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Monday, September 17, 2007

This look at Foltz Mfg. & Industrial Supply Co. isthe 166th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County

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The commercial building at the corner of East Washington and Locust streets covers the entire 240-foot-by-40-foot lot, ending at Matthew Avenue on the south. Its three-story front block faces Washington with four bays and an entrance that angles across the corner. Sashes have single panes of glass set in openings topped by limestone lintels. Large letters above the top row of windows reads, "H.C. Foltz," and the first-floor display windows exhibit various pieces of hardware dominated by the Pipe Man, a clever figure made from pipe parts. The long rear section has four doors large enough to admit massive engines and machinery that come for repair and refitting interspersed with ten large windows filled with rectangular panes of wired glass covered with corrugated polycarbonate. The interior of the storefront on Washington Street looks like an old-fashioned hardware store. The ceiling is high, covered in pressed tin; the floor is dark, unfinished wood; a tall counter separates customers from staff and office. Tall ranks of shelves hold pressure gauges, grinding wheels, wrenches, winch-hoists, hammer drills, pipe stands, epoxy putty and all the usual tools that might be expected at a hardware store. But the look is different: some of the crowbars are over 5 feet long, the choice of pullers ranges from modest to massive, sets of hex wrenches have handles. Henry Calvin Foltz, born in Smithsburg in 1846, decided against farming as an occupation and apprenticed at the Frick Co. machine shop in Waynesboro. At the age of 20, he moved to Hagerstown to work as a machinist for Garver, Flanegan & Bickel, which later became Hagerstown Steam Engine and Machine Co. In 1877, H.C. Foltz went into partnership with Daniel and Cyrus Garver to purchase Dayhoff Foundry and Machine Works in Rock Forge, Md. Four years later, when Agricultural Implement Manufacturing Company moved their business to Akron, Ohio, the partners of Garver, Foltz & Co. purchased that company's vacated property at the corner of East Washington and Locust Streets. A story-and-a-half stone building with metal roof and corbelled chimney stood at the corner of this lot. A pent roof crossed the gable end below a date stone reading 1780-something, (the final digit was indecipherable) between its first floor and attic. This stone structure attached to the building next door on Washington Street, a two-story, recently built commercial structure with a corbelled cornice. The first two bays of this building were part of the Agricultural Implement Manufacturing Co. as well. A one-story stone wing extended to the rear of the stone house where it attached to a taller, gable-roofed brick barn with two cupolas extending above the roof. These had movable vents that opened and closed by cranking them with a long pole from the floor below to relieve heat and smoke in the shop. An assortment of random structures filled the space to Matthew Avenue. The partners moved their equipment from Rock Forge, combined it with that in their new quarters and worked at repairing agricultural tools and performing custom machine work. Cyrus Garver died shortly after this purchase and Daniel followed in 1888. Henry Foltz purchased the business, renaming it H.C. Foltz Company, and two years later bought out his former employer, the Hagerstown Steam Engine & Machine Company with all their patterns. He could now manufacture and repair all the machinery that this company had produced including "Empire" traction, portable and stationary steam engines, threshers, clover hullers, grain drills, saw mills and corn crushers. With the addition of these steam engines, Foltz Company began to carry pipe, pipe-fittings, brass goods, rubber and leather strapping, roller chain, valve packing and other kinds of machinist's supplies. Hagerstown was a hub for railroads during the 19th century, served by several companies' lines. In addition, it was a center for agriculture. Both these enterprises were markets for Foltz Company. They manufactured and repaired farm equipment and made or rebuilt parts for railroads. In addition to stocking supplies, H.C. Foltz Co. manufactured products designed and patented by Henry Foltz, including a hog scalder, a malleable lifting jack used by railroads and the rounded steel stock trough still seen at farms around the county. At the time, water troughs were often made of wood, and in the winter the water froze, forcing the joints of the troughs apart, ruining them. The rounded design of the Foltz trough allowed ice to lift out as it froze rather than