Found in Collection

Found in Collection (284)

Wednesday, 10 April 2024 21:35

Surprise! Presidential Autographs

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Imagine my surprise when looking for a guest book for our archival display case, I found an autograph book with some very intriguing signatures. In the 19th century, long before smart phones allowed for selfies to be taken with celebrities, there were autograph books. Truthfully they were used for a variety of things such as by university students to remember their classmates (this was also before yearbooks). But for this instance, it looks like the goal was political.

Charles Henry Jones of Reading, Pennsylvania spent a good portion of 1852 collection autographs from various government officials including two United States presidents.

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Inside the cover and first page of Charles H. Jones' autograph book. Featuring autographs of James Buchanan, Winfield Scott, William L. Marcy. (1954.10388.001)

Already intrigued I turned the next page and found another presidential signature: Millard Fillmore.

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Autographs of Millard Fillmore, Daniel Webster, Thomas Corwin, and Charles Magill Conrad. (1954.10388.001)

Following these pages, the rest of the book is divided by state, each with at least one autograph of a representative from the respective state. Important for us in this autograph under Pennsylvania. 

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John McNair, Norristown Montgomery C. Penn. (1954.10388.001)

John McNair served as a congressman from 1851-1855 and as is noted in his autograph above, he would have represented our district in Congress. Before serving in Congress he was a clerk of the courts here in Montgomery County as well. 

According to our records, this book was donated along with another autograph book featuring autographs from Franklin Pierce, his cabinet, and other government representatives. Who knows which other autographs might be found in our collection.



Wednesday, 13 March 2024 21:03

The Venezuelan Volcano

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Hollywood stars have a wide range of backgrounds. One star in particular has a connection to Montgomery County. Burnu Aquanetta, also known as the Venezuelan Volcano, was a rising star in the early 1940s. She originally told agents she was from Venezuela, hence the nickname Venezuela Volcano.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

Aquanetta was a model in New York City when she was first discovered by a publicity agent. She also attracted the attention of columnist Elsa Maxwell at the El Morrocco night club. Maxwell helped to introduce Aquanetta to people in Hollywood.

When one agent asked to see her Venezuelan passport, Aquanetta admitted she had never been to Venezuela. She then claimed she was born in Wyoming and her parents, members of the Arapaho Tribe, died when she was young. She went on to claim she was adopted by another member of the tribe named Linda, but ultimately ran away when she was a teenager. Her story continued that she followed a gypsy camp until she finally ended up in New York.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

There were also stories circulated at Universal Studios that Aquanetta was born in the West and adopted by New England artists Don and Ann Brothers. This story continued by saying she was a member of the Narragansett Tribe.

Ultimately, on October 17, 1942, an article in the Norristown Times Herald revealed Burnu Aquanetta's real name was Mildred Davenport. The article described her as "the girl who fooled Hollywood". She lived on Green Street in Norristown and graduated from Norristown High School in 1938. Some of you may remember a 2022 blog post I wrote about her brother, Judge Horace A. Davenport.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

So why did she make up the stories about being Venezuelan and Native American? The most common explanation I found was that she wanted to work in Hollywood, but did not want to be turned away for being African American.

Thursday, 29 February 2024 18:15

1918 Flu Pandemic Project

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We have an exciting new resource to announce. Long-time volunteer and former Board President, Charles Kelly has worked on several projects for HSMC over the years. Some of you may have seen his work with Montgomery County Soldiers During World War I or his Capital Sin program.

He just released his latest project, which is now stored digitally at HSMC. Using death certificates, Charles compiled a list of people from Montgomery County, PA who died during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. There are 2108 names on the list. It lists their names, where they were born, where they died, what cemetery they are buried in, and other bits of information about the individual.


Many local cemeteries in our county are rumored to have sections where flu victims were buried, including our own Montgomery Cemetery. Some of these claims can be backed up and others have not yet been proven nor disproved, such as Montgomery Cemetery. 

Based on Charles' research, he believes at least two cemeteries have a designated area for 1918 flu victims. One is St. Matthew's Cemetery in Conshohocken. It is believed that flu victims were buried behind the mausoleum at that cemetery. The other cemetery is Riverside Cemetery in West Norriton. Based on his research, Charles thinks flu victims may be buried along the tree line toward the back of the cemetery between the community mausoleum and the Norriton Lawn.

1918 Flu Victims in Riverside

Charles' research can be accessed at HSMC via our computers. Our goal is to eventually find a way to transfer the data to an online friendly resource that can be accessed through our website.



Wednesday, 21 February 2024 22:45

Abington Friends Cemetery

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If you follow us on social media, you may have seen a recent post about our Mapping MontCo. Black History project. After giving a presentation about the project at an event hosted by the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, we got a few more contributions to the map.

