Karen Ploch, Curator

Karen Ploch, Curator

Wednesday, 12 May 2021 15:50

Burgess Rev. J. Elmer Saul

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. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/44632687/phila-inquirer-6-nov-1913/


Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]) 1914-1942, November 07, 1917, Final, Page 10, Image 10 “Wets and Drys” https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn83045211/1917-11-07/ed-1/seq-10/ocr.txt

The Bankers Encyclopedia, Volume 47,

Industrial Directory of Pennsylvania, Volume 2


Thursday, 08 April 2021 15:43

Holly Brothers' Cheese

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, 11 March 2021 14:34

Bristol Glass

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.

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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. http://www.seebristol.co.uk/bristolglass.html

“Bristol Blue Glass – A Long Proud History.” The Original Bristol Blue Glass, 2021. https://bristol-glass.co.uk/pages/bristol-blue-glass-history

“Bristol Blue Glass.” Wikipedia, 16 December 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_blue_glass


Thursday, 04 February 2021 19:37


While researching places in Montgomery County connected to Black history, I came across claims that enslaved people and Native Americans are buried at Pawlings Cemetery, a private cemetery near Graterford prison (marked by the blue point in the picture below).

Pawlings Cemetery

Location of Pawlings Cemetery

We know there were several Montgomery County families who had enslaved people even prior to the formation of the county in 1784. It was not until the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 that slavery was slowly removed from Pennsylvania over several decades.

However, this was the first time I learned of an actual gravesite for enslaved people in our county. Determined to learn more, I looked through our cemetery photos at HSMC. Sure enough, I located a file labeled "Pawlings Cemetery." Back in 1978 someone got permission to go to the cemetery and take photographs of the headstones. Although not the high quality photographs you see with today's cameras, you can make out names on many of the headstones.

Ben John Eliza

Elizabeth Pawling

Then I came to the last photograph in the file. A small headstone surrounded by trees and leaves.


I could not see any writing on the stone so I turned over the photo to see what was written on the back. This is what I saw: "slave."

Liza back

I admit my heart may have skipped a beat when I read this. Who was this person and are there more at this cemetery in unmarked graves?

According to an article written by the Rev. Judith A. Meier in 2008 for the Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville, and Perkiomen Valley, this person's name is Liza. Meier explains the Pawling family had several enslaved people throughout the 1700s. The names we know are: Jack, Bess, Cate, Jane, Bet, Oilever, Tom, Tim, Bettee, Peggee, Rose, Susannah, Johannes, Jacob, Thomas, Robert Mark, Anna Margretha, Margreth, Robert, George, Robin, Phillis, Peter, Anthony Mix, Pegg, and Margaret/Peggy. The Rev. Henry Muhlenberg conducted baptisms and marriages for some of these individuals.

At the moment, I do not know anything more about Liza or the other individuals listed in the above paragraph. I hope one day to learn more so their lives can be properly remembered.


*Please note: I do not know who currently owns/oversees Pawlings Cemetery.  It appears to be on private property so we do not advocate visiting it unless you have permission from the owners.*


Wednesday, 06 January 2021 19:59

Perkiomen Mine

We have a number of minerals at HSMC, most of which were collected by Hiram Corson. Many of these minerals were taken from the Perkiomen Mine, in modern day Audubon. James Morgan is believed to be the first person to discover lead in this area. It was uncovered when he was constructing on of the area's first grist mills. 


A Piece of Zinc from the Perkiomen Mine, Hiram Corson Rock and Mineral Collection, 2019.128.007

The earliest records of mining date back to the early 1800s when Captain Jean Audubon hired Francis Dacosta to operate the mine. The Perkiomen Mining Company was officially established in 1808, but trouble selling the ore caused them to abandon in it 1810.

The property was purchased in 1813 by Samuel Wetherill Jr., who hoped to extract lead to make paint. The Wetherill Mine was developed and employed Cornish miners. The mine operated for several years, but the expense of smelting ore was too great and the mine was again abandoned. Cornish miners John and Robert Rowe discovered copper in the mine in 1829, leading to intermittent operations and ownership.

 wetherill (2)

 Wetherill Papers, HSMC Collection

In 1847, the Perkiomen Mining Association and Ecton Consolidated Mining Co. operated near the former Wetherill mine. A New York firm of metal brokers purchased both mines in 1848. By 1851, the mines were connected to form the Perkiomen Consolidated Mining Co. At the time of this merge, the mine's operation reached its peak production. An estimated 525 tons of copper ore was mined and roughly 300 miners were employed. Many of the miners were Cornish immigrants and lived in housing on Egypt Road. The mine itself was over 400 feet deep at its peak. 

wetherill (1)

 Wetherill Papers, HSMC Collection

The mining company closed in the 1850s because it was too costly to ship the ore to Baltimore and New York for smelting. There was some intermittent use of the mine during the Civil and World Wars, but nothing extensive due to the mine's unprofitability. 

power house at copper mines

Photo Credit: John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove

When you visit the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, you can still see the Cornish stack from the Ecton mine's engine and adits along Mill Run. Please do not enter what is left of the mine as water, cave ins, and rotting wood structures make it unsafe.



