eldest of four brothers. His siblings were William Trexler (1856-1862) who died in childhood, Edwin Trexler (1858-1939) and Frank Trexler (1861-1947).[3] In 1885, Trexler married Mary M. Mosser. They were married for forty-eight years, until his death November 17, 1933 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.[4] Mary died one year later. They had no children.

Early life[edit]

In the 1850s, Trexler’s father Edwin moved the family to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Trexler’s father joined his two brothers to start a lumber business. Trexler’s father moved the young family to their ancestral farm near Emmaus.[5] It was here that Harry probably developed his lifelong interest in agriculture, horsemanship, and nature. In 1866 at the age of eleven, he won a third place honor “for the best corn fed hogs,” at the Allentown Fair.[6] This competitive spirit remained throughout his lifetime.

Trexler acquired his early education at Henninger’s School House in Emmaus and later at Allentown High School. During the 1869-1870 school year, young Harry attended the one-year preparatory school Tremont Seminary in Norristown, “a non-sectarian private school.”[7] The curriculum consisted of “Spelling, Reading, Writing, English Composition, English Grammar, Elocution, Rhetoric, Logic… Arithmetic, Bookkeeping and Practical Accountantship.”[8] It was the capstone of his formal education. It was probably at this time that Trexler developed a lifelong passion for books, book collecting, and reading on a daily basis.

Business pursuits[edit]

Harry Trexler was a man of boundless energy, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit. In 2001, The National Commission on Entrepreneurship issued a report recognizing “entrepreneurial giants” of 1917. Trexler was selected for this elite list because of his principal part in the formation of the Lehigh Portland Cement Company, once ranked as the largest cement manufacturer in the world. The listing of twenty-seven American entrepreneurs also included such icons as George Eastman, Henry Ford, and Harvey Samuel Firestone. All included in the study were designated “entrepreneurial giants of American Business.”[9]

Trexler Lumber Company[edit]

One of Trexler’s major business ventures was Trexler Lumber Company, founded by Harry Trexler’s father and two uncles in 1856.[10] Eventually the uncles sold out of the company. By 1876, Harry Trexler was working in the firm. With his father’s retirement, Trexler was in full control of the enterprise. Trexler Lumber was involved in logging, milling, and the retail sale of lumber products.[11]

With headquarters in Allentown, the company maintained branch and sales offices in New York City; Norfolk, Virginia; Sumter, South Carolina; Mississippi and Jacksonville, Florida. Its major distribution yards were in Newark, New Jersey, and Allentown. Over the years, Trexler Lumber conducted lumber operations in Pennsylvania; Allen, South Carolina; Prentiss, Mississippi and several other states.[12] One of their major logging sites was in Ricketts, Pennsylvania, where they reportedly harvested 500 million board feet of lumber from 1890-1910.[13]

Lehigh Portland Cement[edit]

Trexler served as the first chief executive officer of Lehigh Portland Cement, which was officially incorporated on November 26, 1897. The company started with eleven stockholders and four thousand shares of stock; Trexler owned fifty percent of the company. Lehigh Portland produced cement during an era of unprecedented economic growth in America and Allentown. Producing cement for major dams, highways, bridges and many prominent structures, Lehigh Portland became a major industrial corporation in America. By 1925, the company was operating approximately twenty cement plants in numerous states. In 1924 Lehigh Portland Cement claimed its historical record when it produced “16.5 million barrels of cement, the largest annual output ever produced at the time by any one cement manufacturer.”[14]

Trexler Farms[edit]

Trexler Farms was one of Harry C. Trexler’s many agricultural pursuits. He bought and merged dozens of farms in Lehigh County to acquire acreage for a fruit orchard. By 1932, Trexler Orchards covered 1,800 acres in the county. At the time of his death in 1933, Trexler Orchards included 36,000 apple trees, 30,000 peach trees and 5,000 cherry, plum and pear trees.[15]

The orchards represented only a fraction of his farming operation. During the 1920s and 1930s, Trexler Farms was a major producer of potatoes, wheat, corn, and oats. They also raised sheep, cattle, and chickens. Between 1916 and 1933 Harry Trexler is reported to have purchased an additional forty-one farms in Lowhill Township and Trexlertown. These farms were merged to establish a cattle ranch.[16] The scope of Harry Trexler’s professional interest in agriculture was extensive. The subject has never been adequately researched, but some published reports claim Trexler acquired more than two hundred farms in his lifetime.[17]

Pennsylvania Power & Light[edit]

Harry C. Trexler was part of a small group of five founding directors of The Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (PP&L and later PPL Corporation). Electric utilities went through a consolidation phase. Pennsylvania Power and Light was formed as a result, in 1920, as a holding company for eight smaller utilities. “Trexler also got involved early in the building of utility infrastructure of the Lehigh Valley.”[18] One of his ventures was the Lehigh Valley Transit Company which was merged into PP&L at its founding. By 1928, Trexler’s stature and influence at PP&L allowed him to assume the lead role in selecting John Wise as the second president of the company.[19]

