Found in Collection (136)
Next week, I'll continue the story of Woodmont, for this week, we have the story of the State Hospital from volunteer Michael Green.
July 12, 2017 marked the 137 year anniversary of Norristown State Hospital’s first patient admission. This is according to the History of Norristown State Hospital (1995). The hospital property was constructed on two hundred sixty-five acres in Norristown Borough. In 1876, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the governor to construct a mental health hospital on what was largely farm land. The land was obtained from eight local landowners. A number of the original buildings stood and, in some cases, still stand on the property.
From the 1995 history of the State Hopital
From the beginning, the asylum was opened to serve male and female patients though in separate dormitories. The region of service was Montgomery County and the surrounding southeast Pennsylvania counties, including Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Northampton, and Lehigh.
Prior to establishing the hospital, mentally ill individuals were housed in overcrowded county almshouses and hospitals. There were no uniform standards of treatment or care. In contrast, Norristown State Hospital offered innovative approaches to mental health care and housing under a uniform administrative structure. The hospital was the first to construct the “cottage model” developed in Belgium. “Moral therapy” allowed for as much individual liberty as the patient’s condition allowed. A number of wards were left unlocked for set periods of time. The goal was to minimize or eliminate mechanical restraints. Work assignments, occupational therapy, therapeutic recreation all supplanted the psychological service rendered by staff.
The staff of the Norristown State Hospital
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, electroshock therapy and lobotomies were methods of treatment. Psychotropic medications were introduced in the 1950’s to manage the symptoms and behaviors of the mental illnesses.
The patient population reportedly grew from some 400 patients in the 1880’s to 3250 in 1928. In 1954, 4700 residents were housed in the hospital. By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s mental health treatment began emphasizing providing services in the community instead of hospitalized institutional settings. The state hospital census dropped from 3200 in 1963 to 1700 in 1973. In recent times the hospital’s population has been some 300 or fewer residents.
No longer do the hospital’s patients raise crops and livestock on its farmland. This change occurred in the 1970’s with changes in the law regarding peonage. The hospital and its role in addressing mental health services continues to evolve. We look forward to the next chapter as time moves onward in this new century.
Modern photo by Michael Green
Woodmont after 1953
Completed in 1894, Woodmont in Gladwyne was placed on the National Historical Register in 1998. It was built by Alan Wood, Jr., of Alan Wood Steel in Conshohocken. The noted architect William L. Price designed the mansion on the model of the Biltmore in North Carolina. The home originally stood on 400 acres and is on the highest point in the county. This allowed Wood to see his steel company in Conshohocken from his home.
Alan Wood, Jr.
Alan Wood, Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1834. After completing his schooling, he went into the family business and amassed a great fortune. In 1876, the voters of Montgomery and Bucks counties sent him to Washington as their Congressman. According to a brief article in Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania by Henry Wilson Ruoff (1895), “He served this term in Congress with credit and was tendered a second term, but emphatically refused to consider such a proposition.”
Alan Wood Steel Company in Conshohocken
Alan Wood, Jr. married Mary H. Yerkes in 1861. They had no children. When Alan Wood, Jr. died in 1902, his widow decided not to stay in the house and sold it to a nephew, Richard G. Wood. At that point, the property begins to get smaller, as parcels are sold off. It passed through a few different owners until 1953 when the Peace Mission Movement purchased the now run-down mansion for $75,000. The Peace Mission Movement was a religious movement founded by a man known as Father Divine. Woodmont became the group’s headquarters.
Richard G. Wood, the second owner of Woodmont
I’ll continue the story of Father Divine next week.
Cleaning my desk, I found an interesting pamphlet promoting an idea for a world celebration of Thanksgiving. The concept was thought up by Theodore Heysham, who was a prominent Baptist minister in the Norristown area.
He was born in Plymouth Township, near Cold Point, but his family moved to Norristown while he was still very young. He attended the Sandy Street and Oak Street schools until his health forced him to spend a few years in the country as an adolescent. At the age of 22 he joined the Lower Providence Baptist Church, and there he discerned a calling to become a minister. He attended Bucknell for two years, then went to the University of Pennsylvania in his junior year. That same year (1894) he represented Penn at the first intercollege debate with Cornell, a debate won by Penn.
He later attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland (the school’s most famous student is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and studied philosophy at Penn. Eventually he became minister at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport. According to his obituary in the Times-Herald, during his time at this church, Heysham organized a citizens’ committee to stop the “Shirt-Waist Gang” of Bridgeport (I couldn’t find anything on this gang, but when I do, I’ll be sure to post it to the blog).
