Displaying items by tag: Norristown
Often when we consider buildings or locations as historic in Pennsylvania, we immediately think of events such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War or time periods such as the Colonial era. However, there are some historic places that are more modern. They could have been built during your lifetime or that of a parent's or grandparent's. One such example is the Gen. Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory. As far as General Thomas J. Stewart is concerned, we have written about him previously when we had his sword on display. Feel free to revisit that article here: https://hsmcpa.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/thomas-a-stewart/
The armory, sometimes referred to as the Norristown Armory, was built between 1927-1928 and is located at 340 Harding Blvd in Norristown. The architects were Philip H. Johnson and Frank R. Herong. Presently the building houses the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (EDIT 2023-06-09: thanks to some of our followers on Facebook we confirmed that it is no longer owned by PAL but is instead owned by Norristown and functions as a recreation center. This just goes to show you that you should always double check your sources and nobody is perfect!). During its early years it served as an armory for the National Guard, including the years of the second world war.
On July 12, 1991, the Gen. Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory garnered a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Are there other, more modern, buildings that deserve a spot on the National Register? In our almost 250 years as a county, we certainly have a lot of history and continue to make more of it everyday. Maybe one day a place you have often visited will be considered historic. It could even be within your lifetime.
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.
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.
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 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.
Recently we accessioned an interesting album of photographs of a company called Norristown Concrete. The photographs were taken by Henry K. Bussa, a local photographer who was active for over 50 years.
Bussa was born in Honesdale, Pa. in 1881, and his first photography job was in Wilkes-Barre, according to obituary in the Times-Herald from 1957. The article describes a little of what that job was like:
“All of the work of the photographer in those days had to be done in daylight as the facilities for making pictures by artificial light were not yet developed. The printing room was on the roof, with glass on all four sides. In the small room all the negatives were printed. In the Summertime [sic] the temperature reached 110 degrees or more.”
In 1905 he opened his studio in Norristown, where he was mainly a portrait photographer. He expanded into commercial photography in the 1920’s and later added framing.
We have many examples of his photographs, easily identified by his signature in the lower right hand corner. The majority of our photographs are of local civic groups and schools, usually graduating classes and sports teams. These are the first photographs of an industrial site I’ve seen by Bussa.
Even though they are photographs of an industrial plant, I think they show life at a slower pace. Norristown Concrete, according to the 1925 City Directory, was located at the foot of Barbadoes Street, right on the Schuylkill River. In this photo a rowboat sits lazily on the bank.
Here, there’s some laundry drying on a line next to piles of concrete blocks.
There are two interior photos in the book that show some of the equipment used in manufacturing concrete in the 1920’s as well as two of the plant’s employees.
Norristown concrete seems to have gone out of business in the mid-1930’s. Bussa died in 1957.
We recently received some digital pictures depicting former Norristown Buress, Rev. John Elmer Saul. He was born on November 2, 1872 in Maidencreek, Berks County. He was a reverend at the First Baptist Church of Pottstown prior to coming to Norristown.
From left to right - J. Elmer Saul, wife Eleanor "Nellie" Saul, Ruth Saul, Frances Saul, Raymond Saul.
Saul was elected Burgess in a close, three-way race in 1913. He narrowly won election by 23 votes! Saul was the Washington Party candidate. This was a progressive third party that split from the Republican Party around 1912. Outside of Pennsylvania it is referred to as the Progressive Party or Bull Moose Party. Saul's competitors were Republican Abraham D. Hallman and Democrat T. J. Baker.
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 6, 1913
Saul's term as Burgess occurred just before Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. Saul was known for his support of Prohibition and thus frequently pushed for anti-alcohol policies in the borough. He remained Burgess until 1918. Based on an article in the Evening Public Ledger, it seems Saul chose not to run again for office. Samuel D. Crawford was elected as his replacement.
Eureka Printing Press Advertisement
In addition to being Burgess, Saul was an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Norristown. He was often credited for his superb speaking abilities. In addition to his religious work, Saul founded the Eureka Printing Press Company in 1902. This company was located on Barbadoes St. in Norristown.
