Found in Collection

Found in Collection (288)

Tuesday, 07 November 2023 20:18

Dr. Ralph Linwood Johnson

Written by

You may recall a recent blog about the accession of the Hophni Van Fossen Johnson portrait into our collection. You can read the old blog by clicking here.

Why am I bringing this portrait up again? Well, I have some exciting news! We are fortunate to add another member of the Johnson family to our portrait collection. The portrait of Dr. Ralph Linwood Johnson was recently donated to HSMC. Ralph was the youngest son of Hophni Van Fossen Johnson and Elizabeth Shrawder.

2023061001 4

Portrait of Dr. Ralph Linwood Johnson, 2023.061 HSMC Portrait Collection, Gift of the Johnson Family

Dr. Ralph Linwood Johnson was born on October 2, 1873 in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County. He attended Ursinus College but had to occasionally interrupt his education with periods of teaching to help pay for tuition. As you may recall from the last blog about Hophni, the family struggled with finances for a while.

Ralph attended Ursinus on and off from 1889 until his graduation in June 1897. He obtained his master's in arts from Ursinus in June 1899. After college Ralph became a teacher and later a principal in West Conshohocken.


Dr. Johnson's Honorary Degree, 2023.061, Gift of the Johnson Family 

Along with the portrait, we also received his honorary doctorate from Ursinus College. It is written completely in Latin and printed on either thick paper or potentially animal skin. The degree states Anno Salutis MDCCCCXX, which I believe translates to "In the year of salvation 1920". So this honorary degree was bestowed upon him 21 years after he obtained his master's degree from Ursinus.

Thursday, 26 October 2023 19:00

Having Fun with an Old Halloween Invitation

Written by

With Halloween fast approaching, I thought everyone would enjoy this party invitation from the Aceola Tennis Club dated 1893. When we compare our English language today with older documents, it can provide for some entertaining conversations.

20231023 113842 

This invitation has a pig design along with a pickax and a quill. It seems reasonable that they were planning to have pig as the main meat at this event and they made sure to include that the pig would be "Rich Fragrant and Juicy". I was not sure why the pickax and quill were there, so I asked our Archivist Erica. She said it is probably a short way of saying "pick of the pen".


The invitation goes on to describe other things that will be at the party: cakes, nuts, fructus, and hash. However, there are two lines that admittedly gave me a chuckle. The first one is what they decided to write after listing pies and things, "chew well ere too late". Is that their way of saying "chew your food so you don't choke" or was this a threat? (Obviously not a threat).


The second fun line comes after hash, "a regular storm breeder". I think that is possibly the funniest way I have ever heard anyone describe hash, but I guess it was one of their popular dishes at the club.


As for the history of the Aceola Tennis Club, I don't currently know much about them. The club was located in Norristown during the 1890s. Tennis was becoming very popular in the US at this time, so there were tennis clubs popping up in many towns. I don't know how long Aceola was in Norristown, but I think we can all agree they created a fun Halloween invitation.


Photo of Aceola Booth at an Event in Norristown, HSMC Photograph Collection


Wednesday, 11 October 2023 19:54

The Weikel Family and Shannonville

Written by

Our guest blogger, George Detwiler, is back with another story from the Audubon area:


This home at the corner of Pawlings Road and Lark Lane was part of a large farm owned by Aaron Weikel in the early 19th century. When we moved into our home on Owl Road in 1953, the barn for the home was still partially standing (where the firehouse is now) and served as a playground for the kids in the neighborhood. A dirt lane extended in back of the homes on Lark Lane and Owl Road to a spot that served as their dump. Well into the 1970s at least, my neighbor would occasionally dig up old bottles and other items when he was planting flowers at the back of their yard.

One of the many interesting features of this property was a concrete slab about 6 feet square that sat between the home and barn. I have read in old newspaper accounts of early Shannonville that the property included a ventilation shaft for the Perkiomen mines an this may have been the location of this shaft.

The Weikels were one of the leading families in Shannonville back in the early 19th century. Aaron was a schoolteacher at the Beech Tree School (the second in Shannonville). He also conducted a singing school with Thomas Highley. Weikel even led the choir at Lower Providence Presbyterian Church, led a debate society, dabbled in real estate, was the town's postmaster, and was a courthouse official at various times.


