- For his son, see Charlemagne Tower, Jr..
Charlemagne Tower, (April 18, 1809 – July 26, 1889) was an American lawyer, soldier, and businessman.
Early life and start of law career
Charlemagne Tower was born on April 18, 1809 in Paris, Oneida County, New York, the eldest of the eight children of Reuben Tower, a New York State Legislator, and Deborah Taylor Pierce. Tower took his early schooling at the Oxford Academy, and then at the Clinton and Utica Academies. In 1824, at the age of 14, Tower taught school in Oneida County. The next year, he was made an assistant teacher at the Utica Academy. Tower entered Harvard in 1827, and graduated in 1830.
In the interim, Reuben Tower relocated his family to Waterville, NY, purchasing a property that still stands at the intersection of West Main St (Rt 12) and Tower St. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 as the Tower Homestead and Masonic Temple. Upon graduation, Tower apprenticed himself to Hermanus Bleeker of Albany. He returned to Waterville in 1832 upon the death of Reuben, who had removed himself to St Augustine, FL for health reasons. After settling these affairs, he was employed with the Graham Law Office of New York City, where he was admitted to the bar in 1836. He began his own practice in a former small schoolhouse which is part of the Tower homestead in Waterville.
Activities in Pennsylvania
In 1846, Tower relocated to Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, PA, in order to work with the legal issues regarding land claims to large coal and mineral deposits in that area. While there, he married Amelia Malvina Bartle on June 14, 1847. They had seven children: Charlemagne Jr. (Born April 17, 1848 in Philadelphia), Sara Louisa (Born August 6, 1849 in Orwigsburg), Deborah Taylor (Born February 4, 1851 in Orwigsburg), Emma (Born June 15, 1852 in Pottsville), Elizabeth (Born March 2, 1854 in Pottsville, and died a year and a half later), Henrietta (Born October 26, 1856 in Pottsville), and Grace Williams (Born May 15, 1859 in Pottsville). He re-established his Pennsylvania practice in Pottsville in 1850, when it was made the Schuylkill County seat. The Towers made their home at the corner of South 4th Street and Mahantongo Street, one block from the location of the Yuengling Brewery. He served as counsel in many land-ownership disputes, which granted him not only a very high reputation in and around Schuylkill County, but an enormous amount of wealth as well. The most famous of these cases was the Munson-Williams affair, which would take nearly twenty five years to complete.
The Munson-Williams Case
Not long after Tower came to Pottsville, he began furiously purchasing and clearing liens to lands containing large anthracite deposits in and around Schuylkill County. This was part of an elaborate land grab scheme devised by Tower and his partner, Alfred Munson of Utica, NY.
The plan called for Tower to use his legal acumen to clear all the liens and opposing claims to the 8,000-acre (32 km2) Munson-Williams claim, and to all the land around it. In short, the partners hoped to create a single landed estate, which would have measured 65 miles by 4½ miles (105 km by 7 km) at its widest point in southwest Schuylkill County. In return, Tower was to receive ownership and title to one half of all the land acquired once all the cost to Munson had been settled, or until Tower paid him half the value of the total land purchase.
At the time, the Schuylkill Valley was a hotly contested property, with constant conflicts over titles and rights. Had any of their competitors became aware of what Tower and Munson were up to, they may well have bought up the land the pair were after, and charged exorbitant prices for it. Or worse, refuse to sell it at all. Thus, they chose to operate in secret. Tower would make the purchases, and convey the titles to legal dummies to hide the actual ownership of the land.
By 1858 Tower and Munson were owners of eleven thousand acres (45 km²). By now, Munson and Tower's plan was well out of the bag, and anyone who had even a partial claim to any of the lands began to litigate. Only Tower's considerable skill as a lawyer kept the whole enterprise from falling apart.
In 1867, Tower decided to start selling the lands, wanting to realize his interest in them. Unfortunately, he could not find a buyer at the time due to the title issues. Deciding instead to establish collieries on the land, in March 1868 he leased 1,503 acres (6 km²) to two independent coal companies. It was a 15 year term, with a rental of $.30 for each ton of coal mined. The companies placed two collieries on the land, the Tower and the Brookside. Near the collieries, Tower began to develop a small town, which was named Tower City when first surveyed. Tower laid out the town, and rented lots to settlers.
