Found in Collection

Found in Collection (144)

Wednesday, 11 October 2017 20:12

Science or Fiction?

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Experimentation with medical devices to cure ailments is common among every culture throughout much of human history. Even today it is nearly impossible to turn on the television or log onto the internet without seeing an advertisement for a new cure for a common ailment. However, as many of us know, some of these medical devices do not cure the ailments described in their advertisements.

At HSMC, we have a collection of medical devices that were used in Montgomery County. One of these devices is an example of a medical device that did not cure the ailments described in advertisements. Dr. Young’s rectal dilators were advertised as a permanent relief of piles, constipation, nervousness, dyspepsia, sick headache, neuralgia, rheumatism, insomnia, asthma, indigestion, eczema, and all diseases caused by sluggish circulation, malnutrition, defective elimination and the abuse of cathartic drugs. It was even claimed that these dilators could be a cure for insanity.[1]

rectal dilators

Made by F.E. Young & Co., these dilators were used by many Americans around the turn of the 20th century. In 1940, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York seized a shipment of these dilators, claiming they were misbranded. This lead to many legal cases, including one in Philadelphia, which revealed the dilators did not have any proven scientific cure for every ailment they claimed to fix.[2] The FDA eventually labeled the product to be hazardous to a person’s health if it was used as frequently as the company advised its customers.

rectal dilator advertizement

[1] Editorial Comments. The New Way. Medical News. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea's Son & Company. April 29, 1893. p. 471.

[2] U.S. National Library of Medicine, “335. Misbranding of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and Dr. Young's Piloment. U. S. v. 67 Sets of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and 83 Packages of Dr. Young's Piloment. Default decrees of condemnation and destruction.”
March 1942,

Thursday, 05 October 2017 19:45

The Junior Literati of the Trappe

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Earlier this week, our curator turned up an interesting book in her inventory of our museum collection.


The minute book of the Junior Literati of the Trappe is a small book that the group used to records its business from 1850 to 1851.  At some point after 1851, the book was reused as a scrapbook and newspaper articles were pasted on top of the minutes.


This kind of repurposing was very common in the nineteenth century.  The Historical Society has at least a dozen scrapbooks that were repurposed ledgers or even printed books.

At an even later point, someone decided the minutes of the Literati Society were more interesting than the newspaper articles.  This might have been someone here at the Historical Society or it might have been before the book came to us.  That person had mixed success in removing the pasted on newsprint, but the palimpsest underneath gives a good idea of what the club was about.


Meetings took place at the Augustus Lutheran Church, often called the Old Trappe Church, and the group met weekly.  It consisted of young men, probably teenagers based on some quick searching on


At the end of each meeting a topic of discussion or question for debate was offered. 

Can the Union be dissolved for under any circumstances?  The group resolved that no, it couldn’t.

Is the world was advancing in moral improvement?  There was disagreement.

They also debated the use of the Bible in common (public) schools, whether George Washington was entitled to more honor than Christopher Columbus, and whether one obtains more information from reading or from traveling.

The minutes end early in 1851 and give no indication of what happened to the club.  About one dozen pages were cut of the book, and the last sixteen pages are blank.  It may have been a short-lived club.  On the other hand, maybe someday we'll find more records from this group.

Thursday, 21 September 2017 18:44

Florex Gardens

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Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century, the largest green house in the world was here in Montgomery County?

Florex Gardens was built in 1907 in Upper Gwynedd, just across from the North Wales train station.


These pictures were donated by David E. Groshens in 1954.  This photo gives a great sense of its size, but if you’d like exact numbers, here they are:

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700 feet long

172 feet wide

35 feet high

The green house was located right by the tracks of the North Penn Railroad.  The company primarily grew flowers, and a note that came with the photographs says that the greenhouse could grow nearly 100,000 rose bushes at once.

The greenhouses were dismantled in 1951, and the land was sold to Leeds and Northrup, a manufacturer of electronic parts.  This part of Upper Gwynedd became an industrial area with other manufacturers like Zenith and Sharp and Dohme, which can be seen in the upper left hand corner of this photo.

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The solvents used by those and other companies led to the EPA declaring the area a Superfund site in 1989.

In the 1990’s Leeds and Northrup moved production to Florida, and Merck bought the land for an expansion.  Last year, Merck donated nine acres of the property to the Wissahickon Watershed, and it was opened as a public greenspace called “Dodsworth Run Preserve.”

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 20:14

Why Do We Decorate Eggs?