"Mines at Mill Grove." John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. https://johnjames.audubon.org/about/mines-mill-grove  

Nance, R. Damian, "Cornish Mining in Eastern Pennsylvania II: Perkiomen Mines." Ohio University, August 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/R_Nance/publication/307205726_Cornish_mining_in_eastern_Pennsylvania_II_The_Perkiomen_Mines/links/57c45a4908ae32a03dad4010/Cornish-mining-in-eastern-Pennsylvania-II-The-Perkiomen-Mines.pdf 




Wednesday, 09 December 2020 21:13

Norristown Big Business Monopoly

For many families, playing games is part of their holiday celebrations. Over Thanksgiving my family played many web-based games together since we live in different states and could not safely gather this year. Everyone watch out for my mother, she is a talented Imposter in Among Us!

Anyway, pre-COVID my family and many other families played board games over the holidays. While in the vaults this week I decided to take a closer look at some of the games we have in our collection. This monopoly board piqued my interest as it is clearly homemade.


This game was a Christmas gift given to George Newman, Sr. (1898 - 1963) in 1929. Who made it is not clear, but I would guess it was probably made for George by one of his family members.


When we take a closer look at the spots on the board you can clearly make out local businesses and institutions that were in the Norristown area in the early 1900s.



Even the traditional jail spot on the board was replaced. The creator of this board substituted the Norristown State Hospital for the jail spot on the corner of the board.



Although we do not know who made it, this game was clearly loved by George. Just look at all the scratches, worn pieces, and penciled in spots!


Thursday, 05 November 2020 18:06

New Accession: Lois Rapp

We recently received a call from local CPA firm Dreslin & Co. They informed us they were closing their office and had three framed watercolors made by local artist Lois Rapp. While we have several paper materials from Rapp, we did not previously have any of her artwork. HSMC is thrilled to add these three works of art to the collection!

 2020.109.001 (3)

Cannon at Ft. Washington Valley Forge, PA, undated

Lois Rapp was born in Norristown on March 21, 1907. From 1925 to 1929 she studied at the Philadelphia College of Art, receiving her degree in teacher's training and illustration. Rapp also studied art under notable Philadelphia artist Earl Horter.

 2020.109.003 (1)

Wetherill Mansion, July 27, 1938

She was a member of the American Watercolor Society, Philadelphia Watercolor Club, and the Woodmere Art Gallery. She was on the exhibition committee at Woodmere from 1965 - 1969. Rapp's work has been exhibited in many local museums and venues such as: Society of Independent Artists, American Watercolor Society, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Watercolor Club, and the Woodmere Art Gallery.

 2020.109.002 (1)

Shanesville, PA, August 1950

Rapp was also an art instructor at the Conshohocken Art League, the Mater Misericordiae Academy (now known as the Merion Mercy Academy), and the Collegeville Trappe Public Schools. She died on October 22, 1992 and her artwork can still be found throughout Montgomery County.




“Lois Rapp Papers." HistoricalSociety of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories, prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael GubiczaMarch 21, 2013. http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/pacscl/ead.pdf?id=PACSCL_SMREP_HSMC20



Wednesday, 30 September 2020 16:40

Memories of River Crest Preventorium

You may recall our blog post from 2019 about River Crest Preventorium. This week we have a personal story about River Crest. While in her 80s, Loretta Garber Bondi reflected on her time recoving at River Crest from 1936 to 1937. The stories were recorded using a talk to text software and Loretta's daughter Barbara sent the documents along with photographs to HSMC. Here is a synopsis of Loretta's story:

0CCE5B68FB294C169E17D5EBD30168AE 1

When Loretta was a child, her mother took her to get an x-ray of her lungs. Loretta was just 36 pounds and had recently recovered from measles, chickenpox, and pneumonia. She was quarantined for thirty days in a darkened room to recover from the illneses. The x-ray revealed a shadow on her left lung.


With Loretta's lungs weak from the three illnesses, her mother sought help from various doctors and health agencies. Doctors said Loretta was so undernourished that if she ever caught turberculosis or a second round of pneumonia, she would be unlikely to survive more than six months.

