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Karen Ploch, Curator

Tuesday, 14 May 2024 21:14

Lieutenant James W. Slater

As you have heard us say many times before, the Times Herald and other local newspapers are a great resource for genealogist. Recently, former Board President and volunteer Charles Kelly came across an obituary for Lieutenant James W. Slater of Norristown while reading our microfilm at HSMC.

Slater photo

April 28, 1943, Times Herald, HSMC Microfilm Collection

Before entering the US military in 1942, Lt. Slater lived at 45 East Spruce Street. He served in the Quartermaster Corps and was first assigned to Camp Lee, Virginia where he received his commission. Lt. Slater was later stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey and then Langley Field, Virginia.

His last assignment was in El Paso, Texas where he fell ill with tuberculosis in November 1942. Lt. Slater was kept at William Beaumont General Hospital for a while before ultimately being transferred to Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado.

Two weeks before his death, his family was notified that his condition was critical and, if possible, they should travel to Denver to see him. Sadly, only his half-brother George Lawrence Samuels was able to make the trip. St. Slater died shortly afterward at the age of 25.

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April 28, 1943, Times Herald, HSMC Microfilm Collection

His obituary described him as being a "brilliant student, orator, and writer" when he was a student at Norristown High School. Before he enlisted, St. Slater was preparing to write a book. The article in the Times Herald unfortunately did not say what the book was going to be about. 

Lt. Slater's funeral service was held at B. L. Reid Funeral Home at 222 East Wood Street on Monday, May 3, 1943. He was buried at Tremont Cemetery in Norristown.

 

Monday, 13 May 2024 20:05

Major David Krause

We have several items connected to military history at HSMC, including some uniforms and hats. One example is this military helmet with a number 11 on the front. On the inside of the helmet is a stamp that is marked "St. Nicholas Hotel No. 519 B-Way, Warnock & Co, New York".

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Helmet, 1914.3266.001, HSMC Collection

This helmet belonged to Major David Krause, Jr.  He was born in 1840 and his father was a well-known judge and lawyer in the area. The number 11 on the helmet represents his service in the 11th Infantry of the US Army.

Krause was a Union Army Officer during the Civil War. He was first appointed to first Lieutenant in the 14th US Regular Infantry on May 14, 1861. He later served as a Quartermaster for the 2nd Battalion from June 1862 through July 1863. While in the 2nd Battalion, he saw action at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was promoted to Captain on July 31, 1863 and served in this role for the next 20 years.

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Helmet, 1914.3266.001, HSMC Collection

On April 2, 1883, Krause was promoted to Major of the 5th US Regular Infantry. His last transfer was to the 11th US Regular Infantry on May 17, 1883. Krause was stationed at Fort Sully, in the Dakota Territory, where he died on September 12, 1885. The cause of death was listed as paralysis of the heart, which was a result of severe frost bite.

Major Krause was brought back to Norristown and buried at Montgomery Cemetery on September 23, 1885. According to donor records, his pall bearers included well-known names such as: General Hartranft, B. F. Chain, Capt. R. T. Schall, Col. T.W. Bean, Joseph Fornance, and General J. H. Hobert.

 

Monday, 06 May 2024 15:26

A Poem from Graeme Park

A few months ago, we had a researcher inquire about any archival materials we had connected to Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson (1737-1801). For those of you who may not know about Elizabeth, she was a well-known poet and literary leader in the Philadelphia area. As you could probably guess by her maiden name, she was also one of the owners of Graeme Park here in Montgomery County.

Graeme Park

Graeme Park, HSMC Photo Collection

While searching our archives we came across a poem connected to Graeme Park. On the back of the frame, the poem is said to have been written by Elizabeth. We thought we would share the poem with you.

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

Portrait of American poet, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

 

"An Ode Written At Graeme Park, 1766

How breathes the morn her incense round, 
and sweetends ev'ry sylvan scene!
Wild warblings thro' the groves resound,
and op'ning flow'rs bedeck the queen.

Bright o'er the hills the solar ray
its gaily trembling radiance spreads.
please'd on the glassy fount to play,
and pearl the dew-bespangled meads.

How sweet this hour the fields to rove
when Nature sheds her charms profuse;
or hide me in th' embow'ring grove.
and court the thought-inspiring Muse!

What joy, aside the plaintive fount,
dissolv'd in pleasing thought to stray;
and swift on fauey's wing to mount, 
and thread the bright ethereal way;

Thus musing o'er the charming plains,
where Graeme the good and just retires,
where Laura breathes her tender strains,
whom ev'ry graceful muse inspires!

Young Damon pour'd his artless lay,
beam'd from imagination's light,
when sudden from the realms of day,
a form of glory struck his sight.

Wisdom's grave matron, from the skies,
before the trembling youth appear'd
(tho' seen but by poetic eyes),
and thus to speak the dame was heard:

Would'st though, O youth, these scenes enjoy,
the solemn grove and fragrant lawn,
and pleasure taste without alloy,
wake jolly Health at early dawn?

