Found in Collection

Found in Collection (271)

Thursday, 15 April 2021 16:01

Economy of a Freezer-Locker

Written by

One thing I remember about my grandma’s kitchen was that it was a little like a time machine. These days, people update their kitchens often, but my grandma’s kitchen was straight out of the 1950’s. It was small and closed off from the rest of the house, so I don’t think there’s any pictures of the table with metal trim and legs, the stove with an analog clock, or the short, fat, old refrigerator. You might remember the kind I mean with the heavy metal door and the handle that unlatched it.

Those refrigerators didn’t have much of a freezer. It was just a small compartment within the refrigerator. Looking back, I guess my grandmother just didn’t buy much frozen food, which was only coming into its own in the 1950’s.  Here at the Historical Society, the Knapp Family Papers from the 1940's and 1950's contain several booklets on how to properly freeze food.


This 1944 booklet produced by the Agricultural Extension Service of Penn State is what got me thinking about all of this. When I first saw this booklet last summer, I couldn’t figure out what the woman was doing. It looked to me almost as though she was storing food in a mausoleum! The inside explains that these are actually commercial freezers that families rented. They averaged about 6 cubic feet of space (smaller than many home freezers now) and were often rented by grocery stores and butchers. A family could save money buying meat or vegetables in bulk or growing food themselves and storing it in one of these freezers.


The booklet goes on to show just how much work went into food planning and preparation. It advises keeping a chart or map of what is in the freezer. Vegetables had to be blanched and then properly packaged usually in cellophane and then in paper boxes before freezing.

Another booklet from the same collection gives instructions on how to freeze poultry both “ready-to-cook” and the fresher variety. It advises the birds be wrapped in aluminum foil. There are also instructions for freezing cooked chicken and turkey and some interesting recipes including turkey chop suey and the classic chicken a la king.


This 1944 newspaper ad from PECO suggests that such freezers didn’t come into this area until after World War II.


Two are listed in the 1951 Norristown City Directory: Norristown Frozen Food Lockers on E. Lafayette and Termine’s Frosted Foods on Arch St. Termine’s seems to have been short lived, but the lockers on E. Lafayette stayed in business until 1960. We don’t have any photographs of these places in our collection, and I wasn’t able to find any advertisements for either of them. So I wonder if either of our readers remember them or other rental freezers in Montgomery County?

Thursday, 08 April 2021 15:43

Holly Brothers' Cheese

Written by

It's really starting to feel like spring and that got me thinking about our local farmers, who are likely in the midst of preparing their crops. We have a few artifacts at HSMC connected to local farms and companies that worked closely with them. One such artifact is this wooden cheese box from the Holly Brothers' Cheese Factory. 

Holly Bros 2

Holly Bros. Cheese Box, HSMC Collection

These boxes were used to distribute Holly Brothers' well-known hand cheese. This type of cheese is made with sour milk and was then formed by hand, hence its name. In some historic documents, the company's cheese is referred to as "Dutch Hand Cheese." It seems likely this description was used to tie it back to the cheese making processes used in Germany and the Netherlands

Charles and Theodore Holly purchased a cheese factory in Souderton from Adolph Erdin in 1892. The brothers used sour milk from local creameries to make their cheese. Part of their process involved removing whey from the sour milk. Oftentimes, whey that was removed during the cheese making process was sold back to the same farmers who originally provided the sour milk to the factory.

Souderton PA SM

Map of Souderton, PA c. 1894

In the above map, the red circle indicates the location of Holly Brothers' in Souderton. Although not pictured in the map, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, a tile pipe connected the basement to the nearby Skippack Creek. This pipe was used to help dispose of waste products.

By 1912, the company had started making cream cheese as well as their popular hand cheese. Holly Brothers' was making an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 boxes of cheese every week. Each box weighted roughly eight to nine pounds.


