Karen Ploch, Curator

Thursday, 25 August 2022 18:51

Reading Railroad

Today a research question sent me looking through our railroad collection. When I saw the pamphlet pictured below from 1966, I was reminded of the current project to reopen a passenger rail line connecting Reading and Philadelphia, which would pass through Montgomery County. 


Commuter Pamphlet, 1966

HSMC has a number of items connected to railroads, including several items from the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (also known as the P & R). In addition to pamphlets, we also have time tables, photographs, old tickets, and lanterns from the P & R. One of these lanterns is currently on display in our gallery until March 2023. 


P&R Lantern

The P & R was first chartered in 1833 and became known as the Reading Railroad in 1924. The company used coal fields in the Pottstown area to power their train service from Reading to Philadelphia. Over time, they acquired other shorter railroads in the area, helping to connect people and freight service throughout Southern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.

Reading Railroads Penllyn station in Lower Gwynedd

Reading Railroad's Penllyn Station in Lower Gwynedd

By the mid 1900s, cars and airplanes became fierce competitors for all railroad companies. The decline of local coal mining and manufacturing furthered the strain on the Reading Railroad. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1971 and was absorbed by Conrail in 1976. The railroad connection to Reading has not been used by passengers for several years. However, plans to reopen this connection between Reading and Philadelphia have received much support in recent years.


Thursday, 11 August 2022 17:41

The One-Man Army

We have a guest blogger for this post. HSMC volunteer Eleanor Jones researched and wrote about a Medal of Honor recipient from Spring Mount, Montgomery County. Thank you Eleanor!


The One-Man Army - Alton Warren Knappenberger

by Eleanor Jones

What do you think of when someone mentions military achievement? In serving and protecting, The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor against enemy forces. The receivers have filled newspaper articles, remembrance anniversaries, and walls of lists. However, the personal undertaking can still be lost on many.

Alton W. Knappenberger is one such individual to receive the Medal of Honor. In World War II, Knappenberger was stationed in Europe in early 1944, during the Anzio Campaign. Born on December 31, 1923 in Coopersburg, PA, at the age of twenty, he was recognized by his familial dispatches to be, "chiefly responsible for preventing serious losses to his outfit in a battle in which every officer and non-commissioned man in his company became a casualty." One man's influence in tragedy cannot be ignored even in our modern times.


Copy of a Newspaper Article in the Family Files at HSMC

In Cisterna di Latina, a town 30 miles from Nazi-Occupied Rome, Knappenberg's unit was moving from Italy's beaches to an open field. With bodies on either side of him being shot down, he felt unattended and exposed. Assuming none of his superiors were left to give commands, Knappenberger was left to act on his own will against the enemy ahead of him. He ran forward in a zig-zag for up to forty yards as bullets shot passed him. He avoided grenades and shot down Germans. He stood his ground for several hours finding security behind a knoll, laying flat or occasionally kneeling. Six survivors remained and joined Knappenberger on the knoll. The remaining company's commander ordered them to return to their regiment, unaware there was no regiment to return to. Sixty Nazis were found dead after the Unites States troops took the ground. The 20-year old private did not have a scratch on him. Knappenberger's Medal of Honor Action date was February 1, 1944. When he was presented with the medal he was called, "a blasted one-man army," by General Mark Clark.


Alton W. Knappenberger, Photo from Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Knappenberger reminisced about the shift in response to his medal. He said, "Everybody wanted to talk to me about the medal. Now very few people know I have it." Locally, the medal lost its significance once the threat itself diminished. His life carried on when he returned home in August of 1944. He quickly married his first wife Ruth. Eventually he married his second wife, Mary. He had six children. Alton Knappenberger died on June 9, 2008 in Pottstown, PA. In World War II, 464 people were awarded the Medal of Honor. While he is proud of his service to earn the medal, he admits, "I was scared all the time I was over there. I just did what I had to do. You go in there and just try to get them guys before they get you." Alton Knappenberger's service in one day saved countless lives. The horrors of war and the strength of veterans must remain remembered and not be overlooked.


Works Cited

Stories of Sacrifice. “Alton W Knappenberger: World War II: U.S. Army: Medal of Honor Recipient.” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 2022.

Venditta, David. “A Reluctant Hero.” The Morning Call, 30 Jan. 2019.

Last, First. “Salford Medal of Honor Man Modest About his Exploits.” The Times Herald, July 26, 1962. 

