Nancy Sullivan, Archivist

Thursday, 21 June 2018 19:46



If you’ve ever come into our library to do some family research or look up some local history you’ve probably used one of the several historical and biographical works by such as Milton Bean, Charles Hunsicker, and Moses Auge. This week’s blog is about Moses Auge, author of Lives of Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa. As I’ve noted in this blog before, people in the past were not concerned with catchy book titles.

Auge was born in Delaware in 1811 and spent his youth in Chester County. He moved to Norristown after he married. He was a hatter by trade. The 1860 Norristown city directory lists him as:

Auge, Moses, hats clothing and Editor, 178 Egypt Street.

"Egypt Street" is now Main Street. He edited two newspapers in Norristown, the Republican and the True Witness. Both papers were pro-temperance and anti-slavery.


The masthead of the Republican after Ague's time as editor

During his time editing the Republican, 1857-1862, Auge and his co-editor John H. Williams were both sued for libel by Henry L. Acker. We don’t have a copy of the original paper, but luckily for us, the indictment reproduced the article, along with interjections of legalese:

“Aha!!! Our old friend Acker (meaning the said Henry L. Acker) brother of the editor of the Norristown Register, late editor of the Pottsville Democratic Standard, and post-master at that place under Buchanan, was one day this week honored with a visit from the U. S. Marshall which functionary favored him with a free ride to Philadelphia to answer a charge of embezzling six thousand dollars (meaning six thousand dollars of the public monies of the United States of America received by him the said Henry L. Acker as such postmaster) it perhaps be remembered by our readers, was some time ago, much troubled about some people long ears! We told him at the time, that, although not a very graceful appendage, they were not so apt to let their owners into trouble as were long fingers (meaning thereby that the said Henry L. Acker has then and there unlawfully appropriated money to himself which did not justly belong to him), and now, we suppose, he will believe we were about right. Virtuous Acker (meaning said Henry L. Acker) while he presided over the columns of the Standard who so horrified and indignant as he over the frauds and thefts of the government contractors and Republican office holders. Now how have the might fallen. Sic transit gloria mundi.”


A surprising $500 bond was entered for each man and one Jacob Cowden, who is not mentioned in the indictment. Acker himself was ordered to pay a bond of $100 upon condition he appear. We also have the total costs of the trial, which called thirteen witnesses, who each cost the Commonwealth $1.50 (the paper doesn’t say if this was to feed them or transport them or what). Acker himself cost the county $7.17.


The only thing we don’t know – the verdict. It’s not among the court papers, nor does the case seem to have been covered in the Times-Herald (although, its publisher, Robert Iredell was called as a witness). Auge’s time at the Republican ended the same year, however. He published his well-used book of local biographies in 1878 and died in 1892.

Thursday, 14 June 2018 17:30

Cheltenham Military Academy


As I continue to make my way through our school collection, I discovered two interesting catalogs from Cheltenham Military Academy, which was once located on several acres in the Ogontz section of Cheltenham Township.

It was founded in 1871, when Robert Shoemaker and Jay Cooke, business tycoon, approached Dr. Edward Appleton of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about the need for a military academy in the area. It was located on land purchased from the estate of Gabriella Butler.


Our catalogues are from 1891 and 1892 and were donated to the society in 1950 by Septimus Kriebel. They fall in between the times of the school’s two most famous students. Jesse Grant, youngest son of Ulysses S. Grant attended the school briefly in 1873. Ezra Pound attended the school from 1897 until 1900, sometimes as a boarder though his family lived in nearby Jenkintown.


The school’s catalog explains that the school could accommodate sixty boarders. Tuition for boarding students was $275 per year. Piano lessons were an addition $45. There were additional charges for the boys uniforms, though the catalog notes that the school was not “in the strictest sense a Military School.” Military drills were carried out by all the students.


Parents of the pupils were given many instructions. They were not permitted to send food other than fresh fruit and were urged not to give their students extra pocket money.  Then there is this instruction:


The school had football and baseball teams as well as a drama club. The school also organized a summer excursion in Europe for a small number of pupils.