Holly Brothers' (number 6), 1924 Sanborn map of Souderton, Penn State Digital Collections

In the January 1923 edition of the Express Gazette Journal, Holly Brothers' was listed as one of Souderton's favorite industries. The company had become so popular it even shipped cheese to big cities as far away as St. Louis and New York City. C. H. Allebach is credited with this increase in production after joining the company in 1919.

I have not yet found an exact closing date for Holly Brothers', but it likely closed sometime in the mid-1900s.





Thursday, 01 April 2021 16:39

Willow Grove's Mineral Springs

Written by

mineral springs

For centuries, people with various ailments have traveled to mineral springs to drink and bathe in healing waters. The minerals in spring water were thought to heal skin conditions, ease indigestion, and cure many other complaints. In Montgomery County, Abington and Willow Grove were once well known for their mineral springs.

Thomas Hallowell was the first to advertise “Mineral Spaw Water” in 1768. Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet on the local water in 1773. He  referred to it as “Abington Water” and claimed the water was high in iron. Thomas French was the first to build a bath, but he was followed by others who also offered accommodation, and the area around “Willow Grove Springs” soon became a popular country retreat.

In 1784, a blacksmith from Germantown named George Rex, bought 39 acres around the springs and developed a tavern and hotel called the Mineral Springs Inn. Rex had showers and plunging baths at his inn and advertised that visitors from Philadelphia could take a daily stage coach to his establishment. The hotel stayed in the family until 1865 when John Berrell bought it. Charles Ehrenpfort bought the hotel in 1890 and undertook a large expansion in 1895.


When Willow Grove Park was built on swamp land south of the springs a year later, it became the main attraction and the mineral waters were forgotten.  Although the hotel stayed open and remained successful, few guests were drinking water.  Prohibition hit the hotel’s business hard.  It clsoed and was razed in the 1930’s.

Today, the location of the hotel and spring is the Veteran’s Memorial Park. In 2003, the Upper Moreland Historical Association began an excavation of the mineral spring with the goal of restoring it and incorporating it into the existing park. As part of the process, the Montgomery County Health Department tested the mineral content of the water and found it to be similar to the water throughout the county..


Sources: Weiss, Harry B. and Howard R. Kemble. The Took to the Waters: The Forgotten Mineral Spring Resorts of New Jersey and Nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware.  The Past Times Press, Trenton, NJ, 1962.

Scwanger, Michael J. and Jean Barth Toll.  Montgomery County: The Second Hundred Years. Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies, Norristown, PA, 1983.

Upper Moreland Historical Association website,, accessed 4/1/2021.

Thursday, 25 March 2021 17:44

Cooking for the sick

Written by

In past centuries, when doctors were scarce, expensive, and often unhelpful, the average person treated medical ills at home. Home remedies were passed down the generations in hand-written receipt books. When cookbooks became popular in the late Eighteenth Century, many included a chapter on treating diseases and cooking for invalids.

I got thinking about this today when I examined a ledger from the county almshouse. Dated from 1919 to 1924, the ledger seems to record food served to the inhabitants of the home. Now, I should say, this is really conjecture. The book itself has no label or indication of what it is. Pages are labeled with a name (presumably a building at the home) and a month. The days of the month run down the left side of the page. Different kinds of food run along the top of the page. I surmise that this book records what was served rather than what was purchased because I think it’s unlikely that they shopped every day and it doesn’t record any prices.

almshouse food

Foods served in the hospital building are on their own pages. To me what’s striking is the number of eggs served. In the other buildings eggs seem to have been a weekly treat, but the hospital served them every day.

hosp food

Several cookbooks in our collection contain sections for cooking for the “sickroom.” The Willing Workers Cook Book published by the Willing Workers Society of the Frieden’s Church in Sumneytown offers recipes for beef tea, toast water, and egg lemonade:

Beat one egg with one tablespoon sugar until very light; stir in three tablespoons cold water and juice of small lemon, fill glass with pounded ice and drink through straw.

The Aceola Cookbook, a local classic, gives a recipe for albuminized milk (egg whites, milk, lime, sugar, and brandy) to treat weak stomachs. There’s also a recipe for koumiss (often spelled kumis) the fermented mare’s milk drink favored by the horse riders of the Asian steppe.


