Karen Ploch, Curator
Cast Iron Fireback before Restoration
As we prepare for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, I decided to use the extra space in the gallery to restore four of our firebacks. These firebacks were placed in the back of a fireplace to protect the chimney and reflect the heat back towards the interior room. Firebacks were also used for decoration.
Cast Iron Fireback after Restoration
This cast iron fireback was found at Wentz's Church, in Worcester Township. The design is based on a Biblical Representation, which was identified in Henry Mercer's book Bible in Iron on page 28. The rough German translation is: "The widow’s oil did richly glow. God's mercy in the tomb did show. A boy to life rose from the dead. A hundred men on few loaves fed."
Cast Iron (rear side) Before and After Restoration
To restore this cast iron, I used a wire brush to gently remove the rust. Once removed, the rust was vacuumed off the fireback. I then applied a thin coat of Crisco shortening to the entire piece. Shortening was used instead of oil, because it does not go rancid. For those of you with cast iron skillets, this same process can be followed to treat rust on your pieces. I would like to thank Curator Amy Reis from Pottsgrove Manor for her instruction on how to restore cast iron!
3 Pieced Steel Firebacks before Restoration
I am currently working to restore a three pieced fireback. Originally, we thought it was cast iron. However, upon removal of rust we realized it was most likely made from a steel alloy, which means using a wire brush is not necessarily the best method for removing rust. We are currently exploring better ways to restore the steel without damaging it with a wire brush. Once they are restored, we will post the results on our Facebook page.
Two sides of the three piece fireback. The left one has rust removed from it.
Margaret Phillips Richardson was born in Radnor Township (Delaware County) on October 27, 1816. She married Abraham Richardson on September 12, 1839 and lived with him in Juniata County for several years. Abraham died on August 6, 1841 and Margaret remained in the county with their son, John P. Richardson, until she decided to obtain a career in medicine.
Ten years later, in 1851, Margaret started studying medicine at the Pennsylvania Female College in Philadelphia. Part of the second class to graduate from this college, Dr. Richardson received her degree in 1853. She then moved back to Juniata County for four years to practice medicine. In 1857, she moved to Norristown.
Dr. Richardson was the first female physician in both Montgomery and Juniata Counties. She was known for her success in curing fevers and was often asked to consult other medical professionals when they were treating a patient. She also aided county courts by providing her medical expertise as needed.
Times Herald, May 15, 1909
Dr. Richardson stayed in Norristown until her death on May 15, 1909. She died of bronchitis at 92 years old and is buried at Plymouth Meeting Friends Cemetery. In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will display one of Dr. Richardson’s advertisements for medical treatment. There will be a Gala on June 27, 2019. Starting July 1, 2019 and through March 2020, the exhibit will be free and open to the public.
Dr. Richardson Advertisement
History of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Volume 1. Edited by Theodore W. Bean. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck 1884.
Opening on January 1, 1891, Montgomery Hospital (formerly known as Norristown Hospital and Dispensary and later Charity Hospital) was one of the first hospitals in Montgomery County. Montgomery Hospital was also one of the first hospitals to establish a training school for nurses in the county. On April 1, 1893, the nursing school opened, welcoming local women to apply for the new program.
Times Herald, April 10, 1894
Since the training school was new, application requirements were, in some ways, less daunting than some of the nursing programs in the area today. Originally, any woman between the ages of 21 and 35, in good mental and physical health, and was educated could apply to the school. While this may not seem like many requirements, it is important to note that these requirements would make it difficult for women from low income families to compete with wealthier women who would be more likely to have several years of education. Furthermore, unlike today, men were expected to become doctors not nurses, and therefore were not welcome to apply to the program when it began. As the program grew and changed, so too did these application requirements.
Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, 1966
Part of what made Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing such a popular program in the region was its partnerships with local hospitals. The nurses’ training program required all students to work with doctors and patients in Montgomery Hospital. In 1944, the school expanded this hospital partnership to Norristown State Hospital, which offered nursing students with a wider variety of training, particularly with psychiatric related work.
Pulse Yearbook, 1971
Although the Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing produced hundreds of certified nurses from the program, it was no match for the hospital's looming financial troubles. As a non-profit hospital, it could not compete with the numerous local for-profit hospitals in the region. The Nursing school closed in 1975 and the hospital itself closed in September 2012.
Montgomery Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1965
To learn more about how Montgomery Hospital impacted our county’s history, be sure to see our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be a Gala on Thursday June 27, 2019 and the exhibit will be open to the public starting July 1, 2019 through March 2020.
Dolls have been around for centuries. Whether they are made from straw, fabric, wood, ceramic, or plastic, children throughout the world play with these timeless toys.
At HSMC, we have a number of dolls in our collection. However, one doll is quite different from the others. This wooden doll is painted black and has metal joints. Based on the design of the joints, it is supposed to imitate the movements of a dancer.