There were three courses of academic study. The Classical and Latin-Scientific courses prepared students for college or scientific schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The English course was for boys intending to go into business and not attend college.



The 1892 catalog has a very interesting enclosure. This table shows the admission requirements to the nation’s top colleges. Interestingly, few of them had any interest in science, and the mathematics requirements are the equivalent of first year high school algebra. A thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek was, however, required.


The school closed in the early twentieth century.

Thursday, 07 June 2018 19:18

Children's portraits

This week, I processed a collection of papers donated by Jean Brown Hall in 1984. The collection has receipts, genealogical research, and many photographs. There’s something arresting about old portraits – the clothing, the hairstyles, the faces themselves are fascinating.   I thought this week, it would be nice to look at some of the pictures of children from this collection of materials from the Jackson, Rutter, Potts, and allied families.


The award for biggest bow ever goes to Katherine Jackson, seen here with her brother Millard, Jr.  Note that both are wearing high button shoes.  Those must have been a struggle to get on.


This cute baby is Charles Rutter Campbell of Pottstown.  Below is the same boy at 3 years and 3 months.


This dapper lad is Millard Jackson, presumably the father of the children in the first photograph above.


One of the most interesting photographs in the collection is this picture of Mray Iris Campbell, 15, wearing a dress that belonged to her great-grandmother Mary Anna (Potts) Rutter.  The look on her face suggests that 15 year-olds haven't changed much.


My personal favorite from the collection is this portrait of Nina B. Rutter at the age of 17.  It is one of the only photos in the collection that is dated, 1898.


Thursday, 31 May 2018 18:48

Teacher's Monthly Reports


Among the many school records housed in our lower stacks, are many large ledgers called “Teacher’s Monthly Reports.” Issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Common Schools, the books were used by teachers to record attendance, textbooks used, and other events that might have happened at the school.


Several teachers often appear in the same book suggesting that teaching was a temporary position, held for a few years only. Whatever the teacher, he or she filled out the two page spread for each month. Boys are one side and girls on the other, but otherwise the method of taking attendance is not unlike the way my teachers marked attendance.


The absence rate seems high for some students. It’s possible that some were working on family farms or in family businesses, though in an age before mandatory vaccinations and antibiotics, its possible many students were experiencing what were common childhood diseases. School at this time let out for lunch, and the teachers recorded if the children missed the morning (a horizontal line) or didn’t return after lunch (a vertical line).


The second teacher to use this book from Gwynedd Lower School, James Creighton, recorded the students’ ages, giving us a snapshot of a one room school house with students as young as 7 and as old as 18.

This book is from a series of Teacher’s Monthly Reports books from Gwynedd Township (Gwynedd was split into Upper and Lower in 1891). The books were originally printed in 1868. The one we’ve looked at here began use in 1871 and is filled throughout, ending in 1876. We have books from other school districts as well.


The inside of the front cover is printed with instructions on what symbols to use and how to calculate the average attendance. It also suggests that teachers keep their attendance on a separate sheet and copy the records in neatly at the end of the month. It notes, “A teacher’s character is in no small degree indicated by the manner in which the monthly report is kept.”


At the end of the month, the book was examined by the secretary of the school district, who signed it and gave the teacher his or her monthly pay. The receipt of the payment was also noted in the report.

Thursday, 24 May 2018 18:20

A Cool Horse Thief

Among our various collections at the Historical Society are papers from various societies for the recovery of stolen horses.

union horse company

They started as mutual aid societies in different parts of the county. According to the constitution of the Montgomery Union Horse Company for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Other Property and Detection of the Thieves (19th century people weren’t concerned with coming up with catchy names), members paid one dollar upon joining and twenty-five cents annually in dues. In return, when anything over five dollars in value was stolen from a member, the society would try to recover it.


These societies date back to a time before the county or townships had anything resembling a police force. The Mount Joy Society for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Detection of Thieves was founded at the King of Prussia Inn in 1774. The first time a member’s horse was stolen was in 1787, when Alexander Henderson’s horse was stolen and recovered at a cost of five pounds. In 1853, Mordicai M. Stephen’s horse was stolen and not recovered, costing the society $249.54. Like the Montgomery Union Horse Company, the original constitution of the Mount Joy Society said that a company of men would ride out in search of the stolen horse. In the 1883 constitution, however, that company had been replaced by a two man committee whose job it was to telegraph local police a description of the horse.

