Found in Collection (136)
Last fall, I started watching a time travel show on NBC called Timeless. It’s a fun, if silly, show about an historian, a scientist, and a former soldier, who chase bad guys through various moments in American history while trying not to alter the timeline too much. They discover that what they’re really after is an evil organization known as “Rittenhouse.”
Rittenhouse, I thought sitting on my couch with my husband and my dog, could they mean David Rittenhouse?
David Rittenhouse was born in Philadelphia, but his family had a farm in what is now East Norriton. It was there that Rittenhouse observed the transit of Venus (when the planet Venus appears to cross drectly across the sun). He was the first person to do so from North America. He used the data he collected during the transit to calculate the earth’s distance from the sun as 93 million miles.
David Rittenhouse's surveyor's level from our collection.
A typical Enlightenment thinker, Rittenhouse was self-taught from his family library. He showed great aptitude for math and science from an early age. Rittenhouse surveyed the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania (Mason and Dixon built on his work), was professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the first director of the US Mint. Rittenhouse was a friend of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson and worked as a military engineer during the American Revolution.
Or was he really secretly plotting against democracy?
The David Rittenhouse tall case clock in our meeting room.
No, of course he wasn’t, but that is the premise of Timeless (I said it was silly show). In the midseason finale, our band of time travelers discovers that the founder of the evil group called Rittenhouse was indeed David Rittenhouse, played here by Armin Shimerman. In the show he’s a Loyalist and a clockmaker (one of those is true), seeking to secretly control events. I don’t want to spoil the episode for anyone with a DVR backlog, but I’ll say that it looks like the US Mint might be in trouble.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this show, but episodes like that one serve to show why institutions like the Historical Society of Montgomery County are so important. We can provide the true stories behind the fiction. You can read more about our David Rittenhouse collection in this blog post from a few years by our former curator, Susan.
By Michael Green
From the original indictment in HSMC's collection.
The holiday season can be a time of much joy, happiness, and good cheer. It can also be a time of sadness and tragedy. The latter seems to be the case in the matter of Daniel Boyle and Peter Betson of Upper Merion Township. On the evening of Saturday, December 24, 1825, Christmas Eve, Peter Betson lost his life to violent blow inflicted by Daniel Boyle. This citation is according to the Wednesday, December 28, 1825 issue of the Norristown Herald newspaper.
Records discovered in the Historical Society of Montgomery County reveal the actual indictment for murder file with the Montgomery County Court. Both the newspapers article and indictment reveal that the two men were highly intoxicated. Further, they report that Mr. Boyle struck Mr. Betson with a large stick or club over a dispute of some sort. The recorded testimony of witnesses reveals the individuals knew one another locked in a moment of heated argument resulting in a tragic loss of life, much as it happens today some one hundred ninety years later.
A jury of Mr. Boyle’s peers on August 23, 1826 found him not guilty. The verdict is documented in the records of the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts.
As a final post script, during the 1700 and 1800’s the Norristown Jail/Montgomery County Prison house defendants indicted and held on charges such as the foregoing. In 1851, the structure which still stands in Norristown was constructed. It is believed that it stands on the same grounds of the original jail. In September, 1986, the Montgomery County jail was closed in this Norristown location and the new facility was opened. Again, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
I'm taking a break from getting out the winter newsletter to all our members to share this Christmas photo with you.
This is a Christmas interior of the New York Store from around the 1940's. The store was at 16 E. Main Street and sold women's clothing. It was founded in 1923 by Samuel Friedman. and closed in 1991.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!
As part of my job, I often receive emails asking if the historical society has a certain resource or asking for a small amount of research. Most of these requests have to do with family genealogy or the history of our fine county. Last week, I received an unusual request. An independent researcher was looking for the original appearance of the following story:
“A horse ran away at the railroad depot, in Philadelphia, yesterday, and knocked down seventeen persons, each one belonging to a different Pinafore company about starting on a country tour.”
