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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (97)

Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17

Red Arrow Liberty Liners

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In 1964, commuters in Montgomery County got a new and luxurious transportation option when Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company introduced two new trains, called Liberty Liners. These trains ran on the Red Arrow Line and promised a refreshment lounge, air conditioning, and soft music piped into the passenger cars. They had been decorated by Philadelphia artist Horace Paul.

The new trains were actually refurbished cars that were built in 1940 by the St. Louis Car Company for the North Shore Line in Illinois. The trains had already covered more than six million miles each when Philadelphia Suburban Transit purchased them after the North Shore Line folded due to competition from new highways.

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In fact, Philadelphia Suburban Transit was the rare private commuter transit company that managed to survive the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Red Arrow Line ran busses, trollies, and trains throughout the Philadelphia region, but its leader, Merritt H. Taylor, Jr., resisted the private-public partnerships that developed in the 1960’s, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT).1

One of the ways the company attracted riders was through plush, fancy trains like the Liberty Liners.

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Our material on the inaugural run of the Liberty Liner on January 26, 1964 was donated by David E. Groshens. They include tickets, photographs, coasters, and a history of the trains and how they were refurbished. There’s even a paper explaining the new music system: “In each train is a tape deck containing magnetic tape cartridges. Each cartridge holds four recorded tracks, with 30 minutes of continuous play per track.”

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The trains ran on the Norristown High Speed Line, which had previously been run by the Philadelphia and Western Railway Company. That company fared poorly in the Depression, and Philadelphia Suburban Transit gained a controlling interest in 1946, and finally merged the two companies in 1953.

The Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company had begun in 1848 as a turnpike and horse carriage company. The company went through many mergers and permutations over the decades. The Red Arrow Line started when the company, then known as the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company, began its first bus route in 1923.

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The P&W bridge in Norristown

Seeing the time of private mass transit coming to an end, Taylor sold the Red Arrow Line to SEPTA in 1970.  SEPTA kept the name and logo for seven years after the acquisition, but eventually, they went out of use.2  The Liberty Liners were sold in 1981.  The Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnance, PA, now owns one of them.

From https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/red-arrow-lines/ accessed Nov. 15, 2018

Ibid.

Thursday, 08 November 2018 21:08

Faust Tannery, Ambler

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The Faust Tannery of Ambler operated for over 100 years. It was founded in 1790 by Jonathan Thomas at intersection of Bethlehem and Butler Pikes, when that area was known as Gilky’s Corner (now sometimes called Rose Valley).

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Look carefully, and you can find the tannery on this map from 1871

Thomas was a Quaker, who ran the business until his death in 1808. In 1810, Thomas’s son sold the property to James Rutter, another Quaker, who also bought the 35 acre farm that was next to the tannery.

In 1841, Rutter took on Alvin D. Faust as an apprentice. Faust was a native of Lehigh County and a Pennsylvania German. Alvin’s son, Alvin B. Faust wrote a remembrance of his father and the tannery in our Bulletin in 1942. He described his father as “a hustler….From his early youth he had learned to work hard and long.” After a few years of working for Rutter, Faust returned to his family farm in Lehigh County. Alvin B. writes that Alvin D. had to make trips to Philadelphia for supplies, and he sometimes stopped at Rutter’s farm for an overnight stay.

In 1850, Faust bought the tannery from the aging Rutter. He also bought 7 acres of land and a frame house on the south side of Bethlehem Pike. In 1867, he tore the frame house down and replaced it with a brick house. There is a brick house on the site today, which might be that that house (Alvin B. says it was still standing in 1942). When Faust moved in, his wife had never seen the place. The original frame house had once been used to raise silkworms during the decades when the northeast had a bit of a silk craze. Abandoned cocoons had to be cleared away before the family could move in.

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Faust Tannery at the time it was sold

 

Up to Alvin D. Faust’s death in 1884, about half the tannery’s business was making leather for boots and shoes. Around that time, Faust’s son writes that leather top boots were growing rarer, and it proved to be unprofitable. After that point, Faust Tannery specialized in leather for harnesses.