Banish ambition from the breast, 
and sordid-minded Av'rice fly;
nor let pale spleen they ease infest,
nor gloomy Sorry clout thine eye.

They heart an off'ring nobly yield
at virture's high exalted shrine;
thy soul let Resolutions shield,
and e'er to dove-eyed Peace incline

Let Cheerfulness, with placid mien,
hold a firm empire o'er they heart,
and sweet content shall ceasless reign
and never-ending bliss impart

Then shall th' immortal Nine unfold
what sweets they sylvan scenes can give;
in heav'n they name shall be enroll'd,
and others learn like thee to live."

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.

press

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.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 10 April 2024 21:35

Surprise! Presidential Autographs

Imagine my surprise when looking for a guest book for our archival display case, I found an autograph book with some very intriguing signatures. In the 19th century, long before smart phones allowed for selfies to be taken with celebrities, there were autograph books. Truthfully they were used for a variety of things such as by university students to remember their classmates (this was also before yearbooks). But for this instance, it looks like the goal was political.

Charles Henry Jones of Reading, Pennsylvania spent a good portion of 1852 collection autographs from various government officials including two United States presidents.

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Inside the cover and first page of Charles H. Jones' autograph book. Featuring autographs of James Buchanan, Winfield Scott, William L. Marcy. (1954.10388.001)

Already intrigued I turned the next page and found another presidential signature: Millard Fillmore.

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Autographs of Millard Fillmore, Daniel Webster, Thomas Corwin, and Charles Magill Conrad. (1954.10388.001)

Following these pages, the rest of the book is divided by state, each with at least one autograph of a representative from the respective state. Important for us in this autograph under Pennsylvania. 

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John McNair, Norristown Montgomery C. Penn. (1954.10388.001)

John McNair served as a congressman from 1851-1855 and as is noted in his autograph above, he would have represented our district in Congress. Before serving in Congress he was a clerk of the courts here in Montgomery County as well. 

According to our records, this book was donated along with another autograph book featuring autographs from Franklin Pierce, his cabinet, and other government representatives. Who knows which other autographs might be found in our collection.

 

 

Wednesday, 13 March 2024 21:03

The Venezuelan Volcano

Hollywood stars have a wide range of backgrounds. One star in particular has a connection to Montgomery County. Burnu Aquanetta, also known as the Venezuelan Volcano, was a rising star in the early 1940s. She originally told agents she was from Venezuela, hence the nickname Venezuela Volcano.

october 17 1942

Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

Aquanetta was a model in New York City when she was first discovered by a publicity agent. She also attracted the attention of columnist Elsa Maxwell at the El Morrocco night club. Maxwell helped to introduce Aquanetta to people in Hollywood.

When one agent asked to see her Venezuelan passport, Aquanetta admitted she had never been to Venezuela. She then claimed she was born in Wyoming and her parents, members of the Arapaho Tribe, died when she was young. She went on to claim she was adopted by another member of the tribe named Linda, but ultimately ran away when she was a teenager. Her story continued that she followed a gypsy camp until she finally ended up in New York.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

There were also stories circulated at Universal Studios that Aquanetta was born in the West and adopted by New England artists Don and Ann Brothers. This story continued by saying she was a member of the Narragansett Tribe.

Ultimately, on October 17, 1942, an article in the Norristown Times Herald revealed Burnu Aquanetta's real name was Mildred Davenport. The article described her as "the girl who fooled Hollywood". She lived on Green Street in Norristown and graduated from Norristown High School in 1938. Some of you may remember a 2022 blog post I wrote about her brother, Judge Horace A. Davenport.

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Norristown Times Herald, October 17, 1942, HSMC Microfilm Collection

So why did she make up the stories about being Venezuelan and Native American? The most common explanation I found was that she wanted to work in Hollywood, but did not want to be turned away for being African American.

Thursday, 29 February 2024 18:15

1918 Flu Pandemic Project

We have an exciting new resource to announce. Long-time volunteer and former Board President, Charles Kelly has worked on several projects for HSMC over the years. Some of you may have seen his work with Montgomery County Soldiers During World War I or his Capital Sin program.

He just released his latest project, which is now stored digitally at HSMC. Using death certificates, Charles compiled a list of people from Montgomery County, PA who died during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. There are 2108 names on the list. It lists their names, where they were born, where they died, what cemetery they are buried in, and other bits of information about the individual.

1918

Many local cemeteries in our county are rumored to have sections where flu victims were buried, including our own Montgomery Cemetery. Some of these claims can be backed up and others have not yet been proven nor disproved, such as Montgomery Cemetery. 

Based on Charles' research, he believes at least two cemeteries have a designated area for 1918 flu victims. One is St. Matthew's Cemetery in Conshohocken. It is believed that flu victims were buried behind the mausoleum at that cemetery. The other cemetery is Riverside Cemetery in West Norriton. Based on his research, Charles thinks flu victims may be buried along the tree line toward the back of the cemetery between the community mausoleum and the Norriton Lawn.