The short little joke appeared in newspaper across the country and was attributed to Montgomery County’s very own Norristown Herald and Free Press (today known as the Times-Herald). The researcher, Russ Sype, an expert on Gilbert and Sullivan who’s working on a book about H.M.S. Pinafore in the U.S., wanted to find the original appearance.
So, I went to our microfilm collection and loaded the 1879 reel onto our microfilm scanner. If you’ve never had an opportunity to read a nineteenth-century newspaper, they were little different from today.
You’re probably not surprised that there are no photos or even drawings, but there are also no headlines. Headlines start appearing in newspapers at the end of the nineteenth century when the number of newspapers increased, when they had to compete for readers.
In fact, there isn’t even much news on the front page. There are several fictional stories on this front page and part of a continuing series on ancient mythology. On the right hand side is news from the literary world and a section called “Editorial Etchings.” Page 2 usually contains national news and often more Editorial Etchings, while local news, including train schedules and social announcements appear on page three. The back was mostly advertisements for ready made clothes, patent medicines, and anvils.
I while searching for the story, I concentrated on the Editorial Etchings, since most of the items there were short and humorous.
Sorry about blurriness; the microfilm is old and the original type is very small (I should also apologize for reproducing such awful jokes). It took me a while to find the piece I was looking for, but in the meantime, I found nearly a dozen other references to H. M. S. Pinafore. The editors at the Herald were obsessed with it. According to Sype, all of America was obsessed with Pinafore. He explained that the operetta debuted in Boston in late November of 1878 and in early 1879 “an armada of touring companies” worked their way around the United States. It was even translated into Pennsylvania Dutch for a performance in Reading.
Here are some of the quotes I found:
This one was from the "Philadelphia News" section:
And my personal favorite:
I suspected right away that many of these touring companies weren’t paying royalties for their performances, and according to Wikipedia, that’s correct. The U.S. generally didn’t recognize international copyright, and Americans often pirated European works.
With all of this obsession, I was hoping to find evidence of a performance here in Montgomery County during this initial period of enthusiasm, but so far no luck.
I did find evidence that the enthusiasm for Pinafore did not wane. We have in our collection a scrapbook kept by Margaret Blackfan, an avid theater-goer from Norristown. She kept programs from all the performances she attended and clipped newspaper articles about the theater in Norristown and Philadelphia. These two articles, about two different productions of Pinafore, appeared in the same newspaper. The article is undated, but the scrapbook was produced between 1896 and 1899.
Now, I think I'll go home and reaquaint myself with H.M.S. Pinafore.
Last month we got a call from a woman in Virginia who asked if we were interested in some material regarding “The Pines,” a summer vacation home for poor children that was located in Conshohocken. No one here was familiar with the place, so we eagerly said, “Yes!”
A letter from a mother to Mrs. Chilton.
According to a 1958 annual report included with the materials, The Pines was founded in 1890. Ann Powers, the donor, says it was founded either by or in honor of Alan Wood, Jr., of Alan Wood Steel. Run by a board of directors (which in 1958 includes several Woods and Corsons), the home worked with settlement houses in Philadelphia to give summer vacations to poor families. Mothers and their children would be invited up for a week in the country.
Ann’s mother, Gladys Bowen, later Gladys Chilton, originally worked at The Pines in the late 1920’s. She was studying education at Temple and spent a couple of summers with the children at The Pines. Later, in 1943, she returned to help manage the vacation home.
The form letter that invited mothers to The Pines.
The collection includes photographs, letters, a guestbook, and one annual report for the The Pines.
Ann remembers some of the details of those war years:
“The Pines buildings were a farmhouse, all made into bedrooms, right up against Ridge Pike, and a large masonry barn of four stories. The above –ground basement had a recreation room and pantry with an ice chest. An iceman delivered the large blocks of ice every week. Mr. Forgarty of Forgarty’s Grocery Store in Conshohocken delivered groceries once a week. Wartime rationing limited coffee, meat, and butter so we go our fill of tea, apple butter, vegetables, and pasta.”
