Found in Collection (144)
To many people, the introduction of trains in Montgomery County was a welcomed change in transportation. However, while trains were a faster way to travel, it was not uncommon for them to derail during the earliest days of their use. At HSMC, we have a piece of metal believed to be from one of these train wrecks.
Piece of Metal from Gwynedd Train Wreck
On Saturday November 21, 1903, a train derailed shortly after leaving Gwynedd Station. The engine and one passenger car jumped off the track and slid down an embankment when trying to cross the Wissahickon. Sadly, one passenger, Clement Custer, and one fireman, Harry Roderick, were killed. Several other passengers were injured.
Although this train wreck may not appear to be unusual when compared to similar accidents, the cause of this wreck was quite unusual. According to the Times Herald, the authorities believed the rail road tracks were sabotaged! There were two theories as to why someone would sabotage the tracks.
First, the previous week, a group of intoxicated African American men were forced off the same train when they reached Landsdale. Some people claimed the men said they would take revenge for being forced off the train.
The second theory, some people believed the sabotage could have been part of a robbery plan. According to Great Train Wrecks of Eastern Pennsylvania, the Black Diamond Express, which carried large sums of money, was scheduled to pass the sabotaged tracks before this passenger train. The tracks were bent without cutting the bond wire, which would have triggered the signal system and alerted oncoming trains. This could only have been accomplished by a person who knew the train schedule and understood the construction of the tracks.
In spite of these two theories, no arrests were ever made and the exact reason for the sabotage remains a mystery. The Times Herald mentions the wreck four times over the next few weeks, but investigators were unable to find the person responsible for the sabotage. Was it the result of a disgruntled passenger or railroad worker? Was the saboteur just looking to get rich? This is one mystery we may never solve.
If you’ve ever attended the Historical Society’s Memorial Day observance at historic Montgomery Cemetery, you’re probably familiar with the Grand Army of the Republic. This national association of Union veterans of the Civil War, had hundreds of posts across the country. One local Montgomery County post, the Zook Post, purchased several plots at Montgomery Cemetery for the burial of members who couldn’t buy plots of their own.
Adorable children at the G.A.R plot
The G.A.R. wasn’t the only organization for Union veterans, however. Norristown was also home to a chapter of the Union Veteran League. This group was much smaller than the G.A.R. because it had stricter rules for admittance. In order to be a member, one had to have volunteered for three years of service before July 1, 1863 (when the draft went into effect) and served for at least two years.
This morning, I came across the roster of post 94 in Norristown. It lists 56 members, all enrolled from 1891 to 1893. The roster lists the members’ names, place of birth, residence, occupation, plus contains information on their service.
Some members were wounded or captured, and the roster notes that, too.
From the roster, it looks like this post was founded July 9, 1891.
The group was founded in Pittsburgh in 1884 and lasted until about 1939 (the Grand Army of the Republic survived until its last member died in 1956). While neither group ever expanded to include later veterans (the Veterans of Foreign Wars was founded for them in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish – American War), the G.A.R. was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans.
Since it was a smaller group with no apparent successor, information on the organization is hard to find. This roster was ended up with member Samuel E. Nyce, who donated it to the Historical Society in 1910.
From the Ambler High School yearbook
We have in our archives a small collection of items from Ada Worthington. All of the papers concern her education, beginning with her third grade report card from Prospectville School in Horsham. It was the 1924-1925 school year.
Ada was a good student. Her fourth grade report card is also in the collection. When looking over her grades, keep in mind, this is before grade inflation, so 75 should be the average.
This invitation to her elementary school graduation indicates she was valedictorian.
After attending Ambler High School, Ada was admitted to the Abington Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. Her letter of acceptance includes a list of what to bring with her, including $22 for textbooks.
Using Ancestry, I was able to follow Ada through her life. In 1942, she married Camillus G. Schlecter in Delaware, though both listed Philadelphia addresses on their marriage license. Interestingly, Ada lists herself as about a year older than Camillus. Her birthdate on the marriage certificate is March 29, 1916, however, on a form from the school district from when the family moved from Cheltenham to Horsham (when Ada was 6 years old), her birthdate is listed as March 29, 1915. Did she shave a year off her age? Or did her parents have reason to list her as older than she was? Is it just a clerical error?
A little more searching revealed that Ada passed away in 2013. She’s buried in Ambler, with 1915 listed as her date of birth on her tombstone.
I found this interesting little booklet in an old box labeled “Business and Industry.” It’s an employee magazine for the Diamond State Fibre Co., a paper fiber manufacturer in Bridgeport.
