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New museum to be a tribute to Waynesboro's industrial giants

August 05, 2000

New museum to be a tribute to Waynesboro's industrial giants



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A museum dedicated to the memory of Waynesboro's four giants of industry opens in a former church building here next month.

The 235 Philadelphia Ave. building, until last year the Reformed Menonnite church, is now home to the Waynesboro Area Industrial Heritage Trust.

The Trust, which acquired the church building for a nominal sum, is turning it into a museum to hold artifacts from Waynesboro's industrial past along with examples of its current industrial life.

Many of the exhibits will focus on the inventive efforts of four men - George Frick, Peter Geiser and brothers Franklin H. and Abraham Landis - who turned Waynesboro from a farming to an industrial community in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Frick opened his steam engine factory in 1861. He sold engines under the Eclipse brand. He also made farm equipment, a product line that continued into the 1950s.

The company later switched to refrigeration equipment, which it still makes today for a worldwide market as a division of York Refrigeration.

Peter Geiser opened his factory to make threshers and other farm equipment. At first, he powered his engines with Frick steam engines.

By 1879, Geiser needed to expand so he bought a steam engine factory owned by the Landis brothers in Lancaster, Pa. He moved the operation to Waynesboro. The Landis brothers came with the deal.

Geiser sold steam-powered farm and road-making equipment under the Peerless brand.

The company went out of business in the 1920s.

The Landis brothers opened a factory to make grinding machines. Other plants evolved from that until today one of the original Landis plants is known as Landis Gardner, a Unova Co., and Landis Threading Systems.

To locals, they will always be Landis Tool and Landis Machine.

"If you know anything about Waynesboro, then you know there was a Landis Tool and a Landis Machine," said Bill Helfrick, a member of the Heritage Trust committee that is setting up the museum. "You either worked for the tool company or the machine company," he said.

Helfrick, 69, retired from Landis Tool as an advertising manager.

Helfrick, and George Buckey, 74, who retired as president of Landis Machine in 1987, and Bill Shank, 62, who retired from Landis Tool as vice president of engineering, were working in the museum last week.

It will open in time for WaynesboroFest, the borough celebration that begins Sept. 15.

At first, the museum will hold mostly small artifacts and papers.

"This building isn't big enough to hold any big steam equipment," Shank said.

"It's taken us 20 years to get this far," he said. "If we don't do it now then all this stuff won't be around in another 20 years."Members of the Trust hope one day to have the resources to move the museum into an industrial-size building that can house some of the now ancient Frick and Geiser steam equipment.

The Menonnite church building was built in 1900. The congregation stopped using it for services when it dropped down to two members.

Land for the church was donated by Franklin F. Landis. He also designed the building, so turning it into an industrial museum is an appropriate use, Buckey said.

The building covers about 2,000 square feet and is in good condition, Helfrick said.

Shank said the idea for an industrial museum surfaced in 1981 with the Greater Waynesboro Area Chamber of Commerce but the effort fizzled.

Three years ago, the Waynesboro Rotary Club decided it wanted to participate in the borough's 250th anniversary celebration during the summer of 1997. It set up an industrial museum with mostly borrowed artifacts in an old outlet mall store on Walnut Street. That became the forerunner of the Trust's museum in the Philadelphia Avenue church building.

Two small steam engines - one Frick and one Geiser - will be prominently displayed in the new museum. The members are rounding up borrowed items to fill the room.

There is no immediate push to acquire major artifacts. For now, the members said they want to begin telling the Waynesboro area's industrial story with documents and photographs.

"This will be a changing display," Shank said. "We want to show that these old industries generated new industries. We want something from every industry in the area, even if it's just sales literature."

The musuem will list the area's industries from 1770, beginning with the iron furnaces at Mont Alto, Pa., and ranging to the Bell pottery shop, an early Waynesboro brick plant and the newest companies that opened shop.

"We want to go beyond just the metal industries that started everything off," Helfrick said.

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