John Schwalm

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The career of the subject of this sketch is a remarkably good illustration of the success that can be attained in life, however humble the beginning, through industry, enterprise and honesty.

John Schwalm was born in Hesse-Cassel, Prussia, February 27, 1835, and was the son of John George and Catharine Elizabeth (Koehler) Schwalm. He came to America with his father in 1852, landing August 14, and coming immediately to Leechburg, in this county, by way of the old Pennsylvania canal, from Philadelphia. The first labor that he performed was done soon after his arrival, for he was determined to make his way to an independency in his chosen country, and cared little how he began, provided it was in honorable employment. He went out to that part of old Allegheny township which is now Bethel, and began as a laborer upon the AIlegheny Valley Railroad. His father bought a small farm in what is now Parks township, and his son subsequently worked for him a few years. In 1863, however, he went into the mercantile business in a country store, which he carried on with growing success until 1871. He then went into partnership with W. H. Carnahan (under the style of Schwalm & Carnahan), and bought what was known as Cochran's mill, in Burrell township. He was there engaged in the milling and mercantile business until the fall of 1876, when he went to Leechburg and bought the Hill mill property. He built a new mill on the site of the old one, in which he did a good business until 1881, when it was unfortunately carried away by ice. Mr. Schwalm gave the people of Leechburg evidence that he intended to remain there, when he came in 1876, by purchasing the homestead of David Leech, the founder of the town. And a further indication of his intention was afforded in 1877, when he erected the large two-story store building in which he has since carried on a heavy business. He bought also and rebuilt the Ulam Hotel, now known as the Schwalm House. He is a one-half owner of the Elwood flouringmill (the old Leech mill), and has an interest in three coal mines in Westmoreland county, not far from Leechburg. Besides these investments and his store, he owns three farms in Armstrong county. His property has all been accumulated by his own exertion and enterprise, and his quite phenomenal prosperity, extending and increasing through a period of more than thirty years, marks him as a man of unusual ability, judgment and industry. He is in all respects worthy of the success he has achieved. His business ability has been a powerful factor in the improvement of Leechburg, for he has done a great deal directly and indirectly to advance the interests of the town. He is liberal and public spirited, and always one of the foremost in any enterprise for the good of the community.

In politics Mr. Schwalm is a democrat. He has never been an office seeker, but his popularity and strength being recognized in his party, he was nominated for the assembly in 1882. There was a majority of 600 votes in the county for the republicans and they made a strong canvass, yet Mr. Schwalm was defeated by only sixteen ballots.

Mr. Schwalm was married in 1854, to Sarah Smail, daughter of Jacob Smail, an early settler in that part of old Allegheny township now known as Bethel township, The offspring of this union were nine children -- Catharine Elizabeth (Carson), Anna Mary (Taylor), John Matthew, Margaret, Matilda, Sarah Amanda, Ida Louisa, Charles Bismark and Edward Walter. The oldest son is engaged in the study of law in Attorney-Gen. Brewster's office, in Philadelphia.

Source: Page(s) 606-607, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
December 2000 by Jeffrey Bish for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Jeffrey Bish for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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