Found in Collection

Found in Collection (136)

Adelaide Cottrell was born Adelaide Chain in Norristown in 1894.  Her parents were B. Percy and Elizabeth Chain.  Around 1918 she married a military man from Lancaster County named Joseph Cottrell.  For the next three decades, she traveled with him around the world on his various assignments as an expert in coastal artillery.  In 1940, they went together to what was meant to be his final assignment – a small island opposite Manila Bay called Corregidor.


In June of 1941 Adelaide, along with other civilians on the island, was evacuated as Fort Mills went on high alert.  The Japanese first attacked the island on December 29, 1941.


Photograph of the seige of Corregidor


They continued attacking until May 6, 1942, when the American troops, under General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered.  In a radio message to President Roosevelt, Wainwright said, “There is a limit to human endurance and that point has long been passed.”

Americans at home were aware that the Japanese had taken the Philippines, but living with her family back in Norristown, Adelaide Cottrell didn’t know what had happened to her husband.  Then a photograph appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, claiming to show prisoners of war, including General Wainwright.  Adelaide saw that photograph and realized it was her husband, Joseph.


The photograph Adelaide saw in the Bulletin was reprinted in the Norristown Times

She tried to send him letters, but the army sent them back because Col. Cottrell had not appeared on the official POW lists from the Japanese.

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A returned letter from August, 1942, three months after Joe was captured.

Eventually, her letters were delivered, and she received a few in return.  Col. Cottrell was held for over three years, first in Taiwan then in Manchuria.  During that time, he hit the mandatory retirement age in the army, a fact he addresses in this brief letter.



This letter from Adelaide was censored.  The note at the bottom says it was written in May 1943.  A note on the envelope shows it was received in May, 1944, a full year later.


At the end of the war, Joe was at Camp Hoten Mukden in Manchuria, which was liberated on August 20, 1945 when Soviet troops arrived.  I found some footage of the liberation on YouTube.  I think (but of course I can't be sure) that Joe appears about the 2:10 mark.  Adelaide received a telegram regarding his release.


Although he sounds positive in his letters, Col. Joseph Cottrell did not recover from his time in POW camps.  He died in 1948 and was buried in Arlingon National Cemetery.  Adelaide, who died in 1981, is buried next to him.



Thursday, 27 April 2017 20:01

The 51st at Fredericksburg

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If you’re a local Civil War buff, you are probably aware of the Fifty-First Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Led by future Pennsylvania governor, John F. Hartranft, the Fifty-first’s most famous moment in battle is probably its taking of the bridge at Antietam.  However, just a few months later, the regiment found itself in another battle, this time in Fredericksburg.

The Fifty-First Regiment was organized by Hartranft in 1861, after the initial 90 day enlistments ended.  Made of ten companies, five hailed from Montgomery County, while the other five were made up of men from central Pennsylvania.  After the Battle of Antietam in September, 1862, the Fifty-first crossed the Potomac in to Virginia in October, eventually coming to Fredericksburg by mid-November.

Portrait Hartranft

John F. Hartranft

Men from the Fifty-first, including the eventual author of the regimental history, Thomas H. Parker, then a sergeant, were on picket the night before the attack.  In the early morning hours, the brigade commander’s chief of staff appeared and said, “Pack up, boys, and get out of here as soon as you can, for we are going to open on the city as quick as you get away.”  Parker writes that they withdrew “without the least noise imaginable.”  At 4 AM on December 12, 1862, the Union cannons opened fire on the city.


From the book Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, volume 2 by Benson J. Lossing

The regiment crossed the Rappahonnock River and entered the city later that day.  Parker describes intense fighting:

“The air seemed so full of balls that one would supposed that a finger could not be pointed towards the rebel batteries without being hit on the end with a bullet, and it is a mystery to the writer how under the sun even one man reached alive the position assigned to the regiment, it being directly in face of more than a mile of earthworks, behind which lay thousands of rebels, who kept up their incessant volley after volley of musketry, and their batteries volleys of grape and canister, to say nothing of the rifle shells that passed through the rand and went screeching and whizzing through the air.  It was here were Capt. Ferdinand Bell, of Co. B, was killed…”


The Union army withdrew from Fredericksburg on December 15.   Parker writes that 90 men out of 270 were killed and wounded (though he notes that many men who were slightly wounded did not report it).  This list, printed by the National Defender, shows 81 names, and some of the names are spelled differently than in the regimental history.  