It was important for the business to be on the road to Philadelphia, but also important was the stream running by the land, now known as Tannery Run. Originally, the water powered the bark mill run by the tannery (more about bark in a second). In 1862, Faust installed a 10 horse power steam engine for power. The water source was still essential to the tanning process, however. Tree bark was used in the process of tanning. The tannery bought ground bark by the ton. It was put into large vats of water for leeching. The hide was soaked in this liquid for eight to nine months. Until 1910, the used liquid was run into the creek (after 1910 that was prohibited by the state).

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Tannery Run today

In 1876, Faust Tannery won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition. The business worked with other companies throughout the northeast, as far away as Chicago.

Alvin B. writes that the business was prosperous until after World War I, when trucks and automobiles replaced horse drawn vehicles. They stopped ordering new hides in 1920, and the business closed down in 1925. In 1940 all of the equipment and the building was sold off.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 19:44

A Grave Mystery

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Tonight is Halloween. Some of our ancestors believed this was the only night during the year when the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. So what better time to talk about a mysterious grave marker than tonight?!

 

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Unknown Grave Marker, HSMC

 

At HSMC, we have this heavy grave marker, believed to be made from limestone. It took two people to lift it off the shelf to take photos. The only markings are the initials “A. S.” Although our records have not yet revealed the name of this person, we can learn more about them just by examining this grave marker.

Different rocks were used for making grave markers throughout American history. Slate and sandstone were used primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. Marble and limestone were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, most are made from granite because they do not deteriorate as quickly. Since we believe this grave marker is made from limestone, we can estimate that A. S. lived around the 18th or 19th centuries.

 

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Burial Plot for John F. Hartranft at Historic Montgomery Cemetery

 

We can also look at the overall design of the grave marker to learn more about this person. Given that there are no engraved designs, it is possible A. S. did not have the money for these designs. Compare A.S.’s marker to the obelisk that marks the burial plot for John F. Hartranft (December 16, 1830 – October 17, 1889). Being a former Pennsylvania Governor and Civil War General, Hartranft had plenty of money to pay for a large family plot.

The identity and burial location of A. S. may be a mystery for now, but hopefully someday we will be able to uncover the rest of this mystery.

Thursday, 25 October 2018 20:23

Citizens’ Building & Loan Association

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Last month the Historical Society received a donation of materials from Citizens’ Building & Loan Association in Telford.

The institution went through many name changes over the decades, but its beginnings were simple enough. In 1905 about twenty men of Telford met to discuss starting a building and loan association, according to a typewritten history of the organization’s first years that was included with the materials. That meeting led to a bigger meeting, held on November 9, when the assembled men elected W. B. Butterwick chairman and E. C. Leidy secretary. William S. Schlichter from the Sellersville Building and Loan spoke to the group about the benefits of such associations. “Ninety-two were subscribed for before the meeting adjourned,” the history tells us. In January, 1906 the Building & Loan made its first loans to John M. Overholt and Clayton H. Detweiler, both for $600.

The collection includes many of the association’s annual reports, starting with the third annual report in 1908. Meetings were held monthly in the Fireman’s Hall in Telford. The 23rd annual report explains, “The primary aim of the Organization is to aid the rising generation to homes, thrift and saving, sharing in high standard financiering.”

I was curious to see how the crash in 1929 altered the association. In the 1928 report lists $11,459.04 cash in the bank. In 1929, that number is $4,925.00. The number of accounts in arrears increased from 13 to 22. The 1930 annual report was not included with the papers, but by 1931 the number of accounts in arrears was up to 43. They increased to 54 in 1932 and 64 in 1933. The trend reversed in 1934 with 44 accounts in arrears, and they continued to decrease from then on. The other change during the Depression has to do with who was auditing the association. In the early years, the three auditors all had the same last names as directors of the Building & Loan. From 1938 on, the books were audited by an outside firms.

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In 1954, the annual report lists that they’ve opened an office at 116 South Main Street in Telford that would be open the first ten business days of the month, and for the first time, a phone number is listed.

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In 1959, the name changed to Telford Savings and Loan Association, and in 1964 it moved to a new building at 20 South Main Street. In 1979, the association was acquired by Red Hill Savings, which had twelve branches at that time. Red Hill Savings merged with several other banks after deregulation in the 1980’s and became Hill Financial. By 1989, it was the largest savings institution in Pennsylvania. It then collapsed with the rest of the savings and loan industry. It was eventually bought by Meridian Bank Corporation of Reading.

