Found in Collection (264)
Historically Modern: Gen. Thomas J. Stewart ArmoryWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
Often when we consider buildings or locations as historic in Pennsylvania, we immediately think of events such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War or time periods such as the Colonial era. However, there are some historic places that are more modern. They could have been built during your lifetime or that of a parent's or grandparent's. One such example is the Gen. Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory. As far as General Thomas J. Stewart is concerned, we have written about him previously when we had his sword on display. Feel free to revisit that article here: https://hsmcpa.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/thomas-a-stewart/
The armory, sometimes referred to as the Norristown Armory, was built between 1927-1928 and is located at 340 Harding Blvd in Norristown. The architects were Philip H. Johnson and Frank R. Herong. Presently the building houses the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (EDIT 2023-06-09: thanks to some of our followers on Facebook we confirmed that it is no longer owned by PAL but is instead owned by Norristown and functions as a recreation center. This just goes to show you that you should always double check your sources and nobody is perfect!). During its early years it served as an armory for the National Guard, including the years of the second world war.
On July 12, 1991, the Gen. Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory garnered a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Are there other, more modern, buildings that deserve a spot on the National Register? In our almost 250 years as a county, we certainly have a lot of history and continue to make more of it everyday. Maybe one day a place you have often visited will be considered historic. It could even be within your lifetime.
Escaped Norristown State Hospital to Get MarriedWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
You have probably heard us say this many times, but we really do find some of the most interesting stories when we are looking for something else entirely! This time I was looking for Elkton marriage announcements and stumbled onto this story about another marriage.
June 5, 1930, Times Herald
Mary McClellan, a patient at Norristown State Hospital, went missing on June 2, 1930. She was found a few days later in Philadelphia with a former hospital attendant, William Hamel.
June 6, 1930, Times Herald
It turns out William helped Mary escape. After switching out of hospital clothes, Mary met William on hospital grounds where he sneaked her out using a car he had leased in Norristown. According to the Times Herald, the pair drove right through the main gates of the hospital.
June 13, 1930, Times Herald
After stopping at William's home at 229 North Eleventh Street, Philadelphia, they then drove to Camden to get married. However, since they were not residents of New Jersey, they were sent back to Pennsylvania. They had better luck in Media, Delaware County, where they were able to obtain a marriage license.
Their marriage only lasted for two days. William was arrested and taken to the county jail in Norristown. Mary was taken back to Norristown State Hospital. According to the Times Herald, authorities annulled the marriage. William ended up paying a $10 fine and spent a month in jail.
I did a little digging to try to learn more about Mary. I located a Mary McClellan in the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census. In both censuses she was listed as being a patient at Norristown State Hospital. If I have the right Mary, she was born around 1899, so she would have been about 31 years old in 1930. Neither censuses lists the reason for her being at the hospital nor do they list any of Mary's family members.
It is important to note, while older documents such as the above newspapers used phrases like "Lunatic" and "Insane" to describe patients at State Hospitals, these terms are no longer used by the health care industry. As doctors learn more about mental illnesses, less derogatory words have been used to better explain each patient's unique circumstance.
Olive Branch versus RummiesWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
From 1842 to 1859, the Olive Branch was published in both Doylestown (Bucks County) and in Norristown. It was a newspaper that considered itself a information source on "moral and political reform" while representing views on things such as abolition, temperance, and the women's rights movements. According to the staff at the Olive Branch, many of their subscribers would purchase copies of the newspaper on behalf of those with suspect morals, specifically "Rummies" (persons who habitually drink alcohol and are frequently intoxicated). While the Rummies would respond with rude letters to the editors on having forced their word upon them, the staff claims that Rummies would willing buy the paper for themselves in order to change their unmoral habits.
The temperance movement was all throughout Pennsylvania leading up to the Civil War. From 1846-1860 a number of laws were passed "forbidding the sale of intoxicating liquor in quantities of less than thirty gallons to any individual within three miles of certain iron and coal mines" (Martin, pp. 213-214). While this law impacted more of the western and central counties, there were a number of temperance societies in and around Philadelphia. We even have the records books of some.