Thursday, 20 April 2017 19:54

Hanging Rock

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Do you recognize this famous spot in Montgomery County?  It's "Haning Rock" or "Overhanging Rock" on Route 320, Gulph Road, in Upper Merion.  You can see in this picture that the road was a narrow dirt road that was orginally laid out in the early Eighteenth Century.  General George Washington and his troops passed beneath this rock in 1777 on the way to Valley Forge.

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In 1917, the Pennsylvania Highway Department proposed destroying the rock in order to widen and modernize the road.  Local people protested, and Mrs. J. Aubrey Anderson, who ownded the rock, donated it to the Valley Forge Historical Society in 1924.  Eventually, the Highway Department agreed to reprofile the rock, which has been done several times over the years to allow for modern traffic to flow underneath.  At one point there was a staircase leading people to a park at the top of the rock.

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Last night I reached up to one of the highest shelves in the closed stacks at the Historical Society and took down a box labeled "Montgomery County Agricultural Society."  This box contains minute books and other records of the society which existed from 1850 until 1884.  Our records go from the group’s inception until about 1872.

Ag members The first page of the member list

According to its constitution, the purpose of the society was “to cherish and promote Agricultural, Horticultural, and the domestic arts, and to disseminate scientific knowledge thereon.”  Annual dues were two dollars, and one could become a life member for a one-time payment of ten dollars.  The group was based in Springtown, the area around the intersection of Germantown and DeKalb Pike in East Norriton, and that was the location of its annual fair from 1850 until 1869.  It then restarted the annual fairs in Ambler.


Ten years after the founding of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, a similar group was founded in Norristown called the East Pennsylvania Agricultural and Mechanical Society.  It also held an annual exhibition.  According to a 1942 article in the Norristown Times-Herald, the Norristown farm exhibition was said to have better horse races, while the Springtown fair had better livestock and farm products.

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Records from the society's minute book.

In 1868, the two organizations attempted to merge.  At the January 2nd meeting, the Montgomery County Agricultural Society voted 55 to 51 to merge, but just a few days later, a group opposed to the merger protested that the slim majority represented only 1/8 of the membership.  They went to court to stop the merger.


From the minutes it’s clear that the society’s finances were suffering at this time.  At the May 11, 1868 meeting, member Hiram C. Hoover motioned that the society’s property should be sold at public sale to pay the society’s debts.  After this meeting, however, there appears to have been a change in leadership, and the plans to merge with the Eastern Pennsylvania Agricultural and Mechanical Society and to sell off the property were abandoned.  The Society also rewrote its constitution.

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From the program of the 1869 fair, the last one held in Springhouse

In 1870 the society voted to move from Springhouse to Ambler, and the annual fair would be held there until 1884 according to "Norris” in the Times-Herald.  Our minute book ends with the meeting on August 12, 1872, but it looks like the Society ceased to exist after 1884.  The Eastern Pennsylvania Agricultural and Mechanical Society by then closed down, too, probably in 1877.

Thursday, 06 April 2017 13:38

100 Years Ago Today

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In honor of the United States’ entrance into World War I on April 6, 1917 we wanted to highlight a related object from the Historical Society’s collection. The medal is a French Wounded Fund Medal commemorating the entry of the United States into the war. On one side of the medal is an eagle, shield, and sword.  The shield is a combined crest of the United States’ allies, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Serbia, Belgium, Russia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Around the edge of the coin it reads “Do Right and Fear No Man” which was inspired by an inscription on one of George Washington’s swords.


Britain is the ship, France is the rooster, Italy is the Cross of Savoy, Montenegro the small lion’s head, Russia is the bear, Belgium is the roaring lion, Serbia is the four E’s, and Japan is the rising sun.