General Trexler’s personal aide and secretary for seventeen years, Nolan Benner (1893-1980), recorded Trexler’s significant role in PP&L history: “The General’s persuasion and engaging manner won the controversy (about locating PP&L’s headquarters) and the new headquarters was constructed at the northwest corner of Ninth and Hamilton Streets.” After the PP&L corporate headquarters in Allentown was opened in 1928 for occupancy, General Trexler accepted an offer to move his personal offices into the building, occupying one-half of the twelfth floor.[20]

Pennsylvania National Guard Military Service[edit]

Harry C. Trexler had a penchant for military leadership and a desire for patriotic service. On June 8, 1895, he began his military service as a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp under Governor Robert E. Pattison of Pennsylvania. This was the start of his twenty-three years of service in the Pennsylvania National Guard. During his service, Trexler was mustered into federal duty on three occasions: at the Mexican Border on July 9, 1916, on August 4, 1916, again on the Mexican Border, and on July 16, 1917, during World War I.[21]

Trexler’s long-time secretary and personal aide Nolan Benner recorded in his memoir, “The General had a splendid military bearing and was a statuesque figure on his white charger (horse) Jack O’Diamonds.”[22] That military bearing was valued on numerous occasions as he was appointed aide-de-camp and lieutenant colonel, then assistant commissary general of subsistence, to full colonel and quartermaster general for the Pennsylvania National Guard on January 24, 1911. Upon retirement Trexler was discharged from the National Guard with the rank of brigadier general on April 22, 1918.[23]

Interest in conservation[edit]

Harry Trexler was an early conservationist. He understood the importance of nature and the preservation of wildlife in its natural habitat.

Trexler Game Preserve and bison[edit]

After the American Bison had been nearly driven to extinction, Trexler took an active role in 1911 to save the species. He bought farmsteads in Lowhill Township and North Whitehall Township in Lehigh County and created a game preserve for bison. Eventually, Trexler bought approximately 1,170 acres to devote to the animals’ survival. He soon added elk and deer to the preserve.[24] When Trexler died in 1933, the preserve passed to the ownership of the County of Lehigh, which assumed title in 1935 and has been in control of the land since.

Allentown Trout Hatchery[edit]

Among Harry Trexler’s more fascinating endeavors was his acquisition of a trout hatchery in Allentown in 1907. His love of the outdoors offered him an opportunity to enhance his interest while developing yet another commercial endeavor. Over the years, Trexler enlarged, modernized and developed his trout hatchery into a productive enterprise. “What started as a hobby” developed into a “thriving enterprise for the General.” With the additional development of the Hickory Run streams 50 miles north of Allentown, Trexler not only could sell his trout; now he had his own private preserve to test and enjoy his newest approach to farming.[25]

Hickory Run State Park[edit]

Trexler was an avid outdoorsman; he treasured trout angling, and hunting. His love of the outdoors may have been what attracted him to the large forest regions north of Lehigh County.

Fifty miles north of Allentown in Kidder Township, Carbon County, approximately six miles east of White Haven, lies Hickory Run State Park. An extensive forested region, it is an area that was once devastated by unregulated logging and bark peeling in the 1820s. By 1839 there were six lumber mills operating on Hickory Run (“run” is a colloquial term meaning stream). Other mills operated in the area. Lack of regulation led to overharvesting, wildfires and destruction of the mountainside terrain. “Loggers clear-cut the forest but did no replanting, which contributed to flooding.” The area suffered from extensive erosion, forest fire damage and destruction of the land. By 1900 the forest was starting to rejuvenate, regrow, and once again flourish.[26] [27]

In January 1918, Trexler began to purchase large tracts of land that constitute what today is Hickory Run State Park. Trexler’s goal was to consolidate a park of sizable proportion. He had already acquired smaller parcels of land in the Hickory Run area earlier in the century. Trexler’s motive for purchasing this large block of forest lands was based on his growing concern for conservation and “wholesome recreation.” In 1920, Trexler told those who questioned his interest: “In the not too distant future men will be working shorter hours and they will have more leisure time… I would like to see Hickory Run developed into a State Park where the families can come and enjoy wholesome recreation.”[28]

Hickory Run is now a jewel in the Pennsylvania system of state parks. Its waterfalls, boulder field and plentiful trout streams are a fraction of its lure. Its natural areas, swamps, old cemeteries, and hiking trails are popular with tourists.[29] It was General Harry Trexler’s vision for the future to preserve this place of natural beauty, wonder, and awe. According to park officials, recent calculations estimate visitation at Hickory Run State Park to average three hundred thousand visitors a year. The bulk of the lands that constitute the State Park was sold to the federal government in 1937-1938 by the Trexler Estate. Writing in his memoirs Nolan Benner, executor of the estate recorded: “In my letter to the government I stated the following:”

The Hickory Run lands would be ideally located for either a government or state park….It took General Trexler 25 years to buy up these various tracts, and it would be impossible for our own state or the government to purchase such a large tract, free of encumbrances so peculiarly suited for public park purposes."[30]

Today Hickory Run State Park boasts 15,900 acres of recreational land with 40+ miles of trails and trout streams.