1870s Atlas at HSMC

In 1869, he and John Williams bought the 14 small stone miners' cottages that sat along Egypt Road and covered about two acres of land for $1,200. That was about the same time that the mines were shutting down and it probably seemed like a good deal. A year later, Williams sold his interest in the homes to Weikel for about $350.00. He must have retained a small portion of the land, though, since it was his donation of land that allowed the little white Chapel to be built along Egypt Road neat the intersection that was named after him.

Weikel also was the purchaser of some of the last Shannon land in Shannonville. In 1891 he purchased the Shannonville store and post office at the corner of Pawlings and Egypt Roads (now the site of Ebru Coffee) and the 1/2 acre of land it sat on for $1,800. Prior to owning this I am fairly certain that he ran a store out of his home that competed with the Shannon store. He later transferred the Shannon store to his son, Horace.

In 1883, Weikel was elected the Recorder of Deeds for a three year term. He died at the age of 69 in 1903. His wife survived him until 1926, dying at the age of 88. Her estate held on to the property (I believe) until its eventual sale and development by George Custer into the housing development I grew up in (Lark Lane, Owl Road, Pheasant Road and Sparrow Road).

Wednesday, 27 September 2023 21:08

Montgomery County Almshouse Journal Excerpts

Written by

Today I thought I would share a unique resource we have here at HSMC. If you have been following our blog and social media posts for a while, you likely have seen several references to the Montgomery County Almshouse. Click here to see a past blog post about the history of that site.


In our library, we have a binder titled "Montgomery County Alms House Journal Excerpts 1884-1907". For those of you looking to research the Almshouse or are doing genealogy research, this binder has a wealth of information. It includes births, names of children, deaths, and people with mental health conditions.

One part of the binder in particular caught my eye. Next to the names of the people who died at the Almshouse is a note of where they were buried. Some lines say they were buried at A.H., which I believe was short for "Alms House". Other lines say "taken away for burial". However, there are some lines that say something like "sent to Phila". 


We know it was not an uncommon practice to send bodies to medical schools around this time. When the Pennsylvania Anatomy Act was passed in 1883 it allowed teachers and students to study bodies without buying them. The goal of this act was to prevent grave robbing. So when we see phrases like "sent to Phila", it is possible this means these people either did not have a next of kin or were too poor to afford burial and thus may have been sent to a medical school in Philadelphia.

We have seen other instances where such practices took place. For example, while hunting for a different Ann Moore, we uncovered this person who died at the State Hospital in Norristown in 1901.

medical college study

When you see "Anatomical" in the Cemetery line on, it is likely in reference to a person's body being sent to a medical school for study. Today, there are more rules involving consent for donating bodies to medical schools.

Thursday, 07 September 2023 15:58

Othniel S. Spang

Written by

We have several framed paintings at HSMC. Two of these paintings were created by a Norristown artist, Othniel S. Spang. The first example of his work is a painting of the bridge over Saw Mill Run in Norristown.

Bridge Over Saw Mill Run 3

The Bridge Over Saw Mill Run. Painted by Othniel Spang. (HSMC Art Collection, 1931.8290.003)

Othniel was born in the Oley Valley, Berks County on April 14, 1821. He was the eldest son of Jacob and Mary Sands Spang, who were both from Philadelphia. Othniel's paternal grandfather owned an iron furnace in the Oley Valley. The Family moved there when his father Jacob became the manager of this iron business. In 1831, the family moved to Norristown where Jacob became the owner of the Farmer's Hotel, a local tavern. Jacob ran this business until 1834, when he transitioned into politics.

At the age of seventeen, Othniel was learning the stone cutting trade. Ultimately, he left this trade in 1843 to work in a foundry business with his brother-in-law, Thomas Saurman. By 1854, Othniel decided to pursue his true passion, art. He opened his studio in Norristown. By 1855, he was teaching art in the local public schools.

20230907 104614 1

Portrait of Thomas Martin Saurman,1846-1908. Painted by Othniel Spang 1860. (HSMC Portrait Collection, 1937.9138.001)

Othniel's talent was largely self-taught. The only official training he obtained was one course taught by Professor Mason, from the Franklin Institute, and a technical instruction from his friend and fellow artist, Paul Weber. 

