Found in Collection

Found in Collection (203)

Wednesday, 12 May 2021 15:50

Burgess Rev. J. Elmer Saul

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We recently received some digital pictures depicting former Norristown Buress, Rev. John Elmer Saul. He was born on November 2, 1872 in Maidencreek, Berks County. He was a reverend at the First Baptist Church of Pottstown prior to coming to Norristown. 

J Elmer Saul with wife Eleanor Nellie Saul, L to R   Ruth Saul, Frances Saul ,Raymond Saul (2)

From left to right - J. Elmer Saul, wife Eleanor "Nellie" Saul, Ruth Saul, Frances Saul, Raymond Saul.

Saul was elected Burgess in a close, three-way race in 1913. He narrowly won election by 23 votes! Saul was the Washington Party candidate. This was a progressive third party that split from the Republican Party around 1912. Outside of Pennsylvania it is referred to as the Progressive Party or Bull Moose Party. Saul's competitors were Republican Abraham D. Hallman and Democrat T. J. Baker.


Philadelphia Inquirer, November 6, 1913

Saul's term as Burgess occurred just before Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. Saul was known for his support of Prohibition and thus frequently pushed for anti-alcohol policies in the borough. He remained Burgess until 1918. Based on an article in the Evening Public Ledger, it seems Saul chose not to run again for office. Samuel D. Crawford was elected as his replacement.

Eureka Printing Press on Barbadoes St Norristown (1)

Eureka Printing Press Advertisement

In addition to being Burgess, Saul was an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Norristown. He was often credited for his superb speaking abilities. In addition to his religious work, Saul founded the Eureka Printing Press Company in 1902. This company was located on Barbadoes St. in Norristown.

Back row Ruth Saul, Raymond Saul. First row J Elmer Saul, Helen Saul in lap, Eleanor Saul, Frances Saul (1)

Back Row - Ruth Saul and Raymond Saul. Front Row - J. Elmer Saul, Helen Saul (in lap), Eleanor Saul, Frances Saul.

Thank you Susan Weidner Novak for sending us these digital images and information about Burgess Saul!



Philadelphia Inquirer, November 6, 1913.


Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]) 1914-1942, November 07, 1917, Final, Page 10, Image 10 “Wets and Drys”

The Bankers Encyclopedia, Volume 47,

Industrial Directory of Pennsylvania, Volume 2


Thursday, 22 April 2021 17:47

George W. Smythe

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A few years ago, I wrote a blog about Major General George W. Smythe, a Norristonian and hero of World War II. That piece was based on a Saturday Evening Post article about his work leading the 47th Infantry during the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

This morning, I found a scrapbook about Symthe created by Ronald E. Heaton, his classmate in the Norristown High School summer class of 1917.  This scrapbook was too interesting not to write about, even if I am repeating myself a little.

boy scout

Smythe was born in Norristown in 1899, the 13th of 13 children. He was in Norristown’s first Boy Scout troop, founded in 1910. At Norristown High School he took the commercial course, and in his letters to Heaton, he reflects on the usefulness of classes like shorthand and typing.

After high school, Smythe attended West Chester Normal School and Muhlenburg College before entering West Point. He played both baseball and football there, and his 50 yard run in the 1922 Army-Navy match-up was credited for winning the game. After graduating in 1924, he spent a lot of time in various parts of the country training other soldiers. His correspondence with Heaton picks up in 1936, while Smythe was assigned at West Point.


In September of 1940, Smythe was appointed Plans & Training Officer of the 27th Infantry Regiment located in Hawaii. He moved there with his wife and two sons, and his letters from this time read like a family-friendly version of From Here to Eternity. He wrote Heaton a brief description of the bombing:

“All the Smythe family survived the attack – and belive me all of us were in the thick of it – that is to say, we were vulnerable in as much as the air attack hovered over us for at least ten minutes. The kids, not knowing what it was all about, stood outside and thought it was an act by our own airservice [sic]. I think they will long remember it when they realize the seriousness of it all.”


After a brief stint in Washington, Smythe was sent to North Africa as part of the SOS, but soon got himself assigned to a combat division, becoming commanding officer of the 47th Infantry Regiment. He soon crossed the Mediterranean into Sicily where he says he met many Italians who had visited the US and spoke English. “Most of them are very glad to see the Americans,” he wrote in a letter dated August 23, 1943.

