Displaying items by tag: Norristown
From the Times-Herald, March 18, 1936
On March 19, 1936, Amelia Earhart came to Norristown to speak at the Norris Theater. Her appearance was sponsored by The Business and Professional Women’s Club of Norristown and was the concluding event of 1936’s National Business and Professional Women’s Week.
In our collection, we have a program from that night. The girls’ orchestra from Norristown High School played the opening music and local soprano, Orsola Pucciarelli sang three songs before the lecture.
Coverage of the event in the Norristown Times-Herald was very enthusiastic. The paper had two articles on Earhart’s talk. Both articles begin by describing her appearance. “Slim, trim, and decidedly feminine” one says, while the other devotes the entire second paragraph to the blue evening gown she designed herself.
In her lecture, the aviatrix expressed her confidence in flight. “There is no doubt about it,” the newspaper quotes her saying, “transatlantic air service will soon be regularly scheduled.” She also spoke in support of working women, saying that they had every right to fly in commercial aviation as men did. She also spoke about her flights across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and her love of flying in general. The Times-Herald records, “I have no fear of flying, if I did I would not fly. I am a firm believer in preparedness and leave nothing to chance that I can possible help.”
The Ogontz School students drilling in 1919, from Penn State University Libraries.
Earhart was born in Kansas, but she was not a stranger to Montgomery County. After completing high school in Chicago, Earhart attended the Ogontz School for Girls in Rydal (now Penn State Abington) with an eye towards applying to Bryn Mawr eventually. Earhart clashed frequently with the school’s owner and headmistress Abby Sutherland, according to Penn State University Libraries' website dedicated to the Ogontz School. After a visit to her sister in Toronto in 1917 where she saw wounded soldiers returning from Europe, Earhart left the school to become a nurse’s aide there. She and her husband visited the school, which was still in operation then, the day of her talk. She told the Times-Herald, “My husband considers himself an alumnus of the school he has heard me speak of it so frequently.”
Earhart said in her lecture that she had no concrete plans for another flight. However, the following year, she attempted to fly around the world with her navigator Fred Noonan. In July of 1937, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.
I thought it would be nice to close out the year with some charitable giving. This week, I discovered a large ledger that recorded the accounts of the Bringhurst Fund in Upper Providence. The first pages of the ledger contained a copy of the will of Wright Bringhurst, the founder of the fund.
Mr. Bringhurst was the heir to his father Israel’s general store in Trappe and many acres of land in Schuylkill County, and he was a good steward of them. When the Reading Railroad built tracks in Schuylkill County, Bringhurst made quite a bit from the sale of the land. He also served in the Pennsylvania legislature. When he died a bachelor in 1876, his will distributed some of the money to his sisters and their children, but over half of the money was donated to the boroughs of Norristown and Pottstown and the township of Upper Providence to create low cost housing for the poor. According to Edward Hocker, in his 1959 article “Gifts for the Public Good Made in Many Pottstown Wills,” (Times-Herald, Dec. 30, 1959), Bringhurst wanted the fund to build the houses in order to provide work, and then rent the houses to the "deserving poor" at below market rates.
Bringhurst’s generosity made news at the time of his death. I found an unattributed article in an old scrapbook that reprints almost the entire will. It also points out that Bringhurst had not been known to be particularly charitable during his life.
The amount left to start the fund was just over $100,000. The will directed that it be divided among the three communities in proportion to their population. Also, the Orphan’s Court would appoint three trustees to oversee the fund.
Houses were built in Mont Clare, Collegeville, and Trappe. In Norristown, 28 houses were built on Chain, Marshall, Corson, Powell, and Elm Streets. Renters were charged a small amount rent. That money was then redistributed to the poor as coal, shoes, or medicine, or re-invested in the fund. I found this information in an article published in our own Bulletin, “A Few Facts in Connection with the Bringhurst Family of Trappe, Pennsyvlania” published in October of 1940. That’s the most recent information I could find on the Bringhurst bequest.
Our own records of the trustees for the Upper Providence portion end in 1926. There are plenty of pages left in the book, and the final entry gives no indication that the fund was running out. I was unable to find the exact location of any of the houses or what happened to the money. Did it run out? Was it absorbed into another program? If anyone has any information, please let me know.
If you’ve ever attended the Historical Society’s Memorial Day observance at historic Montgomery Cemetery, you’re probably familiar with the Grand Army of the Republic. This national association of Union veterans of the Civil War, had hundreds of posts across the country. One local Montgomery County post, the Zook Post, purchased several plots at Montgomery Cemetery for the burial of members who couldn’t buy plots of their own.
Adorable children at the G.A.R plot
The G.A.R. wasn’t the only organization for Union veterans, however. Norristown was also home to a chapter of the Union Veteran League. This group was much smaller than the G.A.R. because it had stricter rules for admittance. In order to be a member, one had to have volunteered for three years of service before July 1, 1863 (when the draft went into effect) and served for at least two years.
