Griest: William Walton Griest Collection, Series 06 Political/Historical, 1864-1929

Call Number:  MG-65, Series 6 Political/Historical 

3 boxes     31 folders     1.5 cubic ft.

Repository: (Lancaster, Pa.)

Shelving Location:  Archives South, Side 2

Description:  This collection contains business and personal correspondence relating to politics, education, immigration, roads and waterways, railroads, economic issues, agriculture, trade and commerce, taxes, the Postal Service, the Susquehanna Iron Company, the Susquehanna Bridge, and many other topics. There are also Congressional bills and speeches, financial information for the businesses William Walton Griest was involved with, and papers reflecting his efforts to improve Lancaster County’s road system and to survey the county’s waterways for expanded uses.

Creator:  Griest, William Walton, 1858-1929.

Conditions for Access:  No restrictions.

System of Arrangement:  Griest’s original folder titles and contents have been retained. The collection has been organized by subject into 26 series.

Conditions Governing Reproductions:  Collection may not be photocopied. Please contact Research Staff or Archives Staff with questions.

Language:  English

Source of Acquisition:  Gift of W. W. Griest’s daughter, Rebecca W. Griest.

Administrative/Biographical History: 

In 2003, the Lancaster County Historical Society received a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission grant to rehouse and inventory the William Walton Griest papers. Many of these papers date from the 1880s to the 1930s and focus on Griest’s business and political interests. The grant has allowed the historical society to open this previously inaccessible collection to researchers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and United States history.

William Walton Griest was a prominent member of Congress from 1909 until 1929.  His papers reflect his influence not only in matters of national concern, but also those of Lancaster County.  His term in office spans a tumultuous era of United States history, dealing with such topics as Women’s Suffrage, Prohibition, and the First World War.  The collection sheds light on what members of Congress felt about these issues, and also what Lancasterians felt about them.  Numerous letters and petitions were written to Representative Griest on issues which divided the nation and Lancaster County.

William Griest did not begin his career as a politician, but rather started as a public school teacher. After graduating from Millersville State Normal School in 1876,  he taught at schools in East Donegal and Mount Joy townships for three years before taking another career path.  His education led him to become a writer and later editor of the Lancaster Inquirer, a weekly newspaper published by his father Ellwood Griest.

Griest was an unostentatious man; nevertheless, he was a well-respected man in the community.  He lived on South Queen Street with his wife Elizabeth Paxson Smith, son George W. Griest, and daughter Rebecca Walton Griest. The family was extremely close. Files containing personal correspondence between the family give insight into the quiet life of such a public man.

His first election to public office, as a member of the Lancaster City School Board in 1884, probably derived from his background as a teacher. With this success, his political career had been born and Griest continued to run for increasingly more prestigious offices. He was Chief Clerk for the County Commissioners, leader of the Republican party in Lancaster County, delegate to Republican National Convention from 1896-1920, and finally a representative to Congress from 1908 to 1929.  His political career of more than forty years extended over an era of great change in both the county and the country.

Griest was heavily involved in the economy of Lancaster County.  Not only was he a noteworthy Congressman, he was an equally shrewd businessman.  He became an investor in many of the local public utility companies, the most prominently featured in his papers being the Lancaster County Railway and Light Company. Documents in the collection shed light on Griest’s involvement in the company as well as the company’s financial information and its interactions with other utility companies. Under his leadership, the company turned around from a dying operation on the brink of bankruptcy to an operation netting a profit of more than $100,000 a year. 

Griest invested in another failing company, the Susquehanna Iron and Steel Company, at Columbia.  He purchased the company in an attempt to save the mills from closing and losing the industry in the area.  His papers contain many of the financial ledgers and employment records of the company.  The documents give further insight into not only Griest’s business dealings, but also the lives of local men that worked for the company.

A large portion of the collection deals with Griest’s Congressional career.  He held many influential positions while in Congress, including chairman of the Personnel of the House Service Committee and the Post Office and Post Road Committee, one of the largest committees in the Congress. He also sat on the Committee of Committees.  The documents in this part of the collection contain bills that were proposed to Congress, speeches given by members of Congress, and reports given by many of the committees.  Griest kept records on topics ranging from agriculture, veterans affairs, income tax, and child labor, to commerce and trade.  On many of these issues, the collection has letters and petitions from voters from Lancaster County urging Griest to remember Lancaster County in congressional deliberations. 

