Quakers, Saw Mills & The Founding Father of Goldsboro

The town of Goldsboro was officially founded in 1850, and for the first 40 or 50 years of its growth and success was largely due to the industriousness of one man, Isaac Frazer

But people were living in the area of Goldsboro before it became a town, and the Frazer family was actually living in the area for over 100 years before Goldsboro was organized.

The colonial Frazers

As the colony of Pennsylvania continued to expand in the 1700s, settlers in turn migrated west to newly acquired land purchased from various indigenous nations. In October 1736, the northern part of what is now York County was purchased from the Five Indian Nations.

Map of Land Purchases from Indegenous Nations - Pennsylvania State Archives

About a dozen or two Quaker families emigrated from New Castle County and southern Chester County in eastern Pennsylvania, to northern Lancaster County (later to become northern York County) on the west shore of the Susquehanna River. These included Nathan Hussey that opened a ferry across the Susquehanna (later called Etter’s Ferry or Middletown Ferry), John Day that built the first mill in northern York county by 1740 (in present day Goldsboro), and Abraham Frazer, that settled in the Red Land Valley (near present day Lewisberry).

1735 Alexander Frazer land warrant for 200 acres west of the Susquehanna

The Quakers kept records of their meetings they had at their meeting houses. One of the first recorded marriages in northern York County of Europeans, was of Alexander Frazer to Phebe Elliot in 1743 at a public meeting that was witnessed by Nathan Hussey and John Day, among about two dozen others. 

Isaac & Phebe record of marriage 1743, from Quaker marriage records, 1738-1830

Alexander Frazer and Phebe had at least 5 children. Alexander also had at least two brothers that settled in the same area, James and Aaron. Aaron Frazer built a mill at the mouth of Bennett Run in 1760. 

1821 - Frazer Mill in Red Land Valley - Prunk Mill future site of Goldsboro

The Frazers continued to live in the Red Land Valley and be a part of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Alexander died in 1758. One of his sons was named Aaron (1745-1778), who had a son that he named after his father, Alexander (ca1770-1816). Alexander had a son named John (1796-1879) who was very industrious like his predecessors. 

York Recorder - Jun 28, 1820

Continuing down the line, our subject Isaac Frazer was born in May 1820 to John and Phebe (Warren) Frazer near Lewisberry in the Red Land Valley. He was the oldest of 9 children. 

History of York County by John Gibson, 1886

Early in his boyhood days he turned his attention to mechanical pursuits, assisting his father in the manufacture of coffee mills and door locks, near the Red Land Quaker Meeting House that was built in 1811. He remained at home with his father until he was 21 years of age, working at this business and receiving nothing but his clothing and board. When he was ready to set out on his own, he started with a capital of $400, and he began the mercantile business in a small room adjoining his father’s factory, and continued the same until 1852.

Coffee mill from Lewisberry, similar to what the Frazer's made

By this time, the Frazer family had now been living in the Red Land area for over 100 years. On March 9, 1848 Isaac started a new venture in life: marriage. He married Susan Kister, the daughter the Rev. Jacob Kister, who was in charge of the Sabbath School that met in the River Meeting House in the Fishing Creek Valley, next to the Susquehanna River. 

In 1849, Isaac purchased a lot and erected a building in which he and his brother-in-law, George Washington Kister, opened a general merchandise store over near that River Meeting House where a new town was being established.

The York Gazette - Dec 17, 1850

In 1850, something new was coming that would transform the area. It was the railroad, and with it came new business opportunities, especially in the newly laid out town of Goldsborough

1863 Railroad Map - Library of Congress

By 1851 Isaac Frazer, taking advantage of this excellent opportunity, erected a large warehouse and office, where he could buy, sell and ship goods with easy access to the railroad beside it. But this would be just the beginning of his involvement in Goldsboro. 

Frazer Warehouse - 1876 Atlas of York County

Saw mills

Pennsylvania seemed to have an inexhasable amount of trees. This led to a lumber boom in many places like Williamsport and Lock Haven up in the West Branch of the Susquehanna. 

Old Growth Logging in PA - Pennsylvania State Archives

With the new railroad, and access to the Susquehanna River, Frazer thought that Goldsboro was a perfect location to erect a saw mill and start a new venture. He and his father in law, Rev. Jacob Kister, went into a partnership and in 1852 erected a saw and planing mill at the end of Broadway, in between the railroad tracks and the river. 

Frazer Saw Mill Goldsboro - 1876 Atlas of York County

Frazer’s Mill became one of the most prominent businesses in Goldsboro of the time, making Isaac the most prominent resident. 

