Norristown didn’t have a Catholic Church until St. Patrick’s opened in 1834, mainly to serve Norristown’s Irish population. In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe began coming to America, and Norristown became home to hundreds of newly arrived Italians. Although the word “catholic” means universal and Catholic services were conducted in Latin at the time, it was typical for immigrant groups to start their own parishes, staffed by priests from the home country.
Norristown was no different. For many years, Italians celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s. Eventually, an Italian mission church opened in the basement, led by two Italian priests who preached, heard confessions, and gave spiritual support in Italian. In 1902, a new priest came to Norristown, Father Michael Maggio, who formed a committee, raised funds, and in 1903 built a small church on land acquired from the Good Shepherd Sisters of St. Joseph’s Protectory.
The first Holy Saviour Church, or Sanctissima Salvatore, was barely a full story high. In 1908 it was replaced by a larger, more typical looking church that would accommodate the growing parish. This was largely the work of Father Lambert Travi, Holy Saviour’s second pastor. Father Travi went on a decade later to build the parish’s first school. It in September of 1928 with 500 students. The parish continued to grow, with the school getting up to 800 students. The school was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one to each grade, making for a student-teacher ratio of 100:1!
In 1948, the parish purchased a closed public elementary school, the James A. Welsh School, and moved in for the 1948-1949 school year. In the 1950’s, Holy Saviour’s pastor, the Italian born Father George Delia, expanded the church, doubling its size to hold up 1000 people.
Monsignor Peter J. Cavallucci with the Norristown Exchange Club at Holy Saviour School
The school has been closed, and students from the parish now attend Holy Rosary Regional School in Plymouth. However, Holy Saviour parish is still a vital part of Norristown’s culture, celebrating several feast days a year. The parish also has a mission church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Black Horse section of Plymouth.
Source: Basile, Joseph M. Holy Saviour Parish - Norristown, Pennsylvania: 1903-2003, 2001
As May draws to a close, I was reminded of something I came across a couple of months ago, an invitation to the second annual “Maying” at Augustus Lutheran Church. The invitation is from 1850, by which time Augustus Lutheran was already over 100 years old.
The church is located in Trappe and sometimes is called the “Old Trappe Church”. Settlement in Trappe goes back to 1717. A Lutheran congregation was organized in 1729 by John Caspar Stoever, Jr. who held services in a borrowed barn. Stoever was not actually an ordained minister. After he moved west, various self-made ministers passed through the area until the community joined with other Lutherans in Falkner Swamp and Philadelphia and contacted the church in Germany to send them an ordained minister.
Once Muhlenberg arrived, the congregation eagerly started building in 1743. The church was finished in 1745 and named after Muhlenberg’s mentor, August Franke. Since Muhlenberg was the first regularly ordained Lutheran minister in the future United States, Augustus Lutheran is considered the “Shrine of Lutheranism” in the U.S.
The congregation also built the first school house in the area in 1743. Rev. Muhlenberg was the first teacher. The church would build two more school houses, the last being a stone one. In 1846, that building was leased to Upper Providence Township and became the town’s first public school. It is probably this building referred to on the invitation. It was torn down just a year later.
Recreation of the schoolhouse based on the memories of a former student and the remaining foundations.
From a 1931 booklet on Augustus Lutheran Church by Rev. W. O. Fegley.
A new brick church was built in 1852, but the original was kept. It is the oldest unaltered Lutheran Church in the U.S., and the congregation occasionally still uses it for services. In fact, this Sunday’s (June 2) service will be held in the original church.
We have many publications produced by the church, but none of them make reference to an annual “May Day Ramble.” Perhaps the tradition didn’t catch on.
Originally known as Camptown, the village of LaMott lies in Cheltenham Township, right on the border of Philadelphia. The name Camptown came from Camp William Penn, the first federal camp to train African-American troops during the Civil War. The camp was on land owned by Edward M. Davis which he leased to the federal government. He was the son-in-law of Lucretia Mott, one of Montgomery County’s most famous residents. She was a Quaker minister, women’s rights advocate, and abolitionist who also lived in Camptown from 1857 until her death in 1880.
After the Civil War, Davis developed the land into the community Camptown, seilling land to both newly freed African-Americans and Irish immigrants. William Butcher, who worked for Davis as a farmer, was the first black man live in the area, on the street that was eventually known as Butcher Street.