Still people attempted to skirt around or outright break these laws. In 1856, Mary Martin of Upper Merion was arrested for selling liquor. It was then discovered that while she was imprisoned, she still had agents selling liquor on her behalf.
The best part about these articles from the Olive Branch is that they are free to access. We have partnered with Villanova University to digitize some of our newspapers. You can find that information on our web page here: Digital Newspapers
Martin, Asa Earl. (1925) "The Temperance Movement in Pennsylvania Prior to the Civil War." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Volume 49, Number 3. pp. 195-230
Al Capone Seen in MontCo?Written by Erica Slason, Archivist
You've most likely heard of Al Capone, notorious gangster, resident of the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, and possible instigator of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. You might even know that he served a 10 month sentence in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia for carrying a pistol. But were you aware that when released from custody following his stay at Eastern, his first steps as a free man were in Montgomery County?
While helping a patron with a research request, we stumbled upon a headline about Capone. Our interests were peaked so we looked further into the report from the March 18th, 1930 issue of the Norristown Times Herald. According to the report, the official statement from the warden as to why the release was carried out elsewhere was to reduce the potential headache for the people of Philadelphia. It was known that Capone had many enemies and that some might poise themselves near the exit to Eastern for nefarious reasons so it was decided to move Capone and his bodyguard, Frankie Cline, before the intended time of release. The reporter unsure of exactly when, continued that the two were secretly removed to Graterford Prison in Skippack Township. It seemed like the right move given that at one point roughly 1,500 people were waiting outside Eastern for a glimpse of Scarface Al.
Graterford prison, which was barely a year old during Capone's stay, closed in 2018 due to being an outdated facility according to modern standards. A new facility, State Correctional Institute - Phoenix, was built on the same property as Graterford.
The Murder of Samuel ClugstonWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
On April 3rd, 1881, a memorial sermon was held in honor of Samuel Clugston. Samuel was an Irish immigrant who, with his wife and eleven children, lived in the village of Valley Forge near the Washington Headquarters.
In the early hours of March 18th, 1881, Mrs. Clugston was having trouble sleeping due to a draft in the room. She thought a window or door might be open. A rousing Samuel doubted that something was wrong but he got out of bed to check. A man who had been crouched in the room leapt up, seized Mr. Clugston by the throat and threatened him with a pistol. When Mr. Clugston yelled for his eldest son, the intended burglar shot Mr. Clugston in the throat. There was a scuffle between Samuel, the burglar, and soon, Thomas Clugston. The murderer pleaded for his life. Thomas let go and the murderer escaped. Samuel Clugston died from the gun shot wound within twenty minutes.
The murderer left behind a good amount of evidence including Thomas' report that the man had a German accent. One suspect, Henry Greeble who allegedly served at Eastern Penitentiary was believed to be the murderer but he could not be found. As of June 1882 the murderer was still not found.
(1881, March 22). Killed by a burglar. Norristown Times Herald, 3.
Bell, J. "A memorial sermon preached in Valley Forge M. E. Church, April 3, 1881, with a short memoir of Mr. Samuel Clugston, who was brutally murdered on the 18th of March, 1881, and a poem to his memory." J. O. K. Robarts.
Gill, H. L. (Ed.). (1881, March 19). Extra! Murder! Samuel Clugston, of Valley Forge, murdered by two burglars. Intense excitement. The murderers not yet found. Green Tree and Malvern Item, 1A, 2A.
Jarrettown HotelWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
One of the benefits of working at the Historical Society of Montgomery County when you were born and raised in said county is getting to scratch old itches. I lived in walking distance of the Jarrettown Hotel and always wondered about its history.
I heard rumors while growing up that George Washington stayed in the hotel. Now I know how difficult that would have been since the hotel was built by Henry Houpt in 1847, almost fifty years after Washington's death. That doesn't mean that the hotel was immune from significant historical events. In May 1896 a tornado made its way through Upper Dublin. At that time, the hotel was owned by Charles Palmer. The hotel made it through just fine, but a shed close to the building was not so lucky.