York Gazette and Business Directory - 1856

The whole logging system that was set up for cutting required river access for the logs to be transported to the saw mills. Log rafts were floated down the Susquehanna after being chopped down in the forests further north.

Lumber Raft on the Susquhannna - Pennsylvania State Archives

The White House, on the river near Highspire was a stopping point for many rafts, and was also on the way to Goldsboro just downstream. 

The Evening Dispatch - Oct 15, 1877

Logs would then be drawn up from the river into the saw mill for cutting. I wonder if in this drawing below if that is supposed to be Frazer with the top hat. I wouldn’t imagine someone working in a suit and hat at a mill. 

Frazer Saw Mill Goldsboro - 1876 Atlas of York County

At that time, you could go to Frazer’s planing mill and buy 1,000 feet of lumber, white pine, one foot wide and one inch thick, in the rough for $14.

The Evening Dispatch - Oct 15, 1877

40,000 logs? Waiting along the river to be pulled into the saw mills? Imagine what that would have looked like.

Logs on the Susquehanna near Williamsport - Pennsylvania State Archives

By 1873, Frazer was leasing the other saw mill in Goldsboro, at the south end of town where Fishing Creek intersects with the Susquehanna. The Atlantic Saw Mill was erected around 1854 by Killian Small and William Stair. Later it was owned by the P.A. & S. Small Co. of York, which had also owned the “Old Red Mill” in Goldsboro, the grist mill that had been erected by John Day before 1740, and was later owned by John Prunk.

Atlantic Saw Mill Goldsboro - 1876 Atlas of York County

It’s fair to say that business was going very well for Isaac Frazer, and the town of Goldsboro.

The True Democrat - Oct 20, 1868

Believe it or not, by the mid 1850s there were three saw mills in the area of Goldsboro. Frazer’s mill and the Atlantic Mill were in town, and in the river on Hill Island there was also the Swatara Saw Mill that had been in operation since at least 1842. Combine that with the 100 year old red grist mill also in Goldsboro, there was quite an industry happening in the area of this brand new village. 

Mills in operation in the 1850s (photo not from 1800s)

In the 1856 York Gazette and Business Directory, it describes Goldsboro and the output of its three mills:

York Gazette and Business Directory - 1856

Erecting a town

Isaac Frazer’s business interests helped to employ residents, and also literally helped put Goldsboro on the map. Frazer was also heavily involved with a number of groups and institutions. One of his first duties after moving to the new town was being the postmaster in 1851.

Some of the businesses in Goldsboro - 1860

As more families moved in, more kids needed a place to learn. Before Goldsboro’s founding, school took place for many years at the River Meeting House. But by 1860 there was a new school house constructed on the corner of York and Zeigler streets, where the current borough office is now. Eventually there were two school houses across the street from each other, one for the lower grades and one for the upper grades. 

Isaac Frazer had a young family, with his son Edgar being born in 1857, so he had an interest in not only helping to provide a school for the town, but also in the education of his own son. Frazer was the president of the Goldsboro school board and sat on the board for a number of years. 

The True Democrat - Sep 18, 1866

Before Goldsboro was founded in 1850, there was already a Church of God congregation that met near the river on Rev. Jacob Kister’s property, in what was referred to as the River Meeting House. This building also doubled as a school and was used for other gatherings. As that church congregation grew, and Goldsboro grew, they felt like they could use a larger building. So, Isaac Frazer was the chief contributor and donated lumber for the erection of the first church building in Goldsboro, the Church of God. The cornerstone was laid on August 9, 1857,  and the church was officially dedicated on Whit Sunday (Pentecost) in 1858. The total cost of the building was $2000.

Goldsboro Church of God - Erected 1857

By the time the Civil War was raging, the village of Goldsboro was growing and prospering. A number of residents petitioned to incorporate Goldsboro as a borough, and the first name at the top of the list was none other that Isaac Frazer.

List of residents who signed Goldsborough incorporation petition - April 1864

Frazer continued to build. He owned multiple lots and built houses on those lots, in addition to possibly adding to his saw and planning mill buildings.  

The Evening Dispatch - Aug 30, 1877

Goldsboro expanded south into what was referred to as South Goldsboro at the time. Almost certainly most or all of the houses being built used lumber from Frazer’s planing mills in their construction. 

1876 Map of Goldsboro - Atlas of York County
Harrisburg Telegraph - Apr 17, 1877

Goldsboro never was a large town, but with the trajectory it was taking in the industrial post Civil War era, the sky seemed to be the limit for the town, and for Isaac Frazer. 

Church of God on left, Frazer Mill at end of the street - ca1908

Political Aspirations

With being a successful businessman, naturally Frazer became a voice for the people in the area, and some limited success and involvement in Pennsylvania politics. His first known attempt was running to be a state representative just after the Civil War. 

