Found in Collection (144)
Visitors to our headquarters these past few weeks might have noticed a change to our meeting room.
The archivist has taken over.
In the summer, our programs tend to move outside to the cemetery taking advantage of longer days and warmer weather. Rather than let all that space go to waste, I moved the Corson family papers in. I have three more weeks to get it all foldered, boxed, and described.
Processing a collection like this is the meat and potatoes of archival work, and it’s fascinating to dig (sometimes in a very literal way) into people’s lives. The papers came to us from the Corson family when they sold the Maple Hill property, right on the border of Plymouth and Whitemarsh townships. They were created by three generations of Corsons – Dr. Hiram Corson, his son Dr. Joseph K. Corson, and his grandson, Dr. Edward F. Corson. I’ve wrote about Joseph a few weeks ago, so today I’ll focus on Edward.
Dr. Edward F. Corson in the army during World War I
Edward was born in 1883, the second child of Joseph and Ada Corson. His father was a U.S. Army surgeon and the family moved around to various posts in the West and the South. He was born in Missouri and educated at the Friends’ School in Washington, D.C. while his father was stationed there. In 1895, he enrolled at Germantown Academy while his father was stationed in Wyoming.
Don't worry, later letters show Edward enjoying his time at Germantown Academy.
After graduating in 1901, he went into the family trade, becoming a doctor. He specialized in dermatology. As a young man, Edward traveled quite a bit. We have some letters he wrote to his parents from the White Star Line’s SS “Arabic.” He even traveled to the Far East.
In 1917, Edward married Esther Bisler in Chicago and served in World War I. They had two children and lived in Philadelphia and Lower Merion before eventually settling at the family home, Maple Hill. He died in 1967.
Norristown didn’t have a Catholic Church until St. Patrick’s opened in 1834, mainly to serve Norristown’s Irish population. In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe began coming to America, and Norristown became home to hundreds of newly arrived Italians. Although the word “catholic” means universal and Catholic services were conducted in Latin at the time, it was typical for immigrant groups to start their own parishes, staffed by priests from the home country.
Norristown was no different. For many years, Italians celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s. Eventually, an Italian mission church opened in the basement, led by two Italian priests who preached, heard confessions, and gave spiritual support in Italian. In 1902, a new priest came to Norristown, Father Michael Maggio, who formed a committee, raised funds, and in 1903 built a small church on land acquired from the Good Shepherd Sisters of St. Joseph’s Protectory.
The first Holy Saviour Church, or Sanctissima Salvatore, was barely a full story high. In 1908 it was replaced by a larger, more typical looking church that would accommodate the growing parish. This was largely the work of Father Lambert Travi, Holy Saviour’s second pastor. Father Travi went on a decade later to build the parish’s first school. It in September of 1928 with 500 students. The parish continued to grow, with the school getting up to 800 students. The school was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one to each grade, making for a student-teacher ratio of 100:1!
In 1948, the parish purchased a closed public elementary school, the James A. Welsh School, and moved in for the 1948-1949 school year. In the 1950’s, Holy Saviour’s pastor, the Italian born Father George Delia, expanded the church, doubling its size to hold up 1000 people.
Monsignor Peter J. Cavallucci with the Norristown Exchange Club at Holy Saviour School
The school has been closed, and students from the parish now attend Holy Rosary Regional School in Plymouth. However, Holy Saviour parish is still a vital part of Norristown’s culture, celebrating several feast days a year. The parish also has a mission church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Black Horse section of Plymouth.
Source: Basile, Joseph M. Holy Saviour Parish - Norristown, Pennsylvania: 1903-2003, 2001
We recently put some new paintings on display in our Reading Room at HSMC. One of them is a portrait of former Pennsylvania Governor David Rittenhouse Porter. In 1838, Porter ran against incumbent Governor Joseph Ritner and won by roughly 5000 votes. Porter’s victory shocked the Anti-Masonic Whigs, causing Burrowes (Chairman of the Whig Committee) to demand an investigation of what he believed to be a fraudulent election. Burrowes instructed supporters of Governor Ritner to “treat the election held on the 9th of October as if it had never taken place.”
Governor David Rittenhouse Porter, HSMC Collection
When the Philadelphia votes were tallied, it was revealed that the legal voting returns from the Northern Liberties District (representing about 5000 voters) were withheld at the request of defeated Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Charles J. Ingersoll. He claimed he lost due to voter fraud since the tally books from the sixth and seventh wards were lost. In response to Ingersoll, six of the seventeen voting return judges submitted their own voting results, which favored the Anti-Masonic Whig candidates. As a result, both parties submitted separate voting results on the State House floor and elected their own Speakers for the State House of Representatives.