From Sicily, he went to England to prepare for the invasion of France. His letters of course were subject to censorship, but we know from later accounts that his regiment captured the important port city of Cherbourg, and he personally accepted the German commander’s pistol as a sign of surrender.

blue ridge

A map Smythe sent his friend Ronald Heaton after the war

On March 7, 1945 the 9th Division (of which Smythe’s 47th Regiment was a part) discovered the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen was still standing despite German attempts to destroy all the Rhine bridges. Smythe and 47th  were stationed at the center of the bridge, which they held against several German attacks, and established a bridgehead on the other side of the Rhine. Six divisions were able to cross before the bridge collapsed from the repeated bombings. This greatly increased the speed of the Allied invasion.

Too smart

After the war, Smythe stayed in the army. In Korea, he commanded the 3rd Infantry Division (where he commanded President Eisenhower’s son) and later he was an advisor to President Chiang Kai-shek. He retired from the Army in 1957. He died on January 16, 1969 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1971, Ronald Heaton petitioned the Norristown School Board to name the new high school after Smythe. They denied his request.

Thursday, 15 April 2021 16:01

Economy of a Freezer-Locker

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One thing I remember about my grandma’s kitchen was that it was a little like a time machine. These days, people update their kitchens often, but my grandma’s kitchen was straight out of the 1950’s. It was small and closed off from the rest of the house, so I don’t think there’s any pictures of the table with metal trim and legs, the stove with an analog clock, or the short, fat, old refrigerator. You might remember the kind I mean with the heavy metal door and the handle that unlatched it.

Those refrigerators didn’t have much of a freezer. It was just a small compartment within the refrigerator. Looking back, I guess my grandmother just didn’t buy much frozen food, which was only coming into its own in the 1950’s.  Here at the Historical Society, the Knapp Family Papers from the 1940's and 1950's contain several booklets on how to properly freeze food.


This 1944 booklet produced by the Agricultural Extension Service of Penn State is what got me thinking about all of this. When I first saw this booklet last summer, I couldn’t figure out what the woman was doing. It looked to me almost as though she was storing food in a mausoleum! The inside explains that these are actually commercial freezers that families rented. They averaged about 6 cubic feet of space (smaller than many home freezers now) and were often rented by grocery stores and butchers. A family could save money buying meat or vegetables in bulk or growing food themselves and storing it in one of these freezers.


The booklet goes on to show just how much work went into food planning and preparation. It advises keeping a chart or map of what is in the freezer. Vegetables had to be blanched and then properly packaged usually in cellophane and then in paper boxes before freezing.

Another booklet from the same collection gives instructions on how to freeze poultry both “ready-to-cook” and the fresher variety. It advises the birds be wrapped in aluminum foil. There are also instructions for freezing cooked chicken and turkey and some interesting recipes including turkey chop suey and the classic chicken a la king.


This 1944 newspaper ad from PECO suggests that such freezers didn’t come into this area until after World War II.


Two are listed in the 1951 Norristown City Directory: Norristown Frozen Food Lockers on E. Lafayette and Termine’s Frosted Foods on Arch St. Termine’s seems to have been short lived, but the lockers on E. Lafayette stayed in business until 1960. We don’t have any photographs of these places in our collection, and I wasn’t able to find any advertisements for either of them. So I wonder if either of our readers remember them or other rental freezers in Montgomery County?

Thursday, 08 April 2021 15:43

Holly Brothers' Cheese

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It's really starting to feel like spring and that got me thinking about our local farmers, who are likely in the midst of preparing their crops. We have a few artifacts at HSMC connected to local farms and companies that worked closely with them. One such artifact is this wooden cheese box from the Holly Brothers' Cheese Factory. 

Holly Bros 2

Holly Bros. Cheese Box, HSMC Collection

These boxes were used to distribute Holly Brothers' well-known hand cheese. This type of cheese is made with sour milk and was then formed by hand, hence its name. In some historic documents, the company's cheese is referred to as "Dutch Hand Cheese." It seems likely this description was used to tie it back to the cheese making processes used in Germany and the Netherlands

Charles and Theodore Holly purchased a cheese factory in Souderton from Adolph Erdin in 1892. The brothers used sour milk from local creameries to make their cheese. Part of their process involved removing whey from the sour milk. Oftentimes, whey that was removed during the cheese making process was sold back to the same farmers who originally provided the sour milk to the factory.

