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Nancy Sullivan, Archivist

Thursday, 07 March 2019 21:40

River Crest Preventorium

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Recently, George Detwiler, member and volunteer here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, donated a collection of photographs of the River Crest Preventorium. This facility was an offshoot of the Kensington Dispensary for the treatment of tuberculosis located in Mont Clare, Upper Dublin. The Kensington Dispensary was founded by St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown to treat the high rate of tuberculosis in Kensington’s immigrant community. The Mont Clare location was meant to provide a country retreat for children who had been exposed to tuberculosis, but did not have an active form of the disease.

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According to the minutes of the Fourth Biennal Convention of the United Lutheran Church in America, in 1923 The Preventorium had space for 39 children. The demand was such that the children had be limited to only a two stay, and the report calls for an expansion of the facility. The minutes describe the method used at the preventorium as “Fresh air, sunshine, nourishing food, supervised play, exercise and rest….Another definite aim is to assist the child’s mental, moral and spiritual development.”

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Along with the photographs, George donated a program for the 1929 dedication of a new administration building at River Crest and new dormitories for 100 children.

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By the middle of the 20th century, tuberculosis was no longer the crisis it had decades earlier, and the Kensington Dispensary shifted focus to serving intellectually disabled adults and children, and River Crest became a residence and summer camp for those children.

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In 1969, the organization changed its name to KenCrest. Today, the River Crest Preventorium is the RiverCrest Golf Club.

Thursday, 28 February 2019 21:18

The Human Relations Commission

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Interior of the New York Store

One of most interesting collections we have here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County is the Leonard Friedman Papers, much of which concerns his work on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission.

Leonard Friedman was born in Philadelphia in 1918 and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the army during World War II, then spent fifty years running his family’s business, the New York Store. In the 1970’s he served on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission which was created in 1966 to help the borough cope with racial issues.

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His papers have many items relating to race relations in Norristown in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, providing a snapshot of life in Norristown during a turbulent time. One newsletter of the Interfaith Committee for Social Action describes a protest of 150 young black people at Norristown Borough Hall. At that protest Arthur Hall, a young man from Norristown, gave a speech demanding more respectful treatment from local police, questioning the curfew, and for an increase in the number of black police officers.

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Arthur Hall from the 1968 Norristown High School Spice yearbook

Another issue Friedman’s papers focus on is fair housing in Norristown. In 1969, borough council passed Ordinance 2065 prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. There’s many newspaper clippings about white sellers refusing offers from black buyers and information for realtors to prevent discrimination in housing.

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Pamphlet from the Fair Housing Committee

The Human Relations Commission was also concerned with the Norristown Area School District. Throughout the country at this time, cities tried to desegregate schools through bussing. A newsletter called "News ‘N’ Views" distributed by the school district explains six proposed ideas for achieving racial balance in NASD schools. In addition to that, Mr. Friedman himself wrote a letter to a Harold T. Huber, looking for help in redesigning NASD’s curriculum to include African-American history.

From the records, it looks like Friedman was on the Commission until 1973. There is a Human Relations Commission in Norristown today, but it was started in 2018, according to its website, so I don’t know the fate of the original commission.

Thursday, 21 February 2019 21:06

“I will save my horses, or perish myself!”

 

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Historical marker at the site of Ned Hector's log cabin

Montgomery County has a rich history of the American Revolution. George Washington, Lafayette, and “Mad” Anthony Wayne all came through our county at some point. But today, we’re going to look a less well known soldier of the revolution: Edward “Ned” Hector.

Ned Hector first comes into the historical record at the Battle of Brandywine in September, 1777. He served in Colonel John Proctor’s 3rd PA Artillery as a teamster (wagon driver) and bombardier (part of a cannon crew). He was one of about 9000 black soldiers to fight on the American side (many more fought for the British who promised freedom) His commanding officer ordered a retreat calling for everything to be abandoned, including weapons and horses. Hector was heard to say, “I will save my horses, or perish myself.”

In civilian life, Hector had also worked as a teamster, so we can assume that he was skilled in managing horses. He not only saved himself and the horses, but many discarded weapons, keeping them out the hands of the British.

Hector also fought at the Battle of Germantown and probably served in the militia until 1780.

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An example of a cannon crew of the Revolutionary era

We don’t know exactly where or when he was born, but probably around 1744. After the war, he settled in a sparsely populated part of Plymouth township, which would later became part of Conshohocken (founded in 1850). His log cabin was at Hector and Fayette Streets. Hector St. was named after him in 1850.

In the early Republic, many veterans had trouble getting pensions from the federal government, and Ned Hector was no different. He petitioned Congress in 1827, 1829, and 1833, and was rejected all three times. In 1833, Congress did award him a one-time reward of $40. He died one year later at the age of 90.  He might have originally been buried at Mt. Zion AME Church in Norristown, but the bodies from that graveyard were relocated to Robert's Cemetery in King of Prussia.  It is most likely that his remains are there.