1918 Flu Victims in Riverside

Charles' research can be accessed at HSMC via our computers. Our goal is to eventually find a way to transfer the data to an online friendly resource that can be accessed through our website.

 

 

Wednesday, 21 February 2024 22:45

Abington Friends Cemetery

If you follow us on social media, you may have seen a recent post about our Mapping MontCo. Black History project. After giving a presentation about the project at an event hosted by the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, we got a few more contributions to the map.

Mapping MontCo Black History

One of the recent additions to the map is the Abington Friends Cemetery. At least 66 people of African descent are buried at this cemetery in unmarked graves. The Meeting learned about this from their old burial records. In these records the designation "COL" (which is short for "colored") appears next to many of the names of people buried at this cemetery. The dates for these records ranges from 1851 to 1925.

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According to the Meeting's website, a marker was placed in the cemetery listing the names of the 66 individuals in 2022. To look up the names of these people, reach out to Abington Friends Meeting. If you are looking for other cemetery records, be sure to stop by HSMC's library. We have binders filled with various records for different cemeteries in Montgomery County.

Our Mapping MontCo. Black History is an on going, community based project. Our goal is to continue gathering information about all things related to Black History in Montgomery County, PA and make it easy and free for the public to access. To view the map, click here. If you have sites to contribute to the map, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

Source:

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/20161010_Recognizing_African_Americans_in_Abington_Friends_cemetery.htmlhttps://www.abingtonquakers.org/Groups/380114/AMM_History.aspx

Thursday, 08 February 2024 00:08

Ambler Opera and Theater

While preparing for our next exhibit, Downtown: Then and Now, I came across this picture in our photograph collection.

Ambler Opera House

Harry Samuel Nash and Store Clerk, Haberdashery Store, HSMC Photographs Collection

According to the back of the photograph, it depicts Harry Samuel Nash and a store clerk in front of Nash's Haberdashery Store in Ambler. The photograph is dated around 1902 to 1904. Nash's store was located in the former Ambler Opera House.

opera house

Ambler Opera House, HSMC Photographs Collection

Like most buildings in Ambler, the Opera House was a product of the Keasbey and Mattison Company. It was built around 1889. The first floor housed six stores like Nash's until 1904. In 1928, the building was renovated into a movie theater.

OPERA house 1928

Ambler Opera House c. 1928, HSMC Photographs Collection

In our extensive N. Howard collection, which covers many aspects of Ambler, we are fortunate to have a few photographs of the Opera House. We even have photographs taken right before and during its demolition in 1967. From the demolition photographs, you can tell they were worried about the asbestos as some of the workers wore masks on the scene.

1967

Demolition of Ambler Opera House 1967, HSMC Photographs Collection

This building was located on Butler Pike between Maple Avenue and the railroad tracks. Today it is home to a parking lot and a French restaurant. Many other buildings in Ambler did not share the same fate as the Opera House.

 Ambler Theater 2

Ambler Theater, HSMC Photographs Collection

One example is the Ambler Theater, also located on Butler Pike. It opened in 1928 and was originally operated by Warner Brothers. This theater closed in 1969/1970 and was reopened as a Christian movie theater. By 1997, the theater closed again. It was purchased in 2001 and became the non-profit Ambler Theater, Inc. The group restored the theater in stages and continues to show films to this day in 2024.

Wednesday, 24 January 2024 19:57

The Dill Company

One question people often ask me is "How do you research some of the items in HSMC's collection?" This depends a lot on the type of item in question and what we already know about it from the donor's records. For example, there are some items, like this medicine bottle pictured below, that come to us with limited information.

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Medicine Bottle, The Dill Co., HSMC Collection, 2013.016.020

For this piece, we can see that it is labeled "The Dill Co." on one side and "Norristown, PA" on the other. Based on its size and shape, we can guess it was likely a medicine bottle from either the late 1800s or early 1900s. Beyond that, we really did not know anything about this Dill Company.

Since it was a business, the best place to start searching was our Norristown City Directories. Sure enough, from 1908 to 1931 I found references to Dill Co. and Dill Medicine Co. under the "Patent Medicines" section. The directories list C. H. Alderfer as the president.

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Medicine Bottle, The Dill Medicine Co., HSMC Collection, 2013.016.009

Now the question remains, who started this business? Based on my searches, I know there was a Dr. Wallace W. Dill (1877-1953) living in Norristown at the same time the company operated. We also have two other medicine bottles connected to this company. One is labeled "Prof. W. W. Dill" and the other is labeled "The Dill Medicine Co." The one with Prof. Dill's label is my personal favorite because the bottle was supposed to hold something called the "Balm of Life". I wonder what could have originally been held in that bottle.

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Medicine Bottle, Balm of Life, HSMC Collection, 2013.016.010

Anyway, although Dr. Wallace W. Dill's address was not the same as the Dill Company's address, it is still very possible that he was the creator of this company. As for C. H. Alderfer, if I found the correct person, Clayton H. Alderfer served in the Norristown Banking industry at this time. Perhaps he helped Dr. Dill with a loan or money matters and was thus made the president of the company.

 

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