Mount Joy

Some of the societies even lasted into the motor age, though more as social clubs than serious crime detecting rings. The Blue Bell Horse Company discussed adding the protection of automobiles in its annual meetings in 1914 and 1920, but no decision was made. The group still existed as late as 1951.

Blue bell horse company

I’d like to close with an interesting story I came across in an old scrapbook about a horse thief in Eagleville in 1893. The story first appeared in the Norristown Register. John Adam Fisher had been working as a hired man for Daniel W. Longaker for a few weeks when he took off with one of his employer’s horses. Longaker’s neighbor, Taylor Pugh, pursued the thief to Collegeville where he discovered that Fisher had tried to sell the horse for $150 but had been talked down to $50. The buyer, however, perhaps grew suspicious and asked where Fisher lived and wanted to go to his house. Fisher took off on the horse again heading toward Trappe, but he was stopped at a toll gate and not allowed to pass. Taylor caught up with him and ordered a magistrate to arrest Fisher. Fisher offered to give the magistrate the “finest stockings he ever saw” once he got to jail. On the way to the jail, he told the constable that he hoped to get twenty-one years. The article concludes that people who had spoken to Fisher believed him “not quite right.”

Thursday, 17 May 2018 20:06

A flood in Miquon


Driving to work today, I saw that W. Valley Green Road was closed due to flooding. That put me in mind of a series of photos showing the Schuylkill flooding the Hamilton Paper Mill in Miquon (Whitemarsh Township).

The photos aren’t dated, but are clearly from the twentieth century. They’re black and white, placing them probably before the 1970s. To narrow it down more, I went to the National Weather Service’s website. It lists 65 times the Schuylkill has flooded since 1769. The visible snow in some of the photos, places the flood in the winter. December 1942, January 1945, December 1948, November, 1950, and December 1952 are the best bets. Of those, only the 1950 flood is described as “moderate” while the others are “minor.”


I checked those dates in the Times-Herald. The 1945 and 1952 floods, didn’t make the paper at all. Of the other three none of the articles mention Hamilton Paper or Miquon specifically. In the case of the 1950 “moderate” flood, that could be because there was so much else going on.


The W. C. Hamilton Paper Company goes back to 1858, when Edwin R. Cope hired William C. Hamilton to manage his Riverside Paper Mill. Of course, papermaking in Pennsylvania goes way back to colonial times, and Miquon had been home to paper mills since 1746. This map from the article “Two Centuries of Papermaking at Miquon, Pennsyvlania” by Rudolf P. Hommel (Historical Society of Montgomery County Bulletin, Vol. 5, no. 4, April, 1947), shows the area. Originally part of Springfield Plantation’s corridor to the Schuylkill, it was ceded to Whitemarsh in 1876.

miquon map

But getting back to Hamilton, he bought the mill in 1865, making several improvements. The company was bought and sold a few times over the next century, becoming part of different conglomerates. The mill closed in 1995.

Today the land has been redeveloped into the Riverside I and Riverside II office parks. AIM Academy occupies one of the original mill buildings.

Hamilton mark

Thursday, 03 May 2018 19:29

A Siept family timeline

This week, we have a guest blogger, our one and own Ed Ziegler.

Because given names in the families were the same from generation to generation, middle initials are used to identify the different generations.

The early German immigrants to Pennsylvania are an example of immigrant communities creating enclaves in their new homeland. The early Germans who came to America to escape religious persecution and moved into the central part and upper parts of Montgomery County, were no exception. The Schwenkfelders, Mennonites and Dunkards all mixed in this area, but settled close to their religious brethren and rarely did they intermarry.

My Seipt ancestors, Schwenkfelders, are a great example of immigrant communities sticking together, living in the same area for 280 years.


The Schwenkfelder Church in Towamencin

David Sepit, the immigrant, came to America in 1734 and bought 140 acres in Towamencin Township, along the Towamencin Creek.