Mapping MontCo Black History

One of the recent additions to the map is the Abington Friends Cemetery. At least 66 people of African descent are buried at this cemetery in unmarked graves. The Meeting learned about this from their old burial records. In these records the designation "COL" (which is short for "colored") appears next to many of the names of people buried at this cemetery. The dates for these records ranges from 1851 to 1925.

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According to the Meeting's website, a marker was placed in the cemetery listing the names of the 66 individuals in 2022. To look up the names of these people, reach out to Abington Friends Meeting. If you are looking for other cemetery records, be sure to stop by HSMC's library. We have binders filled with various records for different cemeteries in Montgomery County.

Our Mapping MontCo. Black History is an on going, community based project. Our goal is to continue gathering information about all things related to Black History in Montgomery County, PA and make it easy and free for the public to access. To view the map, click here. If you have sites to contribute to the map, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





Thursday, 08 February 2024 00:08

Ambler Opera and Theater

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While preparing for our next exhibit, Downtown: Then and Now, I came across this picture in our photograph collection.

Ambler Opera House

Harry Samuel Nash and Store Clerk, Haberdashery Store, HSMC Photographs Collection

According to the back of the photograph, it depicts Harry Samuel Nash and a store clerk in front of Nash's Haberdashery Store in Ambler. The photograph is dated around 1902 to 1904. Nash's store was located in the former Ambler Opera House.

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Ambler Opera House, HSMC Photographs Collection

Like most buildings in Ambler, the Opera House was a product of the Keasbey and Mattison Company. It was built around 1889. The first floor housed six stores like Nash's until 1904. In 1928, the building was renovated into a movie theater.

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Ambler Opera House c. 1928, HSMC Photographs Collection

In our extensive N. Howard collection, which covers many aspects of Ambler, we are fortunate to have a few photographs of the Opera House. We even have photographs taken right before and during its demolition in 1967. From the demolition photographs, you can tell they were worried about the asbestos as some of the workers wore masks on the scene.


Demolition of Ambler Opera House 1967, HSMC Photographs Collection

This building was located on Butler Pike between Maple Avenue and the railroad tracks. Today it is home to a parking lot and a French restaurant. Many other buildings in Ambler did not share the same fate as the Opera House.

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Ambler Theater, HSMC Photographs Collection

One example is the Ambler Theater, also located on Butler Pike. It opened in 1928 and was originally operated by Warner Brothers. This theater closed in 1969/1970 and was reopened as a Christian movie theater. By 1997, the theater closed again. It was purchased in 2001 and became the non-profit Ambler Theater, Inc. The group restored the theater in stages and continues to show films to this day in 2024.

Wednesday, 24 January 2024 19:57

The Dill Company

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One question people often ask me is "How do you research some of the items in HSMC's collection?" This depends a lot on the type of item in question and what we already know about it from the donor's records. For example, there are some items, like this medicine bottle pictured below, that come to us with limited information.

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Medicine Bottle, The Dill Co., HSMC Collection, 2013.016.020

For this piece, we can see that it is labeled "The Dill Co." on one side and "Norristown, PA" on the other. Based on its size and shape, we can guess it was likely a medicine bottle from either the late 1800s or early 1900s. Beyond that, we really did not know anything about this Dill Company.

Since it was a business, the best place to start searching was our Norristown City Directories. Sure enough, from 1908 to 1931 I found references to Dill Co. and Dill Medicine Co. under the "Patent Medicines" section. The directories list C. H. Alderfer as the president.

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Medicine Bottle, The Dill Medicine Co., HSMC Collection, 2013.016.009

Now the question remains, who started this business? Based on my searches, I know there was a Dr. Wallace W. Dill (1877-1953) living in Norristown at the same time the company operated. We also have two other medicine bottles connected to this company. One is labeled "Prof. W. W. Dill" and the other is labeled "The Dill Medicine Co." The one with Prof. Dill's label is my personal favorite because the bottle was supposed to hold something called the "Balm of Life". I wonder what could have originally been held in that bottle.

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Medicine Bottle, Balm of Life, HSMC Collection, 2013.016.010

Anyway, although Dr. Wallace W. Dill's address was not the same as the Dill Company's address, it is still very possible that he was the creator of this company. As for C. H. Alderfer, if I found the correct person, Clayton H. Alderfer served in the Norristown Banking industry at this time. Perhaps he helped Dr. Dill with a loan or money matters and was thus made the president of the company.


Tuesday, 09 January 2024 17:37

Jacob Strahley

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For our first blog of 2024, we are going to look at a beautiful secretary at HSMC. When unlocking the drop-down front, it reveals a series of additional drawers and a prospect door. The prospect door was designed to store more important documents that could be kept behind a separate lock.

