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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (174)

Wednesday, 23 September 2020 17:16

A Local Olympian

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As is the case with many large events this year, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been delayed until next year. This came to mind when I received a phone call from someone looking for additional information about local Norristown Olympian, Joshua Culbreath.

He participated in the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the games were held from November 22 to December 8. On opening night, Culbreath was interviewed. See his statement in the Times Herald below.

 opening night quote

Times Herald, November 23, 1956

Culbreath's sport was the 400 meter hurdle. At only five foot seven inches tall, few people expected him to win the bronze medal. In addition to winning the bronze medal, Culbreath was also the first U.S. Marine serving in active duty to participate in an Olympic games.

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Times Herald, November 24, 1956

Culbreath grew up in Norristown and his first track coach was Rittenhouse Junior High School history teacher, Vince Farina. While at Norristown Area High School, Culbreath won the 400 meter hurdles in the PIAA state championship. He also won the Penn Relays three times. In addition to track, Culbreath played other sports while at Norristown Area High School, including football and basketball.

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Culbreath (top left) on the JV Football team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

Culbreath's success in track earned him a scholarship to Morgan State University. He was the U.S. outdoor champion three years in a row from 1953 to 1955. He ran as the anchor on the relay team with Herman Wade, Otis "Jet" Johnson, and Dr. James Rodgers. They were dubbed "The Flying Four." Culbreath set world records at competitions in Bendigo, Australia and Oslo, Norway. He also won the Pan American Games twice, in 1955 and 1959.

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Culbreath (bottom right) on the JV Basketball team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

After serving in the Marines, Culbreath coached at Rittenhouse Middle School and later earned his Master of Arts degree from Temple Univeristy in 1988. He became the track and field coach at Central State Univeristy in Ohio, where his team won 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships. Four of Culbreath's athletes competed in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, one of whom was Deon Hemmings the gold medal winner in the 400 hurdles.

Lastly, here's a cool side note. Five Saints Distilling, located in the former Humane Fire Engine Co. #1 building in Norristown, created a drink named after Culbreath! It's a gin drink known as the Culbreath Smash.

five saints 

Source:

"Olympic Medalist and orristown Native Joshua Culbreath Reflects on Live on Eve of MontCo. Hall of fame Induction." Times Herald. November 24, 2013.https://www.timesherald.com/sports/olympic-medalist-and-norristown-native-joshua-culbreath-reflects-on-life-on-eve-of-montco-hall/article_130c4c87-3882-520c-8709-81b5bde80dbd.html

Thursday, 17 September 2020 20:41

Francisco Espinoza Duenas

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francisco

Among our recent acquisitions was a collection of slides, photographs and papers of the Peruvian artist Francisco Espinoza Duenas. He might be best known to our readers as the artist who painted the cafeteria mural at Norristown High School.

Espinoza Duenas was born in Lima, Peru in 1926. He studied at the National School of Fine Arts there, graduating with First Honors. In 1955, he travelled to Spain on a scholarship to the Institute of Hispanic Culture at the San Fernando Superior School of Fine Arts in Madrid. He went on to work and study in France for several years, followed by a few years in Cuba before heading back to Madrid.

In 1984, he first came to America, and he stayed in the Philadelphia area for about 5 years. During this time he painted murals at several schools in addition to Norristown High School as well as public buildings such as Norristown’s Human Resources Building and the International House in Philadelphia.

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International House mural

Teaching art was also important to Espinoza Duenas, and he conducted programs at the Alternate School in Cherry Hill, the Elizabeth Haddon School in Haddonfield, and with the Delaware County Girl Scouts. He was an artist-in-residence in Delaware County, painting a large 16x8 foot mural at the Redwood Community Playhouse.

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The Redwood Playhouse mural

In Norristown, he also worked with local Cuban refugees to paint a mural in the basement of the Central Presbyterian Church on W. Main St. As with students, he often turned painting into a communal activity.

Before returning to Spain in 1989 to live, he was very involved with Mosaico Atlantico, an artistic commemoration of Columbus’s first sailing to the Americas. He still lives in Spain today.

Unfortunately, the collection donated to us by a former student of his did not include any photographs of the mural in the Norristown High School cafeteria. If anyone out there has one, we’d love a copy.

Thursday, 10 September 2020 18:39

Montgomery County Agricultural Extension

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Recently we received a large collection of materials related to the Knapp family of historic Knapp Farm in Montgomeryville. Among them were several newsletters from the Montgomery County Agricultural Extension.

Agricultural extension programs originated with the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 which established extension programs connected to the land grant universities. The purpose of the program is to encourage farmers to learn the latest agricultural techniques. Here in Pennsylvania, the county agricultural extensions are part of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The papers from the Knapp family show the extension’s many areas of the concern: Flower clubs, 4-H, animal husbandry, home economics, and, yes, farming.

