Biography of John Jermyn (from "History of Scranton and Its People, 1914)

Source: Hitchcock, Col. Frederick L. History of Scranton and It's People. Vol. 1, pp. 65 and 277-282. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. New York: 1914.


John Jermyn
To write the life record of John Jermyn from the time he arrived in the United States in 1847 to the time of his death in I is to also write a history of the development of the Scranton district. Nor does the record end with his own life, as there are now in the city of Scranton four of his five sons, worthily bearing the name, administering the estate they helped to create, and heading individual enterprises of great importance.

The record of the wonderful life of John Jermyn is more than a chronicle of a successful business man who rose from humble position to one of affluence and influence. He won his own way, it is true, but in winning it he provided for its permanence by inculcating the principles that won, into his sons and in bequeathing to Scranton his family of capable sons he left a richer legacy than his buildings, his mines or his lands. From early life they were his associates and from the example of their sturdy energetic father, and no less capable mother, learned not only the value, but the dignity of labor; became his valued assistants, and when the master mind was stilled forever, they confidently and ably carried on the plans and enterprises that constituted the Jermyn estate in addition to their own private interests.

Little can be told of John Jermyn that is not familiar to every Scrantonian, the impetus he gave to its building movement, his furtherance of industrial development and the progressive character of his operations. He was a hard worker, daring in his plans, but with a confidence in himself that often led him to disregard the caution of his friends. Yet he was unassuming and most democratic in his personal life. The coat-of-arms carried in the furnishings of the Jermyn Hotel are rightfully his, but he relied on himself to create a name and from mines and rocks and lands he built that name and fortune which endures.

Under the direction of the sons of John Jermyn, every interest of the estate left in their care has been wisely handled, and when in twenty years from the death of the founder the estate shall be divided according to the terms of his will, it will be found that the stewardship of the sons and daughter has been a wise and profitable one. Of the six sons of John Jermyn, four are active, leading business men of Scranton, one resides in New York City, another has gone to his long home, accidentally killed in San Francisco. One of his daughters resides in Scranton, and one in Oswego, New York.

John Jermyn was born in Rendham, Suffolk, England, in 1825, died in Scranton, Pennsylvania, May 29, 1902. Early thrown on his own resources, he made his way to London and at the age of twenty years, with little besides a rugged frame and a stout English heart, came to this country. In 1847 he arrived in New York City and learning of a need for men at Slocum's Hollow, Pennsylvania, (now Scranton) made his way thither. His first day's work was cleaning up the lawn of the old Platt mansion, then at the old ore mine, now known as Burnt Ridge on the East Mountain. His compensation in these early days was seventy-five cents per day. He soon accumulated a small capital and made some good friends, the result being that he was able to assume the responsibility of small contracts which he executed so faithfully that larger ones followed. One of these was the Diamond Mine, Mr. Jermyn being the first man to strike a pick in that later famous mine. About 1854 he was fully engaged in developing the coal properties of the New York and Pennsylvania Anthracite Coal Companies of Lackawanna county, near the Notch, of which he was general manager, and on its completion, five years later, developed the White Oak, then Archibald, then Jermyn, then Rockwell mines, thus becoming possessed of capital sufficient to justify him in beginning private mining operations. In 1859 he arranged with Judson Clark the terms of an agreement to sink a slope and mine coal on property owned by Mr. Clark on the Abington turnpike, Rockwell mine.

On Mr. Clark's death, a few years later, Mr. Jermyn formed a company and leased the mines from the Clark estate, operating for three years as Jermyn, Wells & Company, then abandoning the mines. Then came the leasing of the abandoned mines of the Gibson estate at Rushdale, now the thriving borough of Jermyn, having at present (1914) three thousand three hundred people. These mines had been a failure in the hands of others and Mr. Jermyn's friends strongly remonstrated with him for attempting so great a risk as their reopening. But he had confidence both in the mines and himself and went forward with the undertaking, which proved successful and laid the foundation of his future prosperity. He bought new machinery and in 1862 opened the plant. His first lease was for one million tons, which later he increased to three million tons, and in a few years delivered that amount entire. This placed him among the largest and wealthiest private operators in the valley, and his future career was one of constant acquisition. In 1880 he built and equipped a modern breaker at Rush Brook near Peckville, which the estate still owns.