Similar problems were found in the State Senate. When Senators were denied their seats due to fraudulent voter returns, a crowd of angry onlookers threatened violence against Anti-Mason Whig leaders Burrows, Stevens, and Penrose. This caused the men to flee the State Senate floor by jumping out a window. The Norristown Herald and Free Press and other papers claimed the mob was led by Philadelphia Loco-Focos. 
Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838
The scene became increasingly unstable when the PA State Arsenal was taken by Anti-Mason Whig supporters. Governor Ritner called for the PA militia to be sent to Harrisburg to keep the peace. When General Patterson arrived with his troops in Harrisburg, he was asked if he would support Governor Ritner and the Anti-Mason Whig leaders. Patterson proclaimed that “he had not come for political purposes” and would only act if actual physical violence broke out among the angry crowds. Governor Ritner even appealed to President Van Burren to help put an end to the situation in Harrisburg. The President denied Governor Ritner help, deeming the situation as one that must be settled by the State of Pennsylvania. Without a federal supply of troops or ammunititon, Governor Ritner ordered thirteen rounds of buckshot cartridges to be given to the State troops, giving this event its name.
Photograph courtesy of Capital Preservation Committee and John Rudy Photography
Ultimately, a group of Anti-Mason Whig Representatives joined their Democratic counterparts, giving the Democrats the majority in the State House of Representatives. This settled the major disputes in the Legislature and allowed Governor Porter to be inaugurated as the ninth Governor of Pennsylvania.
Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 143 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
 Norristown Herald and Free Press, October 17, 1838, page 2.
 Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838, page 2.
 Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 151 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
 Malawskey, Nick, “Tight election, voter fraud worries, power grab – no, not now, but 175+ years ago,” December 19, 2016, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/12/tight_election_voter_fraud_wor.html
Joseph K. Corson in uniform
Born in Maple Hill in Whitemarsh Township in 1836, Joseph K. Corson was the son of Dr. Hiram and Ann (Foulke) Corson. He followed his father (and many other members of his family) to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Department. He was studying there in 1861 when the Civil War broke out, and he enlisted as a 90 day volunteer in the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment in Norristown. He was discharged in July of the same year and returned to medical school.
Corson was appointed a medical cadet at an army hospital in Philadelphia while he finished his studies. He graduated in March of 1863 and re-entered the army as an assistant surgeon. He was at several battles including Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania. At the Battle of Bristoe Station on October 14, 1963, Corson, with another man, went back under heavy artillery fire to rescue a wounded soldier and bring him to safety. For his heroism, he was awarded the National Medal of Honor.
After war, he practiced medicine with his father Hiram Corson for a short period, but in 1867 he went back into the army as an assistant surgeon. Over the next decades he was stationed all around the country from upstate New York, Alabama, and out west.
Mary Ada Corson, heartbreaker
While he was stationed in Wyoming, he married Mary Ada Carter, the daughter of Judge William Carter, originally of Virginia. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article from April 12, 1964, Joseph had competition for Ada’s hand in the form of Captain Arthur MacArthur (eventually father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and also a National Medal of Honor winner).
The Carter home in Wyoming, where Ada Carter broke Arthur MacArthur's heart
The Corsons had two children. Their daughter, Mary Carter Corson was born at Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama in 1876. Her parents sent her to school in Philadelphia. In 1890, she was returning to her parents after having been away for a year, when her train went over an embankment and she was killed. Their son, Edward F. Corson was born at Jefferson Barrack in Missouri in 1883. He, too, attended the University of Pennsylvania and became a doctor.
Joseph Corson and his two children. Mary died at the age of 14.
Joseph K. Corson died in 1913 and was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Joseph, Ada, and Edward on vacation in Atlantic City
We will be closed tomorrow, July 4, 2019, to celebrate Independence Day. Enjoy this scanned picture of the front page of the July 3, 1976 Times Herald as Montgomery County prepared to celebrate the country's bicentennial!
Times Herald, July 3, 1976
In preparation for our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we attempted to unravel a mystery regarding General Winfield Scott Hancock. On July 3, 1863, during the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, General Hancock was shot while on his horse. The bullet went through the saddle and lodged in the General’s upper thigh near the groin. Although wood and a nail (from the saddle) were removed from the wound, none of the field doctors could locate the bullet.
General Hancock was eventually sent home to Norristown to recover from his wound. Several doctors tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the bullet. The wound continued to fester, causing many people to fear it would eventually kill the General. In a final attempt to remove the bullet, Dr. Louis W. Read was sent to General Hancock’s home in Norristown in late August 1863.