Souderton PA SM

Map of Souderton, PA c. 1894

In the above map, the red circle indicates the location of Holly Brothers' in Souderton. Although not pictured in the map, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, a tile pipe connected the basement to the nearby Skippack Creek. This pipe was used to help dispose of waste products.

By 1912, the company had started making cream cheese as well as their popular hand cheese. Holly Brothers' was making an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 boxes of cheese every week. Each box weighted roughly eight to nine pounds.


Holly Brothers' (number 6), 1924 Sanborn map of Souderton, Penn State Digital Collections

In the January 1923 edition of the Express Gazette Journal, Holly Brothers' was listed as one of Souderton's favorite industries. The company had become so popular it even shipped cheese to big cities as far away as St. Louis and New York City. C. H. Allebach is credited with this increase in production after joining the company in 1919.

I have not yet found an exact closing date for Holly Brothers', but it likely closed sometime in the mid-1900s.





Thursday, 01 April 2021 16:39

Willow Grove's Mineral Springs

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mineral springs

For centuries, people with various ailments have traveled to mineral springs to drink and bathe in healing waters. The minerals in spring water were thought to heal skin conditions, ease indigestion, and cure many other complaints. In Montgomery County, Abington and Willow Grove were once well known for their mineral springs.

Thomas Hallowell was the first to advertise “Mineral Spaw Water” in 1768. Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet on the local water in 1773. He  referred to it as “Abington Water” and claimed the water was high in iron. Thomas French was the first to build a bath, but he was followed by others who also offered accommodation, and the area around “Willow Grove Springs” soon became a popular country retreat.

In 1784, a blacksmith from Germantown named George Rex, bought 39 acres around the springs and developed a tavern and hotel called the Mineral Springs Inn. Rex had showers and plunging baths at his inn and advertised that visitors from Philadelphia could take a daily stage coach to his establishment. The hotel stayed in the family until 1865 when John Berrell bought it. Charles Ehrenpfort bought the hotel in 1890 and undertook a large expansion in 1895.


When Willow Grove Park was built on swamp land south of the springs a year later, it became the main attraction and the mineral waters were forgotten.  Although the hotel stayed open and remained successful, few guests were drinking water.  Prohibition hit the hotel’s business hard.  It clsoed and was razed in the 1930’s.

Today, the location of the hotel and spring is the Veteran’s Memorial Park. In 2003, the Upper Moreland Historical Association began an excavation of the mineral spring with the goal of restoring it and incorporating it into the existing park. As part of the process, the Montgomery County Health Department tested the mineral content of the water and found it to be similar to the water throughout the county..


Sources: Weiss, Harry B. and Howard R. Kemble. The Took to the Waters: The Forgotten Mineral Spring Resorts of New Jersey and Nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware.  The Past Times Press, Trenton, NJ, 1962.

Scwanger, Michael J. and Jean Barth Toll.  Montgomery County: The Second Hundred Years. Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies, Norristown, PA, 1983.

Upper Moreland Historical Association website,, accessed 4/1/2021.

Thursday, 25 March 2021 17:44

Cooking for the sick

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In past centuries, when doctors were scarce, expensive, and often unhelpful, the average person treated medical ills at home. Home remedies were passed down the generations in hand-written receipt books. When cookbooks became popular in the late Eighteenth Century, many included a chapter on treating diseases and cooking for invalids.

I got thinking about this today when I examined a ledger from the county almshouse. Dated from 1919 to 1924, the ledger seems to record food served to the inhabitants of the home. Now, I should say, this is really conjecture. The book itself has no label or indication of what it is. Pages are labeled with a name (presumably a building at the home) and a month. The days of the month run down the left side of the page. Different kinds of food run along the top of the page. I surmise that this book records what was served rather than what was purchased because I think it’s unlikely that they shopped every day and it doesn’t record any prices.

almshouse food

Foods served in the hospital building are on their own pages. To me what’s striking is the number of eggs served. In the other buildings eggs seem to have been a weekly treat, but the hospital served them every day.

hosp food

Several cookbooks in our collection contain sections for cooking for the “sickroom.” The Willing Workers Cook Book published by the Willing Workers Society of the Frieden’s Church in Sumneytown offers recipes for beef tea, toast water, and egg lemonade:

Beat one egg with one tablespoon sugar until very light; stir in three tablespoons cold water and juice of small lemon, fill glass with pounded ice and drink through straw.

