Found in Collection (144)
Everyone relies on hospitals at some point in their lives. We rely on the expertise of medical staff to treat diseases and help patients live longer, healthier lives. In many ways, hospitals have a substantial impact on the health and wellness of the surrounding community.
However, have we ever thought about how our local hospitals came into existence? Who were some of the medical pioneers in our county? How do certain medical related laws impact our communities? How do medical breakthroughs impact patients in our area hospitals? In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will explore the evolution of hospitals and medical treatment in Montgomery County.
Painting of Montgomery County Almshouse, by Charles Hoffman
If you have not seen our Made in Montgomery County exhibit, there is still time! The last day to view the exhibit will be Saturday February 2, 2019. After this exhibit closes, we will be preparing for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, which will open in June 2019. As always, our exhibits are free and open to the public!
Part of Made In Montgomery Exhibit. Ending February 2, 2019!
I thought it would be nice to close out the year with some charitable giving. This week, I discovered a large ledger that recorded the accounts of the Bringhurst Fund in Upper Providence. The first pages of the ledger contained a copy of the will of Wright Bringhurst, the founder of the fund.
Mr. Bringhurst was the heir to his father Israel’s general store in Trappe and many acres of land in Schuylkill County, and he was a good steward of them. When the Reading Railroad built tracks in Schuylkill County, Bringhurst made quite a bit from the sale of the land. He also served in the Pennsylvania legislature. When he died a bachelor in 1876, his will distributed some of the money to his sisters and their children, but over half of the money was donated to the boroughs of Norristown and Pottstown and the township of Upper Providence to create low cost housing for the poor. According to Edward Hocker, in his 1959 article “Gifts for the Public Good Made in Many Pottstown Wills,” (Times-Herald, Dec. 30, 1959), Bringhurst wanted the fund to build the houses in order to provide work, and then rent the houses to the "deserving poor" at below market rates.
Bringhurst’s generosity made news at the time of his death. I found an unattributed article in an old scrapbook that reprints almost the entire will. It also points out that Bringhurst had not been known to be particularly charitable during his life.
The amount left to start the fund was just over $100,000. The will directed that it be divided among the three communities in proportion to their population. Also, the Orphan’s Court would appoint three trustees to oversee the fund.
Houses were built in Mont Clare, Collegeville, and Trappe. In Norristown, 28 houses were built on Chain, Marshall, Corson, Powell, and Elm Streets. Renters were charged a small amount rent. That money was then redistributed to the poor as coal, shoes, or medicine, or re-invested in the fund. I found this information in an article published in our own Bulletin, “A Few Facts in Connection with the Bringhurst Family of Trappe, Pennsyvlania” published in October of 1940. That’s the most recent information I could find on the Bringhurst bequest.
Our own records of the trustees for the Upper Providence portion end in 1926. There are plenty of pages left in the book, and the final entry gives no indication that the fund was running out. I was unable to find the exact location of any of the houses or what happened to the money. Did it run out? Was it absorbed into another program? If anyone has any information, please let me know.
Regardless of which holiday (or holidays) you celebrate, there are probably children in your family hoping to receive a present sometime this month. Although there are a wide variety of toys, one type of toy continues to captivate children, the toy car. Created alongside the first gasoline powered cars in the late 19th century, toy cars are a staple in most children’s lives.
At HSMC, we have two unique toy cars in our collection. The first car is a double decker bus and the second is a trolley. Both are metal, most likely made from tin or a tin alloy, and were likely made in the early 20th century. Both of these toys were found in Norristown, but the donor claimed they were made in England.
HSMC Toy Bus – 1935.8787.001
Since neither toy has a maker’s mark, we had to compare the designs of the toys to other ones made in the early 20th century. The toy bus looks similar to English designs produced by the London based company Lines Brothers Ltd. Their toys were made under the brand name “Tri-ang Toys”. In the picture below, you can see one of the wooden cars produced by Lines Brothers Ltd. in the 1920s/1930s. There are some noticeable differences between this one and the one at HSMC, which means it is possible that whoever made our bus was trying to mimic the Lines Brothers’ design.