In 1881 he leased the Price tract of nine hundred acres of coal land near Dickson, a section then having but a few houses, now containing thousands and known as the borough of Jermyn. Also after selling out his interest in Priceburgh he started operations in Old Forge borough and the town is now named Rendham in honor of Mr. Jermyn's birth-place in England. About 1882 he opened the Rendham Collieries which are still operated by the Jermyn estate. In 1884 he moved his residence to Scranton which was ever afterwards his home. In 1885 he erected the Coal Exchange Building, and in 1895 built the Hotel Jermyn.

He became one of the largest land owners in Scranton and in surrounding towns. With wonderful foresight he chose his lines of operation and made few mistakes. He was identified with many enterprises with others, also conducting extensive private operations. He was public-spirited and in his improvements awakened a great spirit of progress in Scranton. One of his greatest building improvements wag the erection, in 1895, of the large hotel that bears his name, and which is yet part of the Jermyn estate. He had, however, begun his building operations much sooner, erecting the Coal Exchange Building in 1885 and followed these with many buildings and residences, including his own at Jefferson and Vine streets. He was a heavy stockholder and a director of the First National Bank, until his death the estate still retaining this valuable interest. He was the principal factor in bringing the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad to Scranton, built the line, and in 1886 accepted the general managership of the road.

He had many interests and neglected none, working them with his sons' assistance, the eldest, Joseph J., having been his constant associate from boyhood. He was of a generous disposition and noted for his hospitality. He never forgot his own humble start and often aided others who were struggling as he struggled. He was not only well known, but well liked, and in accumulating his estate of $7,000,000, he invoked no governmental favor or special privilege. He fought his own battle in the open and gained an honest victory.

John Jermyn married, October 19, 1851, Susan, daughter of Joseph Knight, of West Scranton. There were no railroads in those days and their wedding trip was a stage coach ride to Pittston and return. Mrs. Jermyn survived her husband three years, dying January 17, 1906, aged seventy-two years. She was a true helpmeet, bore her full share of their earlier burdens and worked hand in hand with her husband to obtain their start in life and foothold on prosperity's ladder. She was kindly, gentle and charitable; very unobtrusive, but very practical in her charities. She was a liberal donor to the Home for the Friendless and to the Woman's Guild of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, of which she was a member for many years. Born in Lostwithal, Cornwall, England, June 12, 1833, she was brought to this country at so early an age that she had little recollection of her English home. Children of John and Susan (Knight) Jermyn: Joseph J., of whom further; William H., died aged nineteen years; Frank H., of whom further; Myron, died aged two years; George B., of whom further; Walter M., of whom further; Edmund B., of whom further; Emma, married D. W. Mears, of Scranton; Susan, married R. A. Downey, of Oswego, New York, president of the Second National Bank there, and vessel owner and grain shipper on the Lakes and a very prominent man in all the affairs of the town, they have two children: Robert A. Jr., and Jermyn; Rollo G., of whom further.

Joseph J. Jermyn, eldest child of John Jermyn, was born in Hyde Park, Pennsylvania, in 1852. He attended the public schools, Kingston Seminary and Bucknell College, but from boyhood was associated with his father, accompanying him to and in the mines when a boy of twelve. He has worked at everything connected with the business, aided in the store, delivered goods to the miners, powder, oil, wick, etc., and has never ceased his activity but conducts large private interests in addition to his duties as executor, chosen under the terms of his father's will to act with his brother, George B., and sister, Emma, to administer the Jermyn estate for twenty years from the date of death of the founder, when it may be divided. He is a man of great energy and public spirit and is recognized as one of the strong men of his city. He is president of the Taylor Bank of Taylor, Pennsylvania; president of the Gulf, Texas & Western Railroad Company; president of the Tintern Manor Water Company, of Long Branch, New Jersey; vice-president of the Traders National Bank of Scranton, is a large mine owner and has a fine stock farm at Greenfield as well as other farm property in the valley. The Tintern Manor Water Company, of which he is owner, consists of a pumping plant on Swimming river, near Red Bank, New Jersey, and one hundred miles of mains extending through Red Bank along the famed Rumson road to Sea Bright, down the coast supplying all the towns as far south as Asbury Park. The franchise is perpetual and the water rate fixed. In acquiring this great property and franchise, Mr. Jermyn had a hard legal battle, but won out against the efforts of some of the officials who sought to effect personal gain. The Gulf, Texas & Western Railroad is also his own property and at present consists of one hundred and thirty miles of well built, perfectly equipped railroad, in Texas, planned to extend west from Dallas and Fort Worth to a connection with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe at Lubbock, three hundred and twenty-five miles west of Dallas.