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Secretary, 1967.11262.001, Bequeathed by Mrs. Flora High Taeffner, a descendant of the maker

This secretary is made from bird's eye maple and Circassian walnut. It was made around 1850 by a Norristown cabinetmaker, Jacob Strahley. It was bequeathed to HSMC by Mrs. Flora High Taefner, who allegedly was a descendant of Strahley.

Strahley was born in 1827 and was a long-time cabinetmaker in Norristown. His business was listed at a few different addresses on Main Street throughout his career, which lasted from at least 1850 until the 1880s. By the end of his career, he was suffering from Bright's disease, which made it difficult for him to keep working as a cabinetmaker.


Secretary, 1967.11262.001, Bequeathed by Mrs. Flora High Taeffner, a descendant of the maker

He married Andora "Annie" Missimer on January 26, 1860 at the Nazareth Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Together they had a daughter, Sallie M. Hallowell. When Jacob Strahley died on May 3, 1887, he was believed to be one of the oldest cabinetmakers in Norristown. Jacob is said to have only had one heir at the time of his death, Sallie's son Strahley Hallowell.

Jacob, Andora, and Sallie are all buried in Section A, Lot 40-42 at Historic Montgomery Cemetery.


Monday, 18 December 2023 16:56

Horsham Trolleys

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For our last blog of 2023, I wanted to share some winter scenes from our photographs collection.




This collection of photographs depicts trolleys in Horsham. Many of these trolleys are buried in deep snowbanks, but a few of the pictures appear to be taken outside of the winter months. The photographer(s) are not known as there are no markings or signature on these photographs. 



One of the photographs provides a clear side view of one of the trolleys. The trolley was operated by P.R.T. Co., which we believe was short for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. We know it 1909 the company built small freight stations along the Doylestown line. This included one at Hallowell, a village in Horsham. This station was located on Easton Road near Moreland Avenue.



While hunting for a different item for a Civil War research request, I came across a thin booklet in our archives. It lists Pennsylvania soldiers who were buried at Andersonville, the notorious prison in Georgia.

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The booklet lists the soldiers in alphabetical order. It also includes their regiment, cause of death, date of death, and grave number. The front of the booklet also includes a short note to Pennsylvania Governor Curtin dated July 1, 1865. It's from the Surgeon General of Pennsylvania, Joseph A. Phillips, who explains he compiled this list at the request of the Governor.

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Due to horrendous conditions, nearly 13,000 prisoners of war died at Andersonville. Some, like J. Carr, were from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. When looking at the cause of death in this booklet, just about all of them died from disease as a result of the unsanitary conditions at the prison.

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If you thing you have a Pennsylvania ancestor who might have died at Andersonville, definitely stop by HSMC to look at this booklet. The National Park Service also has some resources to help people learn more about their ancestors who are buried in the National Cemetery in Andersonville. You can follow this link to their website:

Monday, 27 November 2023 21:14

A Native American Woman

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For those of you who use our scrapbook collection, you know we have been working hard to digitize them. Since they are all made from newspaper, the material is falling apart and not repairable. Thanks to volunteers, we have scanned most of these scrapbooks which can now be easily accessed on our computers in the library. Today's blog is about a story from one of those scrapbooks. 

In scrapbook D-5 88, pages 473 to 475, someone wrote an article titled "Ancient Burial Sites in Perkiomen Township". The unknown author appears to have written this article for a local newspaper, but they do not indicate which one or the year it was written. They write about a few burial grounds in and near Perkiomen Township. One in particular caught our attention.

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The Lederach Burial Ground is located near the intersection of Morris Road and Andrews Drive in Lower Salford. At least four members of the Lederach family are known to be buried here, but the author claims more people are buried here in unmarked graves. One of these graves is said to belong to a Native American woman.

The story claims the woman stayed behind when her tribe was pushed out from the area. Being elderly, she likely either could not make the journey or did not want to leave her home. The author claims she was hiding because the custom was to kill the elderly who could not travel, but it is important to note they do not use any evidence to support this claim. Given that the author uses the derogatory word "squaw" to describe the woman, there is reason to question this part of the story in the absence of historical evidence. 

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Anyway, Andreas Zeigler is claimed to have adopted the woman into his family. She spent the rest of her life herding cattle and doing handiwork for the family. When she died (date not mentioned) a Mennonite minister named Henrich Hunsicker gave the sermon at her funeral.

These types of stories are usually passed down through oral histories. Given that the author claims to have spoken with many older residents of the area, it seems likely that an elderly Native American woman resided and is buried in the area. Without any other written evidence of this story, it is hard to tell how accurate each part of the story is. Hopefully some day we will learn more about this woman.


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