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After several more mergers, what was Citizens’ Building and Loan Association, is now part of Wells Fargo, which still operates the building at 20 South Main Street.

Thursday, 18 October 2018 20:42

"It worries me considerably"

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This week I was working on the diaries of Judge Harold G. Knight, who sat on the bench here in Montgomery County and for two decades was president of the Montgomery County courts. Knight kept diaries for most of his life. Our collection covers the years 1893 to 1962. The diaries have many enclosures, items such as programs, letters, and newspaper clippings, that have been paperclipped to the relevant dates in the diaries.

One of the enclosures I came across concerned a murder trial that Judge Knight presided over in 1930. On July 4, 1930, Antoinette McCarris shot Joseph Lee in the back with a shot gun killing him. The earliest report in the Norristown Times-Herald (July 5, 1930) described Mrs. McCarris as a “pretty brunette.” It also described her as married to Joseph Lee, but that turned out not to be the case.

McCarris

Three years earlier, McCarris had left her husband in Virginia and run off with Lee, a former sailor, bringing her two children with her. They eventually settled on a small farm in Worcester, and both were 26 at the time of the killing. The police believed she murdered Lee out of jealously. Lee had shown interest in a younger woman, Bernice Doyle of Kensington. McCarris claimed the shooting was an accident that occurred when she fired off the shot gun to celebrate the 4th.

Given that several people had heard McCarris threaten to kill Lee on several occasions, the District Attorney, Frank X. Renninger, brought her up on charges of first degree murder and sought the death penalty.

The trial started on November 17th. It was Judge Knight’s first murder case. He wrote in his diary that day, “I confess it worries me considerably.” The first day was jury selection. The judge writes that one man declared he had a conscientious objection to capital punishment. “In about one case in twenty these were sincere in the other cases they were pure exhibitors of moral cowardice,” the judge writes.

The next day, two boys, Thomas Hicks, 14, and his brother James, 12, testified for the prosecution. Their father owned the farm Lee and McCarris were renting. Both boys reported that the couple had been fighting over Lee’s interest in Doyle. James claimed to have seen the shooting and demonstrated how McCarris pointed the shotgun at the kitchen door. The Commonwealth called a total of 25 witnesses before resting its case. Then Antoinette McCarris took the stand in her own defense.

“It was the most dramatic and tense hours I have ever seen in a court room,” Judge Knight wrote. He described McCarris as “young [and] frail.” He points out that she was married and a mother at only 15. “She made a deep impression on the just and I am beginning to have some doubts myself as to whether she actually intended to kill the man for whom she left her husband and family three years ago.”

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According to the newspaper reports, McCarris denied both threatening to kill Lee and that the couple ever argued about Doyle. Under cross examination, however, she admitted to being jealous of the younger, blond Doyle. McCarris always stuck to her defense that the shooting was an accident. She said she loaded and cocked the gun in the house with the intention of firing it off in the yard.

The jurors, six men and six women, deliberated the case for two hours before returning to the courtroom. The Times-Herald described McCarris as being in a daze when the foreman announced the verdict “not guilty.”

Having no place to go after the trial, she returned to jail, while her lawyer, Edward F. Kane, made arrangements for her to return to Virginia to stay with relatives.

Judge Knight noted in his diary that the verdict was popular. He also wrote that she was acquitted “despite the powerful evidence produced by the Commonwealth and the inherent weakness of her own story.” He goes on, “It was just one of those cases where a pitiful and appealing woman was the defendant, accused of shooting the man she had left her home for and whom she feared had grown tired of her. The just looked upon her deed as justified and decided the case on their view of its moralities and not the law.”

Thursday, 11 October 2018 19:46

Bertolet Burying Ground

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Across the road from the Frederick Mennonite Church is the Bertolet Meeting House and Burying Ground. Set aside by the Frey family for family burials in 1725, the burying ground long predates the small meeting house and holds many Frey, Bertolet, and Grubb ancestors.

Heinrich, or Henry, Frey was one of the earliest German settlers in Pennsylvania. He settled in Philadelphia in 1680 where he opened a woodworking shop. According to a legend recorded in The Book of Philadelphia by Robert Shackleton, Frey and his business partner Joseph Plattenbach taught a young Lenni Lenapi man their trades, and in return, he introduced them to his father Chief Tammanend (often called Tammany – as in Tammany Hall in New York). The son was called Minsi Usquerat. Frey and Plattenbach gave gifts to the Leni Lenapi and spent the night with them. The next day, Tammanend took them to the top of a hill and offered them a 1000 acre tract of land in what is now Germantown.