Griest’s major accomplishments in Congress included creating the Lincoln Memorial, improving mail service, and assisting returning World War I veterans to cope with entrance back into their local community.  Locally, he assisted Lancaster County in pushing bills that would benefit the county with its economy based in agriculture and by creating a local farm bureau.  He also sought to improve the road systems in the county and to survey waterways throughout the county for expanded uses. 

William Griest was very close with many of the leading political figures of Pennsylvania during the early 1900s. The collection contains correspondence between Griest and men such as Gifford Pinchot, Boise Penrose, William Vare, and William Cameron Sproul.

The William Walton Griest collection is a wonderful source of information on one of Lancaster County’s leading 20thcentury citizens. Thanks to the generous support of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission this collection will be available to both professional researchers and students of history.  Those interested in the period and in local history will find these papers extremely valuable as a primary source.

Processed by:  KC, 2002-2003.

Note:  This project was funded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Archives and Records Management Grant, ME 230340, 2002-2003.


Box 18

Folder 1  Inaugural 1925  (1924-1925). Contains Inauguration expenses for 1901-1921 and tickets to the Inauguration ceremonies.

Folder 2  Inaugural 1925  (1924-1925). Contains a program for the Inaugural ceremonies and ticket distribution information.

Folder 3  Republican Party Campaign, 1912-1914. Contains election results, 1914; a voter’s guide; and a Griest campaign flier.

Folder 4  1929 Correspondence

Folder 5  Coalition Club, 1923. Contains a campaign advertisement of coalition.

Folder 6  Miscellaneous

Folder 7  City Registrations, 1915-1925

Folder 8  City Registrations, 1926-1929


Box 19

Folder 9  Book on Work and Publications of Henry Muhlenberg, 1929

Folder 10  Poll book, no date. Contains the Freemont/Lincoln voter tally.

Folder 11  Constitution Shadows, byFranklin E. Parker, 1928

Folder 12  Election Material, 1922-1923

Folder 13  Articles Written by William Griest or about Griest, 1881-1923. Contains speeches; Griest’s career; and a State Committee report on imported merchandise and retail prices.

Folder 14  Articles Written by William Griest or about Griest, 1923-1972. Contains “History of Republican Organization in Lancaster;” a William Griest biography; a booklet on the years under President Harding; and speeches.

Folder 15  Manheim Sentinel, 1914

Folder 16  List of Veterans on Voting Districts in Lancaster, 1928

Folder 17  List of Votes for 1864 Election, no date

Folder 18  City Assessor, 1928

Folder 19  Pending Bills of 71stCongress, 1929

Folder 20  Endorsements, 1927-1928

Folder 21  Active and Influential Republicans, 1928-1929. Contains lists of votes in wards of Lancaster.

Folder 22  Election Material, 1895-1927

Folder 23  Catholics, 1926-1928. Contains resolutions of Mount Saint Mary’s College; proposed bills for the immigration amendment; proposed bills of Department of Education.

Folder 24  Pennsylvania Delegation, 1906-1916


Box 20

Folder 25  Lancaster City, 1842-1924. Contains Lancaster County Special Laws, 1842-1865; a Tribute to Robert Fulton’s birthplace; and a map of Lancaster Scout Trail.

Folder 26  Republican Party – Local, 1909-1920. Contains a pin of 19thamendment – 1stvote; history of soldiers roll; history of congressional conferences; cigar makers protection of labor information; and information on the tobacco farmer.

Folder 27  William Griest Political Information, 1908-1914. Contains a list of songs from Republican League; “The Demagogue” poem; a speech on political leadership; and a speech on campaign conditions of cities.

Folder 28  Letters between William Griest and Voters, 1914-1929. Contains Boulder Canyon project information; a resolution for motor vehicles in Interstate Commerce; a memorandum on wage case in Navy yards; Alien Contract Laborers rules; and a speech on court house.

Folder 29  Letters between William Griest and Voters, 1919-1928

Folder 30  1911 Political, 1910-1916

Folder 31  1911 Political, 1910-1918. Contains “Why Vote for Griest?” and an extract from a speech on cigar makers by A. B. Hess.