A local writer has published a book about one of the most influential families in Lebanon County history.

“Souls of Iron” is the debut book by James Polczynski. The book covers over 150 years of history centered on the Coleman family, the wealthy business dynasty best known for their control over much of the area’s iron industry centered around the massive Cornwall Ore Banks mine operation.

The project started when Polczynski, originally a Pittsburgh area resident, bought the former Cornwall Store in 1999 and converted it into a bed and breakfast. Out of curiosity, he began looking into the building’s previous owners and eventually the broader history of the Colemans.

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“I realized there was not a single book that had the entire story of all branches of the family and all branches of the business,” Polczynski explained in a phone interview with LebTown. Work progressed slowly on the resulting book until the COVID-19 pandemic afforded him more time to finish his writing.

Now, Polczynski hopes that the book will prove to be a compelling account of the family history. Beginning with Robert Coleman, the Irish immigrant and family patriarch who assumed control of the Cornwall Iron Furnace and other area furnaces in the late 18th century, the Colemans constructed a vast industrial empire that lasted for generations. The history of the Colemans is deeply tied to the history of Cornwall, Lebanon, and the surrounding county.

Polczynski is president of the Friends of the Cornwall Iron Furnace, where he also serves as a volunteer guide. He has previously worked as a contractor for steel and aluminum companies, including Bethlehem Steel, which purchased Coleman assets as the family’s power waned.

For Polczynski, the longevity of the Colemans’ reign was particularly interesting.

“A lot of [family dynasties] start to lose family ownership after the second or third generation, and the Colemans did extend past the fourth and into the fifth generation before they sold everything to Bethlehem Steel,” he said.

“Along the way, there were numerous divisions that occurred in the family wealth. They all set their own businesses up, if you will. The history of that in itself I find fascinating – how the individual branches separated and those individual branches stayed together,” he added. “To chronicle the start from the original Robert Coleman all the way to the end, there’s all these splinters and drama and stories.”

Polczynski noted that he has “tried to do justice” to the Colemans’ personal lives when possible in addition to covering the family’s business history.

The book is being published in three formats. The e-book edition may be found through these vendors, while print-on-demand paperback and hardbound copies may be ordered by contacting Polczynski on his website. The book includes about 20 images, which are color-printed in the hardbound edition. Polczynski plans to stock some hardbound copies at the Cornwall Iron Furnace and the Lebanon County Historical Society.

“Souls of Iron” is planned to be the first of several, unrelated book projects. Polczynski is also working on a book about mystery and detective games from 1889 to 1969 as well as a shorter publication on the work of Gilded Age author David Graham Phillips.

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Joshua Groh

Josh is a Cornwall native and freelancer with a love of local history and the outdoors.