We are seeing and going to see unprecedented development in Berwyn PA over the next few years, from 1067 Lancaster down the pike next to Nectar; townhomes on the old Surrey Services building site opposite the Berwyn Firehouse; the Mack Oil site with town homes and the Sir Speedy building being converted to condos next to or behind Handels’ depending on how you look at it.
The Fritz Lumber site will also be developed and it is right in the heart of Berwyn. We recently interviewed Stacey Ballard of Eadeh Enterprises who will be developing the site what their plans are and what the time line looks like. Below the video is a short history of Fritz Lumber.
The venerable William H. Fritz Lumber Company has been in the Fritz family for five generations, since 1863. Owner William “Bill” H. Fritz III will retire and his son, William Howard Fritz IV, 62, who goes by “Howard,” will take some time off, write a book about the business, volunteer and possibly work part time.
Bill was 10 years old when he started working here in 1939, he swept the yard with a broom. At 87, he still works four hours a day. They have seven employees now but in years past Fritz Lumber employed 19 or 20.
In a 1994 monograph for “They Built Berwyn” published by the Treddyffrin Easttown Historical Society, Bill Fritz wrote that his great-grandfather, Henry Fritz, along with William Lobb began the business. His grandfather, William H. Fritz Sr. died in 1938, leaving the business to his dad, William H. Fritz Jr., who had another business as a wholesale broker of white pine at the time. When Fritz Jr. died in 1941, Bill Fritz was only 13 and his sister, Jean, a year older. His widowed mother, Marion, then 39, took up the reins of the establishment with the help of loyal employees.
Times were different then you can imagine how delighted all the employees, carpenters, masons, farmers and so on were to have a woman boss, who didn’t know a nail from a hammer, walk into the place. While it was difficult at first, his mother earned their “grudging respect and, eventually their admiration.
Oddly, the founder, Henry Fritz, had also died young in an accident, leaving his widow and her brothers to run the business until William H. Fritz Sr. came of age.
Over the years, the family had a hand in starting the Berwyn National Bank, then known as Berwyn Building and Loan Association, Berwyn Presbyterian Church, where Bill Fritz’s grandfather gave an organ and his name can be seen in two of the stained glass windows and the Berwyn Fire Company, among other organizations. Bill was one of the founding members of The Berwyn Business and Professional Association, serving as President and on the board of directors, as well as in the local Rotary Club.
In the early years, much of the business came from the sale of anthracite coal. They had contracts with homeowners and schools to deliver coal, which was the main fuel for heat in those days. Loads of coal would come by train to the lumberyard via a separate siding off the main track.
“Each (train) car had two pockets or doors on the bottom, held closed by heavy metal hooks. “Once the car was placed and blocked in the proper location over the coal bin, we took sledge hammers, laid on our backs and swung at those metal hooks. Eventually, if you hit them hard enough, the pocket door would release with the roar of 50 tons of coal escaping through it. Invariably, in the wintertime, some coal would freeze inside the car and I would have to climb in, with a crowbar and pick to break it loose.”
While lumber came by rail also, it eventually started being delivered by trucks. During World War II, it was difficult to get workers because men were in the military or working in the defense industry. Some of their employees worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the American Bronze Company, nearby, and then they would come to the lumberyard to unload the railcars, working until 9 p.m.
In addition to lumber and coal, the business also sold cattle feed, that was ground and mixed on site, along with hay and fencing. When Henry Fritz started the business, the area around Berwyn, then called Reeseville, was mainly farmland and the acreage of the lumberyard had been part of the McLeod Farm.
Roger Thorne, a local historian and past president of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society said, “After more than a century and a half, Fritz Lumber, the oldest business in town, had become part of the quintessential Berwyn.
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