The True Democrat - Sep 25, 1866

Early in his life, Frazer aligned himself with the Whig party. Then as the Republican party of Lincoln began to replace the conservative Whigs, Frazer followed suit. 

The True Democrat - Sep 25, 1866

Frazer did not win the seat in the house of Representatives in 1866, but the next year he did successfully become a delegate in the Republican State convention.

York Gazette - Sep 3, 1867

When President Ulysses S. Grant was elected in 1872, Isaac Frazer was one of the members of the Pennsylvania Electoral College that cast the vote for his presidency.

Frazer’s involvement in politics seemed to just be part time. He again ran to be a delegate at the Pennsylvania Republican state convention in 1878.

Carlisle Weekly Herald - Apr 25, 1878

Church of God

Isaac Frazer’s side activities were not limited to politics and education, he was also involved in church activities. Frazer’s ancestors were Quakers, but by the time of his adulthood, Isaac had been a part of a newer denomination that had grown out of the leadership of mainly one man from Harrisburg, John Winebrenner, which was called the Church of God

Isaac Frazer’s father-in-law Rev. Jacob Kister was heavily involved in this new denomination, and was in charge of the congregation that had been meeting in Goldsboro a decade or two before Goldsboro’s founding. Isaac Frazer’s wife, Susan Kister, was one of the first to be baptized into this local congregation. Isaac became a huge patron of the local church, already having to help construct a new church building mentioned earlier. 

Goldsboro Church of God, ca1910

But Frazer’s involvement with the Church of God denomination went beyond just the local Goldsboro congregation. Frazer’s name can be found assisting other Church of God congregations.

Harrisburg Telegraph - Jan 6, 1870 (edited)

Frazer was also involved on a larger denominational level, serving on the board of publications for a number of years.

Findlay Weekly Jeffersonian - Jun 4, 1885

In the early 1880s, the denomination was looking to found a college for those interested in higher education. This opportunity seemed to combine two of Frazer’s passions: education and the church. 

Old Main - Findlay College, Findlay Ohio

In 1882, a college was founded in Findlay Ohio by the Church of God in partnership with the city of Findlay, and Isaac Frazer was elected as the first President of the Board of Trustees. He was a liberal contributor toward the erection of this promising educational institution, and devoted considerable time to the welfare of it.

History of Findlay College - Findlay Catalog

One hundred years later, Findlay College became the University of Findlay and is still in operation today.

Fires, floods and failures

Up until this point, Frazer has seemed to have tremendous business success, as well as success in other areas of life. Unfortunately, in the 1880s Isaac Frazer’s fortunes started to change. 

Evening Dispatch - Jul 9, 1881

Fire destroyed the Atlantic Saw Mill that Frazer was leasing. This fire wasn’t going to stop their business. Plans to rebuild were immediately drawn up. 

York Evening Dispatch - Sep 17, 1881

Frazer’s string of bad luck continued, although it wasn’t as big of a loss as the fire, being robbed is still frustrating

York Evening Dispatch - Sep 28, 1881

It’s hard to imagine, but at this time there were no fire engines in the area. Goldsboro would not have it’s own fire company until 1917. Houses were made mostly of wood, and stoves and fireplaces were the main sources of heat. Sparks from a passing locomotive were also known to land on roof shingles and start fires near the tracks.

And for Frazer, just a few years later there was another fire

The York Daily - Mar 3, 1886

If these fires destroying mills wasn’t bad enough, it appears that Frazer had stretched himself too much with his properties, and perhaps investment in Findlay College. By this time he had accumulated a number of lots and houses in Goldsboro, in addition to his farm houses and land around the area. His finances reached a tipping point, and his debts were called in

The York Dispatch - May 18, 1886

Isaac Frazer was forced to sell multiple properties and houses that he owned in order to settle the debt of $100,000, but his assets are said to only cover about half of the debt.

Just some of Frazer property for sale - The Democratic Age - Sep 28, 1886

If his debts being called in weren’t a big blow enough, part of his business interests were also heading into trouble. The Pennsylvania lumber industry started to collapse as a result of deforestation. 

Harrisburg Daily Independent - May 11, 1889

Around 1887, Issac Frazer had passed on operations to his son Edgar K. Frazer. The lower Atlantic Saw Mill was no longer in operation because of the last fire. Frazer had other products for sale, so the mill at the end of Broadway was able to continue to cut wood for sashes, doors and blinds. 

The warehouse across the street was also where their business would store and sell other products, like tobacco and coal, among other things. 

