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.
Last week, I thought I’d visit Toys R Us for perhaps the last time. The sale was a bit of a dud, but it was nice to walk around one more time. I went to the Montgomeryville store, which is in a shopping center called Airport Square. It sounded to me like there might be a story there.
Montgomery county’s history with flight begins before Wright brothers. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was the man in command of the Union Army’s balloon corps. Lowe lived in Norristown for a time after the war.
Perhaps Montgomery County’s best-known air field is the Naval Reserve Air Station at Willow Grove. The field was first developed for air use by Pitcairn Aircraft Inc. Harold Pitcairn was a native of Bryn Athyn, and the company’s first airfield was in Bryn Athyn, and in 1926, it was the largest airfield in the eastern US. In the 1920’s it hosted several air shows with famous pilots performing stunts. The Willow Grove field was originally one of its flying schools. In 1928, the company began to produce autogiros and the company changed its name to the Autogiro Corp. An autogiro (or autogyro) if you haven’t seen one lately, looks like a small airplane and helicopter had a baby.
Pitcairn sold the field in 1942 to the Navy which wanted the field because of the war. The adjoining manufacturing plant was sold to Firestone during the war as well.
The Pottstown Municipal Airport was sold to the borough by its founder, John J. Basco in 1948. The purchase was controversial within a few years. A 1953 newspaper article describes the airport as a money pit, with few of the dreams of cargo flights and local businesses using it having been realized. The article predicts that the borough would soon close the airport. However, it is still in use and still owned by Pottstown.
But what about Airport Square? There was indeed a Montgomeryville Airport there. It was founded during the war and over the decades it was known by several different names, including the 309 Airport and Gloster Field. It closed in the late 1970’s.
But, that small airport was not Montgomeryville’s only piece of aviation history. A 1923 article in a newspaper called The Review and Reporter, tells of a German immigrant and inventor named Maxilmillian Pupe who was starting an aircraft factory in near Montgomeryville. The company was called the Universal Flying Corporation and was funded primarily with German money. The paper says that this was “to avoid possible confiscation for reparations.” However, in 1923, it was still against conditions of the Paris peace settlement for German companies to manufacture airplanes.
Unfortunately, I could find nothing else on the Universal Flying Corporation or Maximillian Pupe so I can’t say if this attempt to run around the Versailles treaty worked or not, but I’m guessing not.
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