Found in Collection

Found in Collection (282)

Thursday, 18 November 2021 21:02

The Lenape languages

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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.


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.


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.




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.

800px Lenape Languages

By -, CC BY-SA 3.0,


*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.


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


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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.


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.


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.


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.

Vom himmel

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.

shape notes


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.






Thursday, 21 October 2021 19:48

Some Norristown grocery stores

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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:


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.


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.


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.



Willow and Elm

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.


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:

adams book

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.

220px Gilbert Stuart John Quincy Adams Google Art Project

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.

letter JQA

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.


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.

Whitpain schools

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.


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.


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.

Thursday, 30 September 2021 17:19

Picture Cubes

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20210928 135959

Picture Cubes Puzzle Toy c. 1894, HSMC Collection

We have a fair number of toys in HSMC's collection, but this one is my personal favorite. Copyrighted in 1894 by the McLoughlin Bro.'s of New York, this is a picture cube puzzle. It came to HSMC through the Francis Schlater Estate in 1961. It comes in a wooden box and contains 32 wooden blocks. Each side of every block has a piece of colored paper attached to it. When assembled, the blocks form one of six different pictures. Black and white sketches of each scene are included for the child to reference when assembling the different pictures.



Picnic Party on the Shores of a Lake

McLoughlin Brothers Incorporates was a publishing firm based in New York City. They were considered pioneers in printing children's books in color between 1858 and 1920. John McLoughlin, Jr. (1827 - 1905), learned wood engraving and printing when he worked for Elton & Co. as a teenager. This company was created by his father, John Sr., and Robert H. Elton. By 1851, John Sr. and Elton retired, handing the company over to John Jr.

Native Americans

Native American Camp

He soon began publishing picture books under his own name. John Jr.'s younger brother Edmund became a partner in 1855 and the new company was first listed in the New York City directory in 1858. They soon expanded their products to include toys and games like the one we have at HSMC.


An Elephant Ride

In 1871, the company opened a color printing factory in Brooklyn, employing at least 75 artists to experiment color printing techniques. After Edmund retired in 1885, John Jr.'s sons James and Charles joined the company. John Jr. died in 1905 and in 1920 the company was sold to Milton Bradley and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. After this sale, the production of books continued, but toys like the one at HSMC were discontinued. 


A Circus Procession

As for the picture cubes at HSMC, the donor records do not indicate how the family acquired it. Since McLoughlin Bros, Inc. printed catalogues advertising their products, I suspect it was either ordered through the McLoughlin catalog or was bought at a local toy store.


Farmyard Scene



Coach Scene




Thursday, 23 September 2021 19:40

McDivitt’s drug store

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A delivery truck for McDivitt's decorated for Halloween

Yesterday I sat down with our photograph collection (even I need a break from old books), and scanned a collection that came to the Historical Society in 1988 from John and Martha Shinn. The photographs feature Hooven Rutty of Norristown and his family. Hooven worked at McDivitt’s Drug Store on Main Street for most of his working life.


Hooven behind the counter

Joseph McDivitt began his drug business in 1909. He first appears in the 1910-1912 Boyd’s City Directory as a seller of patent medicines at 315 DeKalb St. in Norristown.  According to his obituary in the Norristown Times-Herald, the business grew quickly, and he moved to a larger space around 1916.  That location, 75 E. Main Street, was gutted by fire in 1926.  


Norristown, c. 1920, showing a sign for McDivitt's Cut Rate Store

McDivitt worked out of a space in the new completed Valley Forge Hotel before moving to 7 W. Main St. where the business would remain until the 1970's.


Joseph McDivitt

Joseph McDivitt died in 1938, but it looks like his widow, Esther, continued to own the store hiring other managers to run it. Later, in the 1960’s the store passed to new owners.


Hooven B. Rutty shaking hands with Esther McDivitt

Hooven B. Rutty was born in Norristown in 1880. He married Hannah Shinn in 1921. He was already working at McDivitt’s by that point. Hooven worked for the drug store from the 1910’s until he retired, probably around 1960.


Hooven as a young man

 In the 1970’s the name changed to Quality Drug Store, but soon after that it disappears from the directories.

Thursday, 16 September 2021 18:01

Family Bibles

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collins NT

Jones family records


Here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, we have a robust collection of family Bibles. A large family Bible was often the only book a family owned, and it was passed down through the generations. Originally, families used the flyleaves or endpapers of the book to record the family's births, marriages, and deaths (flyleaves are those blank pages at the beginning and end of a book, the endpapers are the thicker sheets that are glued to the inside of the cover).

collins bible

Title page of a 1791 Collins Bible, owned by the Jones family

By the 19th century, publishers were producing Bibles specifically to be family Bibles. They came with extra pages between the Old and New Testaments to record family events. The first American to print such a family Bible was Isaac Collins of Trenton. We have two copies of his 1791 family Bible in our collection.  In his Bibles the extra pages are left blank.  Later Bibles would have decorated pages often with color illustrations. 

Corson bible

The marriages page from the Corson family Bible (J. W. Bradley, Philadelphia, undated)

Family Bibles were very popular in the 19th century, a period of increasing literacy and consumerism. They were often sold by traveling salesmen.