Charitable Benefactor[edit]

Harry C. Trexler’s philanthropic ideals motivated him to support a large number of charitable causes and organizations. His charitable giving continues through the professional and distinguished work of the Harry C. Trexler Trust in Allentown.

Improving the lives of children[edit]

A primary interest of his was the improvement of the lives of children. Trexler and his wife Mary sponsored Romper Day, first held August 24, 1914. Held annually, Romper Day marked the close of organized summer activities at Allentown’s playgrounds. Children from all the playgrounds gathered for track events and demonstrations of various dances and drills, with parents and community members invited to attend. The Trexlers organized workers to carry out the details and provided funds for the transportation of the children and refreshments for thousands of children, parents, and friends.[31] Because of the Trexlers’ support, this event is still held annually in Allentown.

Harry C. Trexler’s financial support of the Boy Scouts dates back to 1916 when scouting was just developing in the United States. In one instance, Trexler outfitted an entire troop of fifty boys with “uniforms, tents and other equipment, all first class.” Trexler served as honorary president of the Lehigh County Scout Council. He supported scouting in many ways, perhaps foremost with the collective purchase of approximately 800 acres of land that became known as the Trexler Scout Reservation (Founded in 1928)(https://www.trexlercamp.org/).[32]

City of Allentown Public Parks[edit]

Harry Trexler is widely acknowledged as the father of Allentown's highly acclaimed system of public parks. The Allentown Planning Commission in a detailed 1964 report on their parks stated, “…that these parks are a living memorial to General Harry Clay Trexler.” He understood that parks were a place to unite the community. Because of his leadership and respect for nature, Trexler set Allentown in a direction that developed park planning and the preservation of natural beauty within the city. The birth of Allentown’s extensive park system began with West Park in Allentown’s, West End. Designed with funding from Harry Trexler, the park was laid out by Philadelphia landscape architect J. Franklin Meehan. Completed in 1906, the almost seven-acre park is a sanctuary for urban dwellers. Visitors can relax when strolling along the walkways, cool off by the fountain, or enjoy the sights and sounds of numerous birds. “In 1924, under the direction of General Trexler as the first president of the (Allentown) City Planning Commission, the city’s 24 acres of park land began to multiply.” In 1931 General Trexler donated thirty-one and a half acres of his trout hatchery property, which eventually formed part of Allentown's Little Lehigh Parkway. In support, additional landowners followed Trexler’s lead: Mrs. Leonard Sefing, Colonel E. M. Young, Good Shepherd Home and John Leh, among others.[33] The City of Allentown eventually received additional Trexler properties that substantially enlarged the parks system. Since Trexler’s death, the Harry C. Trexler Trust has awarded more than 50 million dollars to support Allentown’s parks.

Legacy of General Trexler[edit]

Harry Trexler was eleven years old when Abraham Lincoln died. He lived through the Civil War, the overthrow of slavery, and much of the Industrial Revolution. Three generations have come and gone since he died, and yet Harry Trexler remains the most recognized name in Lehigh County. Much of what he accomplished transcends his life and that of his wife Mary Mosser Trexler. His work to insure the location of PPL’s headquarters in Allentown is an economic benefit to this day. The development of Allentown’s approximately 2,000-acre park system beautifies the City of Allentown, making it a beacon for tourism and outdoor recreation. Hickory Run State Park, fifty miles north of Allentown, remains a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking nature’s adventures.[34]

It is impossible to visit Allentown or much of Lehigh County without sensing the legacy of General Harry C. Trexler. It is chiseled on buildings throughout the area named in his honor: Trexler Memorial Library at Muhlenberg College, Harry C. Trexler Masonic Library, Trexler Middle School, DeSales University’s Trexler Library, Trexler Memorial Park, Trexler Nature Preserve, and the Trexler Building at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing to name just a few.

The accomplishments and life of General Trexler are extensive. They are inadequately detailed in a listing of this size and scope. He created, merged, and served on the Boards of Directors of dozens of companies.

The Harry C. Trexler Trust[edit]

The story of Harry C. Trexler and his wife Mary is inspiring. He was a visionary who devoted his life to supporting people and organizations that make Allentown and Lehigh County a better place to live. His legacy and that of his wife Mary live on through the Harry C. Trexler Trust established in his last will and testament, and added to when Mrs. Trexler died in 1934.

