Nancy Sullivan, Archivist
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Climbing down chimneys: check.
Stockings hung by chimney with care: check.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
1 From https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/red-arrow-lines/ accessed Nov. 15, 2018
The Faust Tannery of Ambler operated for over 100 years. It was founded in 1790 by Jonathan Thomas at intersection of Bethlehem and Butler Pikes, when that area was known as Gilky’s Corner (now sometimes called Rose Valley).
Look carefully, and you can find the tannery on this map from 1871
Thomas was a Quaker, who ran the business until his death in 1808. In 1810, Thomas’s son sold the property to James Rutter, another Quaker, who also bought the 35 acre farm that was next to the tannery.
In 1841, Rutter took on Alvin D. Faust as an apprentice. Faust was a native of Lehigh County and a Pennsylvania German. Alvin’s son, Alvin B. Faust wrote a remembrance of his father and the tannery in our Bulletin in 1942. He described his father as “a hustler….From his early youth he had learned to work hard and long.” After a few years of working for Rutter, Faust returned to his family farm in Lehigh County. Alvin B. writes that Alvin D. had to make trips to Philadelphia for supplies, and he sometimes stopped at Rutter’s farm for an overnight stay.
In 1850, Faust bought the tannery from the aging Rutter. He also bought 7 acres of land and a frame house on the south side of Bethlehem Pike. In 1867, he tore the frame house down and replaced it with a brick house. There is a brick house on the site today, which might be that that house (Alvin B. says it was still standing in 1942). When Faust moved in, his wife had never seen the place. The original frame house had once been used to raise silkworms during the decades when the northeast had a bit of a silk craze. Abandoned cocoons had to be cleared away before the family could move in.
Faust Tannery at the time it was sold
Up to Alvin D. Faust’s death in 1884, about half the tannery’s business was making leather for boots and shoes. Around that time, Faust’s son writes that leather top boots were growing rarer, and it proved to be unprofitable. After that point, Faust Tannery specialized in leather for harnesses.
It was important for the business to be on the road to Philadelphia, but also important was the stream running by the land, now known as Tannery Run. Originally, the water powered the bark mill run by the tannery (more about bark in a second). In 1862, Faust installed a 10 horse power steam engine for power. The water source was still essential to the tanning process, however. Tree bark was used in the process of tanning. The tannery bought ground bark by the ton. It was put into large vats of water for leeching. The hide was soaked in this liquid for eight to nine months. Until 1910, the used liquid was run into the creek (after 1910 that was prohibited by the state).
Tannery Run today
In 1876, Faust Tannery won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition. The business worked with other companies throughout the northeast, as far away as Chicago.
Alvin B. writes that the business was prosperous until after World War I, when trucks and automobiles replaced horse drawn vehicles. They stopped ordering new hides in 1920, and the business closed down in 1925. In 1940 all of the equipment and the building was sold off.
Last month the Historical Society received a donation of materials from Citizens’ Building & Loan Association in Telford.
The institution went through many name changes over the decades, but its beginnings were simple enough. In 1905 about twenty men of Telford met to discuss starting a building and loan association, according to a typewritten history of the organization’s first years that was included with the materials. That meeting led to a bigger meeting, held on November 9, when the assembled men elected W. B. Butterwick chairman and E. C. Leidy secretary. William S. Schlichter from the Sellersville Building and Loan spoke to the group about the benefits of such associations. “Ninety-two were subscribed for before the meeting adjourned,” the history tells us. In January, 1906 the Building & Loan made its first loans to John M. Overholt and Clayton H. Detweiler, both for $600.
The collection includes many of the association’s annual reports, starting with the third annual report in 1908. Meetings were held monthly in the Fireman’s Hall in Telford. The 23rd annual report explains, “The primary aim of the Organization is to aid the rising generation to homes, thrift and saving, sharing in high standard financiering.”
I was curious to see how the crash in 1929 altered the association. In the 1928 report lists $11,459.04 cash in the bank. In 1929, that number is $4,925.00. The number of accounts in arrears increased from 13 to 22. The 1930 annual report was not included with the papers, but by 1931 the number of accounts in arrears was up to 43. They increased to 54 in 1932 and 64 in 1933. The trend reversed in 1934 with 44 accounts in arrears, and they continued to decrease from then on. The other change during the Depression has to do with who was auditing the association. In the early years, the three auditors all had the same last names as directors of the Building & Loan. From 1938 on, the books were audited by an outside firms.