But hang on, both of you reading this are thinking, Delaware is the Diamond State! Yes, it is. The company was based in Elsemere, Delaware.
The magazine is unnamed. The back cover advertises a contest with a $5 prize to name it. The inside is filled with information on the Christmas savings fund, humor, children’s pages, and employee updates. There are pictures of some of the equipment at the plant and this one of “The Big Five.”
The company's 12 team bowling league gets a few pages of coverage.
There is only a little bit on what the company actually made. One article explains that the company’s Condensite Celeron was used as insulation for wireless communication. The company installed its own wireless set at the Bridgeport plant. It explains “Our receiving range should be from one quarter to one third the distance around the world.”
This was 1922, and commercial radio was in its infancy. The first station had been licensed only two years earlier in Pittsburgh. The novelty of the radio is clear in the article which says, “A number of powerful radiophone experimental stations are equipped to transmit music by radio and some stations do so on a regular weekly schedule, so that hundreds of receiving stations within their radius can tune their instrument to that wave and listen in to the music.
In 1929, the company merged with the Continental Fibre Company, becoming the Continental-Diamond Fibre Company. I was unable to find when it shut down, but the Bridgeport plant was in business into the 1950’s.
Upon first glance, this green glass mug may not appear to be historically significant. However, according to our records, it was bought in 1864 at the Soldiers’ Fair in Logan Square, Philadelphia. The Soldiers’ Fair, also known as Sanitary Fairs, was a grassroots movement where U.S. citizens used their own unique skills to sell products to provide funding for Union soldiers during the American Civil War.
Glass Mug, HSMC, 1923.7452.001
When the Civil War began in 1861, women across the Northern U.S. organized local fundraising events to provide supplies for Union Soldiers. As this localized fundraising became popular, a law to create the U.S. Sanitary Commission was passed on June 18, 1861. This law allowed the civilian run Commission to organize the funding and distribution of medical and sanitary supplies for the Union Army. As the Commission became more organized, larger fundraising events, like the Sanitary Fairs, became more prevalent.
The Great Central Fair in Logan Square, 1864. Photo Credit: (Library of Congress)
The 1864 Great Sanitary Fair, sometimes referred to as the Great Central Fair, opened on June 7, 1864 in Logan Square, Philadelphia. This fair lasted for three weeks and had roughly 250,000 attendees. With different venues for attendees to shop and dine, the Great Sanitary Fair raised approximately $1,046,000. The success of the fair even set a precedent for future fundraising and celebratory fairs in Philadelphia. In 1876, Philadelphia city leaders used the 1864 Great Sanitary Fair as a template to plan for the Centennial celebration.
Ground plan of buildings of the Great Central Sanitary Fair, Logan Square, Philadelphia, June 1864.
(Philadelphia: Printed & Lithogrd. by P. S. Duval & Son, 1864). Photo Credit: Library Company of Philadelphia.
 Kerry L. Bryan, “Civil War Sanitary Fairs,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Rutgers University, 2012, http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/civil-war-sanitary-fairs/
 Henry W. Bellows, D.D., The United States Sanitary Commission, G. P. Putnam’s Son Sons Printers, N.Y., http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/gdc/scd0001/2013/20130904008un/20130904008un.pdf
 Harry Kyriakodis, “Logan Square, Lincoln & The Great Sanitary Fair of 1864”, Hidden City Philadelphia, June 20, 2014, https://hiddencityphila.org/2014/06/logan-square-president-lincoln-the-great-sanitary-fair-of-1864/
Today, Montgomery County has many trails for those who wish to see their community at a pace a little slower than 70 miles per hour. There’s the Schuylkill River Trail, the Perkiomen Trail, the Audubon Loop, and the Cross County Trail. In fact, Montgomery County has a great history of walking.
In the 1950’s, an article in the Norristown Times-Herald by Edward Hocker (under his penname “Norris”) reports the founding of the Valley Forge Chapter of the National Campers and Hikers Association. He writes of walking as an antidote to modern life and says that old folks in particular encouraged people to escape the automobile.
“Those old times criticize the schools of today  because they pamper children by bringing them to school on a bus.”
A school bus from when the "old timers" were young.
In 1894, William E. Corson traveled across Montgomery County in search of forgotten cemeteries. His list of private burial grounds was eventually donated to the Historical Society, whose members then took up the project of recording them.
The most famous walker in the county’s history lived here only briefly. Edward P. Weston was a well-known pedestrian whose first long distance walk came as the result of a bet with a friend. His friend bet that Abraham Lincoln would win the presidential election of 1860, and Weston bet that he wouldn’t. Having lost the bet, Weston walked from Boston to Washington, arriving in time for the inauguration where he shook the new president’s hand (some say Lincoln offered to buy his train ticket back). Later, he walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago, and in 1909, at the age of 71, he walked from New York to San Francisco in 104 days.