Frazer's Factory and Lumber Yard - 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

Although the mill that Frazer built was no longer drawing in the same volume of logs that it used to because of the collapse of the logging industry, it was still a prominent business in Goldsboro.

Frazer Mill - Late 1800s

The Atlantic Sawmill that Frazer had leased in the 1870s, and burned in the 1880s had been laying in ruins for around 5 years. By the 1890s the remains were started to be cleaned up

Harrisburg Telegraph - Jun 23, 1892

The 100 foot high “Atlantic Monument” would be torn down a few months later, with the bricks cleaned and re-purposed for some other future construction. The mill that had been erected in 1854 was no more. 

Atlantic Saw Mill - ca1855

It wasn’t just fires that could threaten these mills along the Susquehanna. Every 20 to 30 years on average, there was a major flood on the river. In June 1889, basements were flooded and homes were damaged. People remember this flood as the famous Johnstown Flood of ’89

But it was an ice flood that was even more threatening than just a regular flood.

Piles of ice near Goldsboro - 1904

The great Ice Flood of 1904 was a dangerous combination of water and broken up ice that acted like concrete when it smashed into buildings and bridges. When it would jam across the river, the water would rise and overflow the riverbanks, entering into basements, shoving against buildings and submerging railroad tracks so nothing could get through. 

The York Daily - Mar 5, 1904

The damage to York Haven was famous at the time, completely destroying the power plant and paper mill. Many of the islands in the river also had farm houses destroyed and on Shelly’s Island the school house was carried off

1904 Ice Flood - Frazer's Smokestack

Goldsboro was somewhat lucky. There was still a lot of damage to some of the houses along the river, and many basements were flooded but not completely destroyed. Frazer’s mill on the river received some damage, but left most of the structures still standing, although at this point Frazer’s Mill really couldn’t afford to take another hit. 

The York Dispatch - Mar 11, 1904

Like after the other fires and floods of the past, Goldsboro families would rebuild their houses and businesses, but this time the Frazer mill did not recover. It closed down for good after the flood of 1904. The buildings remained by the railroad tracks for a few more years, with its smokestack and bell tower still a part of the skyline. 

1910 Smokestack and Bell Tower still in view over the river houses

By 1908, another fire insurance map came out, reporting on the condition of the factory and the other buildings around it. I’m sure they would not want to shell out some money if a dilapidated building were to catch fire. As you can see compared to the 1894 map above, the saw mill and platform is now completely gone, with just the planing mill and factory building still remaining. 

"Vacated & Dilapidated" Frazer Factory - 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

The vacant factory building became overgrown with weeds, and windows were broken. The most prominent business from early Goldsboro, was now an eyesore

1910 Dilapidated Frazer Factory

The factory still remained in plain view at the end of Broadway, a reminder of the industry that used to be more prominent in the last century. 

1910 Goldsboro Square looking towards the river

After a few years of being vacant, Edgar Frazer decided to tear down the old mill buildings in the early spring of 1911. 

The York Gazette - Mar 23, 1911

The last remaining business interest of the Frazers was the warehouse that was on the first spot where Isaac Frazer started doing business in Goldsboro in 1851. And to add insult to injury, it was the final structure to be destroyed

The York Gazette - Apr 13, 1911

Edgar Frazer no longer had any businesses in Goldsboro, however he still had other interests in Lemoyne and up river from Goldsboro, that continued for many years into the 20th century. 


There were of course a number of men and families that were there in the first few years of establishing the town of Goldsboro in 1850, by setting up a business or building a home, but there are only a handful whose contributions are many, and within those few it’s hard to find another man that did more than Isaac Frazer. 

Industry, education, church and residential life – Frazer was involved in all of them. Through some disasters and maybe overextending his finances, his wealth diminished to be a bit more modest at the end. He had retired to a house he had built in Harrisburg, and lived to be 80 years old.

The York Daily - May 21, 1900

Isaac Frazer was buried in the East Harrisburg Cemetery, where he apparently has an “in” because his son Edgar was for a time the President of the East Harrisburg Cemetery Association. Many from his and Edgar’s family are buried here also in this same plot. 

Frazer Family Monument - East Harrisburg Cemetery

One lasting legacy of the Frazer name still exists in Findlay Ohio, where a street was named for him at the Findlay College, now University. 

Frazer Street at Findlay University - Google Street View

And of course that wasn’t the only place named after Frazer. Right here in Goldsboro, Frazer Street has been around for over 150 years.

Frazer Street in Goldsboro, looking up York Street

*In addition to the newspaper articles, much of the information for Isaac Frazer and his family came from the History of York County, compiled by John Gibson in 1886.

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