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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (230)

Thursday, 13 January 2022 16:31

Milestones

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Last week was our annual clean-up week, a time when we get our facilities prepared for the new year. During this cleaning, I uncovered a large stone marker tucked away behind some boxes. It's far too heavy to safely move it right now, but I did manage to get a few photos of it. It appears to read "18 M to P  1 M to Sp H". 

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Based on the design, it seems to be a milestone. The "M" most likely stands for "miles". So this sign means 18 miles to "P", which I would imagine stands for "Philadelphia". The "Sp H" probably stands for "Spring House", as that town is roughly 18 to 19 miles from Philadelphia.

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Milestones like this one are not unique to the United States. Other examples of road markings date back to early empires such as Rome and Byzantine, just to name a few. Markers were placed along roads connecting various cities. They were used to help travelers identify where they were and ensure they were still travelling in the right direction. Depending on the civilization, culture, and available resources, designs of these markers varied. While some were made of stone and used numbers and letters, others were made of wood and used roman numerals.

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We still use mile markers today, although generally they are made of metal. They are most commonly seen on major highways and are often used to report traffic incidents.

As for this particular milestone, I'm not entirely sure where it was originally placed. I would imagine the most likely location would be roughly 1 mile south of Spring House on Bethlehem Pike. If you are driving along major local roads such as Germantown and Bethlehem Pikes, you can still see some milestones that have survived to this day.

Thursday, 16 December 2021 18:21

Snowballing

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With the official start of winter just around the corner, I wanted to share this unique painting with you today.

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It's oil paint on a wooden panel. The title is Snowballing, Scene at Ecouen France. It depicts five children and a woman on a city street. The children appear to have been having a snowball fight, much to the woman's displeasure. what I find most amusing about this image is the fact the woman is unaware she is about to get hit by a snowball. Let's hope for her sake there are no icy bits in it!

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Anyway, you might be wondering why this French scene is at HSMC. According to the donor records, it was painted by a Norristown resident, J. Lizzie Cloud Waters. The records claim Lizzie's mother was the widow of Dr. Joseph Cloud. Her mother lived in the same building as Daniel Longaker's grocery store in Norristown and Lizzie was the ward of Daniel Mulvaney.

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Lizzie eventually married a Dr. Waters, but apparently it was not a happy marriage. Lizzie left to live abroad. Where Lizzie went is not specified, but given the painting is identified as Ecouen France (roughly 12.5 miles north of Paris), it's fair to say she spent at least some time in that region.

What's puzzling about this story is I have yet to come across a paper trail for Lizzie. The donor of this painting provided a good amount of information, but I have not yet found any records for her, her husband, or her mother. I don't even know her husband's first name.

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Being a ward of Daniel Mulvaney, it's certainly possible Lizzie was only in Norristown for a brief period of time. If she moved around a lot, it would be easy for the US census to miss her while she was living in Norristown. If you know anything more about Lizzie or her family, send me an email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thursday, 09 December 2021 20:06

That’s all she wrote

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I wanted to start a blog for the Historical Society even before I was hired. I could see from the website that there was not enough local color and no reason for people to come back to website week after week. Once I started here nine and half years ago (!), I knew I had to share all the cool stuff I was finding –amazing photos, interesting lives of Montgomery County people, wonderful original documents. I wanted everyone else to know about the fascinating collection that I got to work with every day.

I often joke that our blog has few readers, but really, we have some wonderful readers who comment and share our posts. I get lots of emails from people who have discovered something new about their county or who have more information about the topic to share with me.

I’ve only sporadically kept track of what I’ve covered on the blog. Usually, I race just to get it done by 5 every Thursday. If I had to guess, I’d say that I’ve written over 300 articles. My all-time favorite being the one on Mary Knowles and the Plymouth Meeting Controversy because it shows how the sort of national level politics you learn about in history class have an impact on the local level.  I've also really loved working with our rare books.