Sadly, his wife, Jude, died very soon thereafter (some records say one hour after Ned’s funeral and some say two days later). They probably had several children.  One son Charles married a widowed woman who had been born into slavery named Leah. Leah Hector outlived her second husband dying at the age of 108 in Bridgeport. She’s listed in the 1860 Census as a “washerwoman,” but a 1929 Times Herald article by “Norris” says that she was known for making and selling herbal medicines.

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There are no images of Ned Hector, so I’ll leave you with a picture of Noah Lewis, who has extensively researched Ned Hector and often plays Hector in re-enactments.  Much of the information in this article was based on Noah's work, especially his 2013 article in the Historical Society's Bulletin, "Being Edward Hector."  Check out his website: nedhector.com.

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Thursday, 07 February 2019 19:53

LaMott A. M. E. Church

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday, 31 January 2019 21:11

Deep Freeze

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If you’re reading this on Thursday, you might be hunkered down inside trying to keep warm.  Now, don't worry about that headline, that's not tomorrow's forecast.  The average January temperature for Norristown is 41 degrees. The high today was 16. In light of that, I thought these pictures of Ardmore after a 1902 ice storm might be appropriate. Because, it might be cold, but at least we haven’t had an ice storm.

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The photos are from the Charles Barker Collection. Barker was a native of Ardmore, and a diligent documenter of its history. The photos are dated February 21 and 22, 1902. I checked the Times-Herald to see what had happened.

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The front page had several articles about the storm. Telephone and telegraph wires were downed by the storm as you can see in this picture. In Norristown, trolley service was disrupted but continued to run all day. Trees were badly hurt by the storm and streets were full of broken branches. The newspaper reported that the orchard of Eli Dyson near Trooper was nearly destroyed.

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The Keystone Telephone Company reported that 286 of its 500 telephones were working. People bringing their goods to market, like Joseph B. Rogers, a butcher from Jeffersonville, brought an ax with him to chop through the branches on his way into the borough.

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The bright light, in all of this was the Historical Society's annual celebration of Washington's Birthday, which was well attended despite the weather.  

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Thursday, 24 January 2019 18:56

“Sick of the Russians”

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Connie Wolf in her balloon from the National Balloon Museum

In November of 1961, a fifty-six year old grandmother from Blue Bell broke the women’s ballooning endurance record in a hydrogen filled balloon called “Yellow Wolf.” Connie Wolf (née Cann) described herself to the Norristown Times-Herald as a “dedicated capitalist” who was “sick of the Russians holding all the records.” (November 21, 1961).

Connie Wolf first learned to fly airplanes on her honeymoon in 1931. Her husband, Alfred L. Wolf was a lawyer and an enthusiastic pilot. He later went on to have a distinguished career in the Air Force. It wasn’t until 20 years later that she learned ballooning while her husband was stationed in Germany. It became her passion.

In 1952, Mrs. Wolf was one of the founders of the Balloon Club of America, which flew from Valley Forge Airport until its closure. It then moved to Whig’s Field in Whitpain Township, right next to the Wolfs' home “Wingover.”

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The poster for Around the World in 80 Days from IMDB

Even before her world record flight, Connie Wolf was a well-known balloonist. She served as a technical consultant on the movie Around the World in 80 Days which won the best picture Oscar for 1956. Connie flew the balloon featured in the movie, “La Coquette,” over Paris and London to promote its release.

In 1960, she put a “Nixon-Lodge” banner on her balloon. Nixon himself gave a speech from the balloon’s gondola (it was on the ground at the time).

Her record breaking flight did not take place in Montgomery County, however. She took off in her large balloon known as “Yellow Wolf” on November 12, 1961 from Big Spring, Texas. She landed over forty hours later in Boley, Oklahoma. She had broken 15 different records, including the women’s endurance record which had previously been held by a Russian woman named L. Ivanova (her first name isn’t listed even in the official record). Her record was 34 hours, 21 minutes, and it was set in 1948.

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Big Spring, TX to Boley, OK on Google Maps

At the time of her flight, the Times-Herald reported that Connie Wolf was the only licensed female balloonist in the US. Montgomery County celebrated her achievement by declaring December 21, 1961 “Connie Wolf Day.” She was also awarded the Montgolfier Award by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She was the first woman ever to receive that honor.

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Although the forty hour trip exhausted her, Connie Wolf went back to ballooning. In 1976 she flew a Liberty Bell shaped balloon for the bicentennial, and in 1982 she flew a balloon with an image of William Penn from Penn’s Landing in honor of the tercentennial of the founding of Pennsylvania.

In 1986, the couple founded the Wolf Aviation Fund, which promotes general aviation through various grants and programs.

When Connie died in 1994, she still held the women’s endurance record. It was broken the following year by Lesley P. Davis of the USA who flew for over 60 hours.  Connie was inducted into the National Balloon Museum's Hall of Fame in 2015.

Thursday, 17 January 2019 20:31

Amelia Earhart in Norristown

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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.