Mrs. Powers parents moved down to Virginia in the 1960's, and she doesn't know when the vacation home closed. Do you have memories of The Pines? Photographs and a guest book from the home will be on display at the Historical Society headquarters.
“What’s in a name?” an expression attributed to William Shakespeare, in the case of the name Stewart Fund Hall and Union School the name contains much history and care for the community of King of Prussia. In 1808, William Stewart, reportedly an illiterate Scottish farmer, established a fund of twenty-five thousand dollars to provide educational benefits to poor children who parents could not pay the school tax. This was an enormous sum for the 19th Century. In 1798, William Cleaver, a Welshman, gave a portion of his land for school for the same Upper Merion community. Earlier still, Welsh Friends and Swedish settlers had a practice of establishing school buildings and church structures adjacent to each other to strengthen a sense of community.
A painting showing Stewart Fund Hall, the Union School, and the small schoolmaster's house. Painted by E. M. Law.
Out of this diverse ethnic community (thus fully American community) constructed a log school house in 1740, known as the Union School. This building in use until 1810 when a stone building was erected on the land of the above cited William Cleaver. William Stewart’s will provided the trust fund to support educational improvements. This fund also was responsible for building an adjacent hall known as the Stewart Fund Hall.
This community education facility further strengthened education for the entire community which included the Grange Farmer Institute, singing school, band rehearsal activities, scientific, and literary discussion groups. The fund was overseen by a committee of trustees. The records of the Stewart Fund Hall Assocation are in the collection of the Historical Society.
A list of the Stewart Fund Hall Library subsribers.
In 1878, the Stewart Fund Hall was rebuilt and furnished with a library.
In 1947, according to an article by Ed Dybicz in 1965, the building was sold to Upper Merion Township and used for administration purposes. Finally, as noted in the King of Prussia Courier on July 24, 1993, the Stewart Fund Hall and adjacent buildings located at DeKalb Pike (Rt. 202) and Allendale Road were demolished.
The building complex was replaced by the Girard Trust Back branch and is an AT&T store.
In closing, “What’s in a name?” Quit a lot. With regard to the Stewart Fund Hall and Union School years of love and concern for the people of the community for each other’s’ well-being is evident. It should also be noted the building complex underground room is believed to have been used as a station for the Underground Railroad to Canada, which further illustrates a commitment to benefit all mankind.
This afternoon as I was continuing on my long term project of scanning the Historical Society's photograph collection, I came across some of photographs of Brigdeport from around the turn of the 20th Century. Although it wasn't incorporated until 1851, the earliest settlers arrived around 1723.
Most of the photographs I found were from the 1890's and early 1900's. Like this excellent photograph of Bovcot's hotel, which looks like it was conveniently right on the train tracks:
Here is the Union Avenue School, built in 1893. It served as Bridgeports high school until 1923 when it continued as an elementary school. It was demolished in 1951.
R. J. Patton's Feed and Flour store at Fourth and Depot is listed in Montgomery County: The Second Hunderd Years as having existed from 1900 until 1905.
In the late nineteenth, Italians began to settle in Bridgeport. Marinelli's Grocery was in business from 1905 to 1931. I love this picture because it shows the proprietor (Marinelli also owned a service station on DeKalb Pike). Notice the Thanksgiving advertisement in the window.
Finally, I wanted to end with this wonderful picture of women hanging out on their stoops. It gives such a fine sense of community.
We'll be closed next Thursday for the holiday, so we might not get a new blog article out. Enjoy the holiday everyone!
Do you recognize any of the children in this picture? The picture captures what was known as "Garibaldi's Row" in Ambler in 1961, just before it was demolished. Nineteen-sixty-one was quite significant in the demolition of residential structures and the West Chestnut Street properties associated with Keasby & Mattison Industries of Ambler.
