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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (167)

Thursday, 16 February 2017 19:49

Quakers

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Everyone in Pennsylvania knows that Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. Penn was a member of a religious minority which called itself the Society of Friends, but was more commonly known as Quakers. When Penn founded his colony in 1681, he meant to create a haven for his fellow Friends where they could live out Quaker values in peace.


The Society of Friends was founded by George Fox in the early Seventeenth Century in England. As a young man he had become dissatisfied with the existing denominations and came to believe that all individuals had God within them, something he called the “Inner Light.” Fox became an itinerant preacher, encouraging others to find their Inner Light. He and his followers believed that all individuals were called to be ministers, and all people, men and women, slave and free, were equal. Friends lived simply, foregoing luxuries and committed themselves to non-violence.


Almost immediately, George Fox was at odds with the law (it was actually a judge who gave the group the nickname “Quakers”). The group refused to pay the tithe to the state church (the Church of England) and refused to take oaths. They also stood out in the dress and actions. Here’s a description of an early Quaker from a 1916 booklet called “The Quaker of the Future Time” by George Albalton:


“He dressed without ornament, used the language of common life to all, doffed the hat to no man, no matter how high his position, became scrupulously honest in worldly business, refused oaths, avoided military service, contributed money liberally to help Friends in need, and with his time, counsel and energy, sought to relieve human distress.”

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Merion Monthly Meeting House in 1912


Reading this description, Quakers sound like a nice enough group. In fact, they were widely hated in England. And that’s why, William Penn, founder of our commonwealth, crossed the ocean to establish a place where Quakers could be free.
Many early settlers of Montgomery County were Quakers, who started meeting for worship in people’s homes before building early meeting houses in Plymouth, Abington, Gwynedd, and Merion. Those early Quakers did stand out from other settlers in how they spoke and how they dressed.


Quakers rejected ostentation in a very ostentatious time. Here is King Charles I by Van Dyck:

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And here is his subject, George Fox:

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Both these images and the one of William Penn at the beginning of the post are from Amelia M. Gummere’s book The Quaker: A Study in Costume.


Quakers did not wear wigs or lace or feathers in their hats. They wore plain wool and linen clothes in muted colors. The black, wide brimmed hat (think of the guy on your oatmeal) that characterized the male Quaker was never removed in the presence of his “superiors” because, to the Quaker, all people were equal. For the same reason, they did not use titles when addressing others.


In our modern times, men don’t wear hats and millionaires wear blue jeans, so these Quaker peculiarities don’t seem controversial to us. The Quaker “Plain Speech” no longer seems shocking either. If you ever read or watched Shakespeare, you’ve probably noticed that English used to have formal and informal forms of “you” as Spanish, French, and several other languages do. Quakers addressed everyone as “thou” instead of the more formal “ye.” Today, most Quakers speak like everyone else, but a modern person might wonder why this was ever considered a big deal.

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But it was. In our collection at the Historical Society, we have an 1819 reprint of a letter originally written in 1710 by Henry Moore, a minister of the Church of England to William Penn. The letter is an excellent example of polite disagreement. He begins by praising Penn’s book No Cross, No Crown. The better part of the letter, which runs to 36 pages in printed booklet form, concerns the Quaker rejection of baptism and communion (the Lord’s Supper, as Moore calls it). In the last few pages, Moore addresses what he calls “Cap-honour and Titular respects.” He writes (I’ve retained his capitalization):


“If the apostles could comply with the Jews in some Mosiacal rites, that the coming of Christ had abrogated, that they may not give offence to the Jews,; how much more ought christians, for the avoiding of offence, comply with one another in such customs as no law, neither human nor divine has yet abrogated?”


Others were less respectful than Moore in their disagreements with Quakers. Even after the Toleration Act was passed in England in 1689, Quakers were widely disliked in England. The New World outside of Pennsylvania was not much kinder. Massachusetts Bay Colony imprisoned and banished Quakers as heretics. Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island and champion of religious liberty) famously challenged George Fox to a debate. Fox did not respond to the challenge, though other prominent Quakers did. Williams also wrote a book titled, George Fox Digged out of His Burrowes attacking Fox’s idea of the Inner Light.


As the centuries went on, however, people came to admire Quaker honesty in business dealings and generosity in charity, and came to see their habits as merely quirky instead of heretical.


Today, few Quakers will address you as “thou” and fewer still wear the plain dress of their ancestors. Although you can still find a few who continue these traditions.  You can check out this blog by Quaker Jane for more information.

Thursday, 02 February 2017 20:56

Matsonsford Bridge

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One of Conshohocken’s landmarks is the Matsonsford Bridge, seen in its 1872 iteration in the photo below.

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This was not the first bridge over the Schuylkill River at Matsonsford (or Matson’s Ford).  Peter Matson built a ford of stones and planks across the river near his farm in the 18th Century.  A couple of decades later, Washington’s pickets, under General James Potter, exchanged gunfire with British troops out of Philadelphia foraging for food.  A small skirmish resulted.  Meanwhile, American troops under General John Sullivan had built a rough sort of bridge so the men could cross the cold river (it was December 11, 1777).  Unfortunately, the battle was not an American victory.  When scouts reported that the American militia had retreated chaotically, Sullivan pulled the troops back and destroyed the makeshift bridge.  The Continentals moved a few miles upriver to cross at Swede’s Ford, while the British left the area to continue foraging.