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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.”

ogontz school 1919The 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.

Thursday, 20 December 2018 21:01

The Bringhurst Fund

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday, 06 December 2018 21:18

St. Nicholas

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December 6 is traditionally the Feast of St. Nicholas, so when our dedicated volunteer Rita Thomas discovered a book called Nikolaus, I thought it was perfect for this week's blog.  As the image on the cover shows, the book seems very modern. This Nikolaus certainly resembles today’s Santa Claus, or Weihnachtmann (Christmas man) as he is known in Germany.

I couldn’t discover an exact date for the book, but it was produced in Nuremberg by a publishing house that specialized in illustrated books, Theo. Stroefer’s Kunstverlag. The poems are attributed to Jbo., but I couldn’t find anything on him (there is, however, a German metal band with the same name).

I have to admit, I found this a little confusing. It says “Nikolaus,” but the poems inside do not refer to St. Nicholas day, but clearly to Christmas. But I thought the Christkind delivered the Christmas presents in Germany. And where are all of St. Nicholas’s charming and terrifying traditional companions, like Krampus and the always popular Belznickel? This guy looks a lot like the “right jolly old elf” of Clement C. Moore’s poem and Thomas Nast’s illustrations.

Sleigh with reindeer: check.

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Climbing down chimneys: check.

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Stockings hung by chimney with care: check.

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But none of these things are part of a German tradition. Luckily, Wikipedia is around to help me. You may never have heard of Theodor Stroefer, but he has his own Wikipedia page! In German. According to the article, Stroeder moved his business to Nuremberg in 1893. He died in 1927, so the book was produced between those two dates. In the 1860’s, however, he had been in New York for about five years. Could he have brought back a few ideas to Germany with him?

Of course, Stroefer was the publisher, not the illustrator. The lithographs are attributed to E. Nister of Nuremberg. He has an English language Wikipedia page and died in 1906, further narrowing down the date of the book. He had offices in both Nuremberg and London and was known for images of Father Christmas. The London connection might explain the plum pudding this image.

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While there are no images of the angel-like Christkind (Christ child), he is mentioned in one of the poems. The Christkind was invented by Martin Luther during the Reformation to move Protestants away from the veneration of saints. So, instead of St. Nicholas bringing gifts on November 6, the Christ child brought gifts on Christmas Eve. The Christkind is also the origin of “Kris Kringle.”

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This poem tells of the Christkind bringing many cute gifts like dolls, balls, and toy horses, and filling shoes with presents.

Although a Protestant invention, today the Christkind is most popular with German speaking Catholics in Germany and Austria.

While I can’t argue that this book has any direct connection to the county, except for once being owned by someone who lived here, its fun mish-mash of German, American, and English traditions is reflective of Montgomery’s county’s history.

Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17

Red Arrow Liberty Liners

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In 1964, commuters in Montgomery County got a new and luxurious transportation option when Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company introduced two new trains, called Liberty Liners. These trains ran on the Red Arrow Line and promised a refreshment lounge, air conditioning, and soft music piped into the passenger cars. They had been decorated by Philadelphia artist Horace Paul.

The new trains were actually refurbished cars that were built in 1940 by the St. Louis Car Company for the North Shore Line in Illinois. The trains had already covered more than six million miles each when Philadelphia Suburban Transit purchased them after the North Shore Line folded due to competition from new highways.

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In fact, Philadelphia Suburban Transit was the rare private commuter transit company that managed to survive the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Red Arrow Line ran busses, trollies, and trains throughout the Philadelphia region, but its leader, Merritt H. Taylor, Jr., resisted the private-public partnerships that developed in the 1960’s, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT).1

One of the ways the company attracted riders was through plush, fancy trains like the Liberty Liners.

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Our material on the inaugural run of the Liberty Liner on January 26, 1964 was donated by David E. Groshens. They include tickets, photographs, coasters, and a history of the trains and how they were refurbished. There’s even a paper explaining the new music system: “In each train is a tape deck containing magnetic tape cartridges. Each cartridge holds four recorded tracks, with 30 minutes of continuous play per track.”

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The trains ran on the Norristown High Speed Line, which had previously been run by the Philadelphia and Western Railway Company. That company fared poorly in the Depression, and Philadelphia Suburban Transit gained a controlling interest in 1946, and finally merged the two companies in 1953.

The Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company had begun in 1848 as a turnpike and horse carriage company. The company went through many mergers and permutations over the decades. The Red Arrow Line started when the company, then known as the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company, began its first bus route in 1923.

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The P&W bridge in Norristown

Seeing the time of private mass transit coming to an end, Taylor sold the Red Arrow Line to SEPTA in 1970.  SEPTA kept the name and logo for seven years after the acquisition, but eventually, they went out of use.2  The Liberty Liners were sold in 1981.  The Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnance, PA, now owns one of them.

From https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/red-arrow-lines/ accessed Nov. 15, 2018

Ibid.

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