Besides recipes for simple foods that sick people could easily digest, some books offered recipes for more direct treatments. Mackenzie’s Ten Thousand Receipts in the Useful and Domestic Arts includes instructions on everything from fish culture to fireworks. In the medical chapter it offers treatments for a variety of ailments (most involve bleeding the person and giving them alcohol). For coughs it recommends a mixture of black currant jelly and niter. Here are some recipes for sore throat:



Thursday, 18 March 2021 16:47

Daring Balloon Ascension

Written by

balloon image

Montgomery County has a long history of ballooning. Both our readers might remember our blogs on Thaddeus Lowe, the father of American ballooning, and Connie Wolf, one time women’s ballooning record holder.

In 1909, Prof. Harry Jewell of Springfield, Illinois (balloonists were all “professors”) launched his balloon over Grand View Heights, part of Norristown and East Norriton that runs along DeKalb. The New England Land Company developed the area and was selling off lots at the time. The company provided a free trolley ride out to the area and several ascensions a day.

Grand View Heights 3

Professor Jewel didn’t just go up in a balloon, float for a while, and come back down. For one thing, Jewell, whose brothers Ed and Thomas were also balloonists, didn’t ride in a basket (or car). He held on to an iron bar. The southerly winds blew Jewell over to the Penn Square racetrack where Jewell let go and dropped by parachute to the ground. The Daily Herald reported that he encountered a large tree on the way down and suffered some scratches. The New England Land Company sold 32 lots.

balloon jump

In 1890, Prof. Harry’s brother Ed, performed a similar stunt in Pottstown. According to the Pottstown Ledger, he rose up to a height of 5000 feet (this might be exaggeration, most hot-air balloons don’t go higher than 3000 feet) before parachuting to the ground. The Ledger described him as “holding tightly to the hoop above,” which is how he appears in the advertisement. 

Ballooning was a common feature of fairs and circuses. In 1945, “Norris” (Edward Hocker) reported a 1908 quote from a Garrett N. Nichols of Oaks, “When I was a young lad, I was walking across a pasture field of the Indian Rock farm of Port Providence. I heard someone call. I halted, quickly looked around me, but could see no one. I began to think I was bewitched or had tramped on the hind leg of a ghost, when the voice sounded nearer. I looked up and there was a balloon. The man in the car asked many questions: the names of towns he could see and I could not – Royersford, Pottstown, Trappe, Skippack. He let go several bags of ballast sand, and up into the sky he went. Later I read he had landed near Boyerstown.”

According to Hocker, that aeronaut was Washington H. Donaldson, who would later disappear in a balloon over Lake Michigan.

Thursday, 11 March 2021 14:34

Bristol Glass

Written by

Whether you are a glass collector or are the recipient of family heirlooms, you likely have come across Bristol Glass. While colored glassware can be found as far back as ancient Mesopatamia, most Bristol Glass was made during the Victorian era.

Bristol Glass gets its name from the region it was made: Bristol, United Kingdom. Located right on the western coast of Britain, Bristol was a perfect location for glassmakers wishing to export their goods to British Colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Near the peak of its glass production, Bristol had an estimated 60 different glassmakers. 


Bristol Opaque Vases, 1978.011.009ab, HSMC Collection

This pair of vases at HSMC is an example of Bristol Opaque White Glass. That means the glassmaker created a vase that was not clear, unlike most glassware we use today. Such opaque glassware was decorated with floral designs. The goal of the glassmaker was to mimic the decorative designs seen in porcelain and transferware pottery.

20210311 092906

Bristol Opaque Vases, 1978.011.009ab, HSMC Collection

In addition to mimicking pottery designs, glassmakers favored the opaque glass designs to avoid paying additional taxes. In 1746, British Parliament made a new tax on clear glass, but not opaque or colored glass. To make this opaque color, the glassmakers used a tin oxide. They then used paint and enamels to create colorful floral designs. Lead was also used to make the glass more durable. Most of these Bristol Glassware were made into bottles and vases as it did not withstand boiling water well.