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Decorating eggs for crafts and religious holidays is prominent in American culture, but have you ever wondered why we decorate eggs? While the precise date of the first decorated egg is not known, historians have uncovered decorated eggs from as early as the middle stone age![1] Since eggs symbolize life, renewal, and rebirth, many cultures around the world continue to decorate eggs for religious ceremonies.[2]

While decorating eggs is a common form of decorative arts, how people decorate eggs varies. Before you decorate the egg, there are three options: drain the egg, cook the egg, or decorate as it is. Many people choose to drain or cook the egg because this process increases the life-expectancy of the egg. If the egg was not drained or cooked, weak parts of the shell could crack over time and cause the interior liquid to seep through the cracks.

Once the egg has been prepared, or not, the decorator can use dyes, plants, wax, and carving tools to create their design. To this day, people are still exploring new ways to decorate their eggs.


At HSMC, we have a beautiful collection of decorated eggs. However, one in particular stood out to our volunteers during our inventory project. This beautiful decorated egg dates back to 1832. Upon removal from the box, we encountered a powerful smell. Once we examined the egg, we realized it had never been drained! Miraculously, the liquid interior never leaked through the shell. Due to its age, we determined that anything left on the inside of the egg has likely turned to powder.

Egg 1832   

The artwork on the egg is in amazing condition. We can clearly see the designs of people, flowers, and a clock tower. One mystery that remains is: Who created this decorated egg? The initials “E.N.” are on the egg, but we have not been able to uncover this person’s name. Based on the clothing styles of the people depicted on the egg, it is possible the decorator was a middle or upper class woman who lived in Montgomery County.

Egg, Woman

[1] Stephanie Hall, The Ancient Art of Decorating Eggs, April 6, 2017,

[2] Stephanie Hall, The Ancient Art of Decorating Eggs, April 6, 2017,

Thursday, 07 September 2017 19:47

The Walker Inn

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While working my way through some old photographs, I found a series of five photographs of a place sometimes called Five Corners in Montgomeryville, the intersection of DeKalb Pike (202), Bethlehem Pike (309) and Cowpath Road.


Back in the 19th Century, Bethlehem Pike had many hotels.  The large white building the left was the last of the old inns, known as the Walker Inn.  


It was known as Walker Inn after its final owners, Thomas Walker and his wife.  I couldn't find out exactly when the building was built.  A hotel appears at the same site in an 1893 property atlas published  by J. L. Smith.

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These pictures were taken in 1949, just before the building was demolished for, you guessed, it, a gas station.




The Schuylkill Canal (or more properly, Schuylkill Navigation) was chartered in 1815 and opened in 1825 during the heyday of canal building in the United States.  But it wasn’t the first attempt at building a canal in Montgomery County.


Back in 1792, the Delaware and Schuylkill Navigation Company was founded to build a canal to connect those two rivers.  The plan was for the canal to run alongside the river for seventeen miles, easing transportation and bringing fresh water from the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.  According to the book Old Towpaths: The Story of the American Canal Era by Alvin F. Harlow, the canal would have run from Norristown to Philadelphia (this is, of course, 20 years before the founding of Norristown, so I'm not so sure about that detail).


In our archives at the Historical Society of Montgomery County we have the “Rough Minute Book” for the company.  Familiar names from the Montgomery County – Philadelphia area appear, including Morris and Rittenhouse.  First names are never used (everyone is referred to very properly as “Mr.”), but I would hazard to say they are Robert Morris, wealthy financier, and David Rittenhouse, philosopher, mathematician, and surveyor. 

morris    rittenhouse

At this point you might be wondering how it is you’ve missed this seventeen mile long canal for the entire time you’ve been in Montgomery County.  The canal was never built.  Within a few years, the company was looking for money and, according to the minute book, resolved to seek a loan.  This is the same time Robert Morris himself was having money problems.



Work continued on the canal sporadically until 1798, when it seems to have puttered out completely.

For more about David Rittenhouse the surveyor, check out this blog entry, and if you’re wondering whether or not he was an evil mastermind, check out this one.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 13:14

Green Tree Church Crib

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When we think about genealogy research we often turn to paper documents in research libraries like the one at HSMC. However, this artifact discovered by our volunteers, George and Nan, demonstrates how artifacts can aid us in our genealogy research.

Green Tree Church Crib, Oaks, PA

This is a woven, wood crib believed to be from Green Tree Church in Oaks, PA. Attached to the crib are tags with the names of different people. On each tag we can see the person’s name, birth date, and enrollment date. Since the enrollment dates were within a few years of the birth date, we believe these tags indicate people who were christened at the church between 1918 and 1947. You can view the transcribed list of names on this PDF:

The church’s first meeting house was constructed in 1845. After expanding its membership, a new church was built on Egypt road in 1975. A memorial stone marks the location of the old church, which is across the street from the church’s current location. (History about the church was acquired from their website.)