Around this time, Franklin Gowen, President of the Reading Railroad, had begun purchasing coal lands along the Railroad's right-of-way for the express purpose of building an anthracite coal monopoly. When Gowen had accumulated 70,000 acres (283 km²), Tower accepted his offer of purchase for his lands. Tower asked for and received $3 million from Gowen, for which Tower realized a profit of $1.5 million as per the original contract with the Munson family. (Alfred Munson died in May 1854.)
The Civil War
Within ten days of the outbreak of hostilities at Ft. Sumter, SC on April 12, 1861, Tower recruited some 270 Schuylkill County men to enter the Union Army under a three month enlistment agreement. This unit was referred to as the "Tower Guards", and they were created as Company H of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment, which in turn was attached to a brigade commanded by Major General Robert Patterson. Tower was installed as the unit captain, and he uniformed and armed his troops at his own expense.
This unit most notably served in the engagement at Falling Waters in July 1861. This battle is considered a Union victory, but the failure of Patterson to pursue Confederate movements into the Shenandoah Valley allowed them to regroup and contributed to the later Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run.
When the unit was mustered out of service later in July of that same year, the members of Tower's unit presented him with a ceremonial sword in "their respect for him as a man and soldier, and their esteem for him as a friend."
Post-Civil War activities
After Tower's active Civil War service (yet still in the midst of settling the Munson-Williams case), he was named the U.S. Provost Marshal for Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District. He served from April, 1863 through May, 1864. He continued his Pottsville law practice until moving to Philadelphia in 1875. At this time, he engaged in several business ventures, such as proprietorship of the Honeybrook Coal Company, and membership of the board of directors of the Northern Pacific Railway. Financial difficulties in the early 1870s forced the Northern Pacific to sell off much of its lands in the upper Midwest, which brought Tower into possession of large tracts of land in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington.
Activities in the Midwest
Tower City, North Dakota
In 1878, a man named George Ellsbury, a former artist for Harper's Weekly and Leslie's Illustrated Magazine turned real estate agent, came to Tower's lands in Cass and Barnes Counties, ND. Convinced that the area then known as Spring Tank would be the ideal setting for a community, Ellsbury contacted Tower about purchasing the site. Tower then hired Ellsbury as his land agent for this area, offering him a 5% commission on all land sold to incoming farmers, and a pass for unlimited travel on the Northern Pacific. Ellisbury acquired Spring Tank by January 1879, and laid out the town that came to be known as Tower City, after Ellsbury's benefactor. Tower had written Ellsbury requesting that he name the town after himself instead, but that request was turned down.
After several failed schemes to increase the prominence of Tower City, such as having it named the capital of the Dakota Territory, or creating a new county with Tower City as the county seat, Ellsbury decided to open a new university, again named after Tower. Meeting with Baptist leaders who were looking to establish a college in the Dakotas, Ellsbury promised them a $100,000 contribution from Charlemagne Tower if they settle in Tower City. They agreed, and construction began in 1884.
Tower elected after the fact to not contribute the promised amount, and construction immediately ceased. Instead, he donated $4,500 in cash and a 1,500 volume library. Another $5000 was raised by local residents, and classes began in a downtown hotel. Only 30 students registered the first year, 1886. The next year, enrollment dropped to 20, so the university was closed at the end of that school year.
The Vermillion Range
In 1865, a Minnesota state geologist discovered gold and silver bearing quartz near Vermillion Lake in northern Minnesota. This touched off a short-lived gold rush to the area called the Vermillion Range, a stretch of land between Vermillion Lake and an area just to the east of Shagawa Lake. While miners prospecting for gold were striking out, others were discovering that the area was rich in iron ore. George C. Stone, a banker from Duluth, heard of large ore deposits in the Mesaba Range, which lies west of the Vermillion. He approached Charlemagne Tower in his Philadelphia office in 1873 to discuss the property.
Tower agreed to a prospecting party on the Mesaba, sending his son-in-law, R.H. Lee, and a Professor Chester of Hamilton College, along with Stone. None were satisfied with the results. In 1874, the party crossed into the Vermillion range, and discovered a large outcropping of iron ore. Satisfied that there was a large vein of ore available in that area, they reported back to Tower. At that time, Tower elected not to proceed with mining the area due to the enormous expense of prospecting, the logistical problems of mining the area and transporting the ore, and financial concerns over the recent Panic of 1873.