Heysham was troubled by poor health throughout his life and he left Bridgeport for Southern California for his health. When he recovered, he briefly took a position at a large Baptist church in Minneapolis, but his health soon forced him west again. This time he went to San Francisco, and he was there for the 1906 earthquake. He went back to the east coast and made many speeches describing his experiences to raise money for the relief of the city. Eventually, he returned to Bridgeport and once again led the congregation at the First Baptist Church.
It was during his second ministry there, that Heysham organized the Norristown centennial celebration. The only picture I could find of Heysham is from that event. I presume he didn’t dress like that all the time.
In 1914, he accepted a position at the church where he had first heard the call to preach the Gospel, Lower Providence Baptist Church. He remained there until he retired from active ministry in 1923. He continued writing, however, promoting the unity of all Christians.
I imagine that’s when he began his movement for a world-wide day of thanksgiving. The pamphlet on my desk lists many ministers and political leaders, included Governor Sproul of Pennsylvania. Heysham passed away from a sudden attack of pneumonia in 1935.
This week I came across two books kept by a local militia called the Washington Grey Artillerists. It was organized in 1842 by Jesse B. Davis, who was captain of the troop. The members were mostly drawn from Lower Providence Township.
The first book contains the constitution for the group, which begins with this preamble:
“Whereas one of the most surest bonds which can perpetuate the Union of the United States consists in the preservation of that spirit which created it a free government, and as much as the formation of Military bodies of citizens, for the defense of the nation, is one of the most effectual means of keeping alive that spirit, therefore, We, the subscribers, do agree to unite ourselves as an Infantry Corps, and for that purpose adopt for our government the following Constitution.”
If you’ve noticed a discrepancy between the group’s name and the preamble, you’re not alone. Edward Hocker addressed this in his 1934 article about the Washington Greys. “Most of the so-called artillery companies of the time were really infantry.” In fact, the financial records in the account book indicate that the militia never owned a cannon.
A blank membership form.
The group’s annual meeting was February 22 of each year (Washington ’s Birthday). I don’t have photos or drawings of the Washington Greys, but according to their constitution, their uniforms consisted of a grey coat with yellow gilt button, black collar and cuffs.
Davis was educated at the Mantua Military and Classical Academy, graduating in 1832 as a second lieutenant. He trained with the local Democratic troop (according to Moses Augé the Davis family were all Democrats) for seven years before starting his own group.
The Washington Greys Artillerists were called into Philadelphia in 1844 during nativist riots there, but their meeting minutes give no details about it.
The group disbanded in 1855 in part because the state laws regulating militias changed. Jesse B. Davis, who was known as Captain Davis in Norristown, went on to be Clerk of the Courts and later served as prison inspector. He remained involved in the Pennsylvania militia, serving with several different companies.
Captain Davis died in 1896 and is buried with his wife in Montgomery Cemetery.
Lately, I’ve been looking through business records collected by the society over the years. In a box labeled “Receipt Books,” I found the treasurer’s book for the Youth Improvement Society. The accounts for the group begin in April of 1839. Membership was one dollar per year and included several young men of Norristown, including (future Civil War general and presidential candidate) Winfield Scott Hancock and his twin brother Hilary.
From the treasurer’s book, we can get a few clues as to what the group did. In September of 1839 the group paid Benjamin Worrell 25 cents “for turning a block for Electro-Magnetic machine.” The following year, the society paid W. S. Hancock for copper, and Alexander Lentz was paid 25 cents for “making a Galvanic Battery.”
Nineteenth-Century Americans loved joining clubs. They also loved listening lectures, and that seems to have been the main purpose of the group. A March, 1841 entry indicated a payment for “Spirits of Wine for lecture.” The topics, based on the items purchased, were most likely of a scientific nature.
An 1840 note on the first page says that the name of group changed in 1840 to the “Cabinet of Natural Science.” I couldn’t find very much on this group, except for a mention in the newspaper from 1837. Perhaps that group died out and this one decided to replace it.
According to Hancock biographer Glenn Tucker wrote in his book Hancock the Superb, that the group fizzled out after Hancock left for West Point in 1840 at the age of 16.
The act of Assembly that created Montgomery County in 1784, says that “the freemen of said county (Montgomery) shall meet at the house of Hannah Thompson, innkeeper, in the township of Norriton, and there elect representatives.” According to W. H. Reed’s well researched article, “The Thompson Family and Jeffersonville Inn,” (HSMC Sketches, vol. 1, 1895) it was located where Egypt Road branches off from Ridge Road, now the section of West Norriton known as Jeffersonville.