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If you come to our library to do research, you might remember in the early years, that I often couldn’t locate items. Now, nearly everything has been cataloged, and that doesn’t happen too much anymore. With the help of a lot of amazing volunteers, we’ve managed to bring the collection under control. I wanted to acknowledge all their work, so thank you Anne, Kristy, Kristina, Rae, Dick, Rita, George, Nan, and Janice. And I’d like to remember Carl and Ed who gave so much of their time to our society.

Today is my last day at HSMC. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and I’ve learned a lot about not just the history of Montgomery County but also its people and its spirit. There are many more stories to share about our county, so I hope you’ll keep reading.

Thursday, 02 December 2021 14:46

Norristown Glass Company

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glass

We have a number of glass artifacts at HSMC, but this one is particularly unusual. It appears to be a decorative, flower-shaped funnel. I'm not sure if it's just decorative or whether it was meant to be used as a funnel. The smaller opening seems to be uneven, so perhaps it was part of a larger piece?

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There are no maker's marks or any other engraving to identify who made it. I sifted through many pages of old notes and accession records hoping to find something to identify this unique piece. Finally, after about a month or so of searching, I think I finally found a match!

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I recently uncovered some notes from an inventory done around 1970 that described a flower like glass piece made by "Albertson Glass Works of Norristown c. 1870." When I checked the Norristown directories, I did not find a company by that name, but I did find a Norristown Glass Co. owned by Amos L. Albertson.

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Norristown City Directories c. 1898, Ancestry.com

According to the Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Amos' father, Jacob Albertson, was a local businessman most commonly known for his private banking business, J. M. Albertson and Sons. However, in 1870, Jacob decided to go beyond banking and purchased Star Glass Works. 

It does not say exactly when this business became Norristown Glass Co., but the book does identify Amos as the head of both this glass company and the Albertson Trust and Deposit Company by the 1890s at the latest.

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The Albertson Trust Building, HSMC Photo Collection

Prior to his glass business, Amos received his education from Tremont Seminary and Westtown Boarding School (Chester County). He married Kate Longaker on September 25, 1890. She appears with him in several of the Norristown Directories.

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Norristown City Directory c. 1927, Ancestry.com

I don't know exactly how long the business prospered, but the last entry in the directories is 1927. Amos died in 1941. He and Kate are buried in the way back of Historic Montgomery Cemetery by the Hartranft monument.

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Memorials in Stone

Thursday, 18 November 2021 21:02

The Lenape languages

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hymns

Yesterday, I came across two very interesting books written in the language of the Lenape, the indigenous people of eastern Pennsylvania. Both are Christian books, containing translated hymns and Biblical stories. Both had the name “A. Luckenback” on the title page, so I did a little digging into him.

Abraham Luckenback was a Moravian missionary born in Lehigh County in 1777. He left an autobiography published by the Moravian Historical Society in 1917. In 1800, he became a missionary and traveled west with a Moravian married couple into Indiana, the territory of the people he knew as the Delaware Indians.

On his way, Luckenback stopped for a time with an older missionary named D. Zeisberger, who had translated many German hymns into the Delaware language.* Luckenback lived for 5 years in Indiana, and he gives several interesting accounts of Lenape rituals and a little bit about their day-to-day life. He describes their houses and diets. His mission was not successful, and he returned to Pennsylvania in 1806.

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Luckenback spent a couple of years in Bethlehem learning the Lenape language and translating. In 1808, he returned to missionary work, travelling to Canada and Michigan. He remained among the Lenape and other tribes until he retired from the work in 1843. By that time, many of his congregants had been pushed further west by white settlement.

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In addition to Zeiberger’s hymnal, we have Luckenback’s translations of Bible stories. According to his autobiography, he also translated the New Testament. Luckenback never mentions that the Lenape originally inhabited Pennsylvania.