Wooden Toy Bus, Lines Brothers, c. 1920 
The real mystery is who created the trolley? So far we have not been able to find any similar toy designs. Even historic, full scale trollies in Montgomery County do not have this oval, open top design.
HSMC Toy Trolley – 1935.8787.002
However, the letters “C. B. T.” on the side of the trolley could be an abbreviation for City of Birmingham Tramways, in Birmingham, England. When we looked at photographs of this company’s trollies, they do appear to have the same design. If you have seen any other toy trollies like the one at HSMC, please share your pictures with us!
 Vetics Auctions, LTD. https://www.vectis.co.uk/lines-brothers-triang-1920s-wooden-london-bus-dating-from-the-1920s-to-1930s-period-this-double-decker-inch-general-inch-london-bus-is-red-with-white-window-surrounds-to-lower-deck-inch-fairycycle-inch-advertising-to-upper-deck-and-inch-triang-toys-inch-t
 “City of Birmingham Tramways Company Ltd”. Wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Birmingham_Tramways_Company_Ltd
December 6 is traditionally the Feast of St. Nicholas, so when our dedicated volunteer Rita Thomas discovered a book called Nikolaus, I thought it was perfect for this week's blog. As the image on the cover shows, the book seems very modern. This Nikolaus certainly resembles today’s Santa Claus, or Weihnachtmann (Christmas man) as he is known in Germany.
I couldn’t discover an exact date for the book, but it was produced in Nuremberg by a publishing house that specialized in illustrated books, Theo. Stroefer’s Kunstverlag. The poems are attributed to Jbo., but I couldn’t find anything on him (there is, however, a German metal band with the same name).
I have to admit, I found this a little confusing. It says “Nikolaus,” but the poems inside do not refer to St. Nicholas day, but clearly to Christmas. But I thought the Christkind delivered the Christmas presents in Germany. And where are all of St. Nicholas’s charming and terrifying traditional companions, like Krampus and the always popular Belznickel? This guy looks a lot like the “right jolly old elf” of Clement C. Moore’s poem and Thomas Nast’s illustrations.
Sleigh with reindeer: check.
Climbing down chimneys: check.
Stockings hung by chimney with care: check.
But none of these things are part of a German tradition. Luckily, Wikipedia is around to help me. You may never have heard of Theodor Stroefer, but he has his own Wikipedia page! In German. According to the article, Stroeder moved his business to Nuremberg in 1893. He died in 1927, so the book was produced between those two dates. In the 1860’s, however, he had been in New York for about five years. Could he have brought back a few ideas to Germany with him?
Of course, Stroefer was the publisher, not the illustrator. The lithographs are attributed to E. Nister of Nuremberg. He has an English language Wikipedia page and died in 1906, further narrowing down the date of the book. He had offices in both Nuremberg and London and was known for images of Father Christmas. The London connection might explain the plum pudding this image.
While there are no images of the angel-like Christkind (Christ child), he is mentioned in one of the poems. The Christkind was invented by Martin Luther during the Reformation to move Protestants away from the veneration of saints. So, instead of St. Nicholas bringing gifts on November 6, the Christ child brought gifts on Christmas Eve. The Christkind is also the origin of “Kris Kringle.”
This poem tells of the Christkind bringing many cute gifts like dolls, balls, and toy horses, and filling shoes with presents.
Although a Protestant invention, today the Christkind is most popular with German speaking Catholics in Germany and Austria.
While I can’t argue that this book has any direct connection to the county, except for once being owned by someone who lived here, its fun mish-mash of German, American, and English traditions is reflective of Montgomery’s county’s history.
Recently, we have been researching two pipes that were claimed to be made by Native Americans. Although we were unable to pinpoint the creator of these pipes, we determined they were most likely created by someone in Montgomery County who was inspired by Native American culture or wanted to celebrate a specific event.
The first pipe is made from a hollow piece of wood and has a stone end shaped like a face. Although we are not sure of this pipe’s origin, the design of the face looks similar to Native American designs in the Central and Southern American region.
