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Early telegraphy at Hanover

Daniel Trone's telegraph key that he used during the Civil War to tap out the first messages concerning the battle of Gettysburg (Scott Mingus photo)
Telegraph key that Daniel E. Trone used during the Civil War to tap out the first messages concerning the battle of Gettysburg from his office in Hanover, Pennsylvania. The old key is now in the collection of Guthrie Library in Hanover. (Scott Mingus photo)

In my past two Cannonball blog posts, we learned about railroad ticket agent Joseph Leib, conductor John Eckert, and telegrapher Daniel Trone and their efforts to escape from Hanover and Hanover Junction as Lt. Col. Elijah White’s Confederate raiders approached those locations, and the trio’s subsequent efforts to restore telegraph service during the battle of Gettysburg and to assist in the evacuation of the wounded.

Trone was described in period accounts as “…very delicate physically, was a keen business man with gentle manners and loving heart…” Reporter Homer Byington, who paid Trone “liberally” for an exclusive to send reports from the battle of Gettysburg back to his newspaper in New York, somewhat condescendingly later called Trone “a little hunchback” in his memoirs.

Despite his physical limitations and small stature, Dan Trone remains one of York County’s most significant Civil War people for his contributions in communicating the first news of the fighting at Gettysburg to the outside world.

Here is an article from the July 3, 1913, York Daily recounting how Trone’s telegraph key ended up in the collection of the library at Hanover.

Photo of Daniel E. Trone from a wayside marker in front of his home on Frederick Street in Hanover (Scott Mingus photo)
Photo of Daniel E. Trone from a wayside marker in front of his home on Frederick Street in Hanover (Scott Mingus photo)

Old Telegraph Instrument

Used to Send Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech to Metropolitan Newspapers

“An old telegraph instrument, the second one to be installed at Hanover, and from which Lincoln’s famous speech, delivered at Gettysburg in November, 1863, was sent out to the civilian world, is in the possession of William E. Koch, jeweler, West Market street [in York]. The instrument was discovered a few days ago on the attic of Joseph Leib, deceased of Hanover, who operated it. Concerning the identity of the instrument there can be no doubt, as it was frequently discussed by Mr. Leib, who died a few years ago, and who had forgotten where he placed it.

“The telegraph was introduced into Hanover a few days before the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for president of the United States. The first operator was William H. Schoch, now residing in Rowlesburg, W. Va. In six weeks he taught Daniel Trone, deceased, how to operate the machine, which was of the old time register type. All of the characters were indented upon white paper and the messages were read from such papers.

“Sometime before the battle of Gettysburg, Joseph Leib, of Hanover, became an employee of the Hanover Junction Railroad company [Hanover Branch Railroad] and learned the art of telegraphy. At Hanover the original instrument used by Daniel Trone [in a box with another old instrument in a corner of his office] was destroyed by Confederate cavalry, under Colonel White, when they entered Hanover on June 28, 1863. The instrument now in the possession of Mr. Koch was procured by the railroad company and was used by Mr. Leib.

Closeup of Trone's telegraph key (Scott Mingus photo)
Closeup of Trone’s telegraph key (Scott Mingus photo)

“Special interest is attached to the machine because it was used by Whitelaw Reid, then war correspondent to the New York Tribune, and William Nicholson, correspondent to the New York Herald. These correspondents sent from Hanover the most accurate account of the battle of Gettysburg [following Byington’s initial reports that Trone also sent].

“On July 2, 3, and 4, 1863, Daniel E. Trone and Joseph Leib devoted day and night in sending with this instrument messages of war correspondents from Hanover to New York city, Philadelphia and Boston newspapers. The telegraph was invented by Prof. [Samuel] Morse, of Poughkeepsie [NY], and a model of it was on exhibition at the York county fair in 1854. This model was used in York as early as 1854 and was obtained by George W. Schoch and is now in the possession of the York County Historical society. The old-time register machine continued to be in use for nearly 20 years, when it was supplanted by the modern telegraph machine now used in every section of the country.”

Daniel Trone's house still stands along Frederick Street on the south side of Hanover (Scott Mingus photo)
Daniel Trone’s house still stands at 223 Frederick Street on the south side of Hanover. After Trone’s death in 1882, Joseph Holland of York bought the house at auction for $1,600.  He rented it for $135 a month and sold the house and half-acre lot in 1891 for $2,800 to Miss Annie Kate Shriver. (Scott Mingus photo)

In November 1948, the telegraph key, by then back in the Trone family’s possession, was presented to the Hanover Library by Maurice N. Trone, Daniel’s nephew.

According to the November 19, 1948, Hanover Evening Sun, “The first telegraph line here was built from Hanover Junction to Hanover in 1860 over the line of the Hanover and Gettysburg railroad. Captain A W. Eichelberger secured the services of William H. Shoch [Schoch] of York to instruct Mr. Trone, local ticket agent, in the mysteries of telegraphy, and Joseph Leib, the agent, furnished a new set of instruments and a bright new battery which Shoch assembled. The Republican National Convention was in session at Chicago about that time. Shoch established communication with York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, and one of the early messages received was word of the nomination of Abraham Lincoln. The people of Hanover were skeptical at first and only when they read the news in papers several days later were they convinced that messages could be received over a wire. ‘Within six weeks after I landed in Hanover,’ Shoch declared, ‘Daniel Trone was a capable operator.’ George R. Grove, Frederick street store keeper, also learned to operate in the Morse code.”

Interestingly, the August 9, 1954, Gettysburg Times mentions that the historic key was given to the library that month by Harry M. Folmer, contradicting the account from the Evening Sun that the family had presented the key back in 1948.