Mr. Jermyn is fond of his horses and stock, taking a great deal of pleasure from the operation of his farm. He belongs to Lodge, Chapter, Commandery, Shrine and Consistory of the Masonic Order, holding the thirty-second degree. He is a supporter of church and philanthropic institutions and aids in every way the cause of progress.

Frank H. Jermyn, third child of John Jermyn, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1858, died in San Francisco, California, January 3, 1910. He was injured in a trolley car collision and died shortly afterward in the hospital. His body was returned to Scranton and rests in Dunmore Cemetery. He had lived in California for about ten years, having purchased Pleasanton Stock Farm, where he gratified his love for fine horses and outdoor life. He sold this farm in 1907 and at the time of his death was living in San Francisco. He was a good, true and manly man, and was highly esteemed by his many friends. He married Grace G. Griffin, who died in April, 1907. Their only daughter, Frances, was educated in music at Berlin, Germany, and married La Mott Belin, of Scranton.

George B. Jermyn, fifth child of John Jermyn, was born in Jermyn, Pennsylvania, May 9, 1862. He was educated in the public schools, "Daddy Merrill's School" and Granville Military Academy, of Granville, New York. After completing his school years he began active business life as manager of the Standard Oil Company's interests in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, continuing there five years. He then engaged in mercantile business in Rendham, Pennsylvania, continuing until the death of his father in May, 1902. He was appointed under his father's will one of the executors of the Jermyn estate and has since devoted himself to the administration of that trust, although he has large private and corporate interests. He is president of the Scranton Savings and Dime Bank, assistant treasurer of the Gulf, Texas & Western Railroad Company; vice-president, secretary and treasurer of the Hallstead Water Company; vice-president, secretary and treasurer of the Great Bend Water Company; treasurer of the Tintern Manor Water Company, Long Branch, New Jersey; and a director of the Pennsylvania Oral School for Deaf Mutes. He is a member of the Scranton, Press and Country clubs; holds all degrees of Masonry in both York and Scottish Rites up to and including the thirty-second. He is also a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, and a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He is most democratic and public-spirited, believes in the cause of the "public good" and throws the weight of his influence in favor of good government. Most energetic in business, he is a fine type of the successful modern business man. He married, April 20, 1892, Annie Adams, of Fair Haven, Vermont, daughter of Hon. A. W. Adams, the genealogist of the Adams family, now deceased. Children: Margaret, a graduate of Mrs. Dow's Briarcliffe School, and Ruth, aged thirteen years. Mr. Jermyn's residence at No. 616 Webster avenue is a fine Colonial style building, erected by W. H. Taylor, who occupied it but eight months, then moved to New York, leaving his costly residence vacant for ten years until purchased by Mr. Jermyn.

Walter M. Jermyn, sixth child of John Jermyn, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, June 2, 1864. He was educated in the Granville Military Academy, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, of Troy, New York, an institution from which he was graduated with the degree of C. E. He was engineer in charge of the Jermyn mining interests, later general superintendent. He then located in Oswego, New York, being president and general manager of the Oswego Boiler Works. After operating that plant for several years he sold out entirely and retired from active business life. His city home is The Great Northern Hotel, New York; his summer home, "Little Grenadier Island," one of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence. He married Lena Kehoe, of Oswego.

