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History runs deep in Trexler Ormrod Home

By Frank Whelan, Historian, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 11 2011 04:13:44 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 14 2011 04:27:39 PM CST

Allentown's Hamilton Street is no Park Avenue, but years ago it used to be the place where the richest of the rich laid down roots.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Nicos “Nick” Elias is an intense person who takes his job as a funeral director very seriously. So several years ago when he took over the historic home of General Harry C. Trexler, Allentown’s leading citizen of the 20th century, as a place for his business, he saw it as an obligation to the community that it be treated with the respect it deserved.

The Victorian woodwork and stained glass were restored to their original luster. The staircase looks as good as it must have when it was installed over 100 years ago. And as much as is possible, Elias has tried to keep the historic home at 1227 Hamilton Street as it was when the General left it on  November 17, 1933, the fateful day that would be his last.  “This is among the most significant historic homes in the Lehigh Valley,” he said. “And as far as I am able, I respect that and treat it as such.”

fireplace_tight The house had a distinguished occupant even before General Trexler lived there. George Ormrod, the original owner, built the home in 1897. It was designed for him by local architects Everett Jacoby and Samuel Weishampel in the then popular Dutch gable style.

Born in Preston, England, Ormrod had been educated in Quaker schools in Manchester, then known, because of its many manufacturing plants as “the workshop of the world.” He studied industrial design there and was employed at a locomotive works before coming to America.

In 1859 at age 19, Ormrod came to the coal region around Tamaqua to work for his uncle who owned a small coal mine there. He was only in America a few weeks when his uncle was killed in a mine accident. amily members who were overwhelmed by this tragedy asked the young man to take over, which Ormrod did.

door Ormrod took to the coal business and by the 1870s was running several collieries. At this same time the labor troubles that spawned the famous Mollie Maguire movement among the Irish work force were running at high tide in the coal fields.

For an English-born mine owner like Ormrod, these must not have been peaceful times. It may explain why he moved with his family to the Germantown section of Philadelphia.  In 1879 Ormrod sold his coal business and moved to Allentown.

A brief return to the coal business in the early 1880s led to an accident 500 feet beneath the earth that almost took his life. After that he gave up on the coal industry for good.

In 1883, in Emmaus, Ormrod formed, with a number of other investors, the Donaldson Iron Company. They leased the Emmaus Iron Furnace and began making pipes for municipal water and gas lines. They also made the switches and valves for those lines.  Under the slogan, “the pipe everlasting,” the Donaldson Company flourished. In 1906 Ormrod was made its president.

light Now a wealthy man, Ormrod was able to make a number of investments. One of those that attracted him was the cement industry. At the direction of General Trexler in1897, Ormrod became a founding investor in the Lehigh Portland Cement Company. It was the start of the golden age of the local cement industry and both Ormrod and Trexler prospered.

By the 20th century George Ormrod cut quite a distinguished figure among the leadership of the Lehigh Valley. A photograph of him taken in 1912 shows an elderly man with a high balding forehead contrasted with a neatly trimmed snow-white beard and handsome mustache. Despite his age Ormrod had deep piercing eyes and a determined look.

Going from his home at 1227 Hamilton to business appointments or to Allentown’s fashionable Grace Episcopal Church, Ormrod and his family must have been a handsome sight.

On June 22, 1915 newspapers across the country including the New York Times reported Ormrod’s death the day before. His house continued to be occupied by family members until just after World War I when it was purchased by Trexler.

GeneralMrs For roughly the next 15 years General Trexler and his wife Mary called 1227 Hamilton Street home. Despite their wealth, Trexler’s fortune was estimated at $50 million dollars just before the 1929 stock market, the couple continued to occupy this relatively modest dwelling.

At one point in the late 1920s Trexler was contemplating building a large Georgian mansion on the Springwood property which is now Trexler Memorial Park. But when his wife told him she did not want to live so far out of town and miss the “news,” i.e., gossip among her friends, the estate plans went back into the file and never came out.

According to his aide Nolan Benner, Trexler largely left the running of his home to his wife. Mary Trexler hired the Pennsylvania German cooks who made the kind of food the Trexlers had enjoyed since childhood. It was also her task to see that her husband had the quiet he needed when he returned from a long business trip.

Many an evening in the 1920s those passing on Hamilton Street might catch a glimpse of Mary Trexler knitting or see the General deep in a book. The General’s preference was military history. Trexler would sometimes astound business associates with in depth knowledge of obscure skirmishes of the War Between The States.

TrexlerFuneral6 On the evening of November 17, 1933, Harry Trexler was in a violent automobile accident near Easton while on his way back from a meeting in New York . Trexler died early the next morning in Easton Hospital with his wife holding his hand.

TrexlerFuneral9 The General’s funeral was held in his home on Hamilton Street several days later. His wife died there in 1934. Into the 1980s, 1227 Hamilton was the location of the offices of the Trexler Trust that administered his estate. After almost being torn down in the 1990s, it was converted into a dress store and well preserved.   In 2008, Nick Elias purchased the property for his funeral business.  “I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have my business here,” says Elias.