Appomattox Iron Works

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Appomattox Iron Works.
Founders and Machinists.
Est. 1872

The story of the Appomattox Iron Works was told in this story from the (Petersburg) Progress-Index, 15 June 1958, "The Appomattox Iron Works & Supply Co., at 26-28 Old St., has the distinction probably of being the only family-established and owned industry of its kind in the state. It is one of the oldest one-family businesses in Petersburg, having been founded by Esek Steere in 1872. Esek Steere came to Petersburg from Owego County, N. Y. Young, energetic and skilled in his trade, he built and equipped an iron foundry for the manufacture of agricultural implements. Soon a machine shop was added to meet the demands for the growing peanut, lumber and tobacco industries. The first plant was located on the north side of Old St., close to the Norfolk and Western railroad tracks and the Appomattox River, providing excellent shipping facilities. Its patronage came chiefly from a half dozen concerns engaged in the tobacco business, the peanut and lumber industries and planters. The industry grew and prospered, necessitating larger space for its operations. So, about the year 1900 the firm purchased the property at 20 to 28 Old St., not far from the point of its origin. At this time the business was conducted by Esek Steere and his son, Albert Lippett Steere, under state charter. Later, another son, Charles H. Steere, who died this last May, came into the business. Later still, A. Leslie Steere, grandson of Esek Steere and son of Albert L. Steere, joined the firm. Today, A Leslie Steere is president and general manager of the corporation of which he and his sister, Mrs. Frederick A. Sapp, of Petersburg, are sole owners. ... The company still builds in its plant complete sawmills, one of which is presently under construction. ... The Appomattox Iron Works & Supply Co. occupies a three-story building which extends from the south side of Old St. to the rear of buildings on W. Bank St. ..."

The founder, Esek Steere (1831-1908), was described as follows in Steere Genealogy: A Record of the Descendants of John Steere Who Settled in Providence, Rhode Island About the Year 1660. With Some Account of the Steeres of England, by James Pierce Root, 1890, "Esek Steere, son of James, grandson of Rufus, was born July 13, 1832. He removed to Virginia, where he married, first, Lucy Armstrong of Petersburg, Va. She died, and he married, second, Waity S. Armstrong, sister of his former wife. He lived near Petersburg, Va. During the War of the Rebellion he was pressed into the rebel service. He deserted, after serving a few months, and with six other Union men hid in a cave for eighteen months, an old negro servant faithfully providing them with food until they could escape. His house was for months on the dividing line between the Union and Confederate armies. His father-in-law and brother were both accused of helping the deserters, and shot down in cold blood near this house."

The Chataigne & Boyd Petersburg Directory for 1872-73 does not list an Appomattox Iron Works. Rather, this directory listed Armstrong, Steere & Co., commission merchants and junk dealers, consisting of E. Armstrong, Esek Steere, and E. J. Armstrong. This would seem to be a forerunner of the iron foundry, when Steere was in business with two brothers-in-law, Erastus Armstrong (1831-1873), and Elisha J. Armstrong (1836-1906). The Armstrongs were natives of Otsego County in New York State, as was Esek Steere. Steere married their sisters, first, Lucy Armstrong (1829?-1858), and later, Waity Sweet Armstrong (1840-1902). Subsequent directories listed Appomattox Iron Works at 33 Old St. and Armstrong, Steere & Co. at 25 Bollingbrook St.

This ad for the Appomattox Iron Works at 33 and 35 Old Street appeared in Historical and Industrial Guide to Petersburg, Virginia, by Edward Pollock, 1884.

Another partner during the early years of Appomattox Iron Works was William George Pearse (1816-1891). Like Esek Steere and the Armstrongs, he was a native of Otsego County in New York State. William G. Pearse married Eliza Armstrong, a sister of Lucy and Waity Armstrong. He appears on the same page as Esek Steere in the 1870 U. S. Census for Petersburg. Directories listed him as a member of Armstrong, Steere & Co. and as "general agent" for Appomattox Iron Works from 1872 through 1888.

The second generation Steeres that carried on the business included Albert Lippett Steere (1872-1931) and Charles Holden Steere (1874-1958). They were sons of Esek Steere. Charles H. Steere registered for the World War I draft in 1918, age 44, manufacturer, Appomattox Iron Works, 24 Old St., Petersburg, Va. At a somewhat later date an earlier son (from his first marriage), Lucius Esek Steere (1858-1933), who had lived in North Carolina as a druggist, was also a partner at Appomattox Iron Works (approx. 1915 to 1933).

The third generation was represented by Albert Lippett Steere's son, Albert Leslie Steere (1897-1974), known as A. Leslie Steere. Albert Leslie Steere registered for the World War I draft in 1918, age 21, mechanic, Appomattox Iron Works, Petersburg, Va. In the 1940 U. S. Census he lived with his widowed mother at the same 264 High St., Petersburg, where the family had lived as early as 1915.

According to Laura E. Willoughby in Petersburg, Virginia (Then and Now Series), 2010, "The Appomattox Iron Works was located on Old Street from the last quarter of the 19th century to 1972." The following appears at "Appomattox Iron Works is a historic iron foundry complex located at Petersburg, Virginia. The complex consists of nine buildings: the machine shop, the mill store, the supply room, the pipe shop, the carpenters shop and pattern shop, the core room, the foundry building, the blacksmiths shop, and the ruins of a stable. The machine shop at 28 Old St. is the oldest structure in the complex. It was built between 1810 and 1825, and is a three-story, four bay, Federal style brick building. The Appomattox Iron Works operated at this location from 1899 until 1972."

Many of the Steeres are buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Va., including Albert Leslie Steere (died 3/19/1974), Albert Lippett Steere (died 6/11/1931), Charles Holden Steere (died 1/18/1958), Esek Steere (died 3/4/1908), and Lucius Esek Steere (died 7/16/1933). Several of the Armstrongs are also buried at Blandford, including Elisha J. Armstrong (died 2/12/1906) and Erastus Armstrong (died 9/7/1873). William G. Pearse is also buried at Blandford (in the same plot as Esek Steere).

This ad for the Appomattox Iron Works & Supply Co. appeared in The Peanut Promoter, February, 1921.

One contrary piece of evidence to the above scenario appeared in 1855 in The Daily Dispatch [Richmond, Va.] 13 April 1855, pg. 1, "Drowned.- Col. J. B. Williamson, late of the Appomattox Iron Works, Petersburg, and formerly connected with the Saugatuck Works, near Norwalk, Ct., was drowned on the 24th ult., in the Mississippi river. He had taken passage on the ill fated steamer Bulletin, which took fire, and twenty-five of the passengers perished." It may be, then, that an Appomattox Iron Works existed in Petersburg prior to Steere's.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Grutchfield