The genealogical information in family Bibles is gold to a researcher, but otherwise the Bibles are pretty much the same (sometimes they’re exactly the same). They’re very large books, obviously meant to be kept in a place of honor. At three or four inches in width, it’s easy for this archivist to work through a shelf of Bibles in a couple of hours. On the other hand, they take up a lot of our limited shelf space for 2 or 3 pages of information. For that reason, we no longer accept family Bibles (though we do accept photocopies or scans of the records).

Hetrick records

Hetrich family records in German (Langhoffschen Buchdruckeren, Hamburg, 1828)

I hope to finish cataloging these Bibles soon. Once I do, I’ll post of list of the family names on our website with the archival finding aids.

Thursday, 09 September 2021 20:21

The Great Art of Light and Shadows

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moon phases

The Great Art of Light and Shadows may sound like the latest YA to hit the shelves of Barnes & Noble, but it’s actually a work about the physics of light from the 17th century. I found it yesterday among the family Bibles, collections of sermons, and other religious books. How did it get shelved there?

I have a couple of theories. First, it’s in Latin, which people tend to associate with Roman Catholicism. Second, the author is Jesuit priest named Athanasius Kircher, so earlier librarians might have assumed it was a religious work. But, remember, Copernicus was a priest, too. Kircher was a polymath of the late Renaissance who wrote about many topics including Egyptian hieroglyphs, magnetism, and yes, theology. Finally, the book is really big and really old, and most of the really big and really old books in our collection are Bibles.


The moon

Kircher was a German from Thuringia, born in 1601 or 1602. He became a Jesuit novice in his teens and was ordained in 1628. He served as a professor of ethics and mathematics in Würzberg, but he left Germany in 1634 in part to escape the Thirty Years War. He was sent to Rome and from 1634 until his death in 1680, he taught math, physics, and several languages at the Jesuit College.

moon dial

A moon dial

Now, what has this to do with Montgomery County? Nothing, yet. The book is really cool though. Here’s a Jesuit horoscope (literally “marker of the hour”) with the phrase “From East to West praiseworthy is the name of our Lord“ in 34 different languages including Scottish, Chinese, and Dalmation! It also lists all the Jesuit missions around the world and how to tell the time at each one.



The Jesuit Horoscope and a close-up showing the phrase in English

And this is actually an illustration of Saturn. According to the Wikipedia article on the book, when the first edition was published (1645), Saturn was assumed to have two close satellites that caused it to look bulged when seen in a telescope. Galileo had described them as “ears.” By the time of the second edition, Christiaan Huygens had published his theory that Saturn had rings, but Kircher didn’t update the illustration.


But, Montgomery County? Well, the book itself doesn’t have anything to do with our fair county. What’s interesting is how it came to be here. It was published in Amsterdam. There’s an inscription on the title page and a book plate that mark it as the property of a Dominican convent’s library. I did a Google image search on the bookplate and found that it comes from a convent in Augsburg. The plate itself dates to the eighteenth century, but the book could have been there earlier.


I don’t know how it crossed the ocean, but it came to the historical society in 1897. A sheet of paper tucked inside the book explains that it was found during the demolition of a house on the corner of Basin and DeKalb. But it wasn’t just in the house, it was hidden in a secret spot near the top of the chimney. This paper was written by our librarian, Rudolf Hommel, and he did some research into its likely owner. Written on the inside cover is the name George W. Allen, and a George W. Allen is in the 1867 city directory living at corner of DeKalb and Basin, but in the 1870, he appears at another address. Another man, Horatio S. Stevens, lived in the house for several decades according to the directories. So it seems Allen hid his book and moved out without retrieving it.


A chameleon in a discussion of how it changes color

“The problem,” Hommel concludes, “Is to find out who this G. W. Allen was.”

Indeed. I did my best to find some evidence of Allen. There’s a George W. Allen in Norristown in 1870 census, but that George W. Allen, a lime dealer, is listed with a wife, two children, and a servant. An 1868 deed has him buying property in Norristown, which explains the address change. He sold that property in 1874, and in the 1880 census he’s in Philadelphia and listed as a real estate agent. I don’t know for sure that it’s the same man who owned the book, but there aren’t any other George Allens in Norristown at the time.

That still doesn’t explain why he hid the book. As parent, I can’t help but wonder if it was just to keep the kids from touching it. And maybe he just forgot about it. How did he even wind up with it in the first place? I can make an educated guess that the book left its convent about 1802, when the convents were secularized (the Bavarians were inspired by the French Revolution), but it’s just a guess. There’s no other indication of where the book has been.


The world from the north pole (I made this one upside down to better show North America)

One more thing about the book, there’s another note in it. This one is handwritten by William Reid and dated 1913. The note says that the frontispiece seems “evidently” to be an illustration of the mixture of Mithraism and Christianity in the 4th century. Apparently, Reid’s Latin was even worse than mine, but that note might be why it was shelved with religious works.


The frontispiece, a Renaissance allegory for knowledge

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