The Aceola Cookbook, a local classic, gives a recipe for albuminized milk (egg whites, milk, lime, sugar, and brandy) to treat weak stomachs. There’s also a recipe for koumiss (often spelled kumis) the fermented mare’s milk drink favored by the horse riders of the Asian steppe.


Besides recipes for simple foods that sick people could easily digest, some books offered recipes for more direct treatments. Mackenzie’s Ten Thousand Receipts in the Useful and Domestic Arts includes instructions on everything from fish culture to fireworks. In the medical chapter it offers treatments for a variety of ailments (most involve bleeding the person and giving them alcohol). For coughs it recommends a mixture of black currant jelly and niter. Here are some recipes for sore throat:



Thursday, 18 March 2021 16:47

Daring Balloon Ascension

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balloon image

Montgomery County has a long history of ballooning. Both our readers might remember our blogs on Thaddeus Lowe, the father of American ballooning, and Connie Wolf, one time women’s ballooning record holder.

In 1909, Prof. Harry Jewell of Springfield, Illinois (balloonists were all “professors”) launched his balloon over Grand View Heights, part of Norristown and East Norriton that runs along DeKalb. The New England Land Company developed the area and was selling off lots at the time. The company provided a free trolley ride out to the area and several ascensions a day.

Grand View Heights 3

Professor Jewel didn’t just go up in a balloon, float for a while, and come back down. For one thing, Jewell, whose brothers Ed and Thomas were also balloonists, didn’t ride in a basket (or car). He held on to an iron bar. The southerly winds blew Jewell over to the Penn Square racetrack where Jewell let go and dropped by parachute to the ground. The Daily Herald reported that he encountered a large tree on the way down and suffered some scratches. The New England Land Company sold 32 lots.

balloon jump

In 1890, Prof. Harry’s brother Ed, performed a similar stunt in Pottstown. According to the Pottstown Ledger, he rose up to a height of 5000 feet (this might be exaggeration, most hot-air balloons don’t go higher than 3000 feet) before parachuting to the ground. The Ledger described him as “holding tightly to the hoop above,” which is how he appears in the advertisement. 

Ballooning was a common feature of fairs and circuses. In 1945, “Norris” (Edward Hocker) reported a 1908 quote from a Garrett N. Nichols of Oaks, “When I was a young lad, I was walking across a pasture field of the Indian Rock farm of Port Providence. I heard someone call. I halted, quickly looked around me, but could see no one. I began to think I was bewitched or had tramped on the hind leg of a ghost, when the voice sounded nearer. I looked up and there was a balloon. The man in the car asked many questions: the names of towns he could see and I could not – Royersford, Pottstown, Trappe, Skippack. He let go several bags of ballast sand, and up into the sky he went. Later I read he had landed near Boyerstown.”

According to Hocker, that aeronaut was Washington H. Donaldson, who would later disappear in a balloon over Lake Michigan.

Thursday, 11 March 2021 14:34

Bristol Glass

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Whether you are a glass collector or are the recipient of family heirlooms, you likely have come across Bristol Glass. While colored glassware can be found as far back as ancient Mesopatamia, most Bristol Glass was made during the Victorian era.

Bristol Glass gets its name from the region it was made: Bristol, United Kingdom. Located right on the western coast of Britain, Bristol was a perfect location for glassmakers wishing to export their goods to British Colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Near the peak of its glass production, Bristol had an estimated 60 different glassmakers. 


Bristol Opaque Vases, 1978.011.009ab, HSMC Collection

This pair of vases at HSMC is an example of Bristol Opaque White Glass. That means the glassmaker created a vase that was not clear, unlike most glassware we use today. Such opaque glassware was decorated with floral designs. The goal of the glassmaker was to mimic the decorative designs seen in porcelain and transferware pottery.

20210311 092906

Bristol Opaque Vases, 1978.011.009ab, HSMC Collection

In addition to mimicking pottery designs, glassmakers favored the opaque glass designs to avoid paying additional taxes. In 1746, British Parliament made a new tax on clear glass, but not opaque or colored glass. To make this opaque color, the glassmakers used a tin oxide. They then used paint and enamels to create colorful floral designs. Lead was also used to make the glass more durable. Most of these Bristol Glassware were made into bottles and vases as it did not withstand boiling water well.