Pipe 1, HSMC
The second pipe also has a hollow wood piece. Unlike the previous pipe, this one has a long stone design at the end and is painted red. Without any distinct carvings, we are unsure where this pipe originated. However, since the pipes were housed together in our vaults, it seems likely that these two pipes were made by either the same individual or social group.
Pipe 2, HSMC
Although these two pipes are not authentic Native American pieces, they demonstrate people’s interest in Native American culture. So what does an authentic Native American pipe look like? Observe the picture below.
Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
This is a Sisseton Dakota pipe bowl and stem, c. 1870. It is made from catlinite pipestone, wood, mallard feathers, porcupine quills, horse hair, ribbon, wool cloth, and sinew. Unlike the two pipes at HSMC, authentic Native American pipes like this one are made from thick, strong wood. Authentic pipes are often decorated with feathers, string, beads, or carvings.
Native American pipes have different functions, depending on the tribe. Pipes like the one from NMAI are often used as a way to pray. According to George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), “Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper, and the pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participant as they pray.”
 George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin). “Ceremonial Pipes”. https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/horsenation/pipes.html
In 1964, commuters in Montgomery County got a new and luxurious transportation option when Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company introduced two new trains, called Liberty Liners. These trains ran on the Red Arrow Line and promised a refreshment lounge, air conditioning, and soft music piped into the passenger cars. They had been decorated by Philadelphia artist Horace Paul.
The new trains were actually refurbished cars that were built in 1940 by the St. Louis Car Company for the North Shore Line in Illinois. The trains had already covered more than six million miles each when Philadelphia Suburban Transit purchased them after the North Shore Line folded due to competition from new highways.
In fact, Philadelphia Suburban Transit was the rare private commuter transit company that managed to survive the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Red Arrow Line ran busses, trollies, and trains throughout the Philadelphia region, but its leader, Merritt H. Taylor, Jr., resisted the private-public partnerships that developed in the 1960’s, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT).1
One of the ways the company attracted riders was through plush, fancy trains like the Liberty Liners.
Our material on the inaugural run of the Liberty Liner on January 26, 1964 was donated by David E. Groshens. They include tickets, photographs, coasters, and a history of the trains and how they were refurbished. There’s even a paper explaining the new music system: “In each train is a tape deck containing magnetic tape cartridges. Each cartridge holds four recorded tracks, with 30 minutes of continuous play per track.”
The trains ran on the Norristown High Speed Line, which had previously been run by the Philadelphia and Western Railway Company. That company fared poorly in the Depression, and Philadelphia Suburban Transit gained a controlling interest in 1946, and finally merged the two companies in 1953.
The Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company had begun in 1848 as a turnpike and horse carriage company. The company went through many mergers and permutations over the decades. The Red Arrow Line started when the company, then known as the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company, began its first bus route in 1923.
The P&W bridge in Norristown
Seeing the time of private mass transit coming to an end, Taylor sold the Red Arrow Line to SEPTA in 1970. SEPTA kept the name and logo for seven years after the acquisition, but eventually, they went out of use.2 The Liberty Liners were sold in 1981. The Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnance, PA, now owns one of them.
1 From https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/red-arrow-lines/ accessed Nov. 15, 2018
The Faust Tannery of Ambler operated for over 100 years. It was founded in 1790 by Jonathan Thomas at intersection of Bethlehem and Butler Pikes, when that area was known as Gilky’s Corner (now sometimes called Rose Valley).
Look carefully, and you can find the tannery on this map from 1871
Thomas was a Quaker, who ran the business until his death in 1808. In 1810, Thomas’s son sold the property to James Rutter, another Quaker, who also bought the 35 acre farm that was next to the tannery.
