Found in Collection

Found in Collection (282)

Thursday, 25 March 2021 17:44

Cooking for the sick

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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“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

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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,

Thursday, 04 February 2021 19:37


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While researching places in Montgomery County connected to Black history, I came across claims that enslaved people and Native Americans are buried at Pawlings Cemetery, a private cemetery near Graterford prison (marked by the blue point in the picture below).

Pawlings Cemetery

Location of Pawlings Cemetery

We know there were several Montgomery County families who had enslaved people even prior to the formation of the county in 1784. It was not until the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 that slavery was slowly removed from Pennsylvania over several decades.

However, this was the first time I learned of an actual gravesite for enslaved people in our county. Determined to learn more, I looked through our cemetery photos at HSMC. Sure enough, I located a file labeled "Pawlings Cemetery." Back in 1978 someone got permission to go to the cemetery and take photographs of the headstones. Although not the high quality photographs you see with today's cameras, you can make out names on many of the headstones.

Ben John Eliza

Elizabeth Pawling

Then I came to the last photograph in the file. A small headstone surrounded by trees and leaves.


I could not see any writing on the stone so I turned over the photo to see what was written on the back. This is what I saw: "slave."

Liza back

I admit my heart may have skipped a beat when I read this. Who was this person and are there more at this cemetery in unmarked graves?

According to an article written by the Rev. Judith A. Meier in 2008 for the Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville, and Perkiomen Valley, this person's name is Liza. Meier explains the Pawling family had several enslaved people throughout the 1700s. The names we know are: Jack, Bess, Cate, Jane, Bet, Oilever, Tom, Tim, Bettee, Peggee, Rose, Susannah, Johannes, Jacob, Thomas, Robert Mark, Anna Margretha, Margreth, Robert, George, Robin, Phillis, Peter, Anthony Mix, Pegg, and Margaret/Peggy. The Rev. Henry Muhlenberg conducted baptisms and marriages for some of these individuals.

At the moment, I do not know anything more about Liza or the other individuals listed in the above paragraph. I hope one day to learn more so their lives can be properly remembered.


*Please note: I do not know who currently owns/oversees Pawlings Cemetery.  It appears to be on private property so we do not advocate visiting it unless you have permission from the owners.*


Thursday, 28 January 2021 18:26

Edmund D. Salter, local architect

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Exterior plan for H. H. Krantz house in East Elkins Park

During the deepest, darkest time of the COVID shutdown, I was contacted by Tom Salter who had a collection of architectural drawings created by his grandfather, Edmund D. Salter. Eventually, Tom dropped off a large collection of beautifully rendered plans, mostly for single family homes.


Edmund Salter was born in Philadelphia in 1871. His education was somewhat sporadic, and his license application doesn’t list graduating years. He attended Temple University for two years (1893-1895), and took classes in architecture at the Franklin Institute from 1892 until 1897.


Row houses in Chester, Pa.

He lived in Philadelphia, Worcester, Haverford, and Norristown.  Homes he designed are all over the local region, too. Many are in Montgomery and Delaware Counties, but some are as far away as Ohio and Long Island.


Architectural details

Not all of the drawings are identified or dated, but they’re all amazing to look at. Salter was most active in the early twentieth century until the 1930’s when the Depression put the brakes on the housing boom. He resumed architecture after World War II. He passed away in 1963 at the age of 91.

Thursday, 21 January 2021 18:54

Lyrics of Quakerism

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A few weeks ago, we looked at a book on creationism and geology inspired by Norristown and the surrounding region. This week, I’d like to share another book inspired by our county.


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Interior of Norristown Meeting


Lyrics of Quakerism is a book of poems by Ellwood Roberts. Regular visitors to our library might recognize him as the editor of the two volume Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, as well as a history of Plymouth Meeting. He also wrote several works of genealogy on Quaker families in Montgomery and Bucks counties.

Roberts was actually born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1846, and moved to Pennsylvania in as a young man in 1861. Both of his parents were from Pennsylvania. On his father’s side were Welsh Quakers. His mother was Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German.


According to his entries in both his own Annals of Montgomery County and Henry Wilson Ruoff’s Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, he was largely educated at home. He spent 14 years teaching in public schools and at Friends’ Central School. He wrote both poetry and prose pieces that were published locally, and eventually, Roberts joined the editorial staff of the Norristown Herald.

Roberts was also instrumental in the development of Norristown. In partnership with family members, he bought up farmland and built moderately priced houses. He was even responsible for the Historical Society purchasing its first home on Penn Street.

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Abington Meeting House

Throughout his life he was a devoted Quaker, and his poems in Lyrics of Quakerism reflect this. Several poems are dedicated to local meeting houses and the book is illustrated with photographs of those houses.


A two page spread showing Gwynedd Meeting and its accompanying poem

In other poems, he refelcts on the spirituality of Quakerism, writing much about the Inner Light and the quiet of the meetings.  Other poems concern life on the farm and local nature.  Ellwood Roberts died in 1921 at his home in Swarthmore.

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