Born in Rhode Island, Weston first came to Norristown in 1912 for the Industrial Day portion of the Norristown centennial celebration. His appearance was sponsored by Rambo & Regar who had named a sock after him. He returned in 1922 to lecture the police department on how to properly care for their feet. He had settled in Kingston, NY, a town on the Hudson River, when burglars broke into his home and shot him in the leg. He seems to have decided that living in the country was unsafe, and in 1924, he moved to Norristown.
In the two years he spent here, he lived at the Brandt Building at West Main St. and Barbadoes, later moving to DeKalb Street. Although he was here a short time, he left his mark. In St. Helena’s Church in Whitpain there’s a marble plaque that reads “Here at 84, I found religion. Edward Payson Weston.”
Weston moved to Brooklyn in 1925, where he died in 1929, two years after he was hit by a car, a somewhat ironic way for a great pedestrian to die.
In the very early days of this blog, I wrote about Treemount Seminary (you can check out that original post here). The school was a private boarding and day school founded in Norristown in 1857. The school existed for 43 years and educated about 5,000 students. For decades after the school closed, an active alumni association continued to keep its memory alive through annual reunions.
I revisited the Treemount Seminary papers this week while working through our school collection. This morning I found a small box, donated to the Historical Society of Montgomery County in the 1940’s that contained tintypes of students from the school.
Most of the tintypes are identified with a last name on the reverse, and most were taken by Thomas Saurman, whose shop was located at Main and Green in Norristown. According to Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, Saurman himself was a graduate of Treemount.
Tintypes were a popular form of photography for the second half of the nineteenth century. They were cheaper than competing forms of photograph such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Their cheapness and their small size made them perfect for sending to family or collecting pictures of your friends.
Tintypes were also known as ferrotypes, are made through a process similar to how ambrotypes were made. They used a wet collodion process to create a direct positive image that was reversed. No negative was made, so only one image could be produced from each exposure, no copies. The main difference between the ambrotype and the tintype was the material the image appeared on. Ambrotypes used polished glass while tintypes were produced on metal.
The process of creating a tintype was invented by Hamilton L. Smith at Kenyon College in 1856. The plate was a thin piece of iron that had been lacquered black or dark brown. The image was not was sharp as an ambrotype, but their affordability made up for this shortcoming.
The rosy cheeks you see in so many of the photos was added by hand, and was typical at the time, not just for tintypes, but for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
The paper mats you see around the images were also typical. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes had to be kept in cases to protect the glass plates. Tintypes sometimes have cases, but the paper mat is more typical.
Henry C. Trexler's tintype
These tintypes were owned by Harry C. Trexler, a graduate of Treemount Seminary and came to the historical society through his brother Frank.
Ruoff, Henry Wilson. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Biographical Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1895.
Ritzenhaler, Mary Lynn and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, 2006.
Any plans for the weekend? Maybe you’re thinking of taking in a movie. In early and mid-century Norristown, you had to be sure to see that movie on Saturday because movie theaters were closed on Sundays by law.
At the time, Sunday “blue” laws were common. Stores and businesses were closed and there was no mail delivery. Although observance of a Sunday Sabbath goes back to the early Christian Church, by the Middle Ages it had fallen out of favor. Protestants revived the idea, particularly the Puritans (although both Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected the need for laws to enforce the Sabbath.) In the United States, several groups promoted laws enforcing a day of rest sprung up in the late nineteenth century. In 1912 they succeeded in closing post offices on Sunday.
In 1947, the borough held a referendum on legalizing Sunday movies, and Ronald Heaton created a scrapbook of the newspaper ads that flew back and forth on each side.
The proposal was for movies to be allowed after 2pm on Sundays. Supporters of the measure argued that the late start time meant that the theaters would not be interfering with church services.
Opponents of Sunday movies argued that they would increase juvenile delinquency. Many nearby communities allowed Sunday movies including Conshohocken and Bridgeport (there were more movie theaters back then, kids). Supporters of the referendum argued that these communities saw no increase in juvenile crime. Some even argued that by giving kids a place to go on Sundays would reduce crime.
In addition to the competing advertising campaigns, many churches held meetings and sent letters directly to voters.
Ultimately, arguments about crime, employment, the local economy meant little to the defenders of the ban on Sunday movies. Their opposition to Sunday movies came down to the Christian observance of the Sabbath and its role in American tradition. This ad argues for the universality of dedicating the Sabbath to God.