The hotel passed through a number of hands and is still running today as a restaurant. Are you interested in the history of a building in Montgomery County? Then reach out to us via email, phone, or by visiting the historical society during our open hours and we will be happy to dive into history with you.
Dr. Martha Settle PutneyWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
While going through some old newspaper clippings we came across an article about a local historian, civil rights activist, and veteran, Dr. Martha Settle Putney.
Martha Settle, Spice Yearbook 1935, HSMC Archival Collection
Martha was born in Norristown on November 9, 1916. She graduated from Howard University in 1939 and received her master's degree in history the following year. Unfortunately, Martha faced discrimination and was initially unable to find a teaching position. She ultimately became a statistical clerk with the War Manpower Commission.
Martha continued to experience discrimination while working at the War Manpower Commission, so she decided to join the Woman's Army Corps in 1943. She was assigned to basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She became a first lieutenant and eventually commanded a unit of Black medical technicians at Gardiner General Hospital in Chicago. During her service, Martha was credited for helping to establish policies regarding equality for all members in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Newspaper clipping from Norristown Times Herald, HSMC Collection
After being discharged in 1946, Martha decided to go back to studying history. She earned her doctorate in European history in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Putney became a history professor at Bowie State that same year. She chaired the history and geography department until 1974. Dr. Putney went on to teach at Howard University until she retired in 1983.
As a historian, Dr. Putney authored two books and several articles. One of her books, When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II, details her own experiences in the WAC. Dr. Putney died on December 11, 2008 at age 92 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Joe Holley, “Bowie, Howard Historian Martha Putney,” Washington Post. Monday, December 22, 2008. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/21/AR2008122102051.html
Judy Baca. "How One Woman Made a Difference: Norristown native's past chronicled in Tome Brokaw's 'Greatest Generation'". Times Herald. Monday February 22, 1999.
Profane LawWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
One of the fun parts about historical research is coming across fun or interesting stories while we are searching for something else entirely. We recently came across an interesting article in the Times Herald dated April 9, 1930.
Times Herald, April 9, 1930, HSMC Microfilm Collection
It starts with the headline "Pays Fine for Violation of Profane Law." Apparently, Magistrate Gilbert J. Farrinton, Jr. charged Irvin Erb of Norristown with using profane language and disorderly conduct. Under the law, Irvin had to pay three fines in accordance with the profane language act as well as to cover the costs with the court proceedings.
Wait, he got arrested for using profane language? Just wait, it gets better.
Times Herald, April 9, 1930, HSMC Microfilm Collection
Irvin was arrested by Deputy Constable James D. Ambrois after his mother, Mrs. Frieda Erb, reported him. She reported that he used profane language on at least six occasions and additionally used other "improper remarks." During the proceedings Irvin pleaded guilty and even admitted to using profane language at other times as well. He was fined $1.74.
This profanity law, according to the article, was enacted on April 22, 1794. I'm not sure if this exact law is still in place. However, it appears there have been instances in recent history of people getting fined for using profanity in certain situations. In 2011, the PA State Police reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union after a complaint about issuing tickets for swearing.
Big Game Nostalgia for Big ShowsWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
In anticipation for the big game coming up in just a few days, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at similar events that have taken place in Montgomery County history. While I cannot find evidence of any actual games taking place in the county, I have found some articles on dog shows. So, in honor of the upcoming Puppy Bowl XIX, here is a look back at some past dog shows in and around Montgomery County. (Wait, is there another big game I should be aware of?)
First up we have the 12th annual Spillane's Dog Show that took place in 1958. There are smiling faces both human and canine. Multiple awards were given for the different groups, including "waggiest tail." Best-in-show that year went to Peter Childs' dog.
In 1952 the Devon Dog Show, held in Chester County, included a prize winning dog from Norristown. Danny Boy won four prizes and is seen here with J. R. Beideman of Norristown.