George Henry was the first black man to purchase a home in what would become La Mott, buying land in 1868. The area’s name was changed to La Mott, in 1888 when the post office opened (there was already a Camptown, Pa.). Lucretia Mott had died in 1880, and the post office was named in her honor.
In our collection at the Historical Society, we have a 75th anniversary book of the LaMott A. M. E. Church (1963). According to the booklet the church goes back to a Sunday school started in the Butcher house, which was eventually associated with the Campbell AME Church in Frankford, Philadelphia. Six members of the Sunday school organized to build the first church for $1500 in 1888. The original six congregants were William and Hester Butcher, Emanuel and Jennie Johnson, and Abbie and George Washington. The first pastor was Rev. W. H. Hoxter.
Rev. H. D. Brown from the 75th anniversary book
Rev. H. D. Brown oversaw the building of the current church in 1911. Under his guidance the congregation grew and fundraising efforts were very successful.
The 1963 anniversary book shows off some of the church’s various ministries such as choirs, Sunday school, and missionary societies. Many of these ministries continue at the church today which remains a vibrant part of the village of LaMott.
Across the road from the Frederick Mennonite Church is the Bertolet Meeting House and Burying Ground. Set aside by the Frey family for family burials in 1725, the burying ground long predates the small meeting house and holds many Frey, Bertolet, and Grubb ancestors.
Heinrich, or Henry, Frey was one of the earliest German settlers in Pennsylvania. He settled in Philadelphia in 1680 where he opened a woodworking shop. According to a legend recorded in The Book of Philadelphia by Robert Shackleton, Frey and his business partner Joseph Plattenbach taught a young Lenni Lenapi man their trades, and in return, he introduced them to his father Chief Tammanend (often called Tammany – as in Tammany Hall in New York). The son was called Minsi Usquerat. Frey and Plattenbach gave gifts to the Leni Lenapi and spent the night with them. The next day, Tammanend took them to the top of a hill and offered them a 1000 acre tract of land in what is now Germantown.
Later, after 1700, Frey bought the land that is now Bertolet Burying Ground from William Penn, as part of a purchase of 650 acres. He moved there with his sons and nephew. In 1725, Henry Frey set aside part of the land for a family burial ground, and after he died in 1734, he was the first burial there.
The name Bertolet came to the area with Jean Bertolet, a French Huguenot who came to Pennsylvania in 1726. His daughter Susanna, married Henry Frey’s grandson Jacob in 1750. After Jacob died in 1770, she sent for her nephew Samuel Bertolet, who finished building the house Jacob had started. In 1777, that house served as the staff headquarters for the Continental Army.
Samuel served in the American Revolution under General Anthony Wayne hauling both supplies and wounded soldiers during the Battle of the Brandywine. He also supplied grain to the army at Valley Forge.
Samuel’s son Daniel was a brickmaker, whose brick went into many of the early buildings of Frederick Township. It was he who proposed founding a Mennonite Meeting House on the land next to the burial ground in 1846. The first meeting was held on May 23, 1847.
The meeting house was closed in 1928 when the advent of the automobile made it possible for Mennonites to travel to large meetings in surrounding communities. However, in 1950, a Mennonite group began using the building for Sunday school, and in 1966, a new building, Frederick Mennonite Church was built across the street.
In 1890, the Bertolet Burying Ground Association was incorporated to maintain the burial ground and the meeting house. The records of the association are part of the Historical Society’s archive.
Last week, I was working through a box of German language booklets and I came across an odd one. First, someone had added a cover to it, with an English title “Notable Squable between Rev. Frederick [sic] Waage and Rev. Daniel Weiser in Montgomery County.” That’s not a translation of the German title, which is “Lichtschäutze oder Hülfe zur Wahrheit.” My best translation is “Cleaning with light, or helping to find reality.” Before delving into 88 pages of text, I decided to see what I could find out about the squabble.
Rev. Friedrich Waage first came to Pennsylvania in 1819 at the age of 22. He was a native of the Duchy of Holstein in what was then Denmark, but is now Germany. He studied at the University of Kiel before emigrating.
From "The Past and Present of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Red Hill, Pennsylvania" by Raymond A. Kline
He settled in Chester County and began studying for the ministry with Rev. Friedrich Geisenheimer. In 1829, he became pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Red Hill. Founded in 1739, Waage was the 12th pastor for the church, which was also known as the “Six Corner” Church. At the time, it was part of the New Goschenhoppen Charge, consisting of five parishes.