One wonders if the people who wrote the ad knew the Rabbi was talking about Saturday.
Heaton also records earlier votes on the issue.
On election day, the proposal to allow movies on Sunday was rejected.
Once it was defeated the issue could not appear on the ballot for four years. In 1951, another referendum was held and Norristown’s four movie theaters were free to open on Sundays.
There are many styles of decorative arts, but one of the lesser known is tinsel paintings. Done on the back of glass, tinsel paintings use metallic foil to paint decorative designs. When viewed under light, the foil produces a unique shimmer.
Photo Credit: American Folk Art Museum
This style of decorative art was popular, particularly among women, in the United States from 1850 to 1890. Some young women even attended classes to learn how to make these intricate pieces of art. Since botanical patterns were easy to obtain, most tinsel paintings depict floral imagery. Some rare works even included photography and collages to make the painting.
Photo Credit: American Folk Art Museum
At HSMC, we are fortunate to have a beautiful example of tinsel painting. This tea table was made by Emma Kratz Weinberger in 1860, when she was just seventeen-years-old. Emma attended the Excelsior Normal Institute in Carversville, where she learned how to make paintings like the one on this table. She married Professor John Weinberger and moved to Collegeville circa 1860, where John taught at Ursinus College. It seems likely that Emma continued to make tinsel paintings after her move to Collegeville, but, like so many other tinsel paintings, they have likely been lost or broken over time.
Emma Kratz Weinberger Tea Table, 1860
This tea table is currently on display in our Made in Montgomery County exhibit, which is free and open to the public. We invite you to come view it for yourselves before the exhibit closes on February 1, 2019.
Take a look at this short video to see more examples of tinsel paintings:
American Folk Art Museum, “Foiled: Tinsel Painting in America,” September 12, 2012, https://folkartmuseum.org/exhibitions/foiled-tinsel-painting-in-america/.
Tonight we will unveil our new exhibit, Made in Montgomery County. Come learn about the history of various Montgomery County industries and how they evolved into the businesses we love today. From 6PM to 9PM, for $30 a person, visitors can view the exhibit before it opens to the public this Saturday. Food and drinks will be available at this event.
This exhibit will be free and open to the public starting this Saturday and will be on display until February 2019. So bring your friends and family to see this new exhibit!
If you’ve ever come into our library to do some family research or look up some local history you’ve probably used one of the several historical and biographical works by such as Milton Bean, Charles Hunsicker, and Moses Auge. This week’s blog is about Moses Auge, author of Lives of Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa. As I’ve noted in this blog before, people in the past were not concerned with catchy book titles.
Auge was born in Delaware in 1811 and spent his youth in Chester County. He moved to Norristown after he married. He was a hatter by trade. The 1860 Norristown city directory lists him as:
Auge, Moses, hats clothing and Editor, 178 Egypt Street.
"Egypt Street" is now Main Street. He edited two newspapers in Norristown, the Republican and the True Witness. Both papers were pro-temperance and anti-slavery.
The masthead of the Republican after Ague's time as editor
During his time editing the Republican, 1857-1862, Auge and his co-editor John H. Williams were both sued for libel by Henry L. Acker. We don’t have a copy of the original paper, but luckily for us, the indictment reproduced the article, along with interjections of legalese:
“Aha!!! Our old friend Acker (meaning the said Henry L. Acker) brother of the editor of the Norristown Register, late editor of the Pottsville Democratic Standard, and post-master at that place under Buchanan, was one day this week honored with a visit from the U. S. Marshall which functionary favored him with a free ride to Philadelphia to answer a charge of embezzling six thousand dollars (meaning six thousand dollars of the public monies of the United States of America received by him the said Henry L. Acker as such postmaster) it perhaps be remembered by our readers, was some time ago, much troubled about some people long ears! We told him at the time, that, although not a very graceful appendage, they were not so apt to let their owners into trouble as were long fingers (meaning thereby that the said Henry L. Acker has then and there unlawfully appropriated money to himself which did not justly belong to him), and now, we suppose, he will believe we were about right. Virtuous Acker (meaning said Henry L. Acker) while he presided over the columns of the Standard who so horrified and indignant as he over the frauds and thefts of the government contractors and Republican office holders. Now how have the might fallen. Sic transit gloria mundi.”
A surprising $500 bond was entered for each man and one Jacob Cowden, who is not mentioned in the indictment. Acker himself was ordered to pay a bond of $100 upon condition he appear. We also have the total costs of the trial, which called thirteen witnesses, who each cost the Commonwealth $1.50 (the paper doesn’t say if this was to feed them or transport them or what). Acker himself cost the county $7.17.