Bristol blue on a shelf arp

Example of Blue Glass, Wikipedia

In addition to these opaque glass designs, Bristol is also famous for its Blue Glass. For much of the 20th century, glassmakers used cobalt oxide in their furnaces to make the glassware blue. This type of glassware was expensive and thus was found mostly in wealthier households.

Bristol Glass is often confused with Milk Glass. Unlike Bristol Glass, Milk Glass is most commonly solid white in color and is molded into different designs rather than having the designs painted onto it. This type of glassware is extremely common in the United States. There's a good chance you have seen examples of it at thrift stores and yard sales.

Bowl milk glass

Example of Milk Glass, Wikipedia



Issitt, David M. “Bristol Glass.” Historic Bristol, 2008.

“Bristol Blue Glass – A Long Proud History.” The Original Bristol Blue Glass, 2021.

“Bristol Blue Glass.” Wikipedia, 16 December 2020.


Thursday, 04 March 2021 18:36

Schissler College

Written by


The Albertson Trust Building, showing Schissler College on the second floor

Recently one of our members sent me a link to a postcard for a long forgotten business school in Norristown and suggested it might make an interesting topic for this blog. I recognized the name from some items in our collection and thought maybe others would find it interesting.

Schissler College began as a night school founded by the 23 year old A. J. Schissler in 1887. Schissler had been born in Manayunk and attended school only to the age of nine when he was sent to work at a local mill. He continued his education by attending night school and at 21 he took a business class and was able to begin clerical work at a local grain merchant. He began the school by teaching in his home two nights a week, but soon expanded to nightly classes in separate buildings. Day classes began in 1890.


The following year, Schissler founded a second school in Norristown. Housed in the Albertson Trust Company building at the corner of Main and Swede Streets, it had classes during the day and in the evenings for both men and women.


Example of shorthand from the 1896 prospectus

Courses at the college included bookkeeping, commercial law, penmanship, shorthand, and typing. Students could also choose an academic course “for pupils who contemplate a more complete course of study, but are not prepared to enter upon it, because of lack of early education.” French, Italian, and Spanish were also available for an addition fee of $5 per month.


The college also maintained an employment bureau for its students, and the college prospectus has a long list of firms at which it has placed students. In addition to three years of the college’s catalogs, we also have a graduation booklet from 1896. That year, the Norristown College graduated 53 men and 64 women in a ceremony at the Grand Opera House.

I don’t know how long the college lasted. The latest record I could find of it was this 1915 advertisement from the Conshohocken Reporter.

schissler ad

Thursday, 25 February 2021 17:50

Ice Cream

Written by

With all the snow that’s been dropping on us lately, a fad for making snow ice cream has been popping up around the internet. And it got us thinking – who was the first person to sell ice cream in Norristown?

Edward Hocker addressed that question in a June, 1940 “Up and Down Montgomery County” article in the Times-Herald. He refers to a 1912 memoir of Sarah Slinguff Rex in which she claimed Emanuel Johnson was the first local businessman to offer ice cream. He sold cakes and candies at his shop on the northeast corner of DeKalb and Lafayette Streets. In the summer he added ice cream, originally just for the Fourth of July and other summer days when Norristown had a parade. By 1837, he was offering ice cream all summer.

ice cream

I found several of his advertisements in the late 1830’s.

ice cream 2

I couldn’t find out much about Emanuel Johnson, though. City directories only go back to 1860, and he isn’t listed there. Johnson does appear in the 1840 census as a head of a household of seven. Note that he is the only male in the family. Unfortunately, it’s not until the 1850 census that census takers started collecting more information.

johnson census

The 1840 Census from

Johnson 1850 census

The 1850 Census from

But the only Emanuel Johnson in the 1850 census is 12 years old. It could be that Emanuel the ice cream seller had passed away and this is his widow, but no boys were listed in the 1840 census. So, I checked our obituary index for the 1840’s and found one for Emanuel Johnson in the April 28, 1847 issue of the Herald. It’s merely a brief statement of his death on the 23rd. Such curt announcements were not unusual in the 19th century.