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While William Penn was known for his fair relations with the Lenape, his sons notoriously cheated the land’s inhabitants out of over one million acres in the Walking Purchase. Most Lenape were forced westward into Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. From there, the nation was forced into Kansas, and then Oklahoma, where two of the three federally recognized Lenape tribes are located (the other is in Wisconsin). Delaware and New Jersey also recognize Lenape tribes in their states.

Although Pennsylvania does not recognize any indigenous tribes, there is evidence that many Lenape stayed in the region, often marrying into white families and practicing their traditions in secret. Today the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is trying to gain state recognition.

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By http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Nikater - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Delaware01.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27384249

 

*The term “Delaware” referred to two different language speakers – Unami and Munsee. The languages are closely related. The people living in this area spoke Unami. I’m afraid I don’t know which language the books are in.

Sources:

https://whyy.org/articles/we-just-want-to-be-welcomed-back-the-lenape-seek-a-return-home/

https://hiddencityphila.org/2019/08/philadelphias-forgotten-forebears-how-pennsylvania-erased-the-lenape-from-local-history/

Luckenback, Abraham.  "The Autobiograph of Abraham Luckenback." Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society Vol. 10, No. 3/4 (1917), pp. 359, 361-408 (49 pages)

Thursday, 04 November 2021 19:14

Hymnals

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harfe

This week, I’ve continued to work through the shelves of old books in our upper stacks. Yesterday, I found a large collection of hymnals from the late 18th century through the 1930’s. They come from a variety of denominations and are in both English and German.

Hymnals have a long history in the United States. The first book printed in North America was the Bay Psalm Book of 1640. It had English translations of the Psalms meant to be sung during worship services. Like the Bay Psalm Book, most of our hymnals don’t contain any music.

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A common book for Mennonites was Die kleine geistliche Harfe des Kinder Zions (The Small, Spiritual Harp of the Children of Zion). This copy is from 1803. It gives a tune for the first verse of the psalm and then prints the rest underneath. Others only have the words with the notation, “in eigene Melodie,” that is “its own melody.” Not all of the psalms are included. The second part of the book contains hymns with no written music, just a note that the tune is “its own” or the same as another popular hymn. Indexes in the back helped the faithful find the correct hymn by first line or by topic.

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A more recent example is this English language hymnal from Wentz’s Church. Published in 1883 by the Reformed Church Publication Board, it is organized around the liturgical calendar which begins in Advent (the season leading up to Chirstmas). The hymns are individually numbered as they often are today. There’s no music, but you can see the notation “C. M.” on this hymn by Isaac Watts.  It stands for common meter. According to Wikipedia, “Amazing Grace” and “Little Town of Bethlehem” are also in the common meter.

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We have a few books written for more musically literate church goers, perhaps as part of a formal choir. Choral Harmonie is a German choir book published in Harrisburg by John Wyeth, an influential printer of hymns.

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The notes may look a little different than what you’re used to seeing. In 1801, William Little and William Smith of Philadelphia introduced a four shape note system to aid singers in sight reading. The practice caught on and remained popular for many decades, especially in the South. The shapes help to translate the notes to the do-re-mi syllables we all learned from Maria von Trapp.

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Thursday, 28 October 2021 14:13

Mrs. Smith's Pies

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It's fall and that means, at least in my household, it's pie season!

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We recently acquired three pie tins for our collection. The donor, Board member and volunteer Nan Huber, recalls going to Demetris Uptown Market on the corner of 4th and Depot Street in Bridgeport with her mother to buy pies in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Two of these tins are from Pottstown's own Mrs. Smith's Pies. The company was founded by Robert P. Smith. The business started when he sold his mother Amanda's pies at the local YMCA. Robert bought a bakery in 1923 and by 1956 the company was large enough to start selling frozen pies. At the company's peak, it is estimated roughly 1,500 people were employed during "pumpkin pie season." 