From "The Past and Present of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Red Hill, Pennsylvania" by Raymond A. Kline
Besides serving the spiritual needs of the congregation, Waage was also the county’s first doctor of homeopathic medicine. According to Theordore Bean’s History of Montgomery County, he first became interested in medicine to care for his ten children. He began to practice more widely in 1840.
Rev. Daniel Weiser was born in Selingrove, PA, and a descendant of the famous Conrad Weiser of colonial times. As a young man he served in the War of 1812 and trained as a nailsmith. He was ordained a minister in 1824. In 1833, he came to New Goschenhoppen Reformed church as its pastor.
From A History of the Goshenhoppen Reformed Charge
The squabble, according to Edward Hocker’s 1929 article in the Times-Herald, began when Rev. Waage was invited to give an address at a local Fourth of the July celebration in 1836. At that time, repeated toasts were given at any celebration of the Fourth, and perhaps Rev. Waage took part in some of them. Early in 1837, a Reformed church publication, the Weekly Meesenger, published a letter from Weiser that criticized ministers who cavorted with intemperate people and condoned dancing. Waage believed the piece was referring to him.
Then began the battle of the pamphlets, one of which is here at the Historical Society. In 1838, Weiser brought a libel suit against Waage. An arbitration hearing was held in Sumneytown. The three arbitrators awarded Weiser six cents in damages and ordered Waage to pay $140 in court fees. Most of “Cleaning with Light” is the transcript of these proceedings. Weiser also gives an outline of his views on the Christian life and how he came to write the letter to the Weekly Messenger.
The decision of the court seems to have been the end of the issue. Both men appear in histories of their respective churches and both are in books on the history of the county, like Bean's or Ruoff's. None of them mention the feud, so perhaps it was forgotten. It's possible that the two men even made up themselves. When Waage died in 1884, Weiser's son, Rev. C. Z. Weiser was one of his pallbearers.
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.
By Michael Green
This cemetery in the King of Prussia area contains not only the burial remains of the Roberts family members but also some 190 departed souls from the Mount Zion AME Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The burial ground was established by Jonathan Roberts, a United States Senator early in the nineteenth century. He died in 1854 and was buried there. Senator Roberts made provision for the indigent to be buried in the area surrounding the central family plot. It is in this context that we embark on the journey of those of Mount Zion who were buried or reburied in this cemetery.
The journey those Mount Zion parishioners was a long one beginning in 1832 from the early days of the founding of the church. According to the “History of Mt. Zion Church Anniversary Booklet” the church was organized by Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis. The church parishioners were reportedly “runaway slaves” who liberated themselves from the South and migrated to the Norristown area by way of the Underground Railroad.
These early church pioneers established their first building at Airy and Walnut Streets in a dwelling house in 1832. This period of self-determination of reportedly interrupted by slave owners arriving to abduct escaped bondsman and use the legal system to force their return South. As the story goes, two escaped slaves were to be transported South after capture. However, the local black residents and two white citizens protested. The latter paid the enslavers $600 and $300 respectively and successfully procured the men’s freedom. According to the church record, it was during this disruptive time for the Norristown community that a number of the church members fled Norristown to Spring Mill, some even leaving for Canada. Members John and James Lewis held meetings and services in their residences in Spring Mill, near Conshohocken during this time.
In 1845, the church members regrouped in Norristown, purchased land, and built a one story church on Lafayette Street between Chain and Pearl. It was from this location 190 burials were reinterred at the Roberts Cemetery after the property was sold. The church moved in 1853 to Basin Street and again in 1915 to its current location on Willow Street. To this day this edifice exists at the same location.
Once the church congregation moved and with restrictions on where blacks could be buried, the bodies at Mount Zion Cemetery were removed and reinterred at the Roberts Burial Ground in the 1870’s. It should be noted that a number of black Civil War veterans were buried there as late as 1894. Moreover there were many Civil War veterans who were active members of Mount Zion.
In closing, the journey of those interred at Red Hill Cemetery is truly a remarkable one. The story of the Mount Zion Church is crowned by many achievers and achievements to advance voting rights in the 1870’s, Civil Rights in the 1880’s led by Pastor Amos Wilson, as well as improvements in education and the health and welfare of citizens. Not to be forgotten in this story is the commitment to humanity exhibited by the Roberts family whose leader years ago dedicated his land to the benefit of all.