Do you have a prize winning dog in your family? Do you think they could take home the MVP for the Puppy Bowl? Leave us a comment or your pictures on our Facebook page so we can see some other Montgomery County canine representation and appreciation. Let's go Team Ruff and Team Fluff!
(Fine. And let's go Eagles, too).
Bobbed Hair: Grounds for Divorce?Written by Erica Slason, Archivist
Montgomery County citizens (and guests), today we explore the story of the marriage of Gertrude Maria Margaretta Hoeppner Dettra and William Edward Dettra, both loyal employees of the Norristown post office. Following their wedding in 1924, the couple went to live with the groom’s parents. Two years later, the Dettras would find themselves at a banquet with friends. Gertrude discussed with the group how she wanted a “bob” hair style which William vehemently refused to allow her to get.
The offending hairstyle in question as modeled by film actress, Louise Brooks (University of Washington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Film_actress_Louise_Brooks_(SAYRE_13807).jpg)
After much joking from their friends, William relented and told her to get the haircut. Three days later, Gertrude arrived home with her desired haircut much to the chagrin of her husband. Words were exchanged, William’s mother got involved (a not uncommon occurrence in the household), and upon going to bed that night Gertrude did not receive a kiss from her husband.
With her husband giving her the cold shoulder and her mother-in-law lamenting how poorly Gertrude treated William, Gertrude left. She said the only way she would return to her husband would be for them to get their own house for just the two of them. Upon his refusal the divorce proceedings began.
The headline and summary that accompanied the article. Copied from microfilm of Norristown Times-Herald found at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, PA.
This story was found in our research collection and is from an article in the Norristown Times Herald. We enjoy coming across these odd and yet somehow timeless stories within the paper. If ever interested, we have issues on microfilm dating back to the 1800s including the rest of this scandalous article.
Another PA Governor from Montgomery CountyWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
Today, January 17, 2023, was inauguration day in Pennsylvania. This inauguration is particularly historic to us here in Montgomery County.
Governor Josh Shapiro
Governor Josh Shapiro is the eighth governor to hail from our county. The other governors were: Gov. David R. Porter (1839-1845), Gov. Francis R. Shunk (1845-1848), Gov. John F. Hartranft (1873-1879), Gov. John C. Bell (Jan. 2, 1947- Jan. 21, 1947), Gov. Samuel W. Pennypacker (1903-1907), Gov. George Earle III (1935-1939), and Gov. Milton Shapp (1971-1979). To learn more about these past governors, click on their names. We have various items in HSMC's collection that are connected to these governors. This includes items such as: photographs, portraits, a quilt, and political pins.
Portrait of Gov. Hartranft, HSMC Collection
In addition to being from Montgomery County, Governor Shapiro is also, as far as I have been able to verify, the third Jewish governor in our state. Former Governor Milton Shapp, also from Montgomery County, was the first Jewish governor in Pennsylvania.
Gov. Shapp's Election, Times Herald, November 4, 1970, HSMC microfilm collection
Lastly, today was historic for another reason too. Lt. Governor Austin Davis was sworn in as Pennsylvania's first Black lieutenant governor.
Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis
The Dutch HouseWritten by Erica Slason, Archivist
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the archivist / librarian here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County is a compulsive reader. Imagine my surprise when picking up Pulitzer Prize nominated novel The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, that the titular Dutch house is in Elkins Park! My first thought was “Is the Dutch house a real place in Elkins Park?”
The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “not really.” Patchett has noted in articles and interviews that the house is not a specific house, but rather that imagined house that comes to mind when driving by historic homes and museums. She chose Elkins Park because of a friend she often visited in Wyncote and the location would make other elements of the story easier to adapt. While writing the story, her friend told her about places such as Melrose Park, Abington Memorial Hospital, Horsham, and Bishop McDevitt High School which the narrator of the novel attended (Patchett, 2020).