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Kellogg Co. purchased Mrs. Smith's in 1976. Smucker's purchased the company in 1994 and then sold it to Flowers Industries in 1996. The company began moving its pie production from Pottstown to Oklahoma in 1998, impacting roughly 300 employees from the area. It appears some foil products are still made in Pottstown, but the majority of the building is not used. In recent years, there were a few times attempts were made to develop the empty parts of the plant, but as of 2021 not much has changed.

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Now, as for the third pie tin donated to HSMC, it may or may not be familiar to you. It is from the Wassell bakery. Located in Philadelphia, this bakery was founded in the 1920s. The bakery closed when it was sold in 1958. Since this particular tin was bought after the bakery closed, you might be thinking "why was this for sale in Bridgeport?"

I have found a few online sources indicating Mrs. Smith's Pies likely purchased Wassell's bakery, or at the very least some of their pie recipes. According to Joseph R. Liss' obituary, the Liss Bakery of Philadelphia bought the "Wassell Pie Company from Mrs. Smith's Pies" sometime while he was running his business.

Another baker, George Washington Bish of Baltimore, is said to have shared some of his recipes with Wassell. Bish's short biography on the website "Germany Marylanders" indicates these recipes were then passed on to Mrs. Smith's. 

So, although Wassell's was likely no longer in business when this tin was purchased, either Mrs. Smith's had extra Wassell tins they didn't want to waste or they wanted to use these tins for the recipes that used to be made by Wassell.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

Thursday, 21 October 2021 19:48

Some Norristown grocery stores

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almar

This week, we accessioned an interesting item – a poster advertising a 25 cent sale at Almar Gocery stores. So, in addition to highlighting it, I thought we could look at a few items in our collection related to local grocery stores.  The poster is undated, but the reverse of the poster lists three locations of Almar markets in Norristown and one in Jeffersonville.

In the 19th century, grocery shopping looked very different than it does today. The stores were much smaller and there seems to be have been one on each corner. Here’s part of the list from the 1890 Norristown city directory:

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Our earliest photograph of a grocery store (I think) is this one of Ephraim Bickel’s store, which first appears in the directory in 1880. At that time it was located at 400 W. Marshall St. In 1882, the store is listed at 419 W. Marshall St., the building you see here.

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Around 1890, the listing for the store changes to being owned by Harry Bickel. Seeing the same building, ten years apart, lets us see how Norristown developed at the end of the 19th century. In the first photo, the lot next to the store is empty, but in the second, another building has filled it in. In both images, the street appears unpaved.

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William Wismer’s store was at the corner of Willow and Elm. Looking at that spot on Google maps, you can see it’s the same building.

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This store, Bean Brothers, first appears in the directory in 1910, which I suspect is when the photo was taken. Located on Main St., you can see it’s paved with bricks. There’s also a sewer clearly visible.

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In stores like these, customers would have ordered groceries at a counter instead of pushing a cart through wide aisles. The modern sort of self-service grocery store was developed in 1916 in Memphis. It spread through the country and led to the modern supermarket we know today.

Thursday, 14 October 2021 18:25

A very curious book

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Way back in my early days at the Historical Society, I came across this book:

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Now, it looks very similar to many books in our collection, books that usually contain minutes or accounts of an organization or business, but this one was different. The front half of the book contained copies of letters, mostly to or from John Qunicy Adams during the years 1809-1812. Adams was the American ambassador to the Russian Empire during this time.

You might remember from history class that this was the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the Continental System, an embargo Napoleon tried to enforce against British ships in continental Europe. Russia was an ally of France at this time (before the disastrous invasion), and the United States was neutral. So, British ships would pretend to be American by buying official papers from American captains. That was the main issue covered in the letters.

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J. Q. Adams by Gilbert Stuart, 1818 (Wikicommons)

The second half of the book was a series of written depositions from J. Q. Adams in relation to a lawsuit. It was hard from the depositions to understand what the lawsuit was over or how Adams related to it.

I took some photos of the book and sent them to the Massachusetts Historical Society which houses Adams’ papers. We emailed back and forth a bit, but ultimately they said they didn’t know what the book was.