Tower ordered prospecting in the Vermillion resumed in 1880. Along with Stone and Lee, Tower sent his son, Charlemagne Tower Jr., to assist. A railroad was surveyed from the mines to the town of Two Harbors, on Lake Superior, which was constructed in 1883.
By 1884, the mine had proved an extreme success, and the business incorporated under the name of Minnesota Iron Company. The ore was mined on site, then loaded to the railroad and delivered to Two Harbors, where it would be loaded on ships for iron and steel factories in the east. A settlement near the mines was named Tower in Charlemagne's honor.
By 1887, iron ore was discovered in lands north of the town of Tower, which were purchased by a syndicate of East Coast financers. This syndicate, which included the likes of H.H. Porter of the Union Steel Works and the Rockefeller family, wished to purchase Tower's railroad in order to extend it to their lands. Tower initially refused. This syndicate responded with the implied threat that they would construct a second railroad that would parallel the line of Tower's railroad, destroying its value. Compounding this threat was the fact that Tower had no control over the shipping lines that carried his ore from Two Harbors to points east, and many of these companies were under the thrall of East Coast iron and steel magnates, many of which were involved in the syndicate. Faced with these challenges, Tower divided his properties into two parts, the mine and the railroad, and stated that any potential buyers must agree to purchase both. So, in late 1887, Tower sold his Minnesota Iron Company holdings to the syndicate, retaining only a small interest in the subsequent company, called the Minnesota Mining and Railroad Syndicate.
After retirement, Tower returned to his country residence in Waterville, New York, where he died on July 26, 1889. His death was, as reported in his obituary, attributed to a "paralysis".
The Tower Genealogy
, by Charlemagne Tower, published posthumously in 1891
Charlemagne Tower was a giant of his time, leaving an indelible footprint on the history of the United States. He is credited with creating the mining industry in Minnesota, as well as attracting settlers to the area. He was deeply involved in the mining industry in Pennsylvania, and was part of the ascension of the Reading Railroad. Towns in three states are named after him. He served on the board of overseers for Harvard University, and was involved in many business ventures, many of them successful.
Tower was also a collector of rare and valuable books. His particular interest was in American colonial laws. At the time of his death, he had the most complete collection of these books in the world. After his death, the Tower family bequeathed this collection to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Tower had a deep interest in the genealogy of his family, going back to their Massachusetts Puritan roots. He amassed a large amount of information on the Tower family of Hingham, Massachusetts, and Hingham, England, and had it published. The resulting book, Tower Genealogy: An Account Of The Descendants Of John Tower Of Hingham, Mass., was released in 1891, after Tower's death.
Tower's son, Charlemagne Tower, Jr., served as Minister to Austria-Hungary for President William McKinley before being transferred to Russia as Ambassador.
- Tower, Charlemagne. The Charlemagne Tower Collection of American Colonial Laws. Littleton, CO: F.B. Rothman, 1990, 1890.
- Bridges, Hal. Iron Millionaire: Life of the Charlemagne Tower. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952.
- ^ a b White, James T.--"The National Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol. 5, 1894", Pg. 188–190
- ^ 
- ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html.
- ^ a b Tower Genealogy: An Account of the Descendants of John Tower of Hingham, Massachusetts, Prepared Under the Direction of Charlemagne Tower, Late of Philadelphia, Deceased, John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, Mass., 1891
- ^ BLUE BOOK OF SCHUYLKILL COUNTY, Ella Zerbey Elliott
- ^ 
- ^ "Pennsylvania Volunteers Of The Civil War, 6th Regiment, Company H"
- ^ a b "19th Century Artist Left Mark on North Dakota", Curtis Eriksmoen, FARGO FORUM, January 28, 2007
- ^ Tower City History Photograph Collection
- ^ a b History Of Tower City, ND
- ^ a b "Tower City's Founder Also Created University", Curtis Eriksmoen, FARGO FORUM, 2/4/07
- ^ New York Times, July 26, 1889, page 4.