In 1841, Rutter took on Alvin D. Faust as an apprentice. Faust was a native of Lehigh County and a Pennsylvania German. Alvin’s son, Alvin B. Faust wrote a remembrance of his father and the tannery in our Bulletin in 1942. He described his father as “a hustler….From his early youth he had learned to work hard and long.” After a few years of working for Rutter, Faust returned to his family farm in Lehigh County. Alvin B. writes that Alvin D. had to make trips to Philadelphia for supplies, and he sometimes stopped at Rutter’s farm for an overnight stay.
In 1850, Faust bought the tannery from the aging Rutter. He also bought 7 acres of land and a frame house on the south side of Bethlehem Pike. In 1867, he tore the frame house down and replaced it with a brick house. There is a brick house on the site today, which might be that that house (Alvin B. says it was still standing in 1942). When Faust moved in, his wife had never seen the place. The original frame house had once been used to raise silkworms during the decades when the northeast had a bit of a silk craze. Abandoned cocoons had to be cleared away before the family could move in.
Faust Tannery at the time it was sold
Up to Alvin D. Faust’s death in 1884, about half the tannery’s business was making leather for boots and shoes. Around that time, Faust’s son writes that leather top boots were growing rarer, and it proved to be unprofitable. After that point, Faust Tannery specialized in leather for harnesses.
It was important for the business to be on the road to Philadelphia, but also important was the stream running by the land, now known as Tannery Run. Originally, the water powered the bark mill run by the tannery (more about bark in a second). In 1862, Faust installed a 10 horse power steam engine for power. The water source was still essential to the tanning process, however. Tree bark was used in the process of tanning. The tannery bought ground bark by the ton. It was put into large vats of water for leeching. The hide was soaked in this liquid for eight to nine months. Until 1910, the used liquid was run into the creek (after 1910 that was prohibited by the state).
Tannery Run today
In 1876, Faust Tannery won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition. The business worked with other companies throughout the northeast, as far away as Chicago.
Alvin B. writes that the business was prosperous until after World War I, when trucks and automobiles replaced horse drawn vehicles. They stopped ordering new hides in 1920, and the business closed down in 1925. In 1940 all of the equipment and the building was sold off.
Tonight is Halloween. Some of our ancestors believed this was the only night during the year when the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. So what better time to talk about a mysterious grave marker than tonight?!
Unknown Grave Marker, HSMC
At HSMC, we have this heavy grave marker, believed to be made from limestone. It took two people to lift it off the shelf to take photos. The only markings are the initials “A. S.” Although our records have not yet revealed the name of this person, we can learn more about them just by examining this grave marker.
Different rocks were used for making grave markers throughout American history. Slate and sandstone were used primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. Marble and limestone were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, most are made from granite because they do not deteriorate as quickly. Since we believe this grave marker is made from limestone, we can estimate that A. S. lived around the 18th or 19th centuries.
Burial Plot for John F. Hartranft at Historic Montgomery Cemetery
We can also look at the overall design of the grave marker to learn more about this person. Given that there are no engraved designs, it is possible A. S. did not have the money for these designs. Compare A.S.’s marker to the obelisk that marks the burial plot for John F. Hartranft (December 16, 1830 – October 17, 1889). Being a former Pennsylvania Governor and Civil War General, Hartranft had plenty of money to pay for a large family plot.
The identity and burial location of A. S. may be a mystery for now, but hopefully someday we will be able to uncover the rest of this mystery.
Last month the Historical Society received a donation of materials from Citizens’ Building & Loan Association in Telford.
The institution went through many name changes over the decades, but its beginnings were simple enough. In 1905 about twenty men of Telford met to discuss starting a building and loan association, according to a typewritten history of the organization’s first years that was included with the materials. That meeting led to a bigger meeting, held on November 9, when the assembled men elected W. B. Butterwick chairman and E. C. Leidy secretary. William S. Schlichter from the Sellersville Building and Loan spoke to the group about the benefits of such associations. “Ninety-two were subscribed for before the meeting adjourned,” the history tells us. In January, 1906 the Building & Loan made its first loans to John M. Overholt and Clayton H. Detweiler, both for $600.