In 1954, the annual report lists that they’ve opened an office at 116 South Main Street in Telford that would be open the first ten business days of the month, and for the first time, a phone number is listed.
In 1959, the name changed to Telford Savings and Loan Association, and in 1964 it moved to a new building at 20 South Main Street. In 1979, the association was acquired by Red Hill Savings, which had twelve branches at that time. Red Hill Savings merged with several other banks after deregulation in the 1980’s and became Hill Financial. By 1989, it was the largest savings institution in Pennsylvania. It then collapsed with the rest of the savings and loan industry. It was eventually bought by Meridian Bank Corporation of Reading.
After several more mergers, what was Citizens’ Building and Loan Association, is now part of Wells Fargo, which still operates the building at 20 South Main Street.
This week I was working on the diaries of Judge Harold G. Knight, who sat on the bench here in Montgomery County and for two decades was president of the Montgomery County courts. Knight kept diaries for most of his life. Our collection covers the years 1893 to 1962. The diaries have many enclosures, items such as programs, letters, and newspaper clippings, that have been paperclipped to the relevant dates in the diaries.
One of the enclosures I came across concerned a murder trial that Judge Knight presided over in 1930. On July 4, 1930, Antoinette McCarris shot Joseph Lee in the back with a shot gun killing him. The earliest report in the Norristown Times-Herald (July 5, 1930) described Mrs. McCarris as a “pretty brunette.” It also described her as married to Joseph Lee, but that turned out not to be the case.
Three years earlier, McCarris had left her husband in Virginia and run off with Lee, a former sailor, bringing her two children with her. They eventually settled on a small farm in Worcester, and both were 26 at the time of the killing. The police believed she murdered Lee out of jealously. Lee had shown interest in a younger woman, Bernice Doyle of Kensington. McCarris claimed the shooting was an accident that occurred when she fired off the shot gun to celebrate the 4th.
Given that several people had heard McCarris threaten to kill Lee on several occasions, the District Attorney, Frank X. Renninger, brought her up on charges of first degree murder and sought the death penalty.
The trial started on November 17th. It was Judge Knight’s first murder case. He wrote in his diary that day, “I confess it worries me considerably.” The first day was jury selection. The judge writes that one man declared he had a conscientious objection to capital punishment. “In about one case in twenty these were sincere in the other cases they were pure exhibitors of moral cowardice,” the judge writes.
The next day, two boys, Thomas Hicks, 14, and his brother James, 12, testified for the prosecution. Their father owned the farm Lee and McCarris were renting. Both boys reported that the couple had been fighting over Lee’s interest in Doyle. James claimed to have seen the shooting and demonstrated how McCarris pointed the shotgun at the kitchen door. The Commonwealth called a total of 25 witnesses before resting its case. Then Antoinette McCarris took the stand in her own defense.
“It was the most dramatic and tense hours I have ever seen in a court room,” Judge Knight wrote. He described McCarris as “young [and] frail.” He points out that she was married and a mother at only 15. “She made a deep impression on the just and I am beginning to have some doubts myself as to whether she actually intended to kill the man for whom she left her husband and family three years ago.”
According to the newspaper reports, McCarris denied both threatening to kill Lee and that the couple ever argued about Doyle. Under cross examination, however, she admitted to being jealous of the younger, blond Doyle. McCarris always stuck to her defense that the shooting was an accident. She said she loaded and cocked the gun in the house with the intention of firing it off in the yard.
The jurors, six men and six women, deliberated the case for two hours before returning to the courtroom. The Times-Herald described McCarris as being in a daze when the foreman announced the verdict “not guilty.”
Having no place to go after the trial, she returned to jail, while her lawyer, Edward F. Kane, made arrangements for her to return to Virginia to stay with relatives.
Judge Knight noted in his diary that the verdict was popular. He also wrote that she was acquitted “despite the powerful evidence produced by the Commonwealth and the inherent weakness of her own story.” He goes on, “It was just one of those cases where a pitiful and appealing woman was the defendant, accused of shooting the man she had left her home for and whom she feared had grown tired of her. The just looked upon her deed as justified and decided the case on their view of its moralities and not the law.”