Bullet removed from Hancock
After examining the wound, Dr. Read realized previous attempts to remove the bullet had failed because General Hancock’s leg was not positioned in the same way he was sitting in the saddle at the time of his injury. Dr. Read instructed General Hancock to position himself similarly to how he was sitting in the saddle when he was injured. This allowed Dr. Read to quickly remove the bullet.
Dr. Louis Read
Here is where historians have been unable to come to a consensus: how exactly did Dr. Read get General Hancock into the proper position to remove the bullet? The most popular theory among historians is General Hancock was instructed to straddle a chair on the dining room table. However, other theories such as being put into a saddle on a saw horse or a barrel also circulate among Civil War buffs. So far, we have been unable to locate a primary source to prove any of these theories.
Dr. Read’s portrait and the bullet he removed from General Hancock will be on display in our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be an opening celebration tonight, June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Tickets are $40 per person. The exhibit will be free and open to the public from July 1, 2019 through March 2020.
Recently, we received a group of unidentified photos at our back door. They were left anonymously, so we don’t know much about them (again, please don’t anonymously leave things at our back door). But three of the photos interested me particularly because summer officially begins this Friday, and they show the classic summertime activity - baseball.
The photos show boys participating in the Atlantic Baseball School, a kids’ program run by Atlantic Refining Company. The boys could be at Roosevelt Field (the other photos are clearly Norristown), but the time was hard for me to pin down. Atlantic Refining was founded after the break-up of Standard Oil in 1911 and headquartered in Philadelphia. It lasted until it merged with Richfield Oil to form ARCO in 1966. The make of truck in the photos suggests it was taken after 1930 or so.
Clothes are often a good way to date photographs, but it’s difficult with children. The boys are not in their Sunday best, and many are wearing the baggy knickers typical for professional players in the first half of the century. Their hair tends to be longer than what I would expect in the 1950’s. There aren’t many crew-cuts.
I decided to look more closely at the truck. I had looked at the photograph several times before I noticed the straw hat sitting on the bumper. This, also dated the picture to before 1950, although the gentleman at the microphone is older, and might not have kept up with the latest fashion. The hat does place the photo in the summertime, but I had already guessed that. Finally, I looked more closely at the license plate, where you can see a small “40” in the upper, left hand corner. Turns out, license plates used to be issued annually and showed they year they were issued. So, the answer had been there all along.
Does anyone remember the Atlantic Baseball School? Atlantic Refining had stations all up and down the East Coast, including this one advertised in the Norristown sesquicentennial book (1962). The company was a long-time sponsor of Major League Baseball in Philly. Perhaps their baseball school was an outgrowth of that involvement.
This had been a day of big news, very big news. When I turned on the radio this morning instead of the usual program, we hear that allied troops had landed in France from 4000 ships and thousands of other small craft protected by 11000 airplanes. This was it, the suspense was over, the invasion was on. Little news has come through as yet except that it is known that we have established beach heads and that the operation is proceeding according to plan. All day services were held in the churches every hour and the stores in Norristown closed at noon. There was no exaltation, no jubilation but a grim purposeful spirit seemed to pervade all. We know the price of victory will be high, but we know there will be victory. After opening court in my room this morning I asked all to remain standing and say a silent prayer for the allied soldiers fighting in Europe. I then put in a busy day, dispatching nine cases – two by trial and seven by pleas. But the big news was not over. When I reached home, I found that Buddy was back in the US in South Carolina and will probably be sent to Atlantic City. Then there were letters, one from Harold Jr. telling us that his destroyer was one of three sent against eight Japanese subs. He has certainly seen some sharp action for he said he lived a year in a week. But he is all right and that is what counts. Also had letters from Beu and Jules. Beu is having some trouble with his knee and Jules expects to be moved again. Yes, this had been a day of big news.
From the 1944 diary of Judge Harold G. Knight. Spelling and punctuation have been corrected.
As May draws to a close, I was reminded of something I came across a couple of months ago, an invitation to the second annual “Maying” at Augustus Lutheran Church. The invitation is from 1850, by which time Augustus Lutheran was already over 100 years old.
The church is located in Trappe and sometimes is called the “Old Trappe Church”. Settlement in Trappe goes back to 1717. A Lutheran congregation was organized in 1729 by John Caspar Stoever, Jr. who held services in a borrowed barn. Stoever was not actually an ordained minister. After he moved west, various self-made ministers passed through the area until the community joined with other Lutherans in Falkner Swamp and Philadelphia and contacted the church in Germany to send them an ordained minister.