The collection includes many of the association’s annual reports, starting with the third annual report in 1908. Meetings were held monthly in the Fireman’s Hall in Telford. The 23rd annual report explains, “The primary aim of the Organization is to aid the rising generation to homes, thrift and saving, sharing in high standard financiering.”
I was curious to see how the crash in 1929 altered the association. In the 1928 report lists $11,459.04 cash in the bank. In 1929, that number is $4,925.00. The number of accounts in arrears increased from 13 to 22. The 1930 annual report was not included with the papers, but by 1931 the number of accounts in arrears was up to 43. They increased to 54 in 1932 and 64 in 1933. The trend reversed in 1934 with 44 accounts in arrears, and they continued to decrease from then on. The other change during the Depression has to do with who was auditing the association. In the early years, the three auditors all had the same last names as directors of the Building & Loan. From 1938 on, the books were audited by an outside firms.
In 1954, the annual report lists that they’ve opened an office at 116 South Main Street in Telford that would be open the first ten business days of the month, and for the first time, a phone number is listed.
In 1959, the name changed to Telford Savings and Loan Association, and in 1964 it moved to a new building at 20 South Main Street. In 1979, the association was acquired by Red Hill Savings, which had twelve branches at that time. Red Hill Savings merged with several other banks after deregulation in the 1980’s and became Hill Financial. By 1989, it was the largest savings institution in Pennsylvania. It then collapsed with the rest of the savings and loan industry. It was eventually bought by Meridian Bank Corporation of Reading.
After several more mergers, what was Citizens’ Building and Loan Association, is now part of Wells Fargo, which still operates the building at 20 South Main Street.
This week I was working on the diaries of Judge Harold G. Knight, who sat on the bench here in Montgomery County and for two decades was president of the Montgomery County courts. Knight kept diaries for most of his life. Our collection covers the years 1893 to 1962. The diaries have many enclosures, items such as programs, letters, and newspaper clippings, that have been paperclipped to the relevant dates in the diaries.
One of the enclosures I came across concerned a murder trial that Judge Knight presided over in 1930. On July 4, 1930, Antoinette McCarris shot Joseph Lee in the back with a shot gun killing him. The earliest report in the Norristown Times-Herald (July 5, 1930) described Mrs. McCarris as a “pretty brunette.” It also described her as married to Joseph Lee, but that turned out not to be the case.
Three years earlier, McCarris had left her husband in Virginia and run off with Lee, a former sailor, bringing her two children with her. They eventually settled on a small farm in Worcester, and both were 26 at the time of the killing. The police believed she murdered Lee out of jealously. Lee had shown interest in a younger woman, Bernice Doyle of Kensington. McCarris claimed the shooting was an accident that occurred when she fired off the shot gun to celebrate the 4th.
Given that several people had heard McCarris threaten to kill Lee on several occasions, the District Attorney, Frank X. Renninger, brought her up on charges of first degree murder and sought the death penalty.
The trial started on November 17th. It was Judge Knight’s first murder case. He wrote in his diary that day, “I confess it worries me considerably.” The first day was jury selection. The judge writes that one man declared he had a conscientious objection to capital punishment. “In about one case in twenty these were sincere in the other cases they were pure exhibitors of moral cowardice,” the judge writes.
The next day, two boys, Thomas Hicks, 14, and his brother James, 12, testified for the prosecution. Their father owned the farm Lee and McCarris were renting. Both boys reported that the couple had been fighting over Lee’s interest in Doyle. James claimed to have seen the shooting and demonstrated how McCarris pointed the shotgun at the kitchen door. The Commonwealth called a total of 25 witnesses before resting its case. Then Antoinette McCarris took the stand in her own defense.
“It was the most dramatic and tense hours I have ever seen in a court room,” Judge Knight wrote. He described McCarris as “young [and] frail.” He points out that she was married and a mother at only 15. “She made a deep impression on the just and I am beginning to have some doubts myself as to whether she actually intended to kill the man for whom she left her husband and family three years ago.”