 On the reverse is the shield of the U.S. with the recognizable stars and stripes surrounded by a laurel wreath. Within the shield on the line separating the stars and stripes is the inscription “APRIL VI MDCCCCXVII” or April 6, 1917. In a circle around the shield is the phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address “That Government by the People Shall Not Perish.”

MEDAL BACK DATE The reverse side of the medal.

The American Fund for French Wounded was a charitable organization established by American women. The organization was intended to help the wartime hospitals in France. Medals such as this one and other items like this one were used to raise funds for medical supplies and improved hospital conditions in Europe. The American Fund for French Wounded was active throughout the U.S. starting in 1915.


A close-up of the reverse of the medal, showing the date April 6, 1917 in Roman numerals.


The medal is object number 6,418a donated by Joseph H. Smith in 1920. 



Thursday, 30 March 2017 19:44

How Wissahickon Became Ambler

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A view of Ambler from the 1871 atlas by G. M. Hopkins.

The European settlement of what would one day be Ambler began when a Quaker family named Harmer bought the land along the Wissahickon from William Penn.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, a mill town, known as Wissahickon had developed.  By 1855, the settlement was prominent enough that the North Penn Railroadbuilt a station in the town.  The station was also called Wissahickon.

About one year later, on July 17, 1856, the north bound Shackamaxon crashed into the south bound Aramingo between Fort Washington and Camp Hill.  Fifty-nine people died in what was then the deadliest train wreck in history and 86 were injured, according to Frank D. Quattrone’s book Ambler.  Some bodies were never found and some were unidentified, so the exact number of dead might be higher. It was known as the “Picnic Train Tragedy” because many of the riders on the Shackamaxon were day trippers up from St. Michael’s in Kensington, and the train may have been overloaded.


ambler wreck A newspaper drawing imagining the wreck.


The rail line curved near Camp Hill and neither engineer could see the other.  The Shackamaxon may have left Philadelphia early, further confusing things.  When the locomotives hit head on, the explosion of the boilers could be heard for miles around and the fire that followed could also be seen for some distance.    It was the fire, and not the collision, that seems to have claimed the most victims.

Volunteers from nearby homes and farms arrived as quickly as they could.  Most prominent among them was Mary Johnson Ambler, a Quaker widow who lived two miles away in Wissahickon.  She gathered medical supplies and walked the two miles to the wreck.  Once there, she calmly attended the wounded.

Mary Ambler

Mary Ambler

After her death in 1868, North Penn Railroad decided to honor her work at the accident site by renaming the Wissahickon train station in her honor.  When the borough incorporated in 1888, it took the name Ambler.

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Postcard showing the Ambler train station

by Michael Green

In retrospect over one hundred years ago, there existed a significant debate in the country among Americans over women’s suffrage. Although suffragettes who were advocating for the vote had been organized since 1869, there emerged anti-suffrage national and state organizations which formed in 1911. 

One has only to read the bulletin issued below by the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to understand the basic argument and platform on which the group stood. This appeared in program for the Fourth Annual Corn and Fruit Show in Norristown in December, 1917.


In May, 1915, the Philadelphia Civic Panel held a debate at 1300 Spruce Street on “the pros and cons of women’s suffrage.” Mrs. Wilfred Lewis who was the president of the Equal Franchise Society argued for the vote. Mrs. Horace Brock, President of the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage argued against it. Mrs. Imogene Oakley argued for “limited equal suffrage.”

As we look into this time in history, we see that state and local positions were reflective of a national movement led by Josephine Dodge, the founder of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. On the other hand, Reverend Doctor Anna Howard Shaw was honorary president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was also both a medical doctor with a degree from Boston University in 1886 and an ordained Methodist minister.  The Woman Suffrage Party of Pennsylvania had a Montgomery County chapter headquartered at 17 East Penn Street and chaired by Mrs. A. M. Snyder of Ardmore in 1917.


As we know, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and granted American women the right to vote. This right was and is known as woman suffrage thus the position of Dr. Anna Shaw and her organization prevailed. In closing, Dr. Shaw’s life reflected a lifetime of achievement, dedication, and commitment to humanity and women’s causes that should not go unnoticed.