The building dates to 1765, but the Thompson family goes back even further in the area. Archibald Thompson first bought the land in 1742, from Mary Norris, the widow of Isaac Norris (after whom Norristown is named). Archibald’s grandson, also named Archibald, built the inn. He was married to a woman named Hannah Bartholomew. He fought with the patriots during the American Revolution, become Colonel Archibald Thompson. He was assigned the job of confiscating the property of loyalists in the area. This is probably what brought him to the attention of the British, who, on September 24, 1777, burned his barn and destroyed much of the furniture in the inn. After the war, the state paid his widow £807 for the damage.
Drawing of the Inn in Hannah Thompson's time
Col. Thompson died in 1779 at the age of 39, leaving Hannah and seven children. From 1780 until her death in 1789, Hannah Thompson ran the inn. The whole county was only one election district at the time, and all of the voters in the county had to travel to Hannah Thompson’s inn to vote. So, in 1784 and 1785, the county’s votes were cast in Hannah’s inn. After that, the county courthouse was completed, and the elections moved there.
Management of the inn then passed to Hannah’s son-in-law Archibald Darrah (it was a trendy name at the time, I guess). He rented it out to Frederick Hallman of Worcester in 1803, and according to W. H. Reed, it was around this time that the sign with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson appeared outside the inn. Over the next few years, the inn changed management several times, but it remained a gathering place for the local Democratic Republicans. It was also where local militia men would drill, and every year it had a large celebration for the 4th of July.
The inn around 1895
In 1829, the inn became Jeffersonville’s first post office (residents had been forced to travel to Norristown prior to that). As the village grew up around the inn, Reed remarks that references to the inn change from “the Jefferson Inn” to “the Jeffersonville Inn.” In 1852, elections returned to the inn when Norriton Township was made into a separate election district.
The dining room in the 1920's
At the turn of the 20th Century, the inn was known as “Tom Brown’s Inn” after its owner. It was closed for much of the 1920’s, but in 1925, the inn’s new owner, John Hallman, took advantage of the expansion of Valley Forge Park, and highlighted the inn’s historic significance with many antiques from the time of the Revolution.
The Inn in the 1920's
It 1939, the historic inn was razed for the building of a gas station.
As June comes to an end, graduation season is winding down. I thought this photograph of Norriton's Township's graduating class of 1900 was an appropriate one for this week. The photo was donated by Irma Schultz in 1978, and that's her brother Raymond (he's easy to spot). Lidie Cassel is on his right, but the girl on the left is unidentified. The bottom row is Mary Allebach Markley Lesher, Samantha K. Hoover, and the final girl is also unidentified.
The back of the photograph has the stamp of S. H. Cope, a photographer with a studio in Norristown. Many of Cope's photos have made it into our collection. The photo doesn't give an indication of what school the teens attended. Dr. David Schrack's 1895 article on the history of then Norriton Township (published in our own Sketches) notes that the township had 5 public schools at that time, but doesn't list them.
So, it is possible that they attended this school - the Jeffersonville School. This two room schoolhouse was built in 1898, and this photo is from around that time. It stood on School Lane and West Main Street. It was later expanded and remained in use until 1926, according to The History of West Norriton Township (2009).
Built in 1734, the Kinderdine mill is located at Keith Valley and Davis Grove Road in Horsham Township. It was built by Joseph Kenderdine. The Thomas Kenderdine was an early Welsh settler in Horsham. The photograph below shows the mill in 1904, when it was still in operation. This photograph and all the ones below were donated by Ann Hagarty.
The woman holding the baby is Hannah Kenderdine (Hagarty?) was the last Kenderdine to live at the mill according to a note on the back.
The Kenderdines were well known mill designers in Montgomery County. The Historical Society has the papers of George Kenderdine in its collection. George was born in 1805 and lived much of his life in Hatboro, where served as the first burgess. He was mill wright and a frequent contributor to the Norristown Herald.
This is an agreement from 1847 for an apprentice.
This letter shows his sketch of a turbine.
The Kenderdine mill was an early industrial complex made up of several buildings. This house is labeled “The Old Home” on the reverse of the photo. It’s dated 1914.
The Hagarty family were the owners of the mill in the early 20th century. Here are the sisters Hazel and Meta in an undated photograph (probably the 1910’s). Meta was the young girl in the photograph of the mill, and Hazel is the baby in that same picture.
The Hargartys were related to the Kenderdines. This young man is Clarence Kenderdine Hargarty. The photo was taken in the Philippines in 1917.
And here’s the Hagarty family in 1917.
