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.
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.
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 Ancestry.com.
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.