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Well, I had hundreds of feet of undescribed archives and thousands of uncatalogued books, so I put Mr. Adams back in his box, and got on with it.

Recently, however, I looked through it again, and found the page that explained it was part of a lawsuit between Levett Harris and William D. Lewis. This page was in the middle of the book, so it wasn’t obvious the first time I examined it. I found a few mentions of Harris and Lewis in Adams’ diary (which you can read online at the Massachusetts Historical Society), but he doesn’t give any details.

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The page identifying the book as part of lawsuit

Then I found an article in the American Archivist (which I’m sure everyone knows is the semi-annual publication of the Society of American Archivists) that explained a lot, but not everything.

In 1953, a Bridgeport boy named Jesse Sohoski found four old volumes under a piece of sheet metal in the woods around King of Prussia. He seems to have held on to them for several years before writing a letter to President Kennedy about them in 1961. Three volumes contained official correspondence between the US ambassadors to Russia and the State Department. The fourth volume was a book of depositions from John Quincy Adams about the Harris v. Lewis case.

AHA! That was our book. Except it wasn’t our book. At the end of the article, the author, James Rhoads of the National Archives, writes that the three volumes of correspondence were determined to be federal records and taken back to Washington. The volume of depositions (i. e. “our volume”) was deposited with the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Then why do we have it? Well, I think we’re talking about two copies of the same book. Our copy seems to have been with us a long time. It has two labels attached, which are handwritten. Both the labels and the handwriting appear all over our collection on items dating to the early 20th century. Both sides of the case would have had copies of the depositions, so one copy could be Harris’ and one Lewis’ (if you want to read the details of their case, you can do so here). They were both Philadelphia men, so the copies might have stayed in the area, one winding up at the Historical Society and one in the woods.

I could be totally wrong. Most items from that time period are marked with a stamp and usually there’s an accession number written on the inside of the cover. This book has neither. My guess is that the book wasn’t actually donated, but loaned or left here for safe keeping. And if that was the case, we’ve at least done our job.

Thursday, 07 October 2021 17:44

Shady Grove School

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Yesterday as I was scanning photographs I came across a few pictures of Shady Grove School, not the current elementary school, but the earlier one-room school house.

Shady Grove can trace its lineage back to the James School. A Dr. James, living near Dawesfield on Lewis Lane hired a schoolmaster for his children and some of the neighboring children in the late 18th century. The school lasted several decades although the original building that housed it was torn down. Jones Detwiler recorded that from 1820-1825, Standish Jennings was the teacher.

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Some accounting for the Whitpain School District, 1858

In 1836, Pennsylvania established the Common School System, and the Whitpain school district purchased the school the following year and renaming it the Mount Pleasant School. At some point the school moved, most likely (according to the 1977 book Whitpain… Crossroads in Time) to the intersection of Morris Road and Mount Pleasant Ave.

Jones Detwiler left us a description of these early one-room schools, “The early school houses were all built of stone. The desks placed around against the walls, and the pupils occupying them but facing the windows. Benches without backs for the smaller scholars occupied the middle of the room.”

According to the History of Public Education in Montgomery County, Whitpain had 6 teachers in 1836 (all male), 294 pupils, and the school year was 4 months.

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In 1855 that school was sold and new one was built on Lewis Lane. Since it was no longer on Mount Pleasant Avenue, the school district decided to rename the school. It chose “Shady Grove” because of the woods that surrounded the school, according to Detwiler.

In 1916, the township built the Whitpain Township Consolidated School. The smaller neighborhood schools, like Shady Grove, were closed. These photographs of Shady Grove are undated, but probably from the 1960’s. The building itself was torn down in 1971.

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The current Shady Grove Elementary School (Home of the Bulldogs) was built in 1957 originally as a Junior High School for grades 7 through 9. Later it was used for all the 5th and 6th graders in the consolidated Wissahickon School District.

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