Thursday, 21 July 2022 14:54

History of Abortion in PA

We have several indictments from Montgomery County in our archives. Many date back to the 19th century. Given the recent Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, this particular indictment seems worth sharing. For privacy, the names of all individuals involved in the indictment have been redacted.

Commonwealth of PA

Indictment with Redacted Names

Dated March 11, 1879, this person was indicted for "fornication and bastardry, seduction, and attempt to commit abortion."

Screenshot 2022 07 21 112238

Prior to the mid 1800s, there seems to have been few or no regulations on abortion in Pennsylvania. What we can tell is that women were allowed to have an abortion prior to the gestational period known as "quickening," which is when the woman can feel the first movements of the fetus.

In 1850, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that abortion throughout pregnancy was a crime. This seems to have been one of the first times a state supreme court outlawed abortion in the U.S. Many states started making their own laws regarding abortion, with laws ranging from completely outlawing it to allowing it until the "quickening" period.

It was not until the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade that abortion laws were regulated on the federal level. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to an abortion was protected under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This ruling legalized abortion nationwide, but allowed states to impose certain limitations.

Blocked out Name with Bills

Bill found with the Indictment

A case originating in Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, also made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1992. In this case, the court reaffirmed that women had the right to an abortion prior to fetal viability. However, the court also ruled many of the statutes under the PA law in question were constitutional. This included: the woman seeking an abortion must give her consent, a minor seeking an abortion needs one parent to consent, clinics must provide certain information to the woman seeking the abortion, and the woman must wait 24 hours before having the abortion. Violating many sections of this law could be considered a felony in the third degree.

As of July 2022, the future of abortion laws in Pennsylvania is unknown. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it is now left to the individual states to decide the legality of abortion. Some PA legislators are currently trying to pass amendments to the Pennsylvania State Constitution to further restrict abortion. Other PA legislatures are opposed to the changes. Ultimately, the issue may be sent to the voters for a final decision in an upcoming election.





Joseph, Anthony M. The “Pennsylvania Model”: The Judicial Criminalization of Abortion in Pennsylvania, 1838 – 1850. The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 49, No. 3 (July 2007).


Meyer, Katie. “After advancing constitutional amendment, Pa. Republicans move closer to being able to restrict abortion access”, July 9, 2022.  


Pennsylvania General Assembly, Title 18, Chapter 32: Abortion.


PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Petitioners, v. Robert P. CASEY, et al., etc. Robert P. CASEY, et al., etc., Petitioners, v. PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA et al., Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.


“Roe v. Wade overturned: What are Pennsylvania's abortion laws?”Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News, June 24, 2022.


Witkowski, Gustave Joseph. “Pre-1850: Abortions in early America are commonplace.” Wikimedia Commons, WFMZ News, June 24, 2022.

Thursday, 07 July 2022 20:15

King of Prussia Inn

While removing old picture wires from our framed art works, I came across this piece.

drawing take 2

It is a drawing of the King of Prussia Inn. I am uncertain when the piece was made, but the title indicates the artist drew the Inn as it would have looked circa 1760. There is no artist signature, but we know it was made for a Lyle Boulwar.

The King of Prussia Inn was founded in 1719. Over time, it evolved into a successful tavern and inn at the heart of the town. It thrived for two centuries before it was faced with location problems.

signature take 2

In the early 1950s, the PA Highway Department was planning to widen US Route 202. This was part of the preparation for the PA Turnpike and Schuylkill Expressway merger. Since the King of Prussia Inn was in the way of this project there were a lot of protests by the local population. Ultimately, US 202 was constructed around the Inn. Although the building was saved, it was difficult to access. The precarious location caused the Inn to close on June 28, 1952.

inn take 2

Over the next few decades, the Inn was vacant, leaving it vulnerable to weather and vandalism. The building received some upkeep by the King of Prussia Historical Society, volunteers, and local businesses in preparation for the Bicentennial in 1976. By 1997, PennDot was planning another highway expansion. Since the Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places, there were several calls for the building to be preserved.

On August 20, 2000, it was moved to land donated by PECO. The engineering involved in this project was so impressive, it earned the National Legacy Award for successful relocation and restoration in 2004. Today, the building housed the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, located on Bill Smith Boulevard.


Google Maps Street View Image August 2021



“KOP Inn History.” King of Prussia Historical Society.  

“15 Year Anniversary of King of Prussia Inn’s Move.” King of Prussia Historical Society, August 19, 2015.