According to the newspaper reports, McCarris denied both threatening to kill Lee and that the couple ever argued about Doyle. Under cross examination, however, she admitted to being jealous of the younger, blond Doyle. McCarris always stuck to her defense that the shooting was an accident. She said she loaded and cocked the gun in the house with the intention of firing it off in the yard.
The jurors, six men and six women, deliberated the case for two hours before returning to the courtroom. The Times-Herald described McCarris as being in a daze when the foreman announced the verdict “not guilty.”
Having no place to go after the trial, she returned to jail, while her lawyer, Edward F. Kane, made arrangements for her to return to Virginia to stay with relatives.
Judge Knight noted in his diary that the verdict was popular. He also wrote that she was acquitted “despite the powerful evidence produced by the Commonwealth and the inherent weakness of her own story.” He goes on, “It was just one of those cases where a pitiful and appealing woman was the defendant, accused of shooting the man she had left her home for and whom she feared had grown tired of her. The just looked upon her deed as justified and decided the case on their view of its moralities and not the law.”
Across the road from the Frederick Mennonite Church is the Bertolet Meeting House and Burying Ground. Set aside by the Frey family for family burials in 1725, the burying ground long predates the small meeting house and holds many Frey, Bertolet, and Grubb ancestors.
Heinrich, or Henry, Frey was one of the earliest German settlers in Pennsylvania. He settled in Philadelphia in 1680 where he opened a woodworking shop. According to a legend recorded in The Book of Philadelphia by Robert Shackleton, Frey and his business partner Joseph Plattenbach taught a young Lenni Lenapi man their trades, and in return, he introduced them to his father Chief Tammanend (often called Tammany – as in Tammany Hall in New York). The son was called Minsi Usquerat. Frey and Plattenbach gave gifts to the Leni Lenapi and spent the night with them. The next day, Tammanend took them to the top of a hill and offered them a 1000 acre tract of land in what is now Germantown.
Later, after 1700, Frey bought the land that is now Bertolet Burying Ground from William Penn, as part of a purchase of 650 acres. He moved there with his sons and nephew. In 1725, Henry Frey set aside part of the land for a family burial ground, and after he died in 1734, he was the first burial there.
The name Bertolet came to the area with Jean Bertolet, a French Huguenot who came to Pennsylvania in 1726. His daughter Susanna, married Henry Frey’s grandson Jacob in 1750. After Jacob died in 1770, she sent for her nephew Samuel Bertolet, who finished building the house Jacob had started. In 1777, that house served as the staff headquarters for the Continental Army.
Samuel served in the American Revolution under General Anthony Wayne hauling both supplies and wounded soldiers during the Battle of the Brandywine. He also supplied grain to the army at Valley Forge.
Samuel’s son Daniel was a brickmaker, whose brick went into many of the early buildings of Frederick Township. It was he who proposed founding a Mennonite Meeting House on the land next to the burial ground in 1846. The first meeting was held on May 23, 1847.
The meeting house was closed in 1928 when the advent of the automobile made it possible for Mennonites to travel to large meetings in surrounding communities. However, in 1950, a Mennonite group began using the building for Sunday school, and in 1966, a new building, Frederick Mennonite Church was built across the street.
In 1890, the Bertolet Burying Ground Association was incorporated to maintain the burial ground and the meeting house. The records of the association are part of the Historical Society’s archive.
Since the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Tuesday October 9, I wanted to share two objects connected to the history of women voters in Montgomery County. When the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, politicians realized the need to alter their campaign strategies. Advocate groups, such as the League of Women Voters, were formed to encourage people to vote.
2016.152.007f – League of Women Voters, Upper Merion
Since their establishment in Chicago in 1920, local chapters of the League of Women Voters have emerged throughout the United States, including here in Montgomery County. This group provided, and continues to provide, voters with an understanding of current issues, government processes, and current political candidates. The League of Women Voters created tags and pins, like the one depicted in the picture above, to hand out to voters before and on Election Day.
As time progressed, women became increasingly active in politics. To appeal to women voters, politicians created items, such as this potholder, to encourage women to vote for them.
