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Stepping back in time – W.A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry, unchanged since 1899

W. A. Young & Sons Foundry & Machine Shop was built in 1899 on the banks of the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania’s Greene County. The shop was built to repair boats, but soon shifted its focus to railroads and anything else that needed fixing along the bustling river in Rices Landing, Pennsylvania.

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When the shop was constructed, the only interior lighting came from gas lamps. In 1908, William A. Young, owner and operator of the business, expanded the facility with the addition of a foundry and in 1928 he installed electrical service. It is the only such functional example of America’s 20th-century industrial evolution from local blacksmith shops to mass production machining facilities.

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All of the equipment dates from 1870 to 1920.  An intricate system of belts and pulleys throughout the shop runs 25 pieces of machinery, each independent of the other and fully operational powered by one motor.  The motor was originally a 12-horsepower steam engine which was followed by a 20-horsepower electric engine and finally replaced by a 20-horsepower gasoline engine.

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The foundry produced almost anything that can be cast in molten metal with the hugecoke-firedd furnace, which still stands with an unburned pile of coke beside it.  The shop craftsmen worked on and made everything from bronze castings, pipe fittings, locomotive wheels, and even mouse traps.  A huge gear, probably crafted to accommodate a river lock, still hangs on the wall in the foundry.

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Over the course of the shop’s nearly 70 years of operation, it performed vital work for not just local residents, but also for two war efforts. During World War II, the shop trained as many as 30 machinists at a time through the national Works Progress Administration programs. Upon his death in 1940, William Young bequeathed his shop to his sons Walter and Carl.

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When Young’s descendants closed the business in 1965, they left the machinery as it stood, preferring to leave it in place rather than auction it. The shop remained as it had been left on the final day’s work – forge cold, tools racked and even Carl’s goggles hanging in his work cabinet. Despite their age, many of these machines still work today and the tools give a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for turn-of-the-century workers in the region. Photos: Forsaken Fotos/Flickr

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After it was locked and neglected for 20 years, in 1985, the Greene County Historical Society purchased the site to ensure its preservation. Community volunteers undertook the most immediate repairs and the doors were opened to the public the following year.

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Today, the W.A. Young and Sons Machine Shop and Foundry is one of the best preserved industrial sites in Pennsylvania and it has even been recognized for its historical value as both a National Historic Site and as a part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.


David Goran

David Goran is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News