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A covered bridge was built by the Matsonford Bridge Company in 1833, but I don’t have a picture of that.  It fell into disrepair after a few decades and was replaced by the steel bridge at the top of the article in 1872.

By the 1920’s, traffic over the bridge had changed from horses and carts to automobiles and a new, more modern bridge was needed.  The new Matsonsford Bridge opened in 1921.  With its dramatic arches, the bridge had a graceful and memorable look.

Conshohocken982Conshy Fayette street

But the speed and volume of 20th century traffic proved too much for the bridge and it was again rebuilt in 1987.  I guess we’ll see how long it lasts.

 

 

Sources:

Coll, Jack, Remembering Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

McGuire, Thomas, J. The Philadelphia Campaign, volume II Germantown and Roads to Valley Forge, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa., 2006

Thursday, 26 January 2017 20:51

Dancing

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Dancing.   Is there a more controversial subject?  Ok, prehaps there a million topics more controversial than dancing, but, really, does anyone out there want more controversy?

The folks of Montgomery County have long enjoying dancing.  In 1830 a Mr. A. Bonnaffor advertised that he would offer dancing lessons two evenings a week in Norristown.  There would be live music and cotillons every other week.  The lessons apparently caught on.  One year later, the Norristown Contillion Party was organized by leading citizens of the borough.  According to Norris (Edward Hocker), many dances were held at the various assembly halls and later country clubs in Norristown and sponsored by different groups.

It all sounds like a good time, but not everyone was having fun.  Today, while looking through a box of material related to local Presbyterian churches, I came across this small booklet:

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The Reverend Heckman was not a fan of dancing.  He's not against all dancing.  He writes, "The peasant-dances of sunny France and Spain and Italy are performed upon the greensward and under the pure exhilerating atmosphere of heaven."  

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Dancing even Rev. Heckman could approve?

Dancing in modern (1876) America, however, was done in stuffy rooms and at night when people ought to be resting.  In addition to that, he writes, "The movement is unnatural, violent especially for women, producing unhealthful nervous excitement, quick inhalation of impure air..."

I don't have any pictures of dancers from the 1870's, but I have some from the early 1960's.  We should look at these for signs of unhealthful, nervous excitement:

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Hmm, I'm not seeing it.  Let's see what else Heckman has to say.  "This amusement awakens and indulges some of the worst propensities of the unrenewed nature, and interferes with intellectual and moral improvement....Hence dancing is one of the propeling forces which plunge men and women down to profligacy, ruin, and death."

Here's some more prom pictures:


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Interestingly, while Heckman claims, "I myself like to be amused and am easily amused," he does admit towards the end of his address, that he has never danced.  "By the gentle, patient, firm restraints and instruction of parental piety I have been preserved from the indulgence of this amusement, for which my manhood and maturer judgment give a devout mother sincere and loving gratitude.  Thus though without personal experience, I am sure these statements are right."

By the way, the prom pictures were taken by Marsella Studio, but the pictures aren't identified.  If either of these proms look familiar to you, let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

rittenhouse protrait

 

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.

Surveyors Level watermarkDavid 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?

IMG 2646The 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.

timeless recap david rittenhouse

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.

Thursday, 12 January 2017 17:44

Commonwealth vs. Daniel Boyle

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By Michael Green

 blog286From 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday, 22 December 2016 20:24

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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I'm taking a break from getting out the winter newsletter to all our members to share this Christmas photo with you.

NY Store

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!

 

Thursday, 15 December 2016 20:19

H. M. S. Pinafore

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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.


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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.


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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:

 

Pinafore April 5 1879      Pinafore Feb 19 1879 2

 

This one was from the "Philadelphia News" section:  

Pinafore Feb 19 1879

 

And my personal favorite:

Pinafore March 11 1879 2


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.

 

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Now, I think I'll go home and reaquaint myself with H.M.S. Pinafore.

Thursday, 08 December 2016 18:45

The Pines

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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!”

blog278  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. 

blog279 The form letter that invited mothers to The Pines.

 

 

The collection includes photographs, letters, a guestbook, and one annual report for the The Pines.

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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.”

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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. 

 

Thursday, 01 December 2016 17:02

Stewart Fund Hall and the Union School

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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A list of the Stewart Fund Hall Library subsribers.


In 1878, the Stewart Fund Hall was rebuilt and furnished with a library.

SF Sale


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.

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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.

Thursday, 17 November 2016 20:16

A century ago in Bridgeport

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Finally, I wanted to end with this wonderful picture of women hanging out on their stoops.  It gives such a fine sense of community.

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We'll be closed next Thursday for the holiday, so we might not get a new blog article out.  Enjoy the holiday everyone!

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