Monday, January 28, 2008

George Terrell Pierce

My first completed bio on great granddad George. I hope I can get other pictures of him besides the newspaper obit photo.

1871 - 1946

George Pierce was born April 08, 1871 in Chester, Delaware Co, Pennsylvania. He grew up in Chester near the banks of the Delaware River. George came from a long line of fishermen learning to fish and hunt when he was child, accompanying his father and older brothers.

In 1895, at age 24 he married Catherine Margaret Christy. Catherine, or Kate as she was known, is the daughter of Lewis Christy and Mary Phillips. She was born May 30, 1872 in Pennsylvania.

October 13, 1896 Catherine gave birth to their first child - a son they named Lewis Joseph Pierce. The following year they had daughter Anna, born September of 1897. George supported the family as a fisherman and brought home shad and sturgeon from the Delaware River. Back in those days the Delaware River was healthy and rich with fish.

In 1900 George and Catherine Pierce lived at 48 Graham Street in the 2nd Precinct of Chester, Pennsylvania. Their children, Lewis and Anna, were 3 and 2 years of age according to the 1900 census. They lived close to George’s father James and his brother Amos; all of them lived on Graham Street.

Over the next several years the Pierce family grew with the birth of daughter Bertha in 1901, son George in 1906 and another daughter Sadie born 1908. Sadie only survived four months and died on November 1, 1908. Catherine had two more children in the time period of 1900 and 1910, but they did not survive. It is unknown if they were stillborns or if they lived a few years.

In 1910 the Pierce family still lived at 48 West Graham St. in Chester. George and Catherine were married fifteen years according to the census taken April 20, 1910. George, or "Soap" as he was called, reported his occupation as a riverman and fisherman.
George and Catherine Pierce's first grandchild was born in 1918. Anna Pierce had married John Cairns and they had a daughter named Aletha. Sometime in the next several years George Pierce moved his family to 118 Penn Street. Perhaps the house was larger and accommodated more members of the family without crowding. There were eight total in the household by January 1920. In addition to George, aged 48, was his 47-year-old wife Kate, their 13-year-old son George Jr., two of his adult children with their spouses and granddaughter Aletha.

George's reported occupation was fisherman. The oldest son, Lewis, was employed as an electrician. His new bride Mildred lived there also. Anna and John Cairns lived there too with two-year-old Aletha. John Cairns was employed as a pipe fitter at the shipyard.

On April 19, 1921 George and Catherine welcomed another grandchild into their home. Lewis and Mildred Pierce had a son, Lewis J. Pierce Jr. They followed up with a daughter, Estelle Pierce, born August 28, 1922. This increased George’s household to nine ( 7 adults and two babies).

September 10, 1921 "Soap" was getting ready to go to a Republican banquet in Chester. Dressed nicely for the event, he was informed by his 25-year-old son Lewis that a 3-year-old boy had fallen from the Third Street Bridge and likely drowned. He got his 28-foot boat and proceeded to the river to recover the body. Before "Soap" could get to the boy he heard the bridge cracking and splintering. It collapsed and approximately 100 people fell from the bridge into the Delaware River. By the end of the evening, 24 people drowned. Several different newspaper accounts credited George Pierce with saving 15 people from drowning. He pulled them into his boat or helped them to shore.

As the years passed and the population increased near the Delaware River, making a living as a fisherman became increasingly difficult. George was appointed to the Chester Police Force in 1924 at age 53. Fishing became a hobby and pastime rather than a way to sustain his family.

In 1936 when George was 65 years old, he and wife Catherine moved in with their daughter and son-in-law, Anna and John Cairns, at 218 E. 23rd Street in Chester. George remained on the police force and patrolled the city of Chester before age forced him into desk work.

In February 1940 George’s brother Amos died from stomach cancer. Over the next five years Catherine’s health declined. She died November 21, 1941 in Chester of pulmonary tuberculosis. She was 69 years old when she died and was buried at Chester Rural Cemetery.

George continued to work for Chester Police Department and was pensioned January 1, 1945 at age 74. He lived with his daughter Anna and family until his death on November 07, 1946 in Chester. Cause of death was carcinoma of the stomach.

George and Catherine are buried in Chester Rural Cemetery in Section D, Lot 83. Also buried in this section and lot are daughters Bertha Packer, Anna Cairns with her husband John Cairns.