The above map is from a 1916 North Penn Railroad atlas and shows the area Keasby & Mattison developed.
The history of Keasby & Mattison with its Ambler residential development is a fascinating one dating back to the 1890's after the company relocated from Philadelphia. The firm began with the manufacture of asbestos paper and mill board as insulation products, according to the book Early History of Ambler by Dr. Mary Hough.
According to various reports Dr. Richard V. Mattison, the partner of Henry J. Keasby, chose Ambler to develop what became the major asbestos product manufacturing company of the United Sates. As the doctor expanded the Keasby & Mattison plant, experienced Italian stoneworkers and laborers were recruited and urged to settle and build in Ambler. Thus, approximately 400 residence were built, including row homes for factory workers as well as more upscale homes for the managers and executives. This development included Dr. Mattison's estate, known as Lindenwold, which was built in the 1890's and expanded in 1917.
This photo shows Dr. Mattison's house Lindenwold.
It was during this building period that row homes such as "Garibaldi's Row" and West Chestnut area homes were constructed. However, by 1961, due to serious health and social concerns and other deteriorating conditions in the neighborhood, the local government made the decision to tear down these structures. The decision included the creation of a park and recreation area as a replacement. Many saw this as a positive outcome as the neighborhood was described as a "blighted area" with poor sanitary facilities subject to flooding.
The row houses did not have plumbing, as shown by this photo of outhouses.
August 10, 1961 was targeted to resettle the effected families and subsequently demolish the homes.
With this demolition, it seems many found and cherished memories of over seventy years has faded into the history of dear old Ambler.
Well, the longest championship drought is over, and the lovable losers of baseball are losers no more. As we all say goodbye to the 2016 baseball season, I thought we might look back on some of Montgomery County's baseball history.
Now, you may already know that Hall of Famers Tommy LaSorta and Mike Piazza were born in Norristown, but today, we're going to look at some of the humbler players from Montgomery County.
The Norristown Base Ball and Athletic Association was founded in 1888. This copy of the charter is in Miscellaneous Deed Book number 29.
Two pages of charter members follow. Here's one:
Without a doubt baseball was a popular sport in Norristown. The county's "grand old man" of baseball was Patrick "Paddy" McGee, who played in the Industrial League in Norristown for many years as a pitcher on the State Hospital team. He also played in the Catholic League, the Bux-Mont League, and the Norristown City League. Later he started the Baseball School at Elmwood Park. McGee was born in Easton, PA, but moved to Bridgeport when he was 12. You can see him in this 1929 photograph of the Bridgeport baseball team. He's the man stand in the thick cardigan (he was identified for us by longtime member James Brazel). In addition to all the baseball playing he also had a day job as an insurance agent for 35 years and raised eleven children with his wife Elizabeth.
Of course baseball as always been a popular sport for kids, and here's a great picture of the 1920 Norristown High School team. I love this picture because the swagger and attitude of the players.
Was the attitude because they were winning? Well, maybe not. The 1920 season didn't get off to a good start. They dropped their first two games, but won their third against Phoenixville. The May issue of Spice (which in the 1920's was the school's literary magazine and not an annual yearbook) was devoted to sports.
Inside, it features this student cartoon:
Poor James Long!
Last month, we received a donation of two objects from the 1960 Presidential Election. The first is a campaign ribbon with Richard Nixon’s likeness. The second object is sheet music for the Nixon campaign song, Click with Dick. Since the 2016 election is in full swing we thought it was an apt topic to share.
The election of 1960 was between two political figures from US history you might recognize, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Besides the famous (and notorious) presidential nominees, the election was groundbreaking for a number of other reasons. The election was one of the closest elections in the popular vote, it resulted in the first, and only, Catholic President, the first president born in the twentieth century, and reached more audiences with the first televised debates.