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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (144)

Thursday, 24 May 2018 18:20

A Cool Horse Thief

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Among our various collections at the Historical Society are papers from various societies for the recovery of stolen horses.

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They started as mutual aid societies in different parts of the county. According to the constitution of the Montgomery Union Horse Company for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Other Property and Detection of the Thieves (19th century people weren’t concerned with coming up with catchy names), members paid one dollar upon joining and twenty-five cents annually in dues. In return, when anything over five dollars in value was stolen from a member, the society would try to recover it.

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These societies date back to a time before the county or townships had anything resembling a police force. The Mount Joy Society for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Detection of Thieves was founded at the King of Prussia Inn in 1774. The first time a member’s horse was stolen was in 1787, when Alexander Henderson’s horse was stolen and recovered at a cost of five pounds. In 1853, Mordicai M. Stephen’s horse was stolen and not recovered, costing the society $249.54. Like the Montgomery Union Horse Company, the original constitution of the Mount Joy Society said that a company of men would ride out in search of the stolen horse. In the 1883 constitution, however, that company had been replaced by a two man committee whose job it was to telegraph local police a description of the horse.

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Some of the societies even lasted into the motor age, though more as social clubs than serious crime detecting rings. The Blue Bell Horse Company discussed adding the protection of automobiles in its annual meetings in 1914 and 1920, but no decision was made. The group still existed as late as 1951.

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I’d like to close with an interesting story I came across in an old scrapbook about a horse thief in Eagleville in 1893. The story first appeared in the Norristown Register. John Adam Fisher had been working as a hired man for Daniel W. Longaker for a few weeks when he took off with one of his employer’s horses. Longaker’s neighbor, Taylor Pugh, pursued the thief to Collegeville where he discovered that Fisher had tried to sell the horse for $150 but had been talked down to $50. The buyer, however, perhaps grew suspicious and asked where Fisher lived and wanted to go to his house. Fisher took off on the horse again heading toward Trappe, but he was stopped at a toll gate and not allowed to pass. Taylor caught up with him and ordered a magistrate to arrest Fisher. Fisher offered to give the magistrate the “finest stockings he ever saw” once he got to jail. On the way to the jail, he told the constable that he hoped to get twenty-one years. The article concludes that people who had spoken to Fisher believed him “not quite right.”

Thursday, 17 May 2018 20:06

A flood in Miquon

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Driving to work today, I saw that W. Valley Green Road was closed due to flooding. That put me in mind of a series of photos showing the Schuylkill flooding the Hamilton Paper Mill in Miquon (Whitemarsh Township).

The photos aren’t dated, but are clearly from the twentieth century. They’re black and white, placing them probably before the 1970s. To narrow it down more, I went to the National Weather Service’s website. It lists 65 times the Schuylkill has flooded since 1769. The visible snow in some of the photos, places the flood in the winter. December 1942, January 1945, December 1948, November, 1950, and December 1952 are the best bets. Of those, only the 1950 flood is described as “moderate” while the others are “minor.”

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I checked those dates in the Times-Herald. The 1945 and 1952 floods, didn’t make the paper at all. Of the other three none of the articles mention Hamilton Paper or Miquon specifically. In the case of the 1950 “moderate” flood, that could be because there was so much else going on.

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The W. C. Hamilton Paper Company goes back to 1858, when Edwin R. Cope hired William C. Hamilton to manage his Riverside Paper Mill. Of course, papermaking in Pennsylvania goes way back to colonial times, and Miquon had been home to paper mills since 1746. This map from the article “Two Centuries of Papermaking at Miquon, Pennsyvlania” by Rudolf P. Hommel (Historical Society of Montgomery County Bulletin, Vol. 5, no. 4, April, 1947), shows the area. Originally part of Springfield Plantation’s corridor to the Schuylkill, it was ceded to Whitemarsh in 1876.

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But getting back to Hamilton, he bought the mill in 1865, making several improvements. The company was bought and sold a few times over the next century, becoming part of different conglomerates. The mill closed in 1995.

Today the land has been redeveloped into the Riverside I and Riverside II office parks. AIM Academy occupies one of the original mill buildings.