2018.193 - Given in Memory of A. Patricia McCann
This potholder was one of many commissioned by the Coughlin for Congress campaign in the 1960’s. Robert Lawrence Coughlin was a Republican running for PA State Representative for Montgomery County. Since many women spent time in the kitchen, Coughlin and other candidates realized making an item women could use on a daily basis would be great advertising for their campaign. This particular potholder was given to A. Patricia McCann, for her participation in Coughlin’s campaign. McCann was a Republican Committee Woman and Co-Chairperson in King of Prussia during the early 1960s. For candidates, politically active women like McCann were becoming crucial for their success.
Today, political candidates and advocate groups continue to create items to encourage people to vote. Some of the most common items we see are: political t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the “I Voted” stickers.
Every week, we put out a little article about something in our collection, and how it tells a story from Montgomery County’s past. And then – well, generally, then nothing. Maybe a few likes on Facebook. Then another Thursday comes around, and another article goes up on the blog.
Every once in a while, we get a response. This is always a little shocking because it means someone actually read our blog. Last summer, I received two (!) responses to a blog post I wrote about a libel case against Moses Auge.
To recap, Henry L. Acker sued Auge and John L. Williams for libel after an article appeared in the newspaper, the Norristown Republican. Auge and Williams were co-editors of the paper. The article accused Acker of embezzling public money while he was postmaster. Our collection holds the original indictment, but it doesn’t tell us the verdict. There was a curious detail in the indictment, however. A document filed with the indictments, tells us that a bond of $500 was set for both Auge and Williams, as well as an addition man named Jacob Cowden, but Cowden was not mentioned in the indictment.
Earlene O’Hare sent me an email a few weeks later explaining that Cowden was a relative of Auge’s by marriage. Moses Auge married Mary Cowden, and it looks like Jacob was her nephew. It doesn’t tell us how in was involved with the libel suit.
Then I received a letter from another member, Ben Curtis, who was familiar with Jacob Cowden’s name from some family lore. It seems Jacob was involved in some dishonest real estate deals. Auge describes him in his Lives of the Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa.:
“He owns considerable real estate in the borough, generally investing in such properties as yield a good income. Jacob M. Cowden had but a moderate school education, but has risen in fortune by shrewd judgment and close attention to business.”
Cowden died suddenly on April 16, 1887. According to his lengthy obituary in the Herald and Free Press, “He possessed push, capital, and shrewdness.”
After Cowden’s death, however, it all fell apart. Ben sent along a newspaper clipping that says “he invested enormous amounts of money for other people, invariably taking securities in his own name and assigning them to his clients, with the injunction not the record the assignment.” He also borrowed large amounts of money using promissory notes and used that money to purchase real estate, which he transferred to his three single daughters.
This doesn’t explain his $500 bond, but it raises some intriguing questions.
This week's blog comes to us from volunteer and trustee Ed Ziegler.
During the 1888 Presidential campaign, President Grover Cleveland and his private secretary Col. Daniel Lamont, stayed in Montgomery County, to rest from campaigning, according to the National Defender newspaper. On September 22nd and 23rd, 1888. They stayed with William M. Singerly at his Whitpain Township “Record Farm”. Mr. Singerly was the publisher of the Philadelphia Record, a Democratic newspaper, and he was known for his experiments in improved farming methods. The President left the next day for Washington.
Mr Singerly’s farm house had been the Franklinville Hotel (Franklinville was the area around the intersection of DeKalb Pike and Morris Road). He closed the hotel and purchased surrounding farms, eventually owning over 500 acres in Whitpain and Gwynedd townships. He was particularly known for his herd of over 100 Holstein cattle. Mr. Singerly went on to be the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1894.
After Singerly died suddenly in 1898 (from what doctors called “tobacco heart,” Singlery smoked 18 to 25 cigars a day), a Dr. Wilson, who used it for years as a summer home, purchased the farm. The farm was then purchased by Ralph Beaver Strassberger, publisher of the Norristown Times-Herald, who named it Normandy Farm. The house Strassberger lived in is, in part, the old Franklinville Hotel.