Children of George and Catherine Pierce:

1. Lewis Pierce born October 13, 1896
Died December 28, 1969
married Mildred Naomi Williams

2. Anna Pierce born September 1897
Died January 9, 1952
married John Cairns

3. Bertha Pierce born September 6, 1901
Died July 2, 1995
married James Redden then married Frank Packer

4. George Pierce Jr. born 1906
Married four times – one wife's name was Hilda

Daily Times Newspaper - Chester, PA, Sept. 10, 1971 by Arden Skidmore
50th Anniversary story about the Third Street bridge collapse.

"There were many heroes among the police, firemen and citizens who helped avert a greater loss of life. Foremost, perhaps, was the late George Terrell (Soap) Pierce, a strong, muscular riverman who had a boat house at the railroad bridge, Front Street and Edgemont Avenue, between the Georgia and Chester boat clubs.

Informed by a son Lewis that a little Greek boy had drowned, Pierce got his rowboat and was nearing the Third Street bridge when the disaster occurred. His back to the bridge, he heard the crackling noise and turned to see the river under the bridge filling with people.

"Not even the strongest swimmer could have survived through such a struggle was then occurred," he said the day after the tragedy.

Pierce, who couldn't swim a stroke, was credited with the rescue of 15 people, either by pulling them into his boat or helping them to the river bank. He also pulled out more bodies than anyone else. The Chester Kiwanis Club awarded Pierce it's first service award for his heroic work.

"I remember my father had dressed up in a brand new suit and was getting ready to attend a Republican banquet that evening," recalled Mrs. Frank J. Packer, a resident of Chester Towers apartment complex. "It was a helluva way to christen a new suit," she said her father remarked later.

Mrs. Packer, whose late husband was a driver for Hanley Hose Co. for almost 40 years, said her father had a reputation of being the best man on the river in locating drowning victims.

"There was no Franklin Rescue Squad then, and if anybody drowned, he got them." Mrs. Packer said her father acquired his nickname because his family named him for George Terrell who had a soap factory at 330 E. 10th Street.

Pierce, a member of the Chester Police Department for many years, died November 7, 1946 at age 75. "Former Chester Fire Chief Elwood (Dick) Webster...."my family lived at 120 Penn St. and Soap pierce lived at 118 Penn St. My father and Soap Pierce had boathouses at Front St....."


Obituary: Chester Times, Friday November 8, 1946
Headline - George T. Pierce Dies, was City's River Expert
Subhead - Served on Police Force 21 years; Bridge Disaster Hero

George T. Pierce, 75, a former Chester Police Officer died Thursday at 2 PM at the home of a daughter, Mrs. Anna Cairns, 218 E. 23rd St., with whom he had been living 10 years.
"Soap," as he was known throughout Chester, was appointed to the police force in 1924 and was pensioned Jan. 1, 1945. He had been ailing since that time. "Soap" will go down in local police history as almost a legendary character; strong as a bullock, a soft heart and noted for his fishing prowess.
He was a riverman at heart yet couldn't swim a stroke. He inherited his love of the water from his father, James, who made a living from the stream. He too made his living from the water of the Delaware River until his appointment from the force.
"Soap" was one of two local men famed for their ability to find bodies of persons lost in the Delaware. He did heroic work at the time the Third Street Bridge went down (collapsed).
Long years at the oars had hardened his muscles to steel-like strength and it was a hardy man who could match strength with him. He retained his strength to the end and with it a deftness at cards that mystified even experienced card players.
He was ever ready to match wit and humor and had a gentle quality. As a riverman, Soap prided himself on having been one of the last to catch sturgeon in the Delaware. This was many years before pollution made the waters unbearable for such fish.
Survivors include, Mrs. Cairns, with whom he lived; another daughter, Mrs. Bertha Packer, 19 E. Seventh St, Chester; Two sons, Lewis, 820 Glen Terrace; George Jr. of Village Green (now Aston); a sister, Mrs. Mary Newton, Philadelphia. Mrs. Pierce died five years ago.
Mr. Pierce was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Funeral services held at Ray F. Imschweiler Funeral Parlor; burial in Chester Rural.

1 comment:

Jill Lengel said...

I enjoyed reading about "Soap." Thanks for all your work in researching and posting it for others to read and learn.

JIll Christy Lengel