Back Row - Ruth Saul and Raymond Saul. Front Row - J. Elmer Saul, Helen Saul (in lap), Eleanor Saul, Frances Saul.
Thank you Susan Weidner Novak for sending us these digital images and information about Burgess Saul!
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 6, 1913. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/44632687/phila-inquirer-6-nov-1913/
Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]) 1914-1942, November 07, 1917, Final, Page 10, Image 10 “Wets and Drys” https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn83045211/1917-11-07/ed-1/seq-10/ocr.txt
The Bankers Encyclopedia, Volume 47,
March 1918, https://books.google.com/books?id=wMMo2Z37ELwC&pg=PA1672&lpg=PA1672&dq=former+burgess+of+norristown+pa+j.+elmer+saul&source=bl&ots=uFiXdsLBvt&sig=ACfU3U3qfb_acB-vHc2SxHBvDuVNIDuhJQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjo9OzO0KHwAhW9UjABHdvQBiAQ6AEwBHoECA0QAw#v=snippet&q=elmer%20saul&f=false
Industrial Directory of Pennsylvania, Volume 2
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.
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.
I found several of his advertisements in the late 1830’s.
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.
The 1840 Census from Ancestry.com
The 1850 Census from Ancestry.com
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’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.
It's sad that the enterprising Johnson wasn't able to enjoy his sucess for very long.
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.
“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.
Last week, we heard the sad news that Norristown’s own Tommy LaSorda has passed away at the age of 93. LaSorda was born in Norristown in 1927 to Sabbatino and Carmella LaSorda. Sabbatino was an Italian immigrant, who, at the time of the 1940 census, was a truck driver. The family lived on Walnut Street, and Tommy attended Norristown Public Schools.
According to his entry in the Norristown Area High School Hall of Fame, LaSorda graduated from NHS in 1945 (his Wikipedia page says 1944, but this appears to be incorrect). His picture doesn’t actually appear in the 1945 issue of Spice, Norristown High Schoo’s yearbook, but he is mentioned as a pitcher on the baseball team. He is not listed in the team picture.
The prior year, 1944, he is in the team picture. You can see him in the first row, the second from the right.
Here’s a close-up.
You can also spot him in the photo part of the junior class.
According to his entry in the NHS Hall of Fame, baseball was his only school activity.
Right out of NHS, LaSorda was signed to the Phillies and began a minor league career. In one 15 inning game pitching for the Schenectedy Blue Jays (a farm team for the Phillies) he struck out 25 batters. He bounced around the minor leagues for several years. He played three seasons in the major leagues, two with the Brooklyn Dodgers and one with Kansas City. In 1960 he retired due to injury.
He soon began his career in management, first as a scout, then as a minor league manager in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 1970. After working as a coach for the LA Dodgers for several years, he became manager in 1976 and stayed in that position for twenty years. He managed for 3040 games, winning 1599. The Dodgers won two World Series under his leadership. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
For many families, playing games is part of their holiday celebrations. Over Thanksgiving my family played many web-based games together since we live in different states and could not safely gather this year. Everyone watch out for my mother, she is a talented Imposter in Among Us!
Anyway, pre-COVID my family and many other families played board games over the holidays. While in the vaults this week I decided to take a closer look at some of the games we have in our collection. This monopoly board piqued my interest as it is clearly homemade.
This game was a Christmas gift given to George Newman, Sr. (1898 - 1963) in 1929. Who made it is not clear, but I would guess it was probably made for George by one of his family members.
When we take a closer look at the spots on the board you can clearly make out local businesses and institutions that were in the Norristown area in the early 1900s.
Even the traditional jail spot on the board was replaced. The creator of this board substituted the Norristown State Hospital for the jail spot on the corner of the board.
Although we do not know who made it, this game was clearly loved by George. Just look at all the scratches, worn pieces, and penciled in spots!