Henry S. Thayer
All over the country, in every state, are to be found prosperous and progressive communities whose happy conditions are largely due to the public spirit and loyal effort of some one man. Such men are truly builders of civilization, and to them, as a class, is due more than is ordinarily admitted of credit for the moral and material welfare of the community at large.
In Ridgway, Pennsylvania, is such a man in the person of Henry Stewart Thayer, to whose public spirit and generosity that city gives the tribute of appreciation for much of its desirable condition of today. He is a man who has made his own way in the world, overcoming obstacles that would have diminished the ardor of a less patient and determined character. He has a record of having made things, and of having made them well. In this bustling little city he has labored from early youth, rising through his own forcefulness from a minor position as an employee to that of an employer of thousands of men, and to the affectionate respect of the entire community as its leading and inspiring spirit.
Mr. Thayer's remote forbears were British subjects. The earliest American generation came to the Western Continent from England in 1630, landing at Weymouth, Massachusetts. The family afterward moved westward and Mr. Thayer's father was a pioneer of Bath, Steuben County, New York. Subsequently, this branch of the family moved to Ridgway, Elk County, Pennsylvania, where the good Quaker, John J. Ridgway, of Philadelphia, had secured a land grant aggregating 100,000 acres, located in Elk and McKean counties, adjoining each other. It was in Ridgway in 1847 that Henry S. Thayer was born. It was in those foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, where Ridgway nestles on the banks of the Clarion River, that the subject of this sketch received the rudiments of a common school education. After the Ridgway schooling he was sent to the Alfred Academy, at Alfred Center, New York, where he spent several terms. After the academy terms at Alfred Center, combining a desire for further study with the "Westward Ho!" spirit of young manhood, he went to Michigan and entered Adrian College, at Adrian, in that State, and there took a selected course in practical branches.
After his return to Ridgway from the Michigan school he entered the employ of the late Judge Houk, of that city, as clerk in a general store. This occupation had its limitations, by no means suiting his ambitious nature, and he made up his mind to engage in business for himself. He began merchandising, which brought him into contact with many of the men who were making the lumber history of that famous timber section and, gradually, Mr. Thayer drifted into logging and lumbering enterprises.
A stranger visiting Ridgway today would scarcely surmise that it is a town famous in lumber history, for about the tidy city of homes and luxuriously shaded streets, with its modern structures, there is little evidence of sawlog or sawmill. However, no longer ago than 1889 it was the center of a section that produced nearly 1,400,000,000 feet of lumber annually, chiefly hemlock, and no longer ago than 1875 had an annual output of white pine alone of close to 500,000,000 feet. The year 1903 saw the total lumber output of the Ridgway district reduced to about 300,000,000 feet and but one sawmill remaining in the immediate vicinity the Hyde & Thayer mill, a property belonging to Henry S. Thayer.
The first sawmill in the Ridgway district was built by the pioneer James L. Gillis, who, acting in the capacity of an agent for John J. Ridgway, of Philadelphia, came into that territory in 1821 and erected a sawmill on Big Mill Creek, at a point nine miles northwest of Ridgway. That proposition being a combination of farming and various other industries was not successful. However, that was the first footprint of civilization in the valley of the upper Clarion River.
What was really needed was a live sawmilling proposition, which was opened up at Ridgway at about 1830. That was the inception in the Ridgway district of the rafting of lumber and timber to Pittsburg and other settlements to the south and west. The timber and lumber were put into rafts and floated down the Clarion and Allegheny rivers to the growing city of Pittsburg and thence down the Ohio River even to Louisville. It is said that the first Ridgway raft of cork pine was sold at Pittsburg for $5 a thousand, and one-half of the sum realized was taken in window glass at that.
In connection with his son Harry and the Hyde estate Mr. Thayer operates a band mill near Ridgway which, at this time, has about four years' cut of virgin hemlock stumpage ahead of it. This mill is known as the old Laurel mill property and is located about two miles west of the city. Between 12,000,000 and 15,000,000 feet of lumber is manufactured annually.
Ridgway stands today as a shining and praiseworthy example of the possibilities of a lumber town after the timber has practically been exhausted.
One of the foremost figures in Ridgway's commercial and social greatness of today is Mr. Thayer. In addition to the lumber business he is interested in many enterprises which are the backbone of the industrial city. He is president of the Elk County National Bank, of Ridgway; president and general manager of the Ridgway Dynamo & Engine Company, the largest institution of the kind in the country; a director in the Ridgway Building & Loan Association; treasurer of the Ridgway Light & Heat Company; a heavy stockholder in the Ridgway Machine Tool Company, the Ridgway Manufacturing Company and the firm of Hyde and Thayer, of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, the Panther Run Coal Company, of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, and the Iroquois Coal Company, of Brockwayville, Pennsylvania, and one of the principal stockholders in the St. Joe Lumber Company, of Harrison, Idaho.
Mr. Thayer's success is attributable to his clean business methods and his ability and perseverance in following a line of action until the sought for goal has been reached. His commercial instincts are of such high order that rarely has he made a wrong estimate of a business opportunity, and he has steadily forged ahead in all the variety of enterprises he has undertaken. He has declined public honors time and time again because of the press of business.
Physically, Mr. Thayer is tall and spare, reflecting his New England ancestry. Personally, he is the embodiment of kindly good nature. He is known as a man at once generous and just, sympathetic and charitable, and is the leader in all work that tends to increase the prosperity and happiness of his fellows.
Mr. Thayer married, on October 25, 1870, Miss Mary E. Ely, of Ridgway, a daughter of B. F. Ely, a pioneer and leading lumberman of that section of Pennsylvania. Mr. and Mrs. Thayer have two children Harry, a son already mentioned, and Helen, a daughter just now in young womanhood. Mr. Thayer resides with his wife and daughter in a handsome house overlooking Ridgway's chief business center, and nearby is the home of his son Harry, on whose shoulders has fallen largely the conduct of the lumber enterprises in which he is interested.