Once Muhlenberg arrived, the congregation eagerly started building in 1743. The church was finished in 1745 and named after Muhlenberg’s mentor, August Franke. Since Muhlenberg was the first regularly ordained Lutheran minister in the future United States, Augustus Lutheran is considered the “Shrine of Lutheranism” in the U.S.
The congregation also built the first school house in the area in 1743. Rev. Muhlenberg was the first teacher. The church would build two more school houses, the last being a stone one. In 1846, that building was leased to Upper Providence Township and became the town’s first public school. It is probably this building referred to on the invitation. It was torn down just a year later.
Recreation of the schoolhouse based on the memories of a former student and the remaining foundations.
From a 1931 booklet on Augustus Lutheran Church by Rev. W. O. Fegley.
A new brick church was built in 1852, but the original was kept. It is the oldest unaltered Lutheran Church in the U.S., and the congregation occasionally still uses it for services. In fact, this Sunday’s (June 2) service will be held in the original church.
We have many publications produced by the church, but none of them make reference to an annual “May Day Ramble.” Perhaps the tradition didn’t catch on.
Recently we received a new addition to our collection. This coverlet was made by Isaac Kepner of Pottstown, PA in 1838. It was passed down through the donor's family, although we are uncertain which family member originally purchased the coverlet from Kepner.
Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC
Kepner was born approximately 1805. He wove in North Hanover Township from 1835 to 1836 and in Pottstown from 1838 to 1848. All of his work had his name, location, date, and sometimes the client’s name woven into a corner of the textile. This coverlet, unfortunately, is one of his pieces that does not include the client’s name. He died in 1880 and is buried at Pottstown Cemetery.
Coverlets are woven bed covers, primarily used in the 16th and 17th centuries. These covers were put on top of the bed sheeting to keep the user warm. After receiving an order for a coverlet, the local weaver would weave the fabric using a large wooden loom. As the fabric was woven, the colored design would take shape.
Isaac Kepner Coverlet, HSMC
The Kepner coverlet was made in a style often referred to as jacquard or “figure and fancy”. Weaving floral designs, this style of coverlet was made primarily by professional weavers, who often times were men. Unlike quilts, coverlets like these were reversible and were made of wool or a combination of wool and cotton.
The National Museum of the American Coverlet, http://www.coverletmuseum.org/coverlet.htm
Clarita Anderson, American Coverlets and Their Weavers: Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Murial McCarl, Ohio university Press: Athens, 2002, p. 180
I came across an interesting old document last week, a news magazine produced by eighth graders at a local junior high school. The magazine was created simply with paper and pencil and bound together by string. The somewhat damaged cover gives the title “Cultur[al] Works” and declares it the March issue (complete with lion and lamb).
There are three sections, one on world news, a literary section with poems and stories, and a final section on style. No year is listed on the cover, but heavy coverage of the Roosevelts suggests a 1933 date. The kids also covered fashion, a California earthquake, and wrote biographies of several historic figures such as Franz Liszt and Robert Lewis Stevenson.
Betty Bean, editor of "Cultural Works" and Jeanette Poser, a contributor, from their 1937 NHS yearbook
Each article has a by-line, but the school isn’t mentioned. I did some math and some poking around and found most of the students mentioned in Norristown High School’s 1937 yearbook. So they could have been at Rittenhouse or Stewart Junior High Schools.
Overall, the magazine is a nice production. It’s the sort of thing that often doesn’t survive, usually getting thrown away by parents or simply falling apart. The pencil is very faded on some pages, and we can assume the paper you see above was originally white. The inclusion of newspaper clippings would have only accelerated the deterioration (newsprint is very acidic).
Teaching students about media continues to be part of the curriculum in the Norristown Area School District. Just last week our own Barry Rauhauser was interviewed at Norristown High School for the Hank Cisco show. You can check it out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BoXADgxX-M.
Rumors of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated. Hardcover sales are strong and audiobooks are increasing in popularity. People frequently like to share what they're reading and their thoughts about books on Goodreads, Litsy, and LibraryThing. Book clubs abound, and there’s a whole world within a world on Instagram known as “Bookstagram.”
In many ways this is a continuation (though in different form) of previous centuries' literary clubs and societies. As schooling became universal at the end of the 19th century, many people wanted to continue their education into their adult years. This coincided with a time when Americans liked joining clubs, and many of the clubs were based around reading and learning.
The Reading Circle in the early 1960's.
The Norristown Reading Circle was founded in 1910 by six women. The original plan was to read and review popular fiction, but it soon expanded to include history and current events. The meetings were held every other week at a member’s home. The membership was capped at 20. The club got a surprising amount of newspaper coverage.