In 1751 David’s son, Casper, bought 135 ½ acres from his father, who died in 1765. He lived on the farm, along with his parents. When he died in 1773, his children were minors living on the farm with his wife and mother.

In 1789 a conveyance was made to his two sons: David Y. received 118 acres and Abraham Y. received 41 acres.

In 1816 David Y. died intestate with no issue, so the farm reverted to his brother and 4 sisters. His brother Abraham Y. bought the rest of the farm from his sisters. In 1852, Abraham Y.’s children, George, Susanna and Joseph, sold 88 acres of the Towamencin farm to their brother Abraham A. In 1853 George A. bought the farm from his brother Abraham A. In 1863 George A. sold the Towamencin farm to his brother-in-law Jacob Erb.


An "A. Seipt" appears at the border of Towamencin and Worcester

The same George A. married Anna Heebner in 1824. In 1831 George A. bought 2 contiguous tracts of land from his father-in-law, Balthaser Heebner, at Trooper and Potshop Roads.

In 1880, George A.’s will had his estate sold and the proceeds divided among his children.

George A.’s son, William H., married Amanda Schultz in 1871. In 1883, William H. bought a farm and 79 acres from his Father-In-Law Samuel Schultz. This farm was on the corner of Skippack Pike and Hollow Road. His son, William S., farmed the land until 1932 when William H. died. Because of the depression William S. could not purchase the farm, and the estate sold it to Blanche Schweiker, William S. Seipt’s cousin.

In 1932, William S. bought the Dr. Meschter farm from the Doctor’s widow. The Meschters were also Schwenkfelders. When William S., my grandfather, moved to a smaller home, they ended the tradition, which lasted for more than 200 years.

This was typical of the German part of Montgomery county because the Mennonites and Brethern did the same.

Thursday, 26 April 2018 19:10

Art, Trade and Mystery


Apprenticing to learn a profession, trade, or craft goes back to the Middle Ages. A master craftsman would agree to teach a child his craft over the course of several years. The child would move into the master’s house and work for him in exchange for the education.

We have a collection of a dozen or so contracts for apprentices. They run from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. While you may have read genearalizations about apprenticeship (I know I have) that say they mostly lasted seven years, or that the children were around eight or nine, our collection shows that such generalizations don’t really describe the practice at all.

The apprenticeship indenture of Jacob Lenhart tells us that he was a minor under the guardianship of a Dr. George Martin of Philadelphia. He was sent out to Charles Van Court, a blacksmith in Whitemarsh, for four years and four months. It specifies that Van Court would provide his apprentice with one quarter of school during the third year and $25 at the end of the contact.


Not all apprenticeships were for crafts. In 1842, Robert James McVey signed a contract to learn the “art and mystery” farming from Catharine Lentz. The term was for six years and one month. One wonders if Lentz was a widow needing more help on her farm. In the indenture he promises not to marry, play dice, or frequent taverns or playhouses. In return, Lentz will provide “sufficient meat, drink and lodging,” nine months of school, and a new suit.


One of our earliest indentures, is from 1778. In it, James Gilmore is apprenticed to Isaac Supplee, a joiner (which is a kind of carpenter) for a staggering fourteen years and eleven months. He, too, must promise to avoid marriage, dice, cards, taverns, and playhouses. Some education is promised, though in this case it is specified that he will be taught to read, write, and cypher (spelled “sifer”) to the rule of three. This indenture was preprinted with spaces left blank to fill in the details. This form was apparently a few years old in 1778 because at the bottom we can see the phrase “in the _____ Year of the Reign of Sovereign Lord __________________ King of Great Britain” has been crossed out.

cross out

We don’t know how many of these contracts were carried out to completion. Sometimes apprentices were treated badly and ran away, some died before the years were up. We have a record for one apprentice named Benjamin Pool who, along with his father Nickolas, petitioned the Court of the Quarter Sessions to release him from his apprenticeship. It claims that David Lloyd, a shoemaker, had neglected to teach Benjamin his craft and instead employed him farming.  Hopefully, Benjamin was able to find himself a better master.