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Wednesday, 09 May 2018 21:03

Redware Pottery

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Pottery is one of the oldest crafts in Montgomery County. When Germans arrived in the eighteenth century, they brought the redware craft with them.[1]

 

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Plate, possibly made by Jacob Medinger (1865-1932)

In addition to the use of sgraffito, many potters used tulip designs in their pottery. The use of tulips were common among many crafts created in German culture. According to some historians, the use of tulip designs in German crafts may have been inspired by tulip designs seen in Persian crafts.

 

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Sgraffito Plate made at Mrs. Naaman Keyser’s studio in Plymouth Meeting

 

In addition to the use of sgraffito, many potters used tulip designs in their pottery. The use of tulips were common among many crafts created in German culture. According to some historians, the use of tulip designs in German crafts may have been inspired by tulip designs seen in Persian crafts.

 

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Some of our redware pieces will be on display in our Made in Montgomery County exhibit. The exhibit will be open to the public on June 30, 2018 and will run through February 2019. We invite you to come see the exhibit, which is free and open to the public!

 

[1] Helen W. Henderson. The Pennsylvania academy of the Fine Arts and other Collections of Philadelphia, 1911.

Thursday, 03 May 2018 19:29

A Siept family timeline

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This week, we have a guest blogger, our one and own Ed Ziegler.

Because given names in the families were the same from generation to generation, middle initials are used to identify the different generations.

The early German immigrants to Pennsylvania are an example of immigrant communities creating enclaves in their new homeland. The early Germans who came to America to escape religious persecution and moved into the central part and upper parts of Montgomery County, were no exception. The Schwenkfelders, Mennonites and Dunkards all mixed in this area, but settled close to their religious brethren and rarely did they intermarry.

My Seipt ancestors, Schwenkfelders, are a great example of immigrant communities sticking together, living in the same area for 280 years.

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The Schwenkfelder Church in Towamencin

David Sepit, the immigrant, came to America in 1734 and bought 140 acres in Towamencin Township, along the Towamencin Creek.

In 1751 David’s son, Casper, bought 135 ½ acres from his father, who died in 1765. He lived on the farm, along with his parents. When he died in 1773, his children were minors living on the farm with his wife and mother.

In 1789 a conveyance was made to his two sons: David Y. received 118 acres and Abraham Y. received 41 acres.

In 1816 David Y. died intestate with no issue, so the farm reverted to his brother and 4 sisters. His brother Abraham Y. bought the rest of the farm from his sisters. In 1852, Abraham Y.’s children, George, Susanna and Joseph, sold 88 acres of the Towamencin farm to their brother Abraham A. In 1853 George A. bought the farm from his brother Abraham A. In 1863 George A. sold the Towamencin farm to his brother-in-law Jacob Erb.

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An "A. Seipt" appears at the border of Towamencin and Worcester

The same George A. married Anna Heebner in 1824. In 1831 George A. bought 2 contiguous tracts of land from his father-in-law, Balthaser Heebner, at Trooper and Potshop Roads.

In 1880, George A.’s will had his estate sold and the proceeds divided among his children.

George A.’s son, William H., married Amanda Schultz in 1871. In 1883, William H. bought a farm and 79 acres from his Father-In-Law Samuel Schultz. This farm was on the corner of Skippack Pike and Hollow Road. His son, William S., farmed the land until 1932 when William H. died. Because of the depression William S. could not purchase the farm, and the estate sold it to Blanche Schweiker, William S. Seipt’s cousin.

In 1932, William S. bought the Dr. Meschter farm from the Doctor’s widow. The Meschters were also Schwenkfelders. When William S., my grandfather, moved to a smaller home, they ended the tradition, which lasted for more than 200 years.

This was typical of the German part of Montgomery county because the Mennonites and Brethern did the same.

Thursday, 26 April 2018 19:10

Art, Trade and Mystery

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Apprenticing to learn a profession, trade, or craft goes back to the Middle Ages. A master craftsman would agree to teach a child his craft over the course of several years. The child would move into the master’s house and work for him in exchange for the education.

