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Displaying items by tag: Pottstown

Wednesday, 24 April 2024 21:43

On Loan from Pottsgrove Manor

For our exhibit Downtown Then and Now, we were fortunate to have an item loaned to us by Pottsgrove Manor. 

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Loan Courtesy of Pottsgrove Manor, County of Montgomery, Pottstown, PA

This is a cast iron kitchen press. It was made at Colebrookdale Furnace by Thomas Potts in 1739. Colebrookdale Furnace was in what is now Berks County. On the inside of the press are various Pennsylvania Dutch markings, such as tulips, suns, birds, hearts, cross, and stars. While this particular item was not made in Montgomery County, it does have a strong connection with Pottstown history.

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Loan Courtesy of Pottsgrove Manor, County of Montgomery, Pottstown, PA

Thomas Potts' descendants took over the family iron business, which had wide reaches in our area. One such site was near Pottsgrove Manor in Pottstown, Montgomery County. It was built by John Potts, the eldest son of Thomas Potts, in 1752. The area around Pottsgrove Manor eventually became Pottstown. Today, Pottsgrove Manor has the actual deed for the land purchased by John Potts in 1751. The land was purchased from Samuel McCall, Jr.

 1751 Pottsgrove Deed Signatures 2

Pg. 2 of the 1751 Deed, Scanned Courtesy of Pottsgrove Manor, County of Montgomery, Pottstown, PA

Be sure to see this kitchen press and other items in our exhibit! The exhibit is open during our normal operating hours from April 25, 2024 through the end of March 2025.

 

 

 

 

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 28 October 2021 14:13

Mrs. Smith's Pies

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.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 20 December 2018 21:01

The Bringhurst Fund

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I thought it would be nice to close out the year with some charitable giving. This week, I discovered a large ledger that recorded the accounts of the Bringhurst Fund in Upper Providence. The first pages of the ledger contained a copy of the will of Wright Bringhurst, the founder of the fund.

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Mr. Bringhurst was the heir to his father Israel’s general store in Trappe and many acres of land in Schuylkill County, and he was a good steward of them. When the Reading Railroad built tracks in Schuylkill County, Bringhurst made quite a bit from the sale of the land. He also served in the Pennsylvania legislature. When he died a bachelor in 1876, his will distributed some of the money to his sisters and their children, but over half of the money was donated to the boroughs of Norristown and Pottstown and the township of Upper Providence to create low cost housing for the poor. According to Edward Hocker, in his 1959 article “Gifts for the Public Good Made in Many Pottstown Wills,” (Times-Herald, Dec. 30, 1959), Bringhurst wanted the fund to build the houses in order to provide work, and then rent the houses to the "deserving poor" at below market rates.

Bringhurst’s generosity made news at the time of his death. I found an unattributed article in an old scrapbook that reprints almost the entire will. It also points out that Bringhurst had not been known to be particularly charitable during his life.

The amount left to start the fund was just over $100,000. The will directed that it be divided among the three communities in proportion to their population. Also, the Orphan’s Court would appoint three trustees to oversee the fund.

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Houses were built in Mont Clare, Collegeville, and Trappe. In Norristown, 28 houses were built on Chain, Marshall, Corson, Powell, and Elm Streets. Renters were charged a small amount rent. That money was then redistributed to the poor as coal, shoes, or medicine, or re-invested in the fund. I found this information in an article published in our own Bulletin, “A Few Facts in Connection with the Bringhurst Family of Trappe, Pennsyvlania” published in October of 1940. That’s the most recent information I could find on the Bringhurst bequest.

Our own records of the trustees for the Upper Providence portion end in 1926. There are plenty of pages left in the book, and the final entry gives no indication that the fund was running out. I was unable to find the exact location of any of the houses or what happened to the money. Did it run out? Was it absorbed into another program? If anyone has any information, please let me know.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 29 March 2018 19:11

Montgomery County Airfields

Last week, I thought I’d visit Toys R Us for perhaps the last time. The sale was a bit of a dud, but it was nice to walk around one more time. I went to the Montgomeryville store, which is in a shopping center called Airport Square. It sounded to me like there might be a story there.

Thaddeus Lowe

Montgomery county’s history with flight begins before Wright brothers. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was the man in command of the Union Army’s balloon corps. Lowe lived in Norristown for a time after the war.

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Perhaps Montgomery County’s best-known air field is the Naval Reserve Air Station at Willow Grove. The field was first developed for air use by Pitcairn Aircraft Inc. Harold Pitcairn was a native of Bryn Athyn, and the company’s first airfield was in Bryn Athyn, and in 1926, it was the largest airfield in the eastern US. In the 1920’s it hosted several air shows with famous pilots performing stunts. The Willow Grove field was originally one of its flying schools. In 1928, the company began to produce autogiros and the company changed its name to the Autogiro Corp. An autogiro (or autogyro) if you haven’t seen one lately, looks like a small airplane and helicopter had a baby.

1280px Pitcairn Autogiro NASA GPN 2000 001990

Pitcairn sold the field in 1942 to the Navy which wanted the field because of the war. The adjoining manufacturing plant was sold to Firestone during the war as well.

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The Pottstown Municipal Airport was sold to the borough by its founder, John J. Basco in 1948. The purchase was controversial within a few years. A 1953 newspaper article describes the airport as a money pit, with few of the dreams of cargo flights and local businesses using it having been realized. The article predicts that the borough would soon close the airport. However, it is still in use and still owned by Pottstown.

But what about Airport Square? There was indeed a Montgomeryville Airport there. It was founded during the war and over the decades it was known by several different names, including the 309 Airport and Gloster Field. It closed in the late 1970’s.

But, that small airport was not Montgomeryville’s only piece of aviation history. A 1923 article in a newspaper called The Review and Reporter, tells of a German immigrant and inventor named Maxilmillian Pupe who was starting an aircraft factory in near Montgomeryville. The company was called the Universal Flying Corporation and was funded primarily with German money. The paper says that this was “to avoid possible confiscation for reparations.” However, in 1923, it was still against conditions of the Paris peace settlement for German companies to manufacture airplanes.

Unfortunately, I could find nothing else on the Universal Flying Corporation or Maximillian Pupe so I can’t say if this attempt to run around the Versailles treaty worked or not, but I’m guessing not.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 15 June 2017 19:40

Warrant for John Mosko

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Dr. Ceasare Lombroso in the 19th Century was a noted criminal anthropologist and was known as the father of modern criminology. Although many of his theories have since been discredited, at the turn of the 20th Century his “criminal classifications” were well regarded. In 1902, one John Motsko of Pottstown, PA was classified in one of Lombroso’s categories as an “instinctive or born criminal type.”

Motsko


A wanted poster was issued by Detective John J. O’Connor for Mr. Motsko for the murder of George Miller at their place of employment, the Stanley G. Flagg Co. in Pottstown on November 4, 1902. The wanted poster authorized a $250 reward for his arrest. The result was evidently effective because on December 10, 1902, Mr. Motsko was taken into custody by Detective O'Conner.

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Mr. Motsko was held for a hearing where he was described as showing “no emotion” and reportedly acknowledged striking the victim with the shovel. The victim, Mr. Miller, age 22, died a few hours after. According to the Pennsburg Town and Country, the men had quarreled several times over tools. It was during this period of being held for court that the Lombroso classification was applied. The defendant, Mr. Motsko, was held for trial in March 1903, according to the Wilkes-Barre Sunday Leader.


In closing, it seems that although we have our social, electronic, and mass media methods, our communities of yesteryear had their share of effective measures well over 100 years ago that got the job done as well.

By Michael Green

Published in Found in Collection