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The Peace Mission Movement didn’t begin in Montgomery County, but since 1952, its headquarters has been at Woodmont in Gladwyne.

The group was founded by Father Divine, a man whose origins are unclear.  The FBI identified him as “George Baker” and he was likely born in 1876, perhaps in Maryland, though some researchers have placed his birth in the Deep South.  Most researchers agree that his parents were probably former slaves. 

In 1912, the man who would one day be known as “Father Divine” began preaching that he was God, the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ.

Preaching through the south, Divine attracted followers whom he encouraged to live celibate lives and taught that there was no difference between the races or the sexes.  Several times, he came into conflict with local preachers, who twice had him arrested.

In 1914, he and some of his followers moved north to Brooklyn, where they formed their first community in an apartment building.  There, he took the name “Reverend Major Jealous Divine.”  The congregation lived together, eschewing alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and sex.  It was during this time that his followers began calling their leader “Father Divine.”  Many of his followers voluntarily gave their money to the movement and changed their names.

In 1919, the group moved to the predominantly white town of Sayville on Long Island.  The movement grew substantially during the years in Sayville, and Father Divine attracted his first white followers.  Neighbors were unhappy with the group and made several complaints about inappropriate relations between Father Divine and some of his female followers (he had married a much older woman named Penninah during the Brooklyn years).  The local authorities found no evidence for this. 

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Father Divine

In 1931, he and many of his followers were arrested for disturbing the peace when police broke up a large party at Father Divine’s house.  Several dozen followers pled guilty and were fined $5 a piece.  When Father Divine paid the fines with a $500 bill, the police were unable to make change.  Divine, Pinninah, and several followers denied the charges.  The resulting trial caught the attention of the New York press and greatly raised Father Divine’s profile.  He was soon regularly speaking to large crowds in the metropolitan area.  As it expanded, the movement finally gained an official name the International Peace Mission Movement.

Woodmont interior

The dining room at Woodmont - a large, multi-course feast is a hallmark of the Peace Mission

Father Divine was sentenced to one year in prison, after which he moved to Harlem, where he had many followers.  During the Great Depression, he became more political calling for an end to school segregation and opposing the New Deal.  His teachings had much in common with the New Thought Movement.  The story goes that Johnny Mercer once attended a sermon in which Father Divine told his listeners to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” and a song was born.

The Depression would be the zenith of the movement.  In the 1940’s Father Divine left New York for Philadelphia, perhaps to avoid a court order to return the savings of two followers who wished to leave the movement.  His wife Penninah died sometime in 1943 (her death was not spoken of publically).  The movement purchased the Divine Lorraine and the Divine Tracy hotels in Philadelphia.  They were budget hotels with floors segregated by sex in accordance with Father Divine’s teachings on celibacy (they were however racially integrated).  In 1965, John DeVoute, Father Divine’s secretary told the New York Times, “there is only one family, one race. We don't even call people N's [Negroes] or C's [Caucasians]; we consider that a sin.”

In 1953, the movement purchased the Woodmont estate in Gladwyne for $75,000, and this became the headquarters.  By this time, however, the movement had dwindled.  Father Divine was getting older, though just how old he was no one knew for sure.  He made few public appearances at this time, but every year, the group opened the Woodmont estate, rechristened “The Mount of the House of the Lord,” to the public for an annual open house.


Father Divine's masoleum at Woodmont

Father Divine passed away on September 10, 1965.  The Times Herald reported that the cause was arteriosclerosis and quoted his lawyer as saying he was about 100 years old.  Father Divine’s second wife, known as Mother Divine continued running the movement until her death last March.  In the early 1970’s, Mother Divine fought off an attempted takeover by Jim Jones.  The movement has seen few converts since its founder’s death, and the strict teaching on celibacy makes it likely that it will one day be extinct.


Father Divine and Mother Divine

Today, Woodmont is still run by Father Divine’s followers.  The house is open to the public on Sundays April thought October.

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.

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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.

State Hospital 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.

Admin Building State Hospital for insane

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.

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Modern photo by Michael Green

Thursday, 03 August 2017 06:00


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Woodmont low res

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. Pennsylvania CongressmanAlan 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.”

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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 Wood

Richard G. Wood, the second owner of Woodmont

I’ll continue the story of Father Divine next week.

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