We have a collection of a dozen or so contracts for apprentices. They run from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. While you may have read genearalizations about apprenticeship (I know I have) that say they mostly lasted seven years, or that the children were around eight or nine, our collection shows that such generalizations don’t really describe the practice at all.

The apprenticeship indenture of Jacob Lenhart tells us that he was a minor under the guardianship of a Dr. George Martin of Philadelphia. He was sent out to Charles Van Court, a blacksmith in Whitemarsh, for four years and four months. It specifies that Van Court would provide his apprentice with one quarter of school during the third year and $25 at the end of the contact.

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Not all apprenticeships were for crafts. In 1842, Robert James McVey signed a contract to learn the “art and mystery” farming from Catharine Lentz. The term was for six years and one month. One wonders if Lentz was a widow needing more help on her farm. In the indenture he promises not to marry, play dice, or frequent taverns or playhouses. In return, Lentz will provide “sufficient meat, drink and lodging,” nine months of school, and a new suit.

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One of our earliest indentures, is from 1778. In it, James Gilmore is apprenticed to Isaac Supplee, a joiner (which is a kind of carpenter) for a staggering fourteen years and eleven months. He, too, must promise to avoid marriage, dice, cards, taverns, and playhouses. Some education is promised, though in this case it is specified that he will be taught to read, write, and cypher (spelled “sifer”) to the rule of three. This indenture was preprinted with spaces left blank to fill in the details. This form was apparently a few years old in 1778 because at the bottom we can see the phrase “in the _____ Year of the Reign of Sovereign Lord __________________ King of Great Britain” has been crossed out.

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We don’t know how many of these contracts were carried out to completion. Sometimes apprentices were treated badly and ran away, some died before the years were up. We have a record for one apprentice named Benjamin Pool who, along with his father Nickolas, petitioned the Court of the Quarter Sessions to release him from his apprenticeship. It claims that David Lloyd, a shoemaker, had neglected to teach Benjamin his craft and instead employed him farming.  Hopefully, Benjamin was able to find himself a better master.

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Thursday, 19 April 2018 19:47

The H. C. Jones Company

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The H. C. Jones Company

The Schuylkill River used to be lined with mills, many of them textile mills. I’ve written about a few of them over years, but this week, I’d like to take a look at the H. C. Jones Company of Conshohocken.

Horace C. Jones was a native of Conshohocken and attended its public schools, graduating from Conshohocken High School in 1857. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for one year before going into the family lumber business, Evan D. Jones and Company. He founded H. C. Jones and Company in 1880 with a partner, Stanley Lees, purchasing the former Whitton Cotton and Woolen Mills. In 1899, the company moved to a different mill located at the corner of Washington and Ash Streets. Lees had retired and company’s name became the H. C. Jones Company, while the mill was known as the Schuylkill Valley Woolen Mills.

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Jones’ write up in Henry Wilson Ruoff’s Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania says the company manufactured “high grade cotton and woolen goods,” but at least one customer wasn’t pleased.

In 1911, Max Goodman and Company ordered 47 pieces of cotton warp worsted filling fabric in two different styles. The fabric was cut to make men’s and children’s suits which were sent out to retailers across the country, and soon sent back. The seams would not hold. Goodman and Company refused to pay for the cloth.

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Samples of the fabric in question

The case was determined by arbitration. The arbitrators kind of split the difference between the two companies, not because the fabric wasn’t too slippery to hold the thread, they determined that it was, but because it was up to the clothier to test the fabric first. In other words, “Caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware. Goodman was ordered to pay all money owed with interest, while Jones was ordered to pay $1000 in restitution.

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The weaving drafts for the two styles (in case you'd like to try it home!)

An interesting letter follows the arbitrators’ decision in the file of documents, however. It was written by Charles Porter, Jr. of Chas. Porter & Son Park Mills, who served as arbitrator on behalf of the H. C. Jones Company. He writes:

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Later he writes, “ I sincerely trust that the decision of the arbitrators will meet with your approval, as I can frankly say that you are getting out of the rather serious matter at a very reasonable figure.”

The H. C. Jones Company continued for several decades. Jones himself lived to be 83, dying in August of 1940. His home, once known as “The Terrace” is now Ciavarelli Funeral Home on Fayette Street.