Thursday, 16 March 2017 20:56

Too Cold to Blog!

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This week has been a little crazy, and our headquarters was closed for two days.  So, no blog today.  But isn't this a great picture of some kids on Butler Ave. in Ambler.  Taken around 1898, notice the sleigh going past the kids.

Thursday, 09 March 2017 21:39

The Plymouth Meeting Controversy

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A headline from the Norristown Times-Herald.

Lately, one of our tireless volunteers, Dick Mardi, has been processing our church collections. Among the church bulletins, anniversary booklets, and newspaper clippings, he came across a small green booklet called “The Plymouth Meeting Controversy.” I guessed it was some kind schism in the meeting house, but it was much more interesting. In 1954, McCarthyism came to Montgomery County.

First a little background. William Jeanes Memorial Library (now in Whitemarsh Township) was founded by Mrs. Mary Rich Jeanes Miller, who left $75,000 to Plymouth Monthly Meeting in her will for the founding of the library. She died in 1926. The library opened in a private home in 1933, and moved into its own building two years later. As time went on, the library committee (appointed by the Monthly Meeting) approached Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships for support. Each township offered $500 annually, and Plymouth asked for and received two seats on the committee.

Now, in 1953, the librarian, Edith Sawyer, broke her hip and was unable to work for 3 months. So, the library board began to look for a replacement. They contacted the employment chairman was the Special Libraries Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and he suggested Mary Knowles who had just moved from Massachusetts to Wayne, Pa.



Mary Knowles in a photograph published by the Times-Herald on August 2, 1955.

In her first conversation with Lillian Tapley, chair of the library committee, Mary Knowles said that she had been fired by her previous employer, Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts, because she had invoked the Fifth Amendment while being questioned by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. As she explained to Morrill Memorial Library:

“This past week I appeared under subpoena before the Senate Sub-committee on Internal Security headed by Senator [William] Jenner in Washington, in both secret and open hearings. In both instances I answered only questions as to my name, address, and employment in the Library. Al other questions I declined under the privilege granted by the Fifth Amendment, which says: “that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Lest this would seem not to apply, I would like to explain further. In the first place I have committed no crime… in the second place, the investigating committees no longer uphold the validity of the First Amendment, and recourse to that Amendment…could very easily lead to contempt of court citation and ensuing jail sentence. In the third place, if, under compulsion I testified concerning my religion and politics, but refused to answer questions about others, I would also be held in contempt of court…Fourth, if I refused to answer questions on moral or ethical grounds without invoking the Fifth Amendment, I would also be held in contempt of court and again face a jail sentence. Fifth, and last, I feel very strongly that these committees and their methods are highly unconstitutional; that they represent a deep threat not only to the strength of the United States, but also to the very form of government itself; that through such investigations lies indeed the path of the United States into totalitarianism and the police state.”

Why was Knowles questioned by the senate committee in the first place? She had worked at the Samuel Adams School in Boston, a school that was one of several operated by the American Communist Party.

The committee didn’t think Knowles’ past disqualified her for the position. They contacted her references and they all gave excellent reports. The committee hired her for a temporary, six month position. The two representatives from Plymouth Township were not at the meeting when the committee voted to hire her, but the booklet points out that they never voiced any opposition during that initial six month period.

blog300 Plymouth Meeting House in 1943.

At the time, loyalty oaths were a bit of a craze in America. Pennsylvania had a loyalty oath, and a Plymouth commissioner suggested Knowles take the oath, but she declined. She did sign a statement declaring her support of the United States, its founding documents, and stated that she had no connection to any left-wing groups since leaving the Samuel Adams School.

When Edith Sawyer’s hip healed, she returned to work briefly, but resigned in September of 1954. The committee looked around for a new librarian, but didn’t find one they liked as much as they had Mary Knowles. The booklet points out several times that attendance and circulation had increased when Mary Knowles took over. Since Knowles had not yet found another job, she was rehired.

