ML “Mike” Marotte III
The story I’m telling you today is about an exceptional company that started in Chambersburg in the year 1860. Throughout its existence, you can always expect to get the very best in quality furniture, carpets and, of course, outstanding sales, service and professional carpet and tile installation.
It all started in 1836 when George Nicklas started his business in the 300 block of South Main Street as a manufacturer and retailer of rag rugs, bedspreads and linens. In the weaving workshop, George made many red and white blankets in which he had woven his name into the border of the finished masterpiece. Today, they are treasured heirlooms for families and prized collectibles.
Peter Nicklas’ business began on January 31, 1860. He purchased the weaving workshop from his uncle George Nicklas and continued for many years to make woven rugs in the workshop looms. He then began to offer his many customers a selection of quality furniture. He then expanded by creating his cabinetmaking and painting workshop.
A change came in 1865 when Peter’s brother Adam Nicklas became a partner and the name was changed to P. Nicklas and Brother. Business was good, for in 1883 expansion was accompanied by the opening of a branch in Martinsburg, West Virginia. WO Nicklas was appointed partner as well as manager of the new store, with the company name changing to P. Nicklas Brother and Company.
A great improvement was made by the company in October 1891, as the Chambersburg store at 37-39 South Main Street had electric lights and an elevator installed, quite the additions for the time. As the business continued to grow, the Nicklas family rented a building in Cumberland, Maryland where they offered a large selection of rugs and furniture to their customers.
George P. Nicklas and his cousin Adam Nicklas were the managers of the newly opened branch. The death of Peter Nicklas in 1906 brought changes. WO Nicklas purchased the store in Martinsburg and the sons of the late Peter Nicklas purchased the three-story building in Chambersburg, which covered a total of 21,000 square feet to conduct their extensive business.
The sons were George P. Nicklas, J Russell Nicklas, J. Bishop Nicklas, Christian Nicklas and Bennett B. Nicklas. It was around this time that the business was incorporated and the name changed to P. Nicklas Sons.
A very unfortunate and devastating loss occurred on the afternoon of November 1, 1920 at Chambersburg. As people shouted “fire, fire”, a citizen could be seen running towards Memorial Square to pull the number 25 fire alarm box to alert the Chambersburg Fire Department to the towering three-story building which housed Fr. Nicklas Sons at 37-39 Rue Principale Sud.
The fire was discovered near the center of the building in the wallpaper storage room. When firefighters arrived, flames were coming out of the storage room and spreading westward inside the structure. Attempts by firefighters to conduct the fire to the back of the building failed, as a draft from the long hallway ignited the fire forward from the store into the showrooms.
The firefighters, directing their numerous jets of water, noticed that the heavy piece of iron attached to the front of the store had contained the stubborn conflagration for a time. It was about half an hour later after the fire was discovered that the iron frame could no longer withstand the intense heat and cracked, causing part of the building to fall to the ground.
There were other problems at the time as two homes on Burkhart Avenue were destroyed by the advancing flames and a garage near the scene of the fire had its roof badly burned. Residents, travelers and businesses in the Memorial Square area witnessed thick smoke billowing from burning buildings and felt suffocating fumes that caused respiratory distress.
As firefighters tackled the spreading flames, Chambersburg Fire Marshal Pensinger sent out a call for mutual aid to the Waynesboro and Hagerstown, Maryland fire departments. The Pennsylvania Railroad was sent with a special train with a flatcar from Waynesboro to transport the Mechanics Fire Company’s horse-drawn steam engine and personnel to Chambersburg. Upon their arrival, the steam-powered fire engine was quickly taken to Spring Street where it was used to draw water from Falling Spring Creek near the Chambersburg Woolen Mill Company.
The Hagerstown Fire Department sent Western Enterprise Fire Company No. 4 with their motorized apparatus. Firefighters, at the height of the big blaze, were firing nine jets of water at the blaze in hopes of a quick suppression. Firefighters battling the blaze at the back and front of the store suddenly noticed that the fire had broken through the thick firewall from the Nicklas Building into the Brunner Building.
With the fire rapidly advancing through the Brunner building, you could see dense clouds of smoke billowing from under the eaves, forcing tenants to flee with only the clothes on their backs. Loss of contents and exterior damage to the P. Nicklas Sons building was estimated at $80,000.
Now ask yourself, what was the cause of such destruction? Well, when Chambersburg Police Chief Byers was called to the scene of the fire, he was directed to the rear of the structure where he noticed an oil saturated area that showed signs of burn.
Upon further investigation, it was found that another fire had broken out on the company storeroom. Authorities quickly determined that a young man who worked for the P. Nicklas Sons store had had a disagreement with management. He confessed to starting the fire.
The store owners moved quickly to find a temporary location where they could re-establish their business while their fire-ravaged building was rebuilt. On November 6, P. Nicklas Sons had rented the first floor of the Stager Building located at the corner of Spring Street and Lincoln Way West.
After the new and larger building was constructed in the same location on South Main Street, the Nicklas family was able to offer their customers a greater selection of quality, nationally known furniture brands for their homes and businesses. Over the years, the company has had to face real challenges, such as surviving several economic difficulties in our economy, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the disastrous fire of a building with heavy losses in 1920 and, of course, the crippling depression of 1929.
You can see that this company has weathered many storms, but each time it has survived and continued to be a leader in our community. As times change, a company’s direction and operations can change, as P. Nicklas Sons did. It was announced in January 1961 by President and CEO Reginald B. Nicklas that effective February 1, the inventory and building at 37-39 South Main Street would be purchased by the Waltersdorf Furniture Company of York, Pennsylvania , but the store would still retain the P. Nicklas Sons name.
Reginald Nicklas continued as store manager until his retirement in October 1979. The assistant manager assumed the role.
For so many clients over the years, the P. Nicklas Sons name has stood out. You can always count on quality service and find a large selection of rugs and furniture. The name P. Nicklas Sons was changed to Roth’s Furniture in September 1984.
You know, at the end of the day, P. Nicklas Sons was “Solid As A Rock” and was always considered a great company in our community.
ML “Mike” Marotte III is an author and historian who writes about the history of Franklin County. Learn more about him at www.vintagefranklincountypa.com.