Othniel took a break from teaching art when the Civil War began. He enlisted in Company E of the 15th PA Cavalry. After the battle of Antietam, Othniel became sick with typhoid fever. He managed to recover and rejoined his regiment. During his time in Tennessee, Othniel kept a sketchbook so he could continue practicing art. After the war, he continued to work with local students in Norristown and was listed as an instructor at the Oakland Female Institute. Othniel died on March 11, 1898 and was buried at Historic Montgomery Cemetery in lot A-49.




Kelly, James C. "A Union Soldier's Sketchbook of the Chattanooga Region," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Fall 1992), pp. 157-160. Tennessee Historical Society.

Wiley, Samuel T. "Othniel S. Spang," Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: Containing Biographic Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with an Introductory Historical Sketch. Biographical Publishing Company, 1895, pp. 78-79.

Thursday, 31 August 2023 18:33

Buck Taylor, King of the Cowboys

Written by

We have a guest blogger for this latest post. HSMC Board member and volunteer, George Detwiler, writes about Buck Taylor, King of the Cowboys:

One of the more colorful characters associated with the history of Betzwood and the  Shannonville/Audubon area was William Levi "Buck" Taylor. Buck was born on November 15, 1857 in Texas. His grandfather was one of those killed at the Alamo. Buck was orphaned at a young age when his father died fighting in the Civil War and his mother died shortly thereafter. He and his brother, Bax, became cowhands while still in their teens, running herds of cattle throughout the West where he was regarded as the best bronco buster in the country. Buck eventually signed on to Buffalo Bill Cody's Ranch in Nebraska.


Photo Credit: Source -Buffalo Bill Online Archive MS6 William F. Cody Collection Rights- McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West

I also learned Buck and Bax's sister, Mary, was also quite the cowhand. She mixed right in there with Buck, Bax, and the other cowboys and was considered an excellent rider, roper, and cattle handler. Sort of the Calamity Jane type.

When Buffalo Bill Cody formed his Wild West Show, Buck was asked to join. His tall size led him to be cast as General Custer in their reenactments of the Battle of Little Bighorn, also sometimes referred to as "Custer's Last Stand." Several dime novels were written with him as the main character. His fame became so great at the time he was known as "The King of the Cowboys."

Buck Taylor March 18 1953 TH

Times Herald, March 18, 1953, HSMC Microfilm Collection

In the 1890s, middle aged and retired from "show business," Buck settled in the East and was made Superintendent of the Betzwood Stock Farm in Betzwood, PA. This was a phenomenally successful horse breeding farm owned and run by wealthy beer brewer John Betz. 

After Betz' death, Taylor manged Stephens farm on Port Kennedy Road. He lived in the house that was used as the headquarters of Gen. Vernaum, commander of the Rhode Island troops, during the Valley Forge encampment during the Revolutionary War. Buck died on April 28, 1924. He is buried in the cemetery behind the Valley Forge Chapel.      

Thursday, 17 August 2023 15:51

Summerill Tubing Company, Part 2

Written by

After our last post about the Summerill Tubing Company, one of our volunteers gave us some extra insight into this company's history. As most of you likely know, Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly a non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. An article about his accomplishment was on the front page of the Times Herald on May 23, 1927.


Times Herald May 23, 1927

However, what you may not have known is Summerill Tubing Company made parts used in Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. An article about the company appears in the same paper right next to the Lindbergh article.


Times Herald, May 23, 1927

The company made the complete framework of the undercarriage chassis as well as the tail skid. The article explains the tubing was shipped to Ryan Airlines of San Diego, California from the Bridgeport Summerill Tubing Company prior to Lindbergh's flight. Once assembled, the plane was flown from San Diego to New York. It would then go on to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, 27 July 2023 20:19

Summerill Tubing Company

Written by

Every now and then someone asks us "Did you know this happened in Montgomery County?" You really never know what you will come across in your research. In this case, we learned that a Bridgeport company was once evaluated for a potential clean up project after fears of potential uranium exposure, according to the Wall Street Journal

According to the short excerpt found online, the Wall Street Journal cited the Summerville Tube Company was conducting metal fabrication research and development on uranium metal in the early 1940s. They cited their source as the Department of Energy, which initially considered cleaning up the site under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. It appears no clean up was done since exposure was considered minimum. 