This led to a standoff between the two representatives of Plymouth Township and the Monthly Meeting. The township demanded that Knowles had to sign the loyalty oath, and the Monthly Meeting decided that requiring the loyalty oath was counter to their Quaker beliefs.

Plymouth Township and its school board both withheld their annual contributions, and the local American Legion post and the Daughters of the American Revolution declared their opposition to Knowles’ employment without the oath. Plus, a new group, called Alerted Americans Group popped up to voice opposition to Knowles. According to “The Plymouth Meeting Controversy” the “group” was largely the effort of one person, Helen Payson Corson of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. A letter from the group read:

“Should we accept such a person of doubtful loyalty in a position of public trust and esteem when to do so requires us to repudiate the long, agonizing ordeal of a man like Herbert Philbrick? Should be thank God for dedicated patriots like him and vigorously support him in every way? Doesn’t he deserve our gratitude just as much as our men in uniform do? Let’s honor the F.B.I., not the F.A.U. (Fifth Amendment Users).”

Herbert Philbrick was an advertising executive who infiltrated the Communist Party in the 1940’s for the F. B. I.

blog301 Herbert Philbrick testifying about Communist recruitment in the United States.

The Monthly Meeting continued to support Knowles, stating “Should an accusation of association with the Communist Party eight years ago be disqualification for employment? We think it should not. Certainly, in a Christian and democratic nation, the individual has the right to be judged on the merits of his particular case.”

The following year, 1955, the Fund for the Republic, an organization interested in matters the concerning the Bill of Rights, awarded Plymouth Monthly Meeting $5000 for “courageous and effective defense of democratic principles.”

This more than offset what the library was losing from Plymouth Township, but it also brought even more attention to the case. Mary Knowles was again called before the Senate Internal Subcommittee. She again stated that she was not a Communist. At this hearing she did not invoke the Fifth Amendment “since any association that I had had with an organization on the Attorney General’s list was so far in the past, that I would no longer be privileged to claim the Fifth Amendment.” She still refused on answer questions about her association with both individuals and organizations. She was convicted of 58 counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a $500 fine and 120 days in jail.  Her conviction was overturned in 1960.

In summer of 1956, a sub-committee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities opened hearings in Philadelphia. Lillian Tapley was subpoenaed along with the minutes of the Monthly Meeting. The Monthly Meeting refused to comply, citing the First Amendment, and the sub-committee backed off on the matter of the minutes. Tapley and several people opposed to the employment of Mary Knowles testified. Letters from members of the meeting, both supporting Knowles and in opposition to her, were also sent to the committee.


The booklet was written in 1957 and it summed up the controversy this way, “we have no black and white situation, rather gray, with sincere opinions expressed on both sides…Frequent silent periods have shown us that none of us is above censure or error, and have helped us to speak less hastily and less often.”

Mary Knowles continued to work for the William Jeanes Memorial Library until her retirement in 1979.  Today, the library's technology fund is named in her honor.

Thursday, 02 March 2017 20:22

Tiny Books for Tiny People

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The Little Golden Books series turns 75 this year. If you’re like me, you remember the adventures of the Poky Little Puppy and other characters very well.  The Golden Books were sold in 1942 for 25 cents each, and they were meant to be affordable for every family.  Of course, children’s book existed before then, and last week, I found a few in our upper stacks.  They were donated by Mrs. Anna Bergman of Philadelphia in 1955.

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The first group I’d like to share have no publication information at all. I don’t know where or when they were made.  Three give an author at the very end of the text as Edric Vredenberg, a British writer and editor a several children’s books.  He was active as a writer from about 1890 to 1930.  Based on the illustrations in the book, I would guess these were produced during the earlier part of his career.

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Looking inside the books, you can see there is a lot of text compared to modern children’s books. They all have wonderful illustrations in both black and white and chromolithographs, a popular form for children’s books in the 1880’s and 1890’s.

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As you can see the stories all feature cute children and animals.

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In addition to these books we have this tiny children’s Bible from 1834. It was sold by M. R. Wills in Norristown and even has a few small illustrations.  The book was written by “A Lady of Cincinnati.”  The Bible was donated by Martin Connelly in 2001.

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