“At a Crossroads: The King of Prussia Inn.” National Park Service.  


Thursday, 23 June 2022 19:49

Kiwi Shoe Polish

We recently added a tin of Kiwi Shoe Polish to HSMC's collection. Most of you have probably seen the iconic tins or used them yourselves. What you may not know is one of Kiwi's manufacturing plants was located in Pottstown.


Upon seeing the Kiwi bird on the tin, most people probably think the product originated in New Zealand. However, it was founded in Australia by William Ramsey. He and Hamilton McKellar started a business in Melbourne around 1901. They produced a wide range of products including disinfectant powder, stove polish, cleanser, and boot cream. By 1906, they developed the Kiwi Shoe Polish, which Ramsey named for his wife, Annie Ramsey, who was a native of New Zealand. Sadly, Ramsey never saw the huge success that was to come for the company. He died from cancer on September 4, 1914 at the age of 47.

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Kiwi became known for its ability to preserve leather shoes and make them water resistant. This became especially vital during World War I. With soldiers fighting in trenches, health issues like trench foot were big concerns on the front line. Many Allied countries bought Kiwi's product to help soldiers keep their feet dry. This production for the armed forces continued in World War II, when Kiwi became particularly popular among U.S. Troops.

The first U.S. based Kiwi plant was built in Philadelphia in 1948. The plant moved to Pottstown in 1953. It remained there until the 1980s when it moved to Douglassville Township in Berks County. Kiwi is still manufactured to this day and is currently owned by the SC Johnson Company.




“Kiwi Brand 100 years of Kiwi polish 1906 – 2006.” Blanco and Bull.

Knight-ridder Newspapers, “Kiwi Polishes Up Its Line of Products.” March 11, 1990, Orlando Sentinel.

Pottstown Historical Society. “2016 Historical Walking Tour.”

Stuchbery, Madeleine, “Kiwi Shoe Polish History Recored in Book by Late Author Keith Dunstan.” Herald Sun.

Thursday, 09 June 2022 14:38

Radio Tube

We recently acquired a transmitting tube used by the WIBG radio station. These devices control electric current flow in a vacuum. Their functions allowed radio signals to be amplified.

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This tube was placed on a wooden mount for display. It was given to Thomas Caldwell, a retired dentist and ham radio operator. It was given to him in 1936 by William Brownback, who was also a radio operator as well as one of Caldwell's patients.

The WIBG radio station was founded in 1924 as a 50-watt religious station for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Elkins Park. It played on channel 1350 AM. St. Paul's sold the station in 1931. The new for-profit company moved the station to Glenside in 1932. 


By 1939, the station was sold to Seaboard Broadcasting. In 1941, the station moved to 1425 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. In 1957, the station was sold to Storer Communications. By this time, WIBG became popular with their "top 40" format. Playing more rock and roll music than their competitors, WIBG was particularly popular among teenagers. Over time, the station became known as "Wibbage".

The station changed hands several times since then. As ownership changed, so too did the style of music. Everything from rock and roll, disco, R&B, country, and religious music was played over the airwaves. Some of the owners also introduced news, sports, and talk show segments in between the music. WIBG is still around as of 2022. It is currently headquartered in Ocean City, New Jersey.







“About WIBG Radio,” WIBG.

History of Philadelphia radio station 990 WNTP (Salem Communications),” Philadelphia Radio Archives.

Fuhrmann Doug, “Local History: WIBG Radio 99 dominated the airwaves.” The Daily Journal, June 18, 2015.

Thursday, 19 May 2022 11:39

Wetherill Mansion

This is a watercolor painting of the Wetherill Mansion. It was painted by local artist, illustrator, and educator Lois Rapp (1907-1992) around 1938.

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Wetherill Mansion, HSMC Collection

The mansion has had several names over the years including Wetherill Mansion, Fatland, Fatland Farm, and Vaux Hill to name a few. It is located along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Audubon. 


Location of the mansion in Audubon

James Vaux, a wealthy Quaker from Philadelphia, purchased the land from the Morgan family in 1772. By 1776, the first mansion was constructed. The property spanned an estimated 300 acres at the time and was referred to as Vaux Hill. During the American Revolution, Vaux temporarily housed both General George Washington and General Sir William Howe on different nights in September 1777.

