In this second column, I am remembering the history of the Keystone Cement Company in Bath. My research takes me back to 2001 when I interviewed Mrs. Betty Rohn whose father, Clarence Lerch, was a well-known area resident who was superintendent of the company.
Betty recalled representatives of a prospective new company wanting to purchase local farm land to construct a new cement plant. The local area holds the Jacksonburg vein of cement rock. This raw material is the resource which gave birth to our cement industry. The new company, as many before them, saw a future in cement and wanted to construct its facility on this geological formation.
The company contacted Mrs. Rohn's grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dech. They lived in a sturdy farmhouse which is the present site of the Keystone Cement Company.
After much discussion the Dechs agreed to sell 66 acres to the new company. In 2001 Mrs. Rohn still had the deed and agreement which marked the beginning of Keystone. The agreement is dated Sept. 29, 1925.
Most of the payment to the Dechs was in company stock. This certainly did not guarantee the new venture would be a success.
The agreement was signed by Thomas and Alavesta Dech.
The driving force behind the new plant was a local and national cement legend, Mr. Fred Franks. He was known for his organizing ability and engineering genius in the cement industry. Mr. Franks' leadership could be documented as he had been successful in constructing earlier plants – one at Martins Creek which he sold to Alpha Cement, the Lehigh Portland plant at Sandt's Eddy and the Bath Portland Cement Company.
He was elected vice president and general manager of the new company. A capitalist from Philadelphia named John Barnes purchased the majority of common stock and was elected president.
Mr. Franks stated the new plant would have the most modern cement-making machinery in the world. The plant would have the largest cement-burning kilns in the world. The two kilns measured 10 feet by 12 feet by 250 feet, with a 12-foot-long cooling section.
The Allentown Morning Call on Oct. 21, 1928, devoted an entire section to the new plant. The feature was given to me by Mr. Stephen Hayden, former manager of the Keystone. Steve and his father gave the company 68 years of dedicated service.
Few of the original companies who aided in the construction are still in existence.
The quarry cars were built by Easton Cars. Other companies involved included plumber Frank Ricker, Easton; Bethlehem Foundry; Ambler Asbestos Shingles; McDermott Brothers, Allentown; Fuller Company, Catasauqua; Morris Black; H.N. Crowder Electric; C.Y. Shelly Hardware; H.S. Shaffer, Nazareth; and the famous machinery manufacturer Polysius Corporation.
The plant started production in July using the wet process, with coal as the primary fuel.
In 2001 I received a letter from Susan Kirk of Nazareth concerning her uncle Mr. Fred Franks. She noted besides constructing the Keystone and a number of cement plants, he constructed numerous homes in Philadelphia and in 1934 purchased Horlacher Brewery in Allentown. The legendary cement icon died in May 1968 at the age of 98.
Although an Allentown resident, the intersection of Route 329 and Airport Road was named Franks Corner. Mr. Franks also donated an organ to Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church, Bath, in memory of his wife.
As I drive past Franks Corner on my visits to the Keystone Cement Company, I pass Kapco Stone, the former site of the Bath Portland Cement Company. One's mind returns to a time when cement was king and Mr. Fred Franks was the prince of the industry.
In two weeks we'll remember Keystone Cement from the perspective of one of the plant's first employees.