Johnson obit

Johnson’s advertisements stopped appearing in the Herald and Free Press around 1840. It’s possible he stopped selling ice cream in the face of competition. Hocker reported that Ward’s restaurant added ice cream to their summer menu. I found an advertisement for Ward’s in 1841 promoting its private ladies’ dining room.

ward ice cream

It's sad that the enterprising Johnson wasn't able to enjoy his sucess for very long.


Thursday, 18 February 2021 21:50

Desegregation in Norristown

Written by

When Pennsylvania passed the Public School Act in 1834, Montgomery County didn’t exactly jump to comply. Some townships took several years to establish public schools because both the Quakers and the Pennsylvania Germans believed education was the province was the family and the church.

Norristown opened its first school in 1836 on Church Street with 113 pupils, all white. When more space was needed, the school board rented rooms. In 1839 the board rented out a lower room in Thomas Bruff’s house for educating black students. Jacob Glasgow was the teacher, and he had 15 students to begin with.

In 1846 the board rented space at Mount Zion AME Church, which was then on Chain St. When the Oak Street School opened in 1859, the white children moved into that building, and the African-American children moved into the old school for a brief time. Soon, they were moved again to a two-story building on Oak St. That was replaced by the Powell Street School in 1874.


Powell Street School

According to Edward Hocker, by the 1880’s the African-American parents in Norristown began to insist that their children be permitted to attend any convenient school in the borough. In 1883, the board decided to integrate Norristown’s schools, and all students were allowed to attend the school most convenient to them. There was little controversy over desegregation in Norristown.

In 1900, the county school superintendent, Joseph K. Gotwals, delivered an address to the Historical Society of Montgomery County on the history of education in Norristown. He only touched on desegregation briefly, but he said, “I cannot help feeling that the old separate arrangement was the better one.” He went on to say that the Powell Street School had 100 pupils. Twenty years later, he was doubtful that there were that many African-American students in all of Norristown’s schools despite the population increase.

doc05393120210217130728 001

“The larger colored girls and boys would come to school when they were with their kind. They were willing to go and read in the first reader when their companions of the same age were in the same grade, but after the change was made we found that they did not want to go into the 'baby' room with six or eight-year white children.”

Gotwals didn’t seem to think there might be other solutions to this problem or that it might be his job to find them.

Thursday, 11 February 2021 18:13

James A. Bland

Written by



You might not know the name James A. Bland, but you probably know a few of the 700 songs he wrote. Most famous in this area is “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” a minstrel tune that’s the theme of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. He also wrote “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

Bland was born in Flushing, NY in 1854. His father, a free man, was one of first African-Americans to graduate from college (Oberlin in 1845). It was his father who bought James his first banjo. As a teenager he began performing professionally, but had trouble making a living at it. He enrolled at Howard University, majored in the Liberal Arts, and graduated at 19. Still, success on the stage eluded him.

According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Bland had trouble finding work in minstrel groups because they preferred to hire white musicians in blackface. Eventually he joined an all-Black minstrel band and toured the US. Bland played with several groups, while also writing hit songs. He traveled to England with a group called the Callender-Haverly Minstrels and played before Queen Victoria.

Many of his songs were popular in the nineteenth century including “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane” and “De Golden Wedding.” While he made a lot of money from his music, Bland died in poverty in Philadelphia in 1911. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Merion Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.


In 1940, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” became Virginia’s state song after petitioning by the Lions Clubs of Virginia. The Lions Clubs also conducted a search for Bland’s grave. In 1946, Governor William M. Tuck and members of the Lions Clubs of Virginia, as well as members of the Norristown Lions Club dedicated a new marker on the grave.

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any recordings of Bland performing his songs, but many have been covered by other artists like Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong. This instrumental version on YouTube was my favorite.


Sources: Songwriters Hall of Fame,

Page 6 of 20