This morning, I came across the roster of post 94 in Norristown. It lists 56 members, all enrolled from 1891 to 1893. The roster lists the members’ names, place of birth, residence, occupation, plus contains information on their service.
Some members were wounded or captured, and the roster notes that, too.
From the roster, it looks like this post was founded July 9, 1891.
The group was founded in Pittsburgh in 1884 and lasted until about 1939 (the Grand Army of the Republic survived until its last member died in 1956). While neither group ever expanded to include later veterans (the Veterans of Foreign Wars was founded for them in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish – American War), the G.A.R. was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans.
Since it was a smaller group with no apparent successor, information on the organization is hard to find. This roster was ended up with member Samuel E. Nyce, who donated it to the Historical Society in 1910.
Today, Montgomery County has many trails for those who wish to see their community at a pace a little slower than 70 miles per hour. There’s the Schuylkill River Trail, the Perkiomen Trail, the Audubon Loop, and the Cross County Trail. In fact, Montgomery County has a great history of walking.
In the 1950’s, an article in the Norristown Times-Herald by Edward Hocker (under his penname “Norris”) reports the founding of the Valley Forge Chapter of the National Campers and Hikers Association. He writes of walking as an antidote to modern life and says that old folks in particular encouraged people to escape the automobile.
“Those old times criticize the schools of today  because they pamper children by bringing them to school on a bus.”
A school bus from when the "old timers" were young.
In 1894, William E. Corson traveled across Montgomery County in search of forgotten cemeteries. His list of private burial grounds was eventually donated to the Historical Society, whose members then took up the project of recording them.
The most famous walker in the county’s history lived here only briefly. Edward P. Weston was a well-known pedestrian whose first long distance walk came as the result of a bet with a friend. His friend bet that Abraham Lincoln would win the presidential election of 1860, and Weston bet that he wouldn’t. Having lost the bet, Weston walked from Boston to Washington, arriving in time for the inauguration where he shook the new president’s hand (some say Lincoln offered to buy his train ticket back). Later, he walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago, and in 1909, at the age of 71, he walked from New York to San Francisco in 104 days.
Born in Rhode Island, Weston first came to Norristown in 1912 for the Industrial Day portion of the Norristown centennial celebration. His appearance was sponsored by Rambo & Regar who had named a sock after him. He returned in 1922 to lecture the police department on how to properly care for their feet. He had settled in Kingston, NY, a town on the Hudson River, when burglars broke into his home and shot him in the leg. He seems to have decided that living in the country was unsafe, and in 1924, he moved to Norristown.
In the two years he spent here, he lived at the Brandt Building at West Main St. and Barbadoes, later moving to DeKalb Street. Although he was here a short time, he left his mark. In St. Helena’s Church in Whitpain there’s a marble plaque that reads “Here at 84, I found religion. Edward Payson Weston.”
Weston moved to Brooklyn in 1925, where he died in 1929, two years after he was hit by a car, a somewhat ironic way for a great pedestrian to die.
In the very early days of this blog, I wrote about Treemount Seminary (you can check out that original post here). The school was a private boarding and day school founded in Norristown in 1857. The school existed for 43 years and educated about 5,000 students. For decades after the school closed, an active alumni association continued to keep its memory alive through annual reunions.
I revisited the Treemount Seminary papers this week while working through our school collection. This morning I found a small box, donated to the Historical Society of Montgomery County in the 1940’s that contained tintypes of students from the school.
Most of the tintypes are identified with a last name on the reverse, and most were taken by Thomas Saurman, whose shop was located at Main and Green in Norristown. According to Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, Saurman himself was a graduate of Treemount.
Tintypes were a popular form of photography for the second half of the nineteenth century. They were cheaper than competing forms of photograph such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Their cheapness and their small size made them perfect for sending to family or collecting pictures of your friends.
Tintypes were also known as ferrotypes, are made through a process similar to how ambrotypes were made. They used a wet collodion process to create a direct positive image that was reversed. No negative was made, so only one image could be produced from each exposure, no copies. The main difference between the ambrotype and the tintype was the material the image appeared on. Ambrotypes used polished glass while tintypes were produced on metal.
The process of creating a tintype was invented by Hamilton L. Smith at Kenyon College in 1856. The plate was a thin piece of iron that had been lacquered black or dark brown. The image was not was sharp as an ambrotype, but their affordability made up for this shortcoming.
The rosy cheeks you see in so many of the photos was added by hand, and was typical at the time, not just for tintypes, but for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
The paper mats you see around the images were also typical. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes had to be kept in cases to protect the glass plates. Tintypes sometimes have cases, but the paper mat is more typical.