The mill stopped operating in 1917 and many of the metal The Kenderdine Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Today it is a private home. You can read more about it at the website Living Places.
Dr. Ceasare Lombroso in the 19th Century was a noted criminal anthropologist and was known as the father of modern criminology. Although many of his theories have since been discredited, at the turn of the 20th Century his “criminal classifications” were well regarded. In 1902, one John Motsko of Pottstown, PA was classified in one of Lombroso’s categories as an “instinctive or born criminal type.”
A wanted poster was issued by Detective John J. O’Connor for Mr. Motsko for the murder of George Miller at their place of employment, the Stanley G. Flagg Co. in Pottstown on November 4, 1902. The wanted poster authorized a $250 reward for his arrest. The result was evidently effective because on December 10, 1902, Mr. Motsko was taken into custody by Detective O'Conner.
Mr. Motsko was held for a hearing where he was described as showing “no emotion” and reportedly acknowledged striking the victim with the shovel. The victim, Mr. Miller, age 22, died a few hours after. According to the Pennsburg Town and Country, the men had quarreled several times over tools. It was during this period of being held for court that the Lombroso classification was applied. The defendant, Mr. Motsko, was held for trial in March 1903, according to the Wilkes-Barre Sunday Leader.
In closing, it seems that although we have our social, electronic, and mass media methods, our communities of yesteryear had their share of effective measures well over 100 years ago that got the job done as well.
By Michael Green
I'm taking a few days off so there won't be a real blog entry this week.
So, like the people above, you should look at something else, like one of our great blogs of the past. (This picture by the way is from the dedication of monument in Hatfield in 1901).
In 1933, Montgomery County, like every other place in America, was feeling the impact of the Great Depression. At the same time, the new Roosevelt administration was working to relieve the economic crises with the New Deal. Part of the New Deal was creating new industrial codes, meant to help businesses decrease waste and raise wages. This came at a time of great unrest for American labor.
At that time, thousands of men and women in Montgomery County were employed in the textile industry. The new codes led to a lot of uncertainty according to newspaper articles from the time.
Several mills went on strike, but most turbulent was the strike at the Dexdale Hosiery Mill (later Turbo Machine Company). The workers at the mill went on strike not only for a 40 hour week and higher wages but also for recognition of their union.
The strike began on June 28th and shut down the mill. After two weeks, the company, headed by Ludwig Schierenback, sent this letter to its employers with the card below enclosed.
The Times-Herald reported that more than 50% of the workers voted to return and reopened with the same hours and pay as had prevailed before the strike. About 400 picketers refused follow a proclamation ordering them off the streets, according to an article in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. Darlington Hoopes, a state representative and a lawyer for the union, told picketers to ignore the edict. Two men were arrested, but then the police stopped enforcing the proclamation.
The newspaper articles and these photographs came to the Historical Society from Elmer C. Barnes. The photographs are only labeled with the dates of the strike, June 28 – July 24, 1933, so we don’t know when in the strike they were taken. They do give us a good idea of the disruption.
The attempt to reopen the factory without changing the working conditions only fueled the unrest. On July 18th, the police used tear gas on the strikers. Two days later, Theodore H. Hallowell, Cheltenham’s chief of police, shoot two sympathizers in the legs. Both men, Claude Seiler and Wilmer Kriebel, recovered from their injuries (though both were later charged with inciting a riot). The incident led to Governor Gifford Pinchot getting involved. State troopers were sent in to replace local police, and the union, the American Federation of Full Fashioned Hosiery Workers, agreed to limit the number of picketers. Finally, the new codes were published, raising the minimum wage. The workers at the mill went back to work, but the end of the strike did not get the same newspaper coverage that the violence did. It isn't clear from the newspapers whether the union was recognized.
Here is a photograph that just came into the Historical Society of the old Gulf School. Yes, it is sometimes called the “Gulph” School, but the former spelling seems to have been more common in the early days.
I couldn’t find an exact date of its founding. I do know it was operating as a school as early as 1785 when future US Congressman Jonathan Roberts attended. Decades later, the school had a teacher who terrorized students with a whip, according to an article by Edward Hocker (a.k.a. Norris) in Times-Herald article from 1930. His tenure at the school came to end when he was arrested and later convicted for horse stealing.
Like most schools in the early nineteenth century, Upper Merion schools employed only men as teachers. According to Hocker, teachers made $20 per month in 1837. In the middle of the nineteenth century, women began to move into the profession. Here we see two female teachers with an 1891 class. The head teacher, on the right, was Anne Davis.
