Thursday, 29 August 2019 19:35

Early days of Norristown

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Our hardworking trustee and volunteer, Ed Ziegler found a great map of the early days of Norristown this morning.

The map was made in 1926 by Simon Cameron Corson, a man who knew Norristown inside and out. He was born in 1863 and attended Treemount Seminary (along with nearly every other male Norristonian of note). He trained as a civil engineer, and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for several years. He was one of the many engineers sent to rebuild the railroad after the Johnstown Flood. Ten years later, he was elected Borough Engineer in Norristown. In that position he improved the borough’s streets, storm drains, and designed Elmwood Park. After 33 years, he left that position to be the administrator of the park, a position he held until a few months before his death at the age of 85 in 1948.

S Cameron Corson

According to his obituary, “it was an undisputed fact that he was the best informed of historical facts in Norristown.”

We have many of Corson’s drawings in our collection, and a few of them are of early Norristown. This one is interesting for several reasons. First, he added color, which just makes the map beautiful. Then there are the little details he added.

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Here is William Smith’s house. Smith was the first provost of the College of Philadelphia (it would later merge with the University of the State of Pennsylvania forming the University of Pennsylvania). His house, as you can see, was located on Barbadoes Island. Although he was appointed by Benjamin Franklin, they were polar opposites politically. The map declares Smith a Tory. His biography on the University of Pennsylvania’s website suggests a more complicated story. Smith argued for the rights of the colonists but spoke out against revolution.

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The map also shows a small Lenni Lenape village labeled “Turtle Munsey Delaware Tribes.” Munsee was one of the languages spoken by the Lenni Lenapi (or Delaware), and Turtle was one of the three clans of the tribe.

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Finally, there’s a little bit of downtown. The only labeled intersection in this part of the map is Egypt (Main) and Cherry Alley (presumably Cherry St.), so we have a good idea of where this is today.  The Norrington Inn is identified and dated to 1690.  It's interesting to see what in in Norristown a few decades before the borough incorporated in 1812.

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