Reprinted from the 'Sancler Times' by kind permission of Alan Evans
The mid to late 19th Century saw a massive increase in emigration from Europe to the United States. Sometimes it was for religious reasons like the Mormons or to escape political persecution as in Russia and Eastern Europe. More often however it was simply a desire to seek your fortune and a new life in the exciting expanding economy of the new world. Often these dreams ended in disillusionment and sadness. For others by dint of ambition and hard work, they achieved their goals and ended up with great success and a life style they might have not achieved had they stayed in Europe. Wales provided its share of ambitious emigrants, and there are many stories of Welsh men and women who did extremely well in their new homeland. One such story that involved a family from Carmarthenshire is that of Jane Rees and her brothers, Thomas, Charles, and James. They came from a well-known Lower St Clears family, several of whom were burgesses and involved in the town’s affairs. Their grandfather John and father David were builders and cabinetmakers.
Jane was first to emigrate in 1869 leaving to marry a man called Jeremiah Reeves. Jeremiah was a native of Dorset whom she had met whilst he was studying the trade of boiler making and structural iron working in Wales. Jeremiah had emigrated to Pennsylvania two years earlier in 1867, and had already had found work there. On Jane’s arrival they were married and set up house together. Four years later in 1873, by dint of hard work, Jeremiah and his brother Jabez who had also emigrated managed to start their own boiler works at a town called Niles in the next door state of Ohio. Their success in this encouraged them nine years later to sell their business and take over the operations of the much bigger, but ailing Dover Rolling Mills in the same state in 1883. They renamed the company The Reeves Iron Company with Jeremiah as its head and Jabez as plant superintendent. Again by dint of hard work and business acumen, they had become by 1896 one of the largest employers in that part of Ohio, employing nearly a thousand workers.
By the turn of the century they were so prosperous that Jeremiah and his son Samuel sold the mills to a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. Samuel formed a new company and called it the Reeves Manufacturing Company, which again produced steel and other metal products. Unfortunately Samuel died tragically soon afterwards, and Jeremiah had to come out of retirement to resume control of the company. The new company continued to prosper, building four new mills in 1912, and then branching out into banking, transport and the hotel industries. By now Jeremiah and Jane were extremely wealthy and besides their splendid Dover residence they had a winter home in Palm Springs Florida. Jeremiah died there in 1920 and Jane died there in 1926.
Undoubtedly the success of their sister and brother in law encouraged Jane’s brothers James, Charles and Thomas to make the same journey across the Atlantic. James and his wife Amelia arrived in Dover in 1892 time of the plant’s sale to U.S.Steel, its General Superintendent. James following the family tradition was a skilled builder and cabinetmaker having trained in Liverpool and London, and when the plant was sold he used this experience to remodel the beautiful and large mansion, which had been bought by his sister and brother in law.
This splendid house is now known as the “J.E.Reeves Victorian Home and Carriage House Museum” and was donated by Jane and Jeremiah’s last surviving daughter Agnes to the Dover Historical Society. The society was fortunate also to inherit the original furnishings and heirlooms belonging to the house. The society has been able to restore the house accurately and show visitors how the house looked in 1900, when the Reeves family were at the height of their prosperity. I am indebted to Mrs Patti Feller of Dover Ohio U.S.A. Mrs Feller is the Great Grand Daughter of Jane Rees’s brother Thomas. Mrs Feller is now a guide for visitors to the Reeves home and is able to explain its connections to Wales. It is now 140 years since Jane Rees left St. Clears. Mrs Feller’s visit in 2009 has maintained a link with St Clears that has now survived for four generations. Mrs Feller hopes that her grandson’s visit will ensure it is carried on for further generations.