Later, after 1700, Frey bought the land that is now Bertolet Burying Ground from William Penn, as part of a purchase of 650 acres. He moved there with his sons and nephew. In 1725, Henry Frey set aside part of the land for a family burial ground, and after he died in 1734, he was the first burial there.

Frey Bertolet

The name Bertolet came to the area with Jean Bertolet, a French Huguenot who came to Pennsylvania in 1726. His daughter Susanna, married Henry Frey’s grandson Jacob in 1750. After Jacob died in 1770, she sent for her nephew Samuel Bertolet, who finished building the house Jacob had started. In 1777, that house served as the staff headquarters for the Continental Army.

Samuel served in the American Revolution under General Anthony Wayne hauling both supplies and wounded soldiers during the Battle of the Brandywine. He also supplied grain to the army at Valley Forge.

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Samuel’s son Daniel was a brickmaker, whose brick went into many of the early buildings of Frederick Township. It was he who proposed founding a Mennonite Meeting House on the land next to the burial ground in 1846. The first meeting was held on May 23, 1847.

The meeting house was closed in 1928 when the advent of the automobile made it possible for Mennonites to travel to large meetings in surrounding communities. However, in 1950, a Mennonite group began using the building for Sunday school, and in 1966, a new building, Frederick Mennonite Church was built across the street.

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In 1890, the Bertolet Burying Ground Association was incorporated to maintain the burial ground and the meeting house. The records of the association are part of the Historical Society’s archive.

Wednesday, 03 October 2018 20:04

The Women's Vote

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Since the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Tuesday October 9, I wanted to share two objects connected to the history of women voters in Montgomery County. When the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, politicians realized the need to alter their campaign strategies. Advocate groups, such as the League of Women Voters, were formed to encourage people to vote.

League of Women Voters

2016.152.007f – League of Women Voters, Upper Merion

Since their establishment in Chicago in 1920, local chapters of the League of Women Voters have emerged throughout the United States, including here in Montgomery County. This group provided, and continues to provide, voters with an understanding of current issues, government processes, and current political candidates. The League of Women Voters created tags and pins, like the one depicted in the picture above, to hand out to voters before and on Election Day.

As time progressed, women became increasingly active in politics. To appeal to women voters, politicians created items, such as this potholder, to encourage women to vote for them.

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2018.193 - Given in Memory of A. Patricia McCann

This potholder was one of many commissioned by the Coughlin for Congress campaign in the 1960’s. Robert Lawrence Coughlin was a Republican running for PA State Representative for Montgomery County. Since many women spent time in the kitchen, Coughlin and other candidates realized making an item women could use on a daily basis would be great advertising for their campaign. This particular potholder was given to A. Patricia McCann, for her participation in Coughlin’s campaign. McCann was a Republican Committee Woman and Co-Chairperson in King of Prussia during the early 1960s. For candidates, politically active women like McCann were becoming crucial for their success.

Today, political candidates and advocate groups continue to create items to encourage people to vote. Some of the most common items we see are: political t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the “I Voted” stickers.

Thursday, 27 September 2018 20:49

An update on “Aha!”

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Every week, we put out a little article about something in our collection, and how it tells a story from Montgomery County’s past. And then – well, generally, then nothing. Maybe a few likes on Facebook. Then another Thursday comes around, and another article goes up on the blog.

Every once in a while, we get a response. This is always a little shocking because it means someone actually read our blog. Last summer, I received two (!) responses to a blog post I wrote about a libel case against Moses Auge.

To recap, Henry L. Acker sued Auge and John L. Williams for libel after an article appeared in the newspaper, the Norristown Republican. Auge and Williams were co-editors of the paper. The article accused Acker of embezzling public money while he was postmaster. Our collection holds the original indictment, but it doesn’t tell us the verdict. There was a curious detail in the indictment, however. A document filed with the indictments, tells us that a bond of $500 was set for both Auge and Williams, as well as an addition man named Jacob Cowden, but Cowden was not mentioned in the indictment.