IMG 1879

Loretta's mother sent her to River Crest to recover. The treatment for Loretta was "fresh air, good food, and rest." It cost her family one dollar a day to treat Loretta. Since she was so weak when she first arrived, Loretta went to the kitchen every afternoon to receive an extra egg and cream drink. She ultimately spent two years at River Crest, celebrating her 7th and 8th birthdays at the facility.

IMG 1874

Loretta saw boys and girls from babies to age 16 at River Crest. Few of them had the extensive stay she did and most came during the summer months as part of a summer camp. The only friend Loretta recalls from her time at River Crest was Adele Brown. The two girls got along well and Loretta remarked, "Maybe she felt as lost on arrival as I did."


With animals and vegetable gardens, River Crest was largely self-sufficient. Every day was a routine, with bells ringing to signal different parts of the day's schedule. The children did not own anything, and Loretta remembers standing in line each morning to receive her dress for the day. Toys, such as doll houses, were also provided by River Crest.

IMG 1872

There was a playground with swings, a tire, and a large pavilion to take shelter from rain and heat. Children were even encouraged to plant their own garden during the summer. Loretta recalls not having a green thumb and her garden did not survive.

IMG 1871

The children also attended a one room school while staying at River Crest. There was one teacher and each grade sat at a different table. The teacher would go from table to table assigning different projects, mostly math and reading related.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020 17:16

A Local Olympian

As is the case with many large events this year, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been delayed until next year. This came to mind when I received a phone call from someone looking for additional information about local Norristown Olympian, Joshua Culbreath.

He participated in the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the games were held from November 22 to December 8. On opening night, Culbreath was interviewed. See his statement in the Times Herald below.

 opening night quote

Times Herald, November 23, 1956

Culbreath's sport was the 400 meter hurdle. At only five foot seven inches tall, few people expected him to win the bronze medal. In addition to winning the bronze medal, Culbreath was also the first U.S. Marine serving in active duty to participate in an Olympic games.


Times Herald, November 24, 1956

Culbreath grew up in Norristown and his first track coach was Rittenhouse Junior High School history teacher, Vince Farina. While at Norristown Area High School, Culbreath won the 400 meter hurdles in the PIAA state championship. He also won the Penn Relays three times. In addition to track, Culbreath played other sports while at Norristown Area High School, including football and basketball.

JV Football

Culbreath (top left) on the JV Football team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

Culbreath's success in track earned him a scholarship to Morgan State University. He was the U.S. outdoor champion three years in a row from 1953 to 1955. He ran as the anchor on the relay team with Herman Wade, Otis "Jet" Johnson, and Dr. James Rodgers. They were dubbed "The Flying Four." Culbreath set world records at competitions in Bendigo, Australia and Oslo, Norway. He also won the Pan American Games twice, in 1955 and 1959.

JV Basketball

Culbreath (bottom right) on the JV Basketball team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

After serving in the Marines, Culbreath coached at Rittenhouse Middle School and later earned his Master of Arts degree from Temple Univeristy in 1988. He became the track and field coach at Central State Univeristy in Ohio, where his team won 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships. Four of Culbreath's athletes competed in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, one of whom was Deon Hemmings the gold medal winner in the 400 hurdles.

Lastly, here's a cool side note. Five Saints Distilling, located in the former Humane Fire Engine Co. #1 building in Norristown, created a drink named after Culbreath! It's a gin drink known as the Culbreath Smash.

five saints 


"Olympic Medalist and orristown Native Joshua Culbreath Reflects on Live on Eve of MontCo. Hall of fame Induction." Times Herald. November 24, 2013.https://www.timesherald.com/sports/olympic-medalist-and-norristown-native-joshua-culbreath-reflects-on-life-on-eve-of-montco-hall/article_130c4c87-3882-520c-8709-81b5bde80dbd.html

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 18:53


We are pleased to share with you a new addition to HSMC's collection. This melodeon belonged to David Y. Custer, also referred to as D Chester, of Pottstown. David was a musician and piano teacher.


David Custer was born in 1866. This melodeon was passed down through the Custer family after David died in 1892 from kidney disease. His great granddaughter kindly donated the melodeon to us recently.

C Chester

The gold colored paint on the melodeon indicates that it was made by Earhart Needham and Company in New York.

melodeon 2

However, when we lifted the lid fully to inspect the bellows, we found a paper label.


David seems to have purchased this melodeon from A. P. Hughes Melodeon Manufacturer in Philadelphia, which was a sales company for Earhart Needham and Company. A. P. Hughes operated in Wareroom No. 258 on Market Street.


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