Henry C. Trexler's tintype
These tintypes were owned by Harry C. Trexler, a graduate of Treemount Seminary and came to the historical society through his brother Frank.
Ruoff, Henry Wilson. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Biographical Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1895.
Ritzenhaler, Mary Lynn and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, 2006.
Any plans for the weekend? Maybe you’re thinking of taking in a movie. In early and mid-century Norristown, you had to be sure to see that movie on Saturday because movie theaters were closed on Sundays by law.
At the time, Sunday “blue” laws were common. Stores and businesses were closed and there was no mail delivery. Although observance of a Sunday Sabbath goes back to the early Christian Church, by the Middle Ages it had fallen out of favor. Protestants revived the idea, particularly the Puritans (although both Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected the need for laws to enforce the Sabbath.) In the United States, several groups promoted laws enforcing a day of rest sprung up in the late nineteenth century. In 1912 they succeeded in closing post offices on Sunday.
In 1947, the borough held a referendum on legalizing Sunday movies, and Ronald Heaton created a scrapbook of the newspaper ads that flew back and forth on each side.
The proposal was for movies to be allowed after 2pm on Sundays. Supporters of the measure argued that the late start time meant that the theaters would not be interfering with church services.
Opponents of Sunday movies argued that they would increase juvenile delinquency. Many nearby communities allowed Sunday movies including Conshohocken and Bridgeport (there were more movie theaters back then, kids). Supporters of the referendum argued that these communities saw no increase in juvenile crime. Some even argued that by giving kids a place to go on Sundays would reduce crime.
In addition to the competing advertising campaigns, many churches held meetings and sent letters directly to voters.
Ultimately, arguments about crime, employment, the local economy meant little to the defenders of the ban on Sunday movies. Their opposition to Sunday movies came down to the Christian observance of the Sabbath and its role in American tradition. This ad argues for the universality of dedicating the Sabbath to God.
One wonders if the people who wrote the ad knew the Rabbi was talking about Saturday.
Heaton also records earlier votes on the issue.
On election day, the proposal to allow movies on Sunday was rejected.
Once it was defeated the issue could not appear on the ballot for four years. In 1951, another referendum was held and Norristown’s four movie theaters were free to open on Sundays.
If you’ve ever come into our library to do some family research or look up some local history you’ve probably used one of the several historical and biographical works by such as Milton Bean, Charles Hunsicker, and Moses Auge. This week’s blog is about Moses Auge, author of Lives of Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa. As I’ve noted in this blog before, people in the past were not concerned with catchy book titles.
Auge was born in Delaware in 1811 and spent his youth in Chester County. He moved to Norristown after he married. He was a hatter by trade. The 1860 Norristown city directory lists him as:
Auge, Moses, hats clothing and Editor, 178 Egypt Street.
"Egypt Street" is now Main Street. He edited two newspapers in Norristown, the Republican and the True Witness. Both papers were pro-temperance and anti-slavery.
The masthead of the Republican after Ague's time as editor
During his time editing the Republican, 1857-1862, Auge and his co-editor John H. Williams were both sued for libel by Henry L. Acker. We don’t have a copy of the original paper, but luckily for us, the indictment reproduced the article, along with interjections of legalese:
“Aha!!! Our old friend Acker (meaning the said Henry L. Acker) brother of the editor of the Norristown Register, late editor of the Pottsville Democratic Standard, and post-master at that place under Buchanan, was one day this week honored with a visit from the U. S. Marshall which functionary favored him with a free ride to Philadelphia to answer a charge of embezzling six thousand dollars (meaning six thousand dollars of the public monies of the United States of America received by him the said Henry L. Acker as such postmaster) it perhaps be remembered by our readers, was some time ago, much troubled about some people long ears! We told him at the time, that, although not a very graceful appendage, they were not so apt to let their owners into trouble as were long fingers (meaning thereby that the said Henry L. Acker has then and there unlawfully appropriated money to himself which did not justly belong to him), and now, we suppose, he will believe we were about right. Virtuous Acker (meaning said Henry L. Acker) while he presided over the columns of the Standard who so horrified and indignant as he over the frauds and thefts of the government contractors and Republican office holders. Now how have the might fallen. Sic transit gloria mundi.”
A surprising $500 bond was entered for each man and one Jacob Cowden, who is not mentioned in the indictment. Acker himself was ordered to pay a bond of $100 upon condition he appear. We also have the total costs of the trial, which called thirteen witnesses, who each cost the Commonwealth $1.50 (the paper doesn’t say if this was to feed them or transport them or what). Acker himself cost the county $7.17.
The only thing we don’t know – the verdict. It’s not among the court papers, nor does the case seem to have been covered in the Times-Herald (although, its publisher, Robert Iredell was called as a witness). Auge’s time at the Republican ended the same year, however. He published his well-used book of local biographies in 1878 and died in 1892.