4-H Clubs predate the Smith-Lever Act by 12 years, but the club’s mission of teaching new agricultural techniques fit so well with the goals of the act, that the act supported them. From our collection, we can see that the Montgomery County Extension also supported a Home Beautification Club and a Flower Club.

In January, 1942, the Home Economics Extension sent out a newsletter, titled “The Rural Women and the National Defense.” In addition to vague advice like, “Keep on with your homemaking job, but DO IT BETTER than you ever have before,” the newsletter announces four new programs to help homemakers:

How Well Do You Know Your Meats?

Vegetables for Health

Left Overs

Facts About Bread

The Extension also provided guides to buying and caring for clothes as well as recipes. 

This undated program shows the variety of demonstrations and classes held by the extension:

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Then there’s this:

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Sign me up for the chicken barbeque song fest!

Thursday, 03 September 2020 20:19

The Philadelphia and Western

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viaduct

Recently, the Historical Society of Montgomery County received a great postcard showing a P&W train crossing the Bridgeport Viaduct over the Schuylkill.

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The Philadelphia and Western Railroad was a commuter railroad started in 1902 (as the Philadelphia and Western Railway). It was originally planned to connect to the Western Maryland Railroad at York, but those plans fell through. Trains began running in 1907, and the Norristown line opened in 1912.

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The trestle bridge of the P&W was a landmark in Norristown for many years. Sometimes called the “clock bridge,” it was an easy to find place to meet up with people. However, the decline of railroads and trolleys, in the wake of the post-war car boom, led to buses replacing Norristown’s trolleys in 1951. The bridge over Main Street was torn down in 1955.

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The bridge in the postcard is still in use, however. In 1954, the company was sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, and it became known as the Red Arrow Line. Eventually, it became part of SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 18:53

Melodeon

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We are pleased to share with you a new addition to HSMC's collection. This melodeon belonged to David Y. Custer, also referred to as D Chester, of Pottstown. David was a musician and piano teacher.

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David Custer was born in 1866. This melodeon was passed down through the Custer family after David died in 1892 from kidney disease. His great granddaughter kindly donated the melodeon to us recently.

C Chester

The gold colored paint on the melodeon indicates that it was made by Earhart Needham and Company in New York.

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However, when we lifted the lid fully to inspect the bellows, we found a paper label.

melodeon

David seems to have purchased this melodeon from A. P. Hughes Melodeon Manufacturer in Philadelphia, which was a sales company for Earhart Needham and Company. A. P. Hughes operated in Wareroom No. 258 on Market Street.

 

Thursday, 20 August 2020 18:16

Norristown’s Sesquicentennial

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Norristown596

Lately, I’ve been scanning a large collection of photographs of Norristown’s Sesquicentennial celebration held in May of 1962. The celebration lasted a full week and seemed to bring out everyone in Norristown and the surrounding communities.

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The events kicked off with local businesses offering “old fashioned bargains.” There were dances, fashion shows, a carnival, fireworks, and concerts.  Every night at 8:30, “The Norristown Story” was presented at Roosevelt Field. The sesquicentennial book lists the scenes in this dramatic reenactment of Norristown’s past, but if one of the three people reading this happens to have a copy of the script, I’d love to have it in our collection.

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Two images from "The Norristown Story"

The culmination of all the excitement was the parade on May 12th. For the parade women were organized into several groups of “Celebration Belles” while men were “Brothers of the Brush.” The chapters marched dressed in 19th century clothes.

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A Celebration Belle bowling

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The Brothers of the Brush

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The big parade

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One of our few color photos of the parade

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One of the most lasting items from the sesquicentennial are the wooden nickels which were produced in the hundreds, if not thousands. We have many in our collection, and I suspect there are more hanging around basements and attics.

Wooden nickel

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Finally, the sesquincentennial book ends with this disclaimer:

disclaimer

Thursday, 13 August 2020 17:11

Camp Delmont

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blog480

A lot kids of missing summer camp this year, so I thought this week, I’d highlight one of Montgomery County’s oldest summer camps: Camp Delmont.

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The Council Lodge

Camp Delmont was founded by the Delmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1916 (it later changed its name to the Valley Forge Council.) It is located in Marlborough Township on the banks of the Unami Creek.

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A 1921 brochure for the camp touts instruction in classic Boy Scout skills such as knot tying and nature study. There was also twice daily swimming in the swimming hole.

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From these postcards and the brochures in our collection, the accommodations were primitive, but only cost $7 per week. Scouts were instructed to bring their scout uniforms, two heavy blankets, poncho, underwear, woolen shirt and sweater, an extra pair of shoes, pajamas, two large towels, and a bathing suit.

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Open-air bunkhouses

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In 1996 the Valley Forge Council merged with the Philadelphia Council creating the Cradle of Liberty Council. The Philadelphia Council had run an adjacent camp, Camp Hart. The two camps merged are now known as the Musser Scout Reservation. The camp’s 1200 acres are permanently protected by the Scouts, the Montgomery County Lands Trust, the National Lands Trust, and Montgomery County.