While looking for more information I found there were documents about "Summerville" and "Summerill" Tubing Company. Both were located in Bridgeport apparently. Are they the same company? For now, my guess is yes. It turns out we actually have some magazines from Summerill in our Archives! They are all from the early 1940s and are advertising the company's manufacturing during World War II. 


This company, as can be guessed by the name, produced steel tubing when they were located in Bridgeport in the early 1900s. You can see an advertisement below from Aviation, Volume 23.


According to Montgomery County the Second Hundred Years book in our library, Summerill Tubing Company was founded in 1899 in Philadelphia. They bought the Protectus Paint Company in Bridgeport in 1910. They eventually moved to Pittsburgh in 1946.

It appears the same company might still operate, but is now in Scottdale, PA under the name Summerill High Precision Tube. If it's the same company, they claim to have been in business for over 100 years!







Aviation, Volume 23.

Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board, Volume 60.

Summerill High Precision Tube.

The Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, 12 July 2023 15:11

William Henry Ortlip

Written by

This week's blog is brought to us by one of our volunteers, Tate Conklin.

Painting of the DeKalb Street Bridge
Painting of the DeKalb Street Bridge by William H. Ortlip (HSMC Art Collection)

General Winfield Scott Hancock is a name widely known due to his dominance in the Civil War as a Union general. Recently, we found this oil painting of the DeKalb Street Bridge. It was painted by William Henry Ortlip—seemingly having no connection to W.S. Hancock. However, upon further research, we discovered that he is actually a first cousin of W.S. Hancock. 

William Henry Ortlip was born in 1851 in Audubon, PA. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Ortlip specialized in still life and landscape oil paintings.  He was good friends of Thomas  Eakin, an extremely notable artist of the late 19th century. 

Black and white photograph of William H. Ortlip
William Henry Ortlip (1851-1936) (HSMC Photograph Collection)

Ortlip’s monochromatic depiction of the DeKalb Street Bridge features a calming overcast sky reflecting  off of the Schuylkill River. This is contrasted by the prominent green trees, scattered in front of and around the bridge. The original bridge no longer stands; it burned down in 1924, but it was reopened a few years later. 

Painting runs in the Ortlip family, as it spans four generations of professional artists. William Henry Ortlip’s son, H. Willard Ortlip, was a motivated and skilled artist. He followed in his father’s footsteps and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he met his wife, Aimèe Eschner. Three of their seven children became professional artists. Third and fourth-generation descendants of William Henry Ortlip have continued embodying the family’s profound heritage. 

William Henry Ortlip died in 1936 and was buried in the Montgomery Cemetery. He has continued to inspire generations upon generations of Ortlips to follow suit and express their artistic talents. 


Wednesday, 28 June 2023 22:49

Hophni Van Fossen Johnson

Written by

This week we received a new addition to HSMC's portrait collection. This is a charcoal drawing of Hophni Van Fossen Johnson, who was from Norristown. He was a musician in the PA Reserves Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

Hophni 2

Charcoal Drawing of Hophni Van Fossen Johnson, HSMC Portraits Collection, 2023.052.001

After being discharged, Hophni became a miller. He married Elizabeth Shrawder in 1864 against the wishes of her father Joseph Shrawder. According to family genealogy books, prior to their marriage, Hophni wrote to Elizabeth through a third party to prevent her father from realizing they were communicating.

In April 1868, Hophni bought two tracts of land including a grist mill from his father David Johnson for $2,000. In May of that same year, he bought another small piece of land from William Evans for $200. One month later he paid $1 for the water rights in the Skippack Creek above the grist mill. Unfortunately, Hophni was not good with finances, which ultimately caused his milling business to fail.

unidentified mill

Unidentified Mill, HSMC Photographs Collection, 2014.342.710

Hophni sold part of the land in October 1875 to Levi Shrawder for $4,520. He filed for bankruptcy the following year. At the time of his bankruptcy his assets were $543.91 and he had claims of $1,603.86. After the bankruptcy, all legal documents were in Elizabeth's name. Hophni transitioned to making watches and clocks.

In 1884 Elizabeth and Hophni purchased a house on Ridge Pike in Lower Providence. Their mortgage was $550 and was supposed to paid in one year with an interest rate of 5 percent. However, for many years Elizabeth only paid the interest payments. She did not start paying the principle until 1892. Their debt was finally paid in full on August 15, 1902.


Page 2 of 21