Robert Habersham Coleman

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Robert Habersham Coleman (1856–1930) was an iron processing and railroad industrialist and owner of extensive farmland in Pennsylvania.

He was the fourth- and last-generation scion of a family which controlled Cornwall Iron Furnace, in Cornwall, Pennsylvania. This major coal-burning ironmaking facility was founded in 1742 by Peter Grubb and produced pig iron, domestic products, and, during the American Revolution and Civil War, cannon barrels. Coleman shut the facility in 1883, opening new facilities for the company.

In 1881, at the time he took over his family's business, he was worth about seven million dollars. By 1889 he was estimated to be worth thirty million dollars. By 1893 the fortune had vanished. One of his homes, Cornwall Hall, was a "symbol of the rise, fame and decline of the 'king' of Cornwall (Pennsylvania) during America's Gilded Age" and was demolished after 1914.

The Cornwall Furnace facilities, donated by his descendants, with their surviving stone furnace, steam-powered air-blast machinery, and related buildings, were once the nucleus of a huge industrial plantation, and are part of a designated National Historic Landmark District.[1]

He commissioned architect (and fraternity brother) J. Cleaveland Cady to erect the chapter house of St. Anthony Hall at Trinity College (1878), which still stands in Hartford, Connecticut.[2]


Adapted from [1]

  • 1877, graduated Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.
  • 1879, recently married, he took over managing control of the family's holdings.
  • The death of his young bride, Lillie, soon followed.
  • By 1881 he embarked on opening technically advanced anthracite furnaces to supplant older facilities.
  • 1883, he shut down the obsolete Cornwall Furnace.
  • 1883-1893: his "glorious decade."
    • He modernized production and marketing on the family's thousands of farm acres in Lancaster, Lebanon, and York Counties.
    • He obtained controlling interest in a bank in Lebanon and opened a rolling mill.
    • 1889, he created the summer colony of Mount Gretna, a pleasure stop on his Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad.
    • He built houses, schools, and a church for his workers and their families.
    • By his second wife, Edith Johnstone of Baltimore, he had five children.
    • In Florida, he acquired a railroad construction company and a fifty-mile stretch of the Jacksonville to Palatka Railroad.
    • He is noted for philanthropy to Trinity College, St. Anthony Hall, and his Episcopal parish in Lancaster, PA.
  • Decline
    • Before 1891(?), he lost a lawsuit against the Grubb family (descendants of the original builder of Cornwall Furnace), which had been taking ore without compensating the Colemans.
    • 1891, he lost another suit, to the Pennsylvania Trust Company. The award was a staggering one and a half million dollars.
    • He was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
    • 1893, stock market investors panicked over low gold reserves, Coleman fortune vanished.
    • At the age of thirty-seven, Coleman and his family left Lebanon County for Saranac Lake in New York's Adirondacks, where he lived as a recluse until he died in 1930.


External links[edit]

External images
Cornwall Hall
St. Anthony Hall