In the 1880’s, there was only one place to go for dancing instruction in Norristown, Professor J. E. Reilley’s class held weekly at Meeh’s Hall. Professor Reilley held his classes from September to May. At the end of May, the class would perform publicly for their final exam.
Below is an invitation to the 1888 event.
According to an accompanying newspaper article, 32 young ladies and 6 gentleman performed. The ladies are listed each with what they were wearing. Kathie and Emily Preston would blue Canton crepe trimmed with surah and lace while Miss Katie Haines wore pink chaille and garnet velvet. The Preston sisters were later very active members of the Historical Society. Emily would have been about 13 in 1888 and Katherine about 15.
The program was long with several solos and group dances. Miss Alice Edmunds “one of the prettiest girls in the class” performed a scarf dance. Miss Eva McGinnis, dance “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” while holding a bunch rye. The entire class danced around a maypole.
According to the newspaper, “The affair was a complete success, and Prof. Reilley is to be hearily congratulated for his good fortune with the pupils, and thanked for his painstaking care in their instructions.”
Reilley was born in the US to Irish parents, but I was unable to discover when he first came to Norristown. He continued teaching dancing until he died in Norristown in 1911.
Today, the Montgomery County-Norristown Library consists of the central library in Norristown, four branches, and a bookmobile. Like thousands of libraries across the country, it is a public library, supported by taxes. But this was not the original model of the Norristown Library or the many libraries across the county.
Lending libraries began in the 18th century as private enterprises, more along the lines of a video store (if anyone remembers those). They were funded through the subscriptions of individuals. In 1794, ninety families in the central part of Montgomery County decided to start the Norristown Library Company.
The library had several different homes until 1824 when a building was built by the trustees at a cost of $153.43.
To become a member of the library, a person had to buy a share. In 1912, shares were $5 each. A shareholder still paid $1 per year to borrow books from the library and non-shareholders could borrow books for $2 per year. Browsing was free.
The Historical Society of Montgomery County has many stock certificates from the Norristown Library Company. Most of them were donated by William F. Slingluff in 1930. The library company was still a subscription library at that time, and it looks as though Mr. Slingluff actually transferred the stock to the historical society.
We also have a printed catalogue from 1853, which is also the year the library moved from the small building above, to a new building at DeKalb at Penn Streets.
From looking over the catalogue as well as the bills from Wanamaker’s, it looks like the subscribers read more non-fiction than fiction.
Here’s one of the bills (notice the $2 charge for a copy of Huckleberry Finn).
The Norristown Library Company remained a private subscription library well into the 20th century. However, in 1937, the McCann Library, a public library run by the Norristown School District closed its doors. Many in the community wanted to see the library company become a public library open to all for free. In 1942, with the backing of the borough, the Norristown Library did just that.
This story comes to you from our “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…” file. Working through some papers belonging to the Rhoads family, I came across a newspaper article from the Atlanta Constitution dated Saturday, November 18, 1922.
The woman pictured below is Mrs. Varnetta Regar. The article describes her as a “former Augusta society girl.” On Christmas Eve, 1917, she eloped with Gordon R. Regar, son of Howard K. Regar, owner of the Rambo and Regar Knitting Mills. She was a freshman in high school in Augusta when their romance began (the 1920 census lists her year of birth as 1901). After a brief honeymoon, they held a “wild” farewell party when Gordon, a second lieutenant in the PA National Guard, sailed for France.
After the war, the two lived at the Regar home in Norristown with Gordon’s parents at 1420 DeKalb Street (just down the road from our headquarters). Varnetta described a raucous life, telling the newspaper that her husband taught her to smoke and drink. The couple fought often, but would make up. Then at a party in Philadelphia, the couple’s argument became physical. Varnetta described the party as “terribly wild…no one thought of drinking anything less potent than whisky and soda or gin fizzes.” Gordon attempted to drive home inebriated, but got lost. The two got into a fist fight, each coming away with a black eye.
The Globe Knitting Mill in Norristown, owned by the Ragar family
At that point, Varnetta returned south, having been assured by Gordon that he would handle the divorce. Boy, did he! He accused Varnetta throwing a knife at him, which she doesn’t deny in the article, but explains that she did when she saw Gordon kiss another girl. So, Varnetta intended to get her divorce annulled and then file for divorce again, citing Gordon’s infidelity as the cause.
I wasn’t able to find out if she ever did get the second divorce, but I do know the couple never reunited, which is probably a good thing. Gordon later married a woman named Helene Collins and moved to southern California. He passed away in 1976. Since the article doesn’t list Varnetta’s maiden name, I wasn’t able to find out what happened her after the divorce.
While this story and its pictures took up much of the front page, a smaller item notes that the Fascists, led by Mussolini, had just taken control of the Italian government.
Mussolini, below the fold