Today the building that once housed the school is the property of Gulph Christian Church. The church began in the school when Frederick Plummber began preaching there in 1830, according to M. Regina Stitler Supplee in her article “History of Gulph Christian Church, Gulph Mills, PA.” The church met there until 1835 when the congregation was able to build its own church.
I came across Abraham Hunsicker while working through a collection of booklets relating to Mennonites in Montgomery County. Two booklets in particular caught my eye: A Statement of Facts and Summary of Views on Morals and Religion, as Related with Suspension from the Mennonite Meeting (1851) and An Explanation of Incidents that Took Place among the So-Called Mennonites (1854). Both refer to times when Mennonite preachers were cast out of the church in 1850 and 1851.
Abraham Hunsicker was the grandson of Valentine Hunsicker, the family’s immigrant ancestor who came to Pennsylvania from Switzerland in the early eighteenth century. Abraham was born in 1793 in East Perkiomen and raised a Mennonite. All the sources agree that he had little formal schooling. In 1847 he was ordained a preacher, and later that year the church made him a bishop over the Skippack, Providence, and Methacton meeting houses.
It wasn’t long, however, before Abraham started making waves. It began with a sermon by his nephew Abraham Grater. He had been part of an earlier schism that created a group known as the “New Mennonites” (sometimes called the “Oberholtzer group”). This group wanted Mennonites to move more in the wider world, to cooperate with other churches, and to have formal education for church members. Many of the ideas John Oberholtzer suggested seem harmless, like not forcing ministers to wear colonial era clothing, or helpful, like taking minutes at meetings. The leadership of the Franconia Confernece (made up of 22 Mennonite congregations) had no desire to change anything. So, Oberholtzer and others founded the East Pennsylvania Mennonite Conference.
A few years later, Abraham Grater in his booklet, An Explanation of Incidents that Took Place among the So-Called Mennonites, says they are “beyond doubt one of the Six hundred and Sixty six” referred to in Revelation. This time, the issue wasn’t coats or Sunday schools, but who should be allowed to participate in their services. Grater preached in favor of open communion. He refused to renounce the idea when called upon to do so, and Henry Hunsicker (Abraham Hunsicker’s son) supported him. They were excommunicated.
Skippack Mennonite Church
Abraham Hunsicker was of the same progressive mind set. Like Oberholtzer, he agreed that the Mennonites should educate their children. Unlike Oberholtzer, he supported the idea of open communion. In his work, A Statement of Facts and Summary of Views on Morals and Religion, as Related with Suspension from the Mennonite Meeting (written after his own excommunication from the East Pennsylvania Conference) he points out that the Oberholtzer schism was caused by “the too servile reverence, on the customs, which were held in such high repute, as virtually to supersede the worship of God.” Hunsicker goes on to explain his views on both open communion with other Christian churches and his openness to allow members of the congregation to join secret societies (such was the Freemasons).
Hunsicker is a clearer writer than Grater. There is much less quoting of the Book of Revelation, and I think something of his personality comes through. Take this passage for instance:
“Thus ended our [Hunsicker’s and Oberholtzer’s] fellowship and co-operation in the same bond of brotherhood – involuntary on my part, in which we had (to me, at least) jointly labored as faithful stewards. And wherefore? why, simply because I could not in conscience, call that right which my heart called wrong.”
Hunsicker continued to live out his beliefs. He founded the Freeland Institute, a non-sectarian school for boys on his own property, and he was instrumental in founding the Montgomery Female Seminary a few years later. The Freeland Institute eventually became Ursinus College, and the girls’ school became Pennsylvania Female College (the school after which Collegeville is named). He also founded a new church, Trinity Christian Society, which is still in existence as Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ.
Today, our intrepid volunteer, Dick Mardi, was going through some of our church records and came across a collection of papers from the Merchant Marine League of Norristown. This group, which was affiliated with the Seamen’s Church Institute of Philadelphia, was made up of women who knitted sweaters, scarves, and ditty-bags (small bags where seamen keep their personal items) for the seamen entering and shipping out of the Port of Philadelphia.
A listing of conributions from different auxiliary groups
Clara Rex (wife of John Rex) was the honorary chairwoman, but most of the day to day work was done by Helen Johnson, shown in the picture below with her husband, Earl.
From the Norristown Times-Herald, June 15, 1960
The collection is incomplete, but the papers run from the years 1957 through 1974. Looking through its newsletters, it seems to have been a small group. Annual dues were only one dollar. It doesn’t look like the group exists any longer. The Seamen’s Church Institute of Philadelphia and South Jersey is still going strong serving the needs of seamen from around the world, and they still collect knitted hats and gloves and other items for ditty bags.
From the group's newsletter