We have two minute books for the Reading Circle, which was clearly more formal than a modern book club. The minutes from fall of 1923 illustrate how varied the topics were: on September 11 Mrs. Hunsberger talked about her trip to California, on the 25th Mrs. Anders gave an account of the Summer School for Working Girls at Bryn Mawr, on October 9 they discussed a novel called Spinster of This Parish, and on October 25, they all gathered at Mrs. Gotwals house to see her daughter’s wedding gifts.
In the late 19th century, Towamencin had the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association, whose object was “mutual improvement of Self Culture and to become familiar with Literature in general.” The members were all men, apparently young men from the minutes. The society also aimed to start a library. At meetings members practiced spelling and debated topics related to the club (should members be fined for not attending meetings?) or current events (the Civil War comes up a lot in the early years).
"Then spelling was practised a short time with deep interest."
These sorts of organizations were so common that in 1881, the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association merged with the Oxonia Literary Society and the Young Folks Literary Society.
A page from the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association acknowledging the assassination of President Garfield.
We have records of even more, in Gwynedd, Conshohocken, Upper Merion, and a few more in Norristown. These are probably just a sampling. Other societies were perhaps less formal and didn’t keep records, or didn’t last for as many decades as these clubs did. The idea that one can self-educate is inspiring, and the truly social aspects of these clubs seems so much more significant in the age of selfies and 144 character tweets.
It might be hard to imagine now, but the sale and consumption of alcohol were once hotly debated issues in Montgomery County.
With its large German population, the county was home to many breweries, Adam Scheidt perhaps being the best known. However, it was also home to many temperance societies, both local ones and nationally affiliated groups like the Sons of Temperance and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
The Temperance movement is an interesting one that combined several aspects of nineteenth-century America – clubs, “do-gooding,” political engagement, and crusading zeal. First, I think a quick explanation of the name of the movement is necessary. “Temperance” is a synonym for moderation, and in the earliest years of the movement (1820’s – 1830’s), it mainly focused on discouraging the consumption of hard liquor and drunkenness.
By the end of the 1830’s the goal the movement had changed, and many members of temperance societies pledged to abstain from alcohol totally (with a capital “T” written next to their names). After the Civil War, what had been something of a fringe cause became a mass movement that used preaching to discourage the public from drinking and lobbying the government for more stringent laws on the sale of alcohol or for outright prohibition.
The Norristown branch of the Sons of Temperance was founded in 1845, just three years after the original chapter was founded in New York. Moses Auge was one of the founding members, and he donated some of the group’s early papers to the Historical Society in 1887. (If anyone is interested, that makes them one of our earliest donations, number 108, to be exact.) The Sons of Temperance was like many other fraternal groups popular at the time. There was a secret initiation and death benefits for members.
We also have the papers of the Law License League of Norristown, a group that lobbied the county to enforce standing laws regarding the sale of alcohol, which they believed would reduce the number of public houses in the borough.
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (which still exists) was also present throughout the county. They sponsored speakers and meetings. In our collection, we have a 1916 publication listing the names of people who signed petitions for liquor licenses for various Norristown establishments.
All of these groups promoted total abstinence from alcohol, but for some people, that didn’t go far enough. One of Montgomery County’s most progressive reformers was Dr. Hiram Corson. He often made public speeches in favor of temperance, but he was not a member of the Sons of Temperance. In his diary of 1847, he wrote of his opposition to the Sons of Temperance “on account of their allowing Root Beer, pop, &c.” I guess cold water was good enough for him.
For our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we were fortunate to receive some loaned items from Sunrise Mill. Currently, this historic mill is undergoing construction and is planned to be open the public in the next few years.
One of Sunrise Mill’s inhabitants was Dr. Chevalier Q. Jackson. Born in Pittsburgh on November 4, 1865, Chevalier attended Western University of Pennsylvania (modern day University of Pittsburgh). He later received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1886. After further studies in England, Dr. Jackson opened his own Laryngology practice in 1887 in Pittsburgh. By 1916, Dr. Jackson and his family moved to Philadelphia.
Medical Kit Loaned to HSMC by Sunrise Mill
In 1918, Dr. Jackson purchased Sunrise Mill in Schwenksville. He commuted to his job at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia for eighteen years, which was a 75 mile round trip! Dr. Jackson’s invention of the bronchoscope and experience removing foreign items (coins, teeth, etc.) from patient’s throats greatly advanced the field of laryngology. In addition to his medical inventions, Dr. Jackson was also involved in the passage of the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927. This Act required the poison symbol and antidote label to be placed on household cleaners.
In our exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, you will have the opportunity to see an example of some of the medical tools Dr. Jackson invented. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Starting July 1, 2019, the exhibit will be free and open to the public!