Wednesday, 05 August 2020 14:32

Concertina

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Does anyone know how to play the Pennsylvania Polka?

concertina

Concertina at HSMC

This lovely instrument is known as a concertina. A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument that uses bellows and buttons to produce sound. It was first patented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in London in 1829. A German model was developed independently by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in 1834.

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Bellows design on HSMC concertina

The original design had one row of five keys on each side of the instrument. It was eventually improved with the addition of more rows of keys. The English concertinas are normally shaped like a hexagon and play the same note when you press a key and pull or push the bellows. The German concertina can sometimes be square shaped and uses a diatonic scale. This means if a musician presses a key and push the bellows inward it makes a different note than if they press the same key and pull the bellows.

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Black youth with early square-ended German Concertina, ca. 1864. From the online gallery of Musurgia.com

The concertina was popular in the United States from 1840s to 1900. Unlike other instruments, the concertina was small and affordable for many people. A single row German concertina cost roughly $1 in the late 1860s. A two-row cost roughly $5 in the late 1880s, which would be roughly $30 in 2020. The German concertinas were the least expensive and were thus more popular with the middle and lower class. The English concertinas were generally more expensive and favored by the upper class.

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German concertina, mid 19th century C. Coule - New and Complete Method (or Self-Instructor) for Playing the German Concertinas. London: C. Coule

Seeing the popularity of the German concertinas, some English concertina makers started making their own hybrid models. This combination of English and German concertina designs is referred to as an Anglo-German Concertina. These typically have a hexagon shape and use a diatonic scale.

By the early 1900s, accordions replaced the popularity of the concertinas. Today, concertinas are still used to play traditional tango and polka music from countries such as Ireland, England, and South Africa.

Sources:

“Concertina,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concertina#:~:text=A%20concertina%20is%20a%20free,which%20are%20on%20the%20front.

Worrall, Dan. “A Brief History of the Anglo Concertina in the Unites States,” 15 April 2007 http://www.concertina.com/worrall/anglo-in-united-states/index.htm#anchor-1

Thursday, 30 July 2020 19:31

Norristown in World War I

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roster cove2r

 

A couple of weeks ago, one of our regular researchers asked me about some photographs he once saw here of funerals for service men killed in World War I. I’ve been through most of our photographs, but I wasn’t aware of the photos he was talking about. Since he was interested in WWI, I pulled down a large book we have titled Roster of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines from Norristown, Pa., in US Service, World War, 1917-1919. And…surprise! There were the photos.

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In addition to photographs of several funerals, there are photographs of soldiers before they left for Europe and Liberty Bond drives.

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This photograph shows Civil War veterans hailing the new recruits.

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After a few pages of photos, the book becomes a record of the all the men from Norristown who served in the war. There’s no indication of who produced the book. The rosters look as though each man signed his own name. It also lists the dates of their service and the branch they served in.

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This invaluable record was donated to the Historical Society by B. Frank Stritzinger in 1929.

 

Wednesday, 22 July 2020 15:47

David Sower, Jr.

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Many of you likely read the Times Herald, but did you know it's one of the longest running papers in our area? We have a few items in our collection that relate to the historic newspaper, such as this commemorative cast of David Sower Jr., one of the first owners of the paper.

David Sower

Copper Cast of David Sower Jr. 

David Sower Jr. was the son of David Sower Sr. the founder of the Norristown Gazette. As a bookbinder and seller in Norristown, David Sr. wanted to create a paper for local news. He published the first copy of the Norristown Gazette on June 15, 1799. The paper's name changed to the Norristown Herald and Weekly Advertiser in 1800. David Jr. took over the Norristown Herald in 1816.

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Sower's Bookshop

While running the paper, David Jr. enlarged the pages and added office equipment. At some point in his eighteen years as editor and publisher, David Jr. changed the paper's name to Norristown Herald and Montgomery county Advertiser (the "c" in county was lowercase). He sold the paper to John Hodgson in 1854. Its name changed slightly a few times as it changed owners in the following years. By the early 1920s, it was known as the Norristown Daily Herald.

In 1921 Ralph Beaver Strassburger bought the Norristown Daily Herald and the Norristown Daily Times, which was founded by Civil War veteran Captain William Rennyson in 1881. Strassburger merged the two papers, creating the Norristown Times Herald. The business operated at 410 Markley Street for 98 years. 

The paper changed its name to the Times Herald in the early 1960s to emphasize its focus on local county news. Today, the Times Herald continues to operate both in print and online.

 

 

Sources:

 

Russell Rubert(President of Norristown Preservation Society). “Guest Commentary: The Times Herald and the Changing Way of News.” Times Herald, February 13, 2020.https://www.timesherald.com/news/local/guest-commentary-the-times-herald-and-the-changing-way-of-news/article_343e1888-4e62-11ea-be0b-a33ec8863426.html

 

Stan Husky. Remembering Norristown: Stories from the Banks of the Schuylkill River.

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