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Earlene O’Hare sent me an email a few weeks later explaining that Cowden was a relative of Auge’s by marriage. Moses Auge married Mary Cowden, and it looks like Jacob was her nephew. It doesn’t tell us how in was involved with the libel suit.

Then I received a letter from another member, Ben Curtis, who was familiar with Jacob Cowden’s name from some family lore. It seems Jacob was involved in some dishonest real estate deals. Auge describes him in his Lives of the Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa.:

“He owns considerable real estate in the borough, generally investing in such properties as yield a good income. Jacob M. Cowden had but a moderate school education, but has risen in fortune by shrewd judgment and close attention to business.”

Cowden died suddenly on April 16, 1887. According to his lengthy obituary in the Herald and Free Press, “He possessed push, capital, and shrewdness.”

After Cowden’s death, however, it all fell apart. Ben sent along a newspaper clipping that says “he invested enormous amounts of money for other people, invariably taking securities in his own name and assigning them to his clients, with the injunction not the record the assignment.” He also borrowed large amounts of money using promissory notes and used that money to purchase real estate, which he transferred to his three single daughters.

This doesn’t explain his $500 bond, but it raises some intriguing questions.

This week's blog comes to us from volunteer and trustee Ed Ziegler.

 

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During the 1888 Presidential campaign, President Grover Cleveland and his private secretary Col. Daniel Lamont, stayed in Montgomery County, to rest from campaigning, according to the National Defender newspaper. On September 22nd and 23rd, 1888. They stayed with William M. Singerly at his Whitpain Township “Record Farm”. Mr. Singerly was the publisher of the Philadelphia Record, a Democratic newspaper, and he was known for his experiments in improved farming methods. The President left the next day for Washington.

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Mr Singerly’s farm house had been the Franklinville Hotel (Franklinville was the area around the intersection of DeKalb Pike and Morris Road). He closed the hotel and purchased surrounding farms, eventually owning over 500 acres in Whitpain and Gwynedd townships. He was particularly known for his herd of over 100 Holstein cattle. Mr. Singerly went on to be the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1894.

After Singerly died suddenly in 1898 (from what doctors called “tobacco heart,” Singlery smoked 18 to 25 cigars a day), a Dr. Wilson, who used it for years as a summer home, purchased the farm. The farm was then purchased by Ralph Beaver Strassberger, publisher of the Norristown Times-Herald, who named it Normandy Farm. The house Strassberger lived in is, in part, the old Franklinville Hotel.

Thursday, 06 September 2018 17:04

Sabotage!

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To many people, the introduction of trains in Montgomery County was a welcomed change in transportation. However, while trains were a faster way to travel, it was not uncommon for them to derail during the earliest days of their use. At HSMC, we have a piece of metal believed to be from one of these train wrecks.

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Piece of Metal from Gwynedd Train Wreck

On Saturday November 21, 1903, a train derailed shortly after leaving Gwynedd Station. The engine and one passenger car jumped off the track and slid down an embankment when trying to cross the Wissahickon. Sadly, one passenger, Clement Custer, and one fireman, Harry Roderick, were killed. Several other passengers were injured.

Although this train wreck may not appear to be unusual when compared to similar accidents, the cause of this wreck was quite unusual. According to the Times Herald, the authorities believed the rail road tracks were sabotaged! There were two theories as to why someone would sabotage the tracks.

First, the previous week, a group of intoxicated African American men were forced off the same train when they reached Landsdale. Some people claimed the men said they would take revenge for being forced off the train.

The second theory, some people believed the sabotage could have been part of a robbery plan. According to Great Train Wrecks of Eastern Pennsylvania, the Black Diamond Express, which carried large sums of money, was scheduled to pass the sabotaged tracks before this passenger train. The tracks were bent without cutting the bond wire, which would have triggered the signal system and alerted oncoming trains. This could only have been accomplished by a person who knew the train schedule and understood the construction of the tracks.

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In spite of these two theories, no arrests were ever made and the exact reason for the sabotage remains a mystery. The Times Herald mentions the wreck four times over the next few weeks, but investigators were unable to find the person responsible for the sabotage. Was it the result of a disgruntled passenger or railroad worker? Was the saboteur just looking to get rich? This is one mystery we may never solve.

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