The only thing we don’t know – the verdict. It’s not among the court papers, nor does the case seem to have been covered in the Times-Herald (although, its publisher, Robert Iredell was called as a witness). Auge’s time at the Republican ended the same year, however. He published his well-used book of local biographies in 1878 and died in 1892.
As I continue to make my way through our school collection, I discovered two interesting catalogs from Cheltenham Military Academy, which was once located on several acres in the Ogontz section of Cheltenham Township.
It was founded in 1871, when Robert Shoemaker and Jay Cooke, business tycoon, approached Dr. Edward Appleton of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about the need for a military academy in the area. It was located on land purchased from the estate of Gabriella Butler.
Our catalogues are from 1891 and 1892 and were donated to the society in 1950 by Septimus Kriebel. They fall in between the times of the school’s two most famous students. Jesse Grant, youngest son of Ulysses S. Grant attended the school briefly in 1873. Ezra Pound attended the school from 1897 until 1900, sometimes as a boarder though his family lived in nearby Jenkintown.
The school’s catalog explains that the school could accommodate sixty boarders. Tuition for boarding students was $275 per year. Piano lessons were an addition $45. There were additional charges for the boys uniforms, though the catalog notes that the school was not “in the strictest sense a Military School.” Military drills were carried out by all the students.
Parents of the pupils were given many instructions. They were not permitted to send food other than fresh fruit and were urged not to give their students extra pocket money. Then there is this instruction:
The school had football and baseball teams as well as a drama club. The school also organized a summer excursion in Europe for a small number of pupils.
There were three courses of academic study. The Classical and Latin-Scientific courses prepared students for college or scientific schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The English course was for boys intending to go into business and not attend college.
The 1892 catalog has a very interesting enclosure. This table shows the admission requirements to the nation’s top colleges. Interestingly, few of them had any interest in science, and the mathematics requirements are the equivalent of first year high school algebra. A thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek was, however, required.
The school closed in the early twentieth century.
This week, I processed a collection of papers donated by Jean Brown Hall in 1984. The collection has receipts, genealogical research, and many photographs. There’s something arresting about old portraits – the clothing, the hairstyles, the faces themselves are fascinating. I thought this week, it would be nice to look at some of the pictures of children from this collection of materials from the Jackson, Rutter, Potts, and allied families.
The award for biggest bow ever goes to Katherine Jackson, seen here with her brother Millard, Jr. Note that both are wearing high button shoes. Those must have been a struggle to get on.
This cute baby is Charles Rutter Campbell of Pottstown. Below is the same boy at 3 years and 3 months.
This dapper lad is Millard Jackson, presumably the father of the children in the first photograph above.
One of the most interesting photographs in the collection is this picture of Mray Iris Campbell, 15, wearing a dress that belonged to her great-grandmother Mary Anna (Potts) Rutter. The look on her face suggests that 15 year-olds haven't changed much.
My personal favorite from the collection is this portrait of Nina B. Rutter at the age of 17. It is one of the only photos in the collection that is dated, 1898.
Among the many school records housed in our lower stacks, are many large ledgers called “Teacher’s Monthly Reports.” Issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Common Schools, the books were used by teachers to record attendance, textbooks used, and other events that might have happened at the school.
Several teachers often appear in the same book suggesting that teaching was a temporary position, held for a few years only. Whatever the teacher, he or she filled out the two page spread for each month. Boys are one side and girls on the other, but otherwise the method of taking attendance is not unlike the way my teachers marked attendance.
The absence rate seems high for some students. It’s possible that some were working on family farms or in family businesses, though in an age before mandatory vaccinations and antibiotics, its possible many students were experiencing what were common childhood diseases. School at this time let out for lunch, and the teachers recorded if the children missed the morning (a horizontal line) or didn’t return after lunch (a vertical line).
The second teacher to use this book from Gwynedd Lower School, James Creighton, recorded the students’ ages, giving us a snapshot of a one room school house with students as young as 7 and as old as 18.
This book is from a series of Teacher’s Monthly Reports books from Gwynedd Township (Gwynedd was split into Upper and Lower in 1891). The books were originally printed in 1868. The one we’ve looked at here began use in 1871 and is filled throughout, ending in 1876. We have books from other school districts as well.
The inside of the front cover is printed with instructions on what symbols to use and how to calculate the average attendance. It also suggests that teachers keep their attendance on a separate sheet and copy the records in neatly at the end of the month. It notes, “A teacher’s character is in no small degree indicated by the manner in which the monthly report is kept.”
At the end of the month, the book was examined by the secretary of the school district, who signed it and gave the teacher his or her monthly pay. The receipt of the payment was also noted in the report.