Thursday, 12 April 2018 17:53

Harmony Grange

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This week, we have a guest blogger!  He's a story from our own Ed Ziegler:

Many years ago, while going through my Grandfather’s effects, I found a few Grange badges. These two were of particular interest because he lived in Worcester, and I couldn’t understand why the same Grange was also in Creamery.                                                                          

I also found a notebook with the minutes of the first three and one-half years, and a membership roll book.

Pictured are the two delegate badges for Harmony Grange #891. One says Creamery and the other says Worcester.

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The Grange movement began in the 1870’s. These were co-ops by which farmers were able to buy and sell, and therefore eliminate middlemen. This was important because, after the Civil War, farm produce prices dropped, and family farms were struggling.

Around this time, among the Granges formed in Montgomery County, a Grange was established in Creamery, a village in Skippack Township. This was Harmony grange # 891. The name Harmony probably came from Harmony Square, which was the original name of Creamery. The name was changed to Creamery in 1880, about the time the Grange was formed. We do not know when Harmony Grange was disbanded.

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In 1911, Harmony Grange #891 was reformed in Worcester Township, in Center Point. At this time the Worcester Farmers Union still existed. The membership list of the Grange includes most of the prominent farmers in Worcester and Towamencin townships, and the Grange meetings were held in the Farmers Union hall.

The farmers probably joined the grange because, due to its size, they could get better prices than the Farmers Union. This was also the beginning of the “Motor Power Period”, when tractors were replacing horses and wagons. The higher costs of tractors may have given the Grange an advantage in buying farm machinery.

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Image from the roll book for Harmony Grange (Worcester)

We have not found when Harmony Grange was disbanded (neither the State Archives nor the Grange Archives have that information). The State Archives have the last two minute books for Harmony Grange, up to February 1933, but the minutes only go up to the meeting of February 1923. In fact, in November 1922, 10 new members were initiated.

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Wednesday, 04 April 2018 19:53

Rotelle, Inc.

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As we continue to prepare for the Made in Montgomery County exhibit, which opens to the public on June 30, I came across a drawing of buildings and a parking lot. Unfortunately, the drawing does not have a title or an artist’s signature.

drawing

However, when I compared the drawing to a nearby photograph, I noticed some similarities in the shape of the buildings. It appears that this drawing depicts Rotelle, Inc.

Rotelle 

Prior to the 20th century, people in Montgomery County had less flexibility with acquiring and storing food. Unless they grew their own food, people had to purchase food from different stores, depending on the type of food they needed. With limited options for food storage, items such as meat and dairy often had to be eaten shortly after purchase to minimize the risk of it spoiling.

As freezers were developed for home and commercial use in the early 20th century, the Rotelle brothers saw an opportunity to improve their fruit and vegetable business. The brothers bought a freezer and established the frozen food company, Rotelle, Inc.[1] As the company grew, two locations were opened in Montgomery County: Springhouse and West Point. At one point, the Rotelle family’s freezer was believed to be the largest independently owned freezer in the United States.[2]

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Photo Credit: Richfood

By the time Richfood bought Rotelle, Inc. in 1994, Rotelle, Inc. was one of the largest frozen food distributors in the United States, with an annual revenue of roughly $340 million.[3]

** I want to thank one of our volunteers, Kelly, for helping me research the history of this company.

 


[1] “Urban Funeral Home: Mariono “Pops” Rotelle.” https://www.urbanfuneralhome.com/obituary/180433/Mariono-Rotelle/

[2] “September Farm: Meet Our Family.” https://www.septemberfarmcheese.com/content/meet-our-family

[3] Richfood Timeline. http://www.fdrama.com/RichfoodTimeline.html%3Fiframe%3Dtrue%26width%3D800%26height%3D600

Thursday, 29 March 2018 19:11

Montgomery County Airfields

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Last week, I thought I’d visit Toys R Us for perhaps the last time. The sale was a bit of a dud, but it was nice to walk around one more time. I went to the Montgomeryville store, which is in a shopping center called Airport Square. It sounded to me like there might be a story there.