Bristol blue on a shelf arp

Example of Blue Glass, Wikipedia

In addition to these opaque glass designs, Bristol is also famous for its Blue Glass. For much of the 20th century, glassmakers used cobalt oxide in their furnaces to make the glassware blue. This type of glassware was expensive and thus was found mostly in wealthier households.

Bristol Glass is often confused with Milk Glass. Unlike Bristol Glass, Milk Glass is most commonly solid white in color and is molded into different designs rather than having the designs painted onto it. This type of glassware is extremely common in the United States. There's a good chance you have seen examples of it at thrift stores and yard sales.

Bowl milk glass

Example of Milk Glass, Wikipedia



Issitt, David M. “Bristol Glass.” Historic Bristol, 2008.

“Bristol Blue Glass – A Long Proud History.” The Original Bristol Blue Glass, 2021.

“Bristol Blue Glass.” Wikipedia, 16 December 2020.


Thursday, 04 March 2021 18:36

Schissler College

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The Albertson Trust Building, showing Schissler College on the second floor

Recently one of our members sent me a link to a postcard for a long forgotten business school in Norristown and suggested it might make an interesting topic for this blog. I recognized the name from some items in our collection and thought maybe others would find it interesting.

Schissler College began as a night school founded by the 23 year old A. J. Schissler in 1887. Schissler had been born in Manayunk and attended school only to the age of nine when he was sent to work at a local mill. He continued his education by attending night school and at 21 he took a business class and was able to begin clerical work at a local grain merchant. He began the school by teaching in his home two nights a week, but soon expanded to nightly classes in separate buildings. Day classes began in 1890.


The following year, Schissler founded a second school in Norristown. Housed in the Albertson Trust Company building at the corner of Main and Swede Streets, it had classes during the day and in the evenings for both men and women.


Example of shorthand from the 1896 prospectus

Courses at the college included bookkeeping, commercial law, penmanship, shorthand, and typing. Students could also choose an academic course “for pupils who contemplate a more complete course of study, but are not prepared to enter upon it, because of lack of early education.” French, Italian, and Spanish were also available for an addition fee of $5 per month.


The college also maintained an employment bureau for its students, and the college prospectus has a long list of firms at which it has placed students. In addition to three years of the college’s catalogs, we also have a graduation booklet from 1896. That year, the Norristown College graduated 53 men and 64 women in a ceremony at the Grand Opera House.

I don’t know how long the college lasted. The latest record I could find of it was this 1915 advertisement from the Conshohocken Reporter.

schissler ad

Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:50

Ice Cream

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With all the snow that’s been dropping on us lately, a fad for making snow ice cream has been popping up around the internet. And it got us thinking – who was the first person to sell ice cream in Norristown?

Edward Hocker addressed that question in a June, 1940 “Up and Down Montgomery County” article in the Times-Herald. He refers to a 1912 memoir of Sarah Slinguff Rex in which she claimed Emanuel Johnson was the first local businessman to offer ice cream. He sold cakes and candies at his shop on the northeast corner of DeKalb and Lafayette Streets. In the summer he added ice cream, originally just for the Fourth of July and other summer days when Norristown had a parade. By 1837, he was offering ice cream all summer.

ice cream

I found several of his advertisements in the late 1830’s.

ice cream 2

I couldn’t find out much about Emanuel Johnson, though. City directories only go back to 1860, and he isn’t listed there. Johnson does appear in the 1840 census as a head of a household of seven. Note that he is the only male in the family. Unfortunately, it’s not until the 1850 census that census takers started collecting more information.

johnson census

The 1840 Census from

Johnson 1850 census

The 1850 Census from

But the only Emanuel Johnson in the 1850 census is 12 years old. It could be that Emanuel the ice cream seller had passed away and this is his widow, but no boys were listed in the 1840 census. So, I checked our obituary index for the 1840’s and found one for Emanuel Johnson in the April 28, 1847 issue of the Herald. It’s merely a brief statement of his death on the 23rd. Such curt announcements were not unusual in the 19th century.

Johnson obit

Johnson’s advertisements stopped appearing in the Herald and Free Press around 1840. It’s possible he stopped selling ice cream in the face of competition. Hocker reported that Ward’s restaurant added ice cream to their summer menu. I found an advertisement for Ward’s in 1841 promoting its private ladies’ dining room.

ward ice cream

It's sad that the enterprising Johnson wasn't able to enjoy his sucess for very long.


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