For our Montgomery County residents, if you wish to wander the not so fictional setting of The Dutch House, then I am pleased to inform you that copies are available through our public library system: MCLINC. Happy reading!
Patchett, Ann. “Notes from Ann: Your Questions about the Dutch House, Answered.” Musing, 6 Mar. 2020, https://parnassusmusing.net/2020/02/12/notes-from-ann-your-questions-about-the-dutch-house-answered/.
Wedding InvitationsWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
Most of us have received or mailed wedding invitations at some point in our lives. With increasing computer technology, printing invitations is relatively easy compared to the early 20th century printing process.
This is an example of a printing plate that was used to print a wedding invitation. The words were engraved in reverse into a piece of metal, typically an alloy of metals such as lead, copper, zinc, or magnesium. Ink was applied to the plate and then a piece of paper was pressed against it. The resulting printed invitation would then be legible, with the words facing the correct way. This particular invitation states:
"Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Stover keen announce the marriage of their sister Jessica Marsteller to Lin Ambros Dettra Thursday March the second nieteen hundred and sixteen."
According to the census records, Jessica and Lin lived much of their lives in Norristown. Lin started as a farmer, but by 1930 became a clerical worker at a local tire company.
Here is another example of a printing plate This one states:
"Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Pierce Ryder request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Ruth Dodson to Captain Joseph Knox Fornance on Saturday, the fifth of April at twelve o'clock at the First Presbyterian Church Norristown, Pennsylvania."
Ruth and Captain Fornance were married in 1930. Captain Fornance was a prominent soldier, lawyer, and civic leader in Norristwon. He grew up on Selma farm, which still stands today and is operated by the Norristown Preservation Society.
The Sundance KidWritten by Karen Ploch, Curator
While looking through family files to help a patron with their research, we uncovered a series of newspaper clippings about The Sundance Kid. If you are a fan of Western history or Western films, you have probably heard of him as well as Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, also known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. However, did you know The Sundance Kid was born in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania?
Born around 1867 in Mont Clare, Harry A. Longabaugh spent his childhood in Montgomery and Chester Counties. By 1880, the Census has him living in West Vincent Township working as a hired servant. According to the newspaper articles we found, about a year later Harry moved to Colorado with his cousin George.
1880 Census, West Vincent, Chester County, PA
Around the age of 20, Harry stole a horse when he was in Sundance, Wyoming and the local newspapers started calling him "the kid from Sundance." By 1889, he met Butch Cassidy, whose real name was Robert LeRoy Parker. Together their gang robbed banks and trains throughout the American West.
According to a diary kept by the Longabaugh family, Harry came back to Montgomery County to visit his sister Samantha (Sammanna) a few times during this period. This was no easy feat as Pinkerton Agents (a security company hired by the railroad) were constantly pursuing him and his fellow outlaws. He also reportedly visited his brother and fellow outlaw, Elwood, in San Francisco. Aside from these two siblings, the rest of the family appears to have distanced themselves from Harry as he turned to a life of crime.
By 1901, Harry and Robert were forced to flee the United States as the Pinkerton Agents pursued them. Records have them living in Cholila, Argentina at that time. By 1908, the paper trail for both men seems to disappear. In November of that year, a courier for the Aramayo, Franke, and Cia Silver Mine was robbed of the company's payroll by two masked Americans near San Vincente, Bolivia. Believing the men to be Butch and Sundance, Bolivian authorities pursued them and a shootout commenced. During a lull in the fire fight, gunshots and screams were heard from the outlaws' hiding place. Upon entering the building, the Bolivian authorities found the two men dead. One had been severely injured from Bolivian bullets, and appeared to have been shot in the head by his partner to put him out of his misery. The other then turned the gun on himself.
Proper identification was never made of these two men, but the authorities believed them to be Butch and Sundance. Several attempts to identify the location of the bodies in the San Vincente cemetery have thus far failed, causing some to speculate the men were not the two famous outlaws. Without any paper or DNA evidence, the circumstances surrounding their deaths remains a mystery.