Monday, May 1, 2017

Irwin and Leighton

Irwin and Leighton

The two men who started the company that built the original military cantonment at Wrightstown NJ were both of Scottish and Irish descent.

Alexander Dickson Irwin (also known as “AD”), was born in Philadelphia in 1881 to an early merchant family that became quite prominent in society social circles. His father owned a mill and manufactured wool goods.

 Archibald Ogilvie Leighton (aka “AO”) was born in Ballycarry, Ireland, near Belfast, the son of an Irish mother and Scottish lawyer –the son of a barrister who became a construction craftsman.
It was while working on the construction of the Sligo Post office in William Butler Yeats country, where he met Gertrude Ann Hamilton, and became engaged.

In April, 1906, in the wake of the great San Francisco earthquake, Leighton decided to go to California to help rebuild the city. When he got to Philadelphia however, he was asked to appraise a construction project by a family friend. It was while working on the construction of the Germantown Junction train station, designed by Theophilus Chandler, Jr. in north Philadelphia he met Irwin, who was working on the same project. They became fast friends and decided to go into business together, forming Irwin and Leighton in 1909, drawing straws to determine whose name would go first. It wasn't for 50 years that Leighton made it to San Francisco.

Leighton sent for his fiancĂ© Gand they were married in Philadelphia and lived in Abington as the company completed its first major construction projects “down the shore” in Atlantic City, where they built boardwalk hotels and theaters. 

Then in 1917, when the Army needed a good company to build hundreds of buildings and barracks at Wrightstown in a very short period of time - a few months, Irwin and Leighton got the contract, and they were up for the job. 

Many of the craftsmen who arrived at Wrightstown to work every day did so in suits and ties, and changed into work clothes and then after work put the suits and ties back on to return home. 

After successfully completing the job at Camp Dix, Irwin and Leighton got other military contracts, including the construction of hangers and buildings at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, where the lighter than air ships were docked. 

There was also an Army Chemical Corps unit at Lakehurst where they experimented on World War I era gases used in chemical warfare. 

In 1959 Irwin and Leighton sold their company to their employees who kept it going, and in 2009 published a history of the first 100 years of the company, that includes chapters on the construction of Camp Dix and Lakehurst. 

Irwin & Leighton Home Page


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