deforming the trough. In 1914, having outgrown their quarters, Foltz expanded. The old stone building was torn down and replaced with the three-story, four-bay brick structure seen today. Ceilings are finished in pressed tin with tin cove finishing the edges and elaborate tin moldings encasing the heavy steel I-beams holding the upper floors. The freight elevator, with grillwork on its upper half and sheet steel below, separated by an elegant Greek key-patterned rail, hauls stock to and from storage on the upper floors. The remaining machine shop, now attached to the new front building, had its walls raised above the peaks of its five pairs of original rafters, huge wooden beams with 12-inch-by-8-inch cross sections. Steel I-beams were laid level across the east and west walls, then the east end of each beam was wedged up a foot or so to give the roof a slight slope in order to drain. If a second story was needed, these wedges could be removed and the roof dropped to level, becoming the floor of the new story. Four forges lined the outside west wall of the shop, each with its own chimney, and vestiges of these chimneys remained in place when it was connected to the new office building. A steam traction motor sat outside the large arch at the end of the building with great leather belts fed through the brick wall above the arch turning the power trains that ran all the equipment in the shop and that still hang below its ceiling. Clinker from the forges was tamped into the floor and covered with a soft mortar, then topped with 2 1/2- to 3-inch-thick tongue and groove flooring so that the men had a more flexible surface to walk on. Henry Foltz retired from management in 1916 and turned the company over to his son, Robert G. Foltz Sr., and his daughter Emma Foltz Benner. Again the name changed, and it became Foltz Manufacturing & Supply Company. With the advent of electricity in the 1930s, the steam traction motor was retired and the power train converted to the new power source. Another structure was added to the back of the building, filling the rest of the lot to the south. As technology moved away from hand-wrought materials, the need for four forges diminished. They were shut down, leaving only remnants of their chimneys in the narrow space between the exterior wall on the west and the lot line when it was filled with a narrow two-level storage area. A single forge needed for the operation was brought into the shop along the inside of the same west wall where the old ones had been. A balcony was added above the shop to store materials. During World War II, Foltz Company did a great deal of subcontracting for Fair-child Aircraft and converted many of the shop machines from manual to automatic operation in order to complete jobs quickly. By 1947 the need for more stock storage space became obvious, so a modern warehouse was built at 50 McComas Street - at the north end of Locust Street, next to railroad tracks. Here Foltz has 10,500 square feet of interior storage with an additional 11,000 square feet of open lot for exterior storage of large angles, channels and beams. Robert Foltz Sr. died in 1951, leaving his sister Emma Benner in control of the business. Incorporation followed, and all of Robert's children, Henry C. Foltz II, Robert Foltz Jr., Daniel and Rebecca, became active in the management of the company. Emma died in 1961, and the next generation took over. Sixteen family members still own the company, and the firm employs the same number of people. Henry C. Foltz II's son Henry C. Foltz III is now the president of the company and manages with the help of his brother Carroll. Carroll Hartman manages operations at the company. Henry C. Foltz III is called Tim, a nickname he uses to alleviate years of confusion among Henrys at the business. Foltz Company continues to prosper, serving its local market and creating a niche outside of the big-box companies by stocking items and sizes that those companies do not carry. Foltz stocks items such as a 12-foot-long handle, 6-inch-wide leather belts, gasket material made of vegetable fiber, rubber, neoprene or high-temperature graphite with an anti-stick coating in 60-inch sheets. Foltz also does custom machine work and blacksmithing on a forge with 100-year-old tools and performs work on a lathe with a 5-foot diameter face plate. The floor undulates now, a mix of ancient wood and concrete; modern machines share space with those 100 years old. Two lathes are still turned by the power train, and the freight elevator, rehabilitated with a second-hand drum gear unit, still carries staff and stock to and from the upper floors. Foltz Company is a unique institution that continues to prosper, keeping its old technology and embracing the new.

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