HSMC Doll - 1931.8412.014
This doll used to belong to Emeline H. Hooven, but the precise origins were not described when it was donated in 1931. Since dolls did not have ball joints until the turn of the 20th century, and given the inaccurate caricature of the doll’s face, we believe this doll was made around the early to mid-19th century.
Dolls like this one were the reason why black families called for better representation in the toy industry. They wanted their children to have toys that showed the beauty of their heritage and did not promote racial stereotypes. These calls for change encouraged Richard Henry Boyd to create the first black doll company, the National Negro Doll Company (NNDC), in 1907. Based in Tennessee, the NNDC made and shipped dolls to children as far north at Pennsylvania.
Mabel Parchman poses with her doll from the National Negro Doll Company (Nashville Globe, 11 April 1913).
Since Boyd’s company launched their first line of dolls, many similar toy companies have emerged. Today, children have access to a wide variety of dolls that are more likely to accurately represent them.
Photo Credit: Herstory Dolls
"The National Negro Doll Company.” The Tennessee Historical Society. https://www.tennesseehistory.org/national-negro-doll-company/
Everyone relies on hospitals at some point in their lives. We rely on the expertise of medical staff to treat diseases and help patients live longer, healthier lives. In many ways, hospitals have a substantial impact on the health and wellness of the surrounding community.
However, have we ever thought about how our local hospitals came into existence? Who were some of the medical pioneers in our county? How do certain medical related laws impact our communities? How do medical breakthroughs impact patients in our area hospitals? In our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we will explore the evolution of hospitals and medical treatment in Montgomery County.
Painting of Montgomery County Almshouse, by Charles Hoffman
If you have not seen our Made in Montgomery County exhibit, there is still time! The last day to view the exhibit will be Saturday February 2, 2019. After this exhibit closes, we will be preparing for our next exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, which will open in June 2019. As always, our exhibits are free and open to the public!
Part of Made In Montgomery Exhibit. Ending February 2, 2019!
Regardless of which holiday (or holidays) you celebrate, there are probably children in your family hoping to receive a present sometime this month. Although there are a wide variety of toys, one type of toy continues to captivate children, the toy car. Created alongside the first gasoline powered cars in the late 19th century, toy cars are a staple in most children’s lives.
At HSMC, we have two unique toy cars in our collection. The first car is a double decker bus and the second is a trolley. Both are metal, most likely made from tin or a tin alloy, and were likely made in the early 20th century. Both of these toys were found in Norristown, but the donor claimed they were made in England.
HSMC Toy Bus – 1935.8787.001
Since neither toy has a maker’s mark, we had to compare the designs of the toys to other ones made in the early 20th century. The toy bus looks similar to English designs produced by the London based company Lines Brothers Ltd. Their toys were made under the brand name “Tri-ang Toys”. In the picture below, you can see one of the wooden cars produced by Lines Brothers Ltd. in the 1920s/1930s. There are some noticeable differences between this one and the one at HSMC, which means it is possible that whoever made our bus was trying to mimic the Lines Brothers’ design.
Wooden Toy Bus, Lines Brothers, c. 1920 
The real mystery is who created the trolley? So far we have not been able to find any similar toy designs. Even historic, full scale trollies in Montgomery County do not have this oval, open top design.
HSMC Toy Trolley – 1935.8787.002
However, the letters “C. B. T.” on the side of the trolley could be an abbreviation for City of Birmingham Tramways, in Birmingham, England. When we looked at photographs of this company’s trollies, they do appear to have the same design. If you have seen any other toy trollies like the one at HSMC, please share your pictures with us!
 Vetics Auctions, LTD. https://www.vectis.co.uk/lines-brothers-triang-1920s-wooden-london-bus-dating-from-the-1920s-to-1930s-period-this-double-decker-inch-general-inch-london-bus-is-red-with-white-window-surrounds-to-lower-deck-inch-fairycycle-inch-advertising-to-upper-deck-and-inch-triang-toys-inch-t
 “City of Birmingham Tramways Company Ltd”. Wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Birmingham_Tramways_Company_Ltd
Recently, we have been researching two pipes that were claimed to be made by Native Americans. Although we were unable to pinpoint the creator of these pipes, we determined they were most likely created by someone in Montgomery County who was inspired by Native American culture or wanted to celebrate a specific event.
The first pipe is made from a hollow piece of wood and has a stone end shaped like a face. Although we are not sure of this pipe’s origin, the design of the face looks similar to Native American designs in the Central and Southern American region.
Pipe 1, HSMC
The second pipe also has a hollow wood piece. Unlike the previous pipe, this one has a long stone design at the end and is painted red. Without any distinct carvings, we are unsure where this pipe originated. However, since the pipes were housed together in our vaults, it seems likely that these two pipes were made by either the same individual or social group.
Pipe 2, HSMC
Although these two pipes are not authentic Native American pieces, they demonstrate people’s interest in Native American culture. So what does an authentic Native American pipe look like? Observe the picture below.
Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
This is a Sisseton Dakota pipe bowl and stem, c. 1870. It is made from catlinite pipestone, wood, mallard feathers, porcupine quills, horse hair, ribbon, wool cloth, and sinew. Unlike the two pipes at HSMC, authentic Native American pipes like this one are made from thick, strong wood. Authentic pipes are often decorated with feathers, string, beads, or carvings.
Native American pipes have different functions, depending on the tribe. Pipes like the one from NMAI are often used as a way to pray. According to George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), “Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper, and the pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participant as they pray.”
 George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin). “Ceremonial Pipes”. https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/horsenation/pipes.html
Tonight is Halloween. Some of our ancestors believed this was the only night during the year when the spirits of the dead could walk the Earth. So what better time to talk about a mysterious grave marker than tonight?!
Unknown Grave Marker, HSMC
At HSMC, we have this heavy grave marker, believed to be made from limestone. It took two people to lift it off the shelf to take photos. The only markings are the initials “A. S.” Although our records have not yet revealed the name of this person, we can learn more about them just by examining this grave marker.
Different rocks were used for making grave markers throughout American history. Slate and sandstone were used primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. Marble and limestone were most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, most are made from granite because they do not deteriorate as quickly. Since we believe this grave marker is made from limestone, we can estimate that A. S. lived around the 18th or 19th centuries.
Burial Plot for John F. Hartranft at Historic Montgomery Cemetery
We can also look at the overall design of the grave marker to learn more about this person. Given that there are no engraved designs, it is possible A. S. did not have the money for these designs. Compare A.S.’s marker to the obelisk that marks the burial plot for John F. Hartranft (December 16, 1830 – October 17, 1889). Being a former Pennsylvania Governor and Civil War General, Hartranft had plenty of money to pay for a large family plot.
The identity and burial location of A. S. may be a mystery for now, but hopefully someday we will be able to uncover the rest of this mystery.
Since the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Tuesday October 9, I wanted to share two objects connected to the history of women voters in Montgomery County. When the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, politicians realized the need to alter their campaign strategies. Advocate groups, such as the League of Women Voters, were formed to encourage people to vote.
2016.152.007f – League of Women Voters, Upper Merion
Since their establishment in Chicago in 1920, local chapters of the League of Women Voters have emerged throughout the United States, including here in Montgomery County. This group provided, and continues to provide, voters with an understanding of current issues, government processes, and current political candidates. The League of Women Voters created tags and pins, like the one depicted in the picture above, to hand out to voters before and on Election Day.
As time progressed, women became increasingly active in politics. To appeal to women voters, politicians created items, such as this potholder, to encourage women to vote for them.
2018.193 - Given in Memory of A. Patricia McCann
This potholder was one of many commissioned by the Coughlin for Congress campaign in the 1960’s. Robert Lawrence Coughlin was a Republican running for PA State Representative for Montgomery County. Since many women spent time in the kitchen, Coughlin and other candidates realized making an item women could use on a daily basis would be great advertising for their campaign. This particular potholder was given to A. Patricia McCann, for her participation in Coughlin’s campaign. McCann was a Republican Committee Woman and Co-Chairperson in King of Prussia during the early 1960s. For candidates, politically active women like McCann were becoming crucial for their success.
Today, political candidates and advocate groups continue to create items to encourage people to vote. Some of the most common items we see are: political t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the “I Voted” stickers.
To many people, the introduction of trains in Montgomery County was a welcomed change in transportation. However, while trains were a faster way to travel, it was not uncommon for them to derail during the earliest days of their use. At HSMC, we have a piece of metal believed to be from one of these train wrecks.
Piece of Metal from Gwynedd Train Wreck
On Saturday November 21, 1903, a train derailed shortly after leaving Gwynedd Station. The engine and one passenger car jumped off the track and slid down an embankment when trying to cross the Wissahickon. Sadly, one passenger, Clement Custer, and one fireman, Harry Roderick, were killed. Several other passengers were injured.
Although this train wreck may not appear to be unusual when compared to similar accidents, the cause of this wreck was quite unusual. According to the Times Herald, the authorities believed the rail road tracks were sabotaged! There were two theories as to why someone would sabotage the tracks.
First, the previous week, a group of intoxicated African American men were forced off the same train when they reached Landsdale. Some people claimed the men said they would take revenge for being forced off the train.
The second theory, some people believed the sabotage could have been part of a robbery plan. According to Great Train Wrecks of Eastern Pennsylvania, the Black Diamond Express, which carried large sums of money, was scheduled to pass the sabotaged tracks before this passenger train. The tracks were bent without cutting the bond wire, which would have triggered the signal system and alerted oncoming trains. This could only have been accomplished by a person who knew the train schedule and understood the construction of the tracks.
In spite of these two theories, no arrests were ever made and the exact reason for the sabotage remains a mystery. The Times Herald mentions the wreck four times over the next few weeks, but investigators were unable to find the person responsible for the sabotage. Was it the result of a disgruntled passenger or railroad worker? Was the saboteur just looking to get rich? This is one mystery we may never solve.