From the Times-Herald, June 5, 1972
On June 5, 1972, the Roofers Local Union No. 30 bussed hundreds of members to a construction site in Upper Merion, but they weren’t there to work. They had come to protest the construction of the Valley Forge Plaza.
The picketers carried signs declaring that the contractor paid non-union workers substandard wages. The equipment and construction trailers were firebombed, causing $300,000 to $400,000 in damage. When the fire department arrived on the scene, state police blocked them from getting to the fire because the picketers had been pelting the police with rocks. When more state police were called in from Reading, the fire trucks were allowed to come on to the site. The construction company knew the protest was coming, and there were no workers at the site that day. Despite the large police presence, no one was arrested at the scene.
From the Times-Herald, June 6, 1972
The developer, J. Leon Altemose, was running an open shop, hiring non-union laborers. Altemose, a native of East Norriton and graduate of Norristown High School and Penn State, had started in construction building homes. Altemose always claimed that he was not against unions, but insisted that workers should have the right to work without being a union member. He later claimed to have offered the union 50% of the jobs on the project.
From the Times-Herald, June 22, 1972
When a Montgomery County judge barred picketing at all Altemose construction sites, they picketed the company’s headquarters. One hundred twenty-five picketers were fined. In response, the local building trades staged a march on June 22, 1972 from Plymouth Meeting Mall to the courthouse.
Photographs from our collection show a piece of the troubled time in the county. Notes on the back say that they date to the trial (16 were convicted, 11 went to jail), but those notes were made by a volunteer here at the Historical Society and seem to be a guess. The newspaper coverage of the trail (which lasted for four month in 1974) doesn’t mention a strong police presence at all.
It’s possible that they are from the labor parade on June 22. The Times-Herald described state police standing shoulder to shoulder along route. Of course, the pictures don’t show any marchers, so this might be incorrect. The parade attracted about 20,000 workers despite tropical storm Agnes hitting the area the same day, leading to widespread flooding.
According to a Philadelphia Magazine article from 2008, the building unions in the Philadelphia suburbs never recovered from the Altemose firebombing. Altemose died in 2008.
"J. Leon Altemose, controversial contractor, dies at 68" The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 2008
Upper Merion Township The First 300 Years by J. Michael Morrisson, Francis X. Luther, and Marianne J. Hooper, King of Prussia Historical Society, 2013
Here is a photograph that just came into the Historical Society of the old Gulf School. Yes, it is sometimes called the “Gulph” School, but the former spelling seems to have been more common in the early days.
I couldn’t find an exact date of its founding. I do know it was operating as a school as early as 1785 when future US Congressman Jonathan Roberts attended. Decades later, the school had a teacher who terrorized students with a whip, according to an article by Edward Hocker (a.k.a. Norris) in Times-Herald article from 1930. His tenure at the school came to end when he was arrested and later convicted for horse stealing.
Like most schools in the early nineteenth century, Upper Merion schools employed only men as teachers. According to Hocker, teachers made $20 per month in 1837. In the middle of the nineteenth century, women began to move into the profession. Here we see two female teachers with an 1891 class. The head teacher, on the right, was Anne Davis.
Today the building that once housed the school is the property of Gulph Christian Church. The church began in the school when Frederick Plummber began preaching there in 1830, according to M. Regina Stitler Supplee in her article “History of Gulph Christian Church, Gulph Mills, PA.” The church met there until 1835 when the congregation was able to build its own church.
Do you recognize this famous spot in Montgomery County? It's "Haning Rock" or "Overhanging Rock" on Route 320, Gulph Road, in Upper Merion. You can see in this picture that the road was a narrow dirt road that was orginally laid out in the early Eighteenth Century. General George Washington and his troops passed beneath this rock in 1777 on the way to Valley Forge.
In 1917, the Pennsylvania Highway Department proposed destroying the rock in order to widen and modernize the road. Local people protested, and Mrs. J. Aubrey Anderson, who ownded the rock, donated it to the Valley Forge Historical Society in 1924. Eventually, the Highway Department agreed to reprofile the rock, which has been done several times over the years to allow for modern traffic to flow underneath. At one point there was a staircase leading people to a park at the top of the rock.
“What’s in a name?” an expression attributed to William Shakespeare, in the case of the name Stewart Fund Hall and Union School the name contains much history and care for the community of King of Prussia. In 1808, William Stewart, reportedly an illiterate Scottish farmer, established a fund of twenty-five thousand dollars to provide educational benefits to poor children who parents could not pay the school tax. This was an enormous sum for the 19th Century. In 1798, William Cleaver, a Welshman, gave a portion of his land for school for the same Upper Merion community. Earlier still, Welsh Friends and Swedish settlers had a practice of establishing school buildings and church structures adjacent to each other to strengthen a sense of community.
A painting showing Stewart Fund Hall, the Union School, and the small schoolmaster's house. Painted by E. M. Law.
Out of this diverse ethnic community (thus fully American community) constructed a log school house in 1740, known as the Union School. This building in use until 1810 when a stone building was erected on the land of the above cited William Cleaver. William Stewart’s will provided the trust fund to support educational improvements. This fund also was responsible for building an adjacent hall known as the Stewart Fund Hall.
This community education facility further strengthened education for the entire community which included the Grange Farmer Institute, singing school, band rehearsal activities, scientific, and literary discussion groups. The fund was overseen by a committee of trustees. The records of the Stewart Fund Hall Assocation are in the collection of the Historical Society.
A list of the Stewart Fund Hall Library subsribers.
In 1878, the Stewart Fund Hall was rebuilt and furnished with a library.
In 1947, according to an article by Ed Dybicz in 1965, the building was sold to Upper Merion Township and used for administration purposes. Finally, as noted in the King of Prussia Courier on July 24, 1993, the Stewart Fund Hall and adjacent buildings located at DeKalb Pike (Rt. 202) and Allendale Road were demolished.
The building complex was replaced by the Girard Trust Back branch and is an AT&T store.
In closing, “What’s in a name?” Quit a lot. With regard to the Stewart Fund Hall and Union School years of love and concern for the people of the community for each other’s’ well-being is evident. It should also be noted the building complex underground room is believed to have been used as a station for the Underground Railroad to Canada, which further illustrates a commitment to benefit all mankind.