David Weatherly: Railroad Executive, Silversmith, Clock and Watch Maker

David Weatherly
Grandfather clock face
It’s funny how specialized Society has become. Perhaps it is just as funny how diverse the skills of persons in the past could be. A prime example was an emigrant to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – David Weatherly, Sr.

Who Was David Weatherly?

Born 14 Jun 1779 at Berwick upon Tweed, County Northumberland, England, David married “Molly” Lawson, daughter of grocer Joseph Lawson on 9 Feb 1806. The couple would eventually have some nine children, the youngest being Ellen Weatherly, born in 1826. David would die 05 Feb 1851 in Philadelphia. His most famous child would have been David Weatherly, Jr., the “Philadelphia Lawyer”.

The Couple in Philadelphia

These last decade of the 1790s and for perhaps a handful of years thereafter, Philadelphia was devastated by the mosquito-borne Yellow Fever. Many lost their lives; the fever even threatened the developing United States government!

David’s father-in-law, Joseph, would die little more than a year after David and Molly’s marriage, on 14 August 1807, of gangrene. David was the executor of Joseph’s will. In it, David is listed as a clock and watch maker. Just a handful of years later, David was to enlist in the army as a private in the War of 1812.

Later, to his “job description” were added silversmith and railroad executive. The railroad he was associated with was the Beaver Meadows Railroad, one of the oldest in the country, being established in the early 1830s. David Weatherly was on the Board of Directors.¹

David Takes a Trip

David Weatherly
Weatherly spoons
On one occasion about 1848, David traveled there by rail to Black Creek, some 90 miles from Philadelphia. A post office was constructed in that year, but no town clock had been built. So he struck a deal with local residents. If they would change the name of the town to Weatherly, he would build them a fine, large clock. Agreed! Only, it never happened. David never built the town a clock. He simply disappeared! Why?

I couldn’t let the opportunity to find out go. You see, I am the 3x-Greatgrandson of David Weatherly. I was researching him, when I encountered local historians. Some might think David conned the town. But what would be gained by that? Still, why didn’t he build the clock? I started searching available online documents and requesting volunteers for data lookups.

Data, Reflection, Conclusion

David Weatherly
Mrs. C.M. Schwab School 1908
With a little effort, I found David Weatherly in the 1850 U.S. Census. He had returned to his home. He is listed with his wife and two of his children in the South Mulberry ward of Philadelphia. At first this didn’t seem to help. So I tried the 1860 Census. No David Weatherly. It appeared he’d probably died. Next, to his death certificate. During that time period, such documents were often quite simple and difficult to read. Would I find him? I did.

A Doctor James Bryan reported David’s dying on 05 Feb 1851 of urinary organs disease. It’s hard to say absolutely, but it certainly sounds like bladder or testicular cancer. Doubtless David’s last days would have been painful ones. Unfortunately, these few pieces of data are all I have. But maybe they suffice to come to a reasonable conclusion.

Clearly, there would have been little to gain by getting the town to change its name to his name if that name would become a stench to the residents. And who was to stop the town from changing the name back? Yet, it didn’t do that. The town is still Weatherly, Carbon County, Pennsylvania today. There is the strong possibility David Weatherly felt the need to leave for a good reason, although historians do not record his informing the town of his imminent departure.

David Weatherly
David may have begun to experience severe pain and returned to Philadelphia to receive medical treatment. The illness would not have gotten better upon his return. It may well have kept him at home. Reasoning on the data, and in the spirit of giving the benefit of the doubt, it appears David Weatherly, Sr. simply came home to die.

The Good News Is…David Weatherly

Weatherly eventually got its town clock. As Weatherly historian John Koehler relates,

“Charles Schwab, who had married a Weatherly girl, gave the town a new three story 10 room school house as a gift to the community in 1901. His wife placed a town clock on the top of the schoolhouse to fulfill David Weatherly’s promise of a town clock…”

Charles Michael Schwab was, of course, the American steel magnate, who empowered Bethlehem steel to become the 2nd largest steel maker in the United States. His wife was Emma Eurana “Rana” Dinkey Schwab.

¹ Many facts, especially related to Weatherly, PA history, were related by personal communications with historians Jack Sterling and John Koehler.

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One Comment

  • Vincent Summers Reply

    Interestingly, history John Koehler informer me that one of David’s clocks was placed in the “President James Buchanan home in Lancaster.”

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