Since its creation, the Trexler Trust has awarded “nearly $155 million in funding, including more than $51 million to the City of Allentown for ‘improvements, extension and maintenance of all its parks.’” With more than 130 million dollars in assets, the trust distributes several million dollars annually.[35] In 2018 the Trust received 130 requests and awarded 95 grants totaling $5,896,449.[36] According to their 2017 Annual Report the trust awarded $5,133,250 in 2017 and $5,839,600 in 2016. The trustees of the Trexler Trust are among the most distinguished leaders in Lehigh County. They are appointed by the Orphan’s Court of Lehigh County.

General Harry C. Trexler and his wife Mary Mosser Trexler made an everlasting imprint on Lehigh County; their philanthropy and greatness live on. The General’s longtime aide and secretary once recorded in part, “He will be cited as the man who—with a generous spirit and a sagacious foresight—bequeathed for the improvement of his fellowmen the accumulated earnings of his life.”[37]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Call-Chronicle, January 6, 1920.
  2. ^ Harry C. Trexler, Last Will and Testament of Harry C. Trexler, 5 April, 1929.
  3. ^ Trexler Family Notes, unpublished manuscript, Lehigh County Historical Society Archives, 5, 23, 24.
  4. ^ Pennsylvania, Death Certificate of Harry C. Trexler, File 100087 No. 642, 17 November, 1933.
  5. ^ Charles Rhoads Roberts, Rev. John Baer Stout, Rev. Thomas H. Krick, William J. Dietrich, History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families (Allentown, PA: Lehigh Valley Publishing, 1914), 1319.
  6. ^ Lehigh County Agriculture Society, Diploma awarded to Harry C. Trexler, 19 September, 1866.
  7. ^ Leo Gregory Fink, Memoirs of General Harry Clay Trexler (New York: Paulist Press, 1935), 6, 7.
  8. ^ Tremont Seminary File, Historical Society of Montgomery County, PA.
  9. ^ National Commission of Entrepreneurship from the Garage to the Board Room: The Entrepreneurial Roots of America’s Largest Corporations” (August 2001).
  10. ^ The Allentown Democrat, July 11, 1900.
  11. ^ Nolan Benner, “The General and His Captain: Memoirs of Nolan P. Benner,” ed. Dick Cowan, Proceedings of the Lehigh County Historical Society 36 (1984): 112.
  12. ^ Trexler Lumber Company Marketing Publication, c. 1911, Lehigh County Historical Society Archives.
  13. ^ F. Charles Petrillo, Ghost Towns of North Mountain: Ricketts, Mountain Springs, and Stull (Wilkes Barre, PA: Wyoming County Historical Society, 1991), 68-105.
  14. ^ William A. Salmon, A 100 Year History of Lehigh Portland Cement Company, 1897-1997 (Kutztown, PA: Kutztown Publishing Co. Inc., 1997), 16-26.
  15. ^ Benner, 57.
  16. ^ Benner, 90.
  17. ^ The Morning Call, Obituary of Nolan Benner, September 5, 1980.
  18. ^ Bill Beck, PP&L 75 Years of Powering the Future: An Illustrated History of Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. (Eden Prairie, MN: Viking Press, 1995), 92, 96, 123, 125, 174, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180.
  19. ^ Beck, 178, 179.
  20. ^ Benner, 119.
  21. ^ National Guard of Pennsylvania, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (RG-19) “201 Files” Harry C. Trexler Series #19.99.
  22. ^ Nolan Benner, unpublished manuscript, c. 1970s, Lehigh County Historical Society Archives, 149.
  23. ^ National Guard, “201 Files” Harry C. Trexler.
  24. ^ Benner, 66, 67.
  25. ^ Benner, 94.
  26. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Public Report, 2012.
  27. ^ Michael E. Held and E. Regina Ciuliani, “The Forest Community at Hickory Run State Park, Carbon County, Pennsylvania: A Re-examination,” Journal of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science 63, no. 2 (1989): 48-51.
  28. ^ Benner, 101, 110.
  29. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Conservation, Public Report, 2012.
  30. ^ Benner, 101, 110.
  31. ^ Benner, 156, 163, 166.
  32. ^ Benner, 156, 158.
  33. ^ Park Development Planning Commission, Anatomy of the City of Allentown, PA, 1964, 3, 4, 5, 6.
  34. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Conservation, Public Report, 2012.
  35. ^ “Trust History,” Harry C. Trexler Trust, accessed 29 August, 2018, http://trexlertrust.org/trust-history/ .
  36. ^ “Trexler Trust Awards Nearly $5.9 Million to Lehigh County Charities,” accessed 29 August, 2018, http://trexlertrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2018-Award-Press-Release-for-with-Distribution-List-for-Website.pdf.
  37. ^ Benner, 191.