Thaddeus Lowe

Montgomery county’s history with flight begins before Wright brothers. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was the man in command of the Union Army’s balloon corps. Lowe lived in Norristown for a time after the war.

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Perhaps Montgomery County’s best-known air field is the Naval Reserve Air Station at Willow Grove. The field was first developed for air use by Pitcairn Aircraft Inc. Harold Pitcairn was a native of Bryn Athyn, and the company’s first airfield was in Bryn Athyn, and in 1926, it was the largest airfield in the eastern US. In the 1920’s it hosted several air shows with famous pilots performing stunts. The Willow Grove field was originally one of its flying schools. In 1928, the company began to produce autogiros and the company changed its name to the Autogiro Corp. An autogiro (or autogyro) if you haven’t seen one lately, looks like a small airplane and helicopter had a baby.

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Pitcairn sold the field in 1942 to the Navy which wanted the field because of the war. The adjoining manufacturing plant was sold to Firestone during the war as well.

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The Pottstown Municipal Airport was sold to the borough by its founder, John J. Basco in 1948. The purchase was controversial within a few years. A 1953 newspaper article describes the airport as a money pit, with few of the dreams of cargo flights and local businesses using it having been realized. The article predicts that the borough would soon close the airport. However, it is still in use and still owned by Pottstown.

But what about Airport Square? There was indeed a Montgomeryville Airport there. It was founded during the war and over the decades it was known by several different names, including the 309 Airport and Gloster Field. It closed in the late 1970’s.

But, that small airport was not Montgomeryville’s only piece of aviation history. A 1923 article in a newspaper called The Review and Reporter, tells of a German immigrant and inventor named Maxilmillian Pupe who was starting an aircraft factory in near Montgomeryville. The company was called the Universal Flying Corporation and was funded primarily with German money. The paper says that this was “to avoid possible confiscation for reparations.” However, in 1923, it was still against conditions of the Paris peace settlement for German companies to manufacture airplanes.

Unfortunately, I could find nothing else on the Universal Flying Corporation or Maximillian Pupe so I can’t say if this attempt to run around the Versailles treaty worked or not, but I’m guessing not.

Thursday, 22 March 2018 17:56

The Rittenhouse Farm

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rittenhouse protrait

Over the last few years, we’ve written several pieces on David Rittenhouse, the colonial American polymath and first director of the US Mint. If you missed them, here’s an article on Rittenhouse’s surveyor’s level, and here’s one on his life and whether or not he was evil (anybody else happy Timeless is back on NBC?)

Well, last week I came across about three dozen photographs of the Rittenhouse farm. The farm was located in what is now East Norriton. These photographs date to 1922 when Herbert T. Ballad, founder and owner of the Ballard Knitting Company in Norristown renovated the farmhouse.

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The front of the farmhouse before the renovations

The work on the farmhouse was extensive.  Ballard added a new wing, redirected the driveway and a small stream.  The original barn was demolished and the stones were reused in the renovations of the house.

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The barn before it was demolished

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The barn after demolition

Here workers dig a trench to drain the cellar and for phone and electrical lines.

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A note on the back of this photo says that the springhouse was used until 1928, when a well was drilled. This was promtped by H. T. Ballard's hospitalization with a fever. His son, H. T. Ballard, Jr., suspected typhoid fever and had the water tested. The results came back that it was not fit for human consumption.

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This photo shows a boxwood bush that was supposedly one of four such bushes given to Rittenhouse by Marie Antoinette. The queen was an amateur astronomer and admirer of Rittenhouse. She gave the bushes to Benjamin Franklin during his time in Paris to deliver to Rittenhouse.

The house was originally built in 1749 by Matthias and Elizabeth Rittenhouse, David’s parents. Ballard purchased the property in December, 1921, from Herman D. Weidenbaugh who had owned the farm since 1904.

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I love this picture because it gives an idea of what the surrounding area looked like at the time.  The whole project went from April to September 1922.  H. T. Ballard moved to Florida upon his retirement in 1935, but his son continued to live in the house with his family until 1944. The building is now part of the Valley Forge Medical Center.

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