Thursday, 19 April 2018 19:47

The H. C. Jones Company

The H. C. Jones Company

The Schuylkill River used to be lined with mills, many of them textile mills. I’ve written about a few of them over years, but this week, I’d like to take a look at the H. C. Jones Company of Conshohocken.

Horace C. Jones was a native of Conshohocken and attended its public schools, graduating from Conshohocken High School in 1857. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for one year before going into the family lumber business, Evan D. Jones and Company. He founded H. C. Jones and Company in 1880 with a partner, Stanley Lees, purchasing the former Whitton Cotton and Woolen Mills. In 1899, the company moved to a different mill located at the corner of Washington and Ash Streets. Lees had retired and company’s name became the H. C. Jones Company, while the mill was known as the Schuylkill Valley Woolen Mills.


Jones’ write up in Henry Wilson Ruoff’s Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania says the company manufactured “high grade cotton and woolen goods,” but at least one customer wasn’t pleased.

In 1911, Max Goodman and Company ordered 47 pieces of cotton warp worsted filling fabric in two different styles. The fabric was cut to make men’s and children’s suits which were sent out to retailers across the country, and soon sent back. The seams would not hold. Goodman and Company refused to pay for the cloth.


Samples of the fabric in question

The case was determined by arbitration. The arbitrators kind of split the difference between the two companies, not because the fabric wasn’t too slippery to hold the thread, they determined that it was, but because it was up to the clothier to test the fabric first. In other words, “Caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware. Goodman was ordered to pay all money owed with interest, while Jones was ordered to pay $1000 in restitution.

blog351                   blog352

The weaving drafts for the two styles (in case you'd like to try it home!)

An interesting letter follows the arbitrators’ decision in the file of documents, however. It was written by Charles Porter, Jr. of Chas. Porter & Son Park Mills, who served as arbitrator on behalf of the H. C. Jones Company. He writes:


Later he writes, “ I sincerely trust that the decision of the arbitrators will meet with your approval, as I can frankly say that you are getting out of the rather serious matter at a very reasonable figure.”

The H. C. Jones Company continued for several decades. Jones himself lived to be 83, dying in August of 1940. His home, once known as “The Terrace” is now Ciavarelli Funeral Home on Fayette Street.

Thursday, 12 April 2018 17:53

Harmony Grange

This week, we have a guest blogger!  He's a story from our own Ed Ziegler:

Many years ago, while going through my Grandfather’s effects, I found a few Grange badges. These two were of particular interest because he lived in Worcester, and I couldn’t understand why the same Grange was also in Creamery.                                                                          

I also found a notebook with the minutes of the first three and one-half years, and a membership roll book.

Pictured are the two delegate badges for Harmony Grange #891. One says Creamery and the other says Worcester.

blue ribbon

The Grange movement began in the 1870’s. These were co-ops by which farmers were able to buy and sell, and therefore eliminate middlemen. This was important because, after the Civil War, farm produce prices dropped, and family farms were struggling.

Around this time, among the Granges formed in Montgomery County, a Grange was established in Creamery, a village in Skippack Township. This was Harmony grange # 891. The name Harmony probably came from Harmony Square, which was the original name of Creamery. The name was changed to Creamery in 1880, about the time the Grange was formed. We do not know when Harmony Grange was disbanded.

red ribbon

In 1911, Harmony Grange #891 was reformed in Worcester Township, in Center Point. At this time the Worcester Farmers Union still existed. The membership list of the Grange includes most of the prominent farmers in Worcester and Towamencin townships, and the Grange meetings were held in the Farmers Union hall.

The farmers probably joined the grange because, due to its size, they could get better prices than the Farmers Union. This was also the beginning of the “Motor Power Period”, when tractors were replacing horses and wagons. The higher costs of tractors may have given the Grange an advantage in buying farm machinery.

roll book

Image from the roll book for Harmony Grange (Worcester)

We have not found when Harmony Grange was disbanded (neither the State Archives nor the Grange Archives have that information). The State Archives have the last two minute books for Harmony Grange, up to February 1933, but the minutes only go up to the meeting of February 1923. In fact, in November 1922, 10 new members were initiated.


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