Edmund B. Jermyn, seventh child of John Jermyn, was born in Jermyn, Pennsylvania, April 12, 1867. He was educated in public schools, Jermyn public school, Peekskill (New York) Military Academy, Harry Hillman School, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Pierce's Business College, Philadelphia. He began business life in his father's Scranton office, continuing three years, then becoming manager of the grist mill at Jermyn. In 1896 he became manager of the Jermyn mining properties at Old Forge, which is yet his business headquarters. He is president of the Traders Coal Company, of Laflin, Pennsylvania, president of the Archbald Bank of Archbald, Pennsylvania, and has many other private and corporate interests. He was president of the Taylor Hospital, Taylor, Pennsylvania, for seven years and is now chairman of the executive committee. He is a man of energy, has a clear record as a business man, and while never a politician in 1913 led the forces of reform in the battle to obtain the chief magistracy of Scranton. He made his primary fight successfully, and also made a strong plea for a business administration of city affairs. An extract from his letter to the voters is appended: "I would like to be Mayor to demonstrate how easy it is to render better service in every respect to the taxpayer, without any more cost. I want to take hold of the City Hall and run public business as an up-to-date private successful business is run." His wish was granted and he was elected in November, 1913, and is now serving in that office. Mr. Jermyn is a member of all bodies of the Masonic Order in both York and Scottish Rites, including the thirty-second degree, and is a Noble of the Mystic Shrine. He is a member of the Scranton Club, Country Club, Bicycle Club, Engineers Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Sportsmen of America, Patriotic Order Sons of America, Crafts Club, Masonic Lodge of West Scranton, Scranton Rod and Gun Club, Wooden Plate Club, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Westmoreland Club of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and City Club of Oswego, New York. He married Mary Decker, of Scranton. Children: Edmund B. (2), Princeton, 1915; Elizabeth, married Major Lee White, of Madison, new Jersey, and has a son, Major Lee White (2), born September 18, 1913; William S., a student at Hill's School, Pottstown. The family residence is at No. 62 1. Jefferson avenue.

Rollo G. Jermyn, tenth child of John Jermyn, was born in Jermyn, Pennsylvania, March 3, 1873. His early education was obtained in the public schools of Jermyn and Scranton, after which he entered St. Paul's School at Garden City, Long Island, whence he was graduated in class of 1892. At the age of eighteen years he began business life as his father's assistant in the Scranton office, having charge of the real estate books for one year. He then was in charge of the Oswego Boiler Works, belonging to the family until their sale in 1903. He then was in charge of an independent telephone line in Syracuse, New York, belonging to his brother Joseph J. until 1905, when the line was sold. Mr. Jermyn then returned to Scranton, and purchased a half interest in the mercantile business of his brother, George B., at Rendham, which he still retains. In 1909 he became treasurer of the Jermyn Hotel, the property of the Jermyn estate. He is a director of the Dime Bank of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and has other and varied business interests of importance. Like all the sons of John Jermyn he is gifted with keen business talent and a capacity for work, that accomplishes much without apparent effort. He is a member of Lodge, Chapter and Commandery of the Masonic Order in Oswego, and of Media Temple, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, of Watertown, New York, also a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, of Oswego. His clubs are the Scranton, of which he is director; the Country and Canoe, all of Scranton. In church relation he is a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Mr. Jermyn married Kate, daughter of Douglass Jay, of Scranton and has a son Rollo G. (2). The family residence is at No. 539 Clay avenue, Scranton.

Addendum: From the same publication, p. 65:

Mr. John Jermyn was the first to open an exclusively retail mine. It was a very humble affair in what was then called the Notch. He, with two or three men, worked on the upper veins or outcroppings and sold his output to parties who came and carted it away. Mr. Jermyn, himself, with his miner's lamp and pick and shovel, was a familiar daily figure. This was opened in the early '505, and became the foundation probably of the most extensive individual coal operations this valley has seen. In 1863 he opened and operated a large mine at what is now Jermyn, making the borough which was named for him. This he operated for eighteen years. His lease with the Delaware & Hudson Company having expired, he came back to Scranton and opened and operated what was known as Jermyn No. 3—now the Marrville, now operated jointly by the Delaware & Hudson and Lacka- wanna companies, at Green Ridge. Later he opened a mine at Priceburg, with two immense breakers, and another at the "Ridge," in the borough of Archibald. Disposing of all these, he started the largest of all his operations in "Old Forge" borough, which are still owned and operated by the Jermyn estate. Altogether Mr. Jermyn opened and operated no less than six different anthracite mines during his career. With the exception of the little retail mine, all are in successful operation to-day. In 1851 Mr. Jermyn opened the first mine—the Diamond—for the Liggett's Gap Railroad Company, now the Lackawanna, and himself mined the first ton of coal sent to market by that company. Besides being an extensive mine operator, Mr. Jermyn was also a large owner and builder of real estate in our city. Some of our best buildings are to be credited to him—Hotel Jermyn, named- for him, Nos. 320-322 Penn avenue; 419-423 Lackawanna avenue; Coal Exchange, on Wyoming avenue. Besides these he owned the old Second National Bank building, on Lackawanna avenue; Nos. 119-121 Wyoming avenue. Few citizens have done more towards the permanent growth of our city than Mr. Jermyn.

  Related subjects: Gulf, Texas & Western Railway;  
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