Various people have lived in the mansion since James Vaux, but the Wetherill family owned the property the longest (1825 - 1946). The original house was raised in 1843 by William Wetherill. The construction of the new mansion, which still stands today, was completed in 1845. It was designed by noted architect John Haviland, who also designed the original Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

FB IMG 1652186968767

This painting of the Wetherill Mansion will be on display during our Grandma's Attic exhibit, which will be free and open to the public from May 19, 2022 to March 31, 2023.


Thursday, 05 May 2022 17:22

Rachel Schwenk Johnson

We are finishing the final details of our upcoming exhibit, Grandma's Attic, so I thought I would highlight one of the items that will be on display starting Thursday May 19, 2022 at 5pm.


This is a maroon wedding dress worn by Rachel Schwenk. She was born in Perkiomen around 1862. Rachel lived most of her life in the Graterford area. She married William R. Johnson on September 25, 1890, in Graterford. They were listed as farmers in the 1900 census. However, by 1920, William transitioned out of farm life and became a carpenter. Rachel died on July 15, 1955 in Pottstown. William died on July 18, 1959 in Towamencin. They are both buried at Keelys Church Cemetery in Schwenksville.

Made mostly from silk, this dress has a few hidden surprises to it. The collar and a section on the bottom left is made of felt. There is also a metal brooch on the left side, which holds the folds of the dress into a bow shape. Another interesting part of this dress is its size. Rachel was so small, we are unable to button the top while it is on our mannequin! This dress was donated to HSMC in 1955, but it did not come with any shoes or other accessories. 

20220505 110217

This dress, and many other items will be on display at HSMC starting Thursday May 19, 2022 from 5pm to 8pm. The upcoming exhibit, Grandma's Attic, will highlight rarely displayed objects from HSMC's collection. Each item represents fun and unusual things you might find in a family member's attic, basement, or other storage space. Visitors will see a wide variety of objects including, but not limited to, toys, clothing, and art. This exhibit will be free and open to the public from May 19, 2022 through March 30, 2023.

Grandmas Attic logo

Thursday, 21 April 2022 15:53

Robbery in Conshohocken

Our Board President, Charles Kelly, recently told me about the first robbery on the Schuylkill division of the Reading Railroad. Several articles were written about it in the Norristown Times Herald.

 June 1, 1934 front page

Norristown Times Herald, June 1, 1934

On June 1, 1934, five masked men confronted a mailman at the Reading Train Station in Conshohocken at 7:25 am. The men were dressed as laborers, wearing black stockings and pieces of window curtains to hide their faces. They stole registered letters containing a large sum of money.

They escaped in a car heading towards Norristown. Many packages were reported to have been emptied and thrown out the car window as the thieves escaped. The car was found, still running, two hours later near the Montgomery County Courthouse. Inside the car, police found a mail sack and letters. They learned the car had been stolen from H. W. Powel of Merion the day before the robbery.

June 2

Norristown Times Herald, June 2, 1934

The mail had been scheduled to arrive at the First National Bank of Conshohocken. The bank claimed they normally received $40,000 every week from the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia for their payroll. However, their records indicated $17,000 never arrived and was suspected to have been taken during this robbery.

The mailman, J. Roy Stewart, had previously received protection during his mail routes. Apparently, there was fear such a robbery might occur while he was scheduled to deliver money to the bank. Unfortunately for him, he was not under protection on June 1. This suggested to the police that the robbers may have been tipped off that there were no guards scheduled to protect Stewart that morning. A reward of $11,700 was set.


Norristown Times Herald, February 8, 1935

Six men were ultimately tried for the robbery, including Conshohocken letter carrier, John J. Murphy. He was given a suspended sentence and put on probation for 5 years. Murphy's cousin Edward J. Dempsey was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for his complicity in the robbery. Another man, Edward J. Quinn was sentenced to 10 years.

The leaders were identified as George Marsh, John Cahill, and Bentley Verro. They were each sentenced to 25 years in a Federal penitentiary. They were allegedly going to be sent to Alcatras, California to serve their sentence. However, I did not see their names in the National Archives, so I am uncertain if they were sent there or to another Federal penitentiary. Dempsey and Quinn were supposedly sent to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

George's brother Stanley Marsh was also suspected of being involved. However, while the others were on trial, he was still at large. At this point, I have not uncovered if he was ever found and tried in court.








Thursday, 07 April 2022 16:14

1972 Hurricane Agnes

With the amount of rain we have gotten this week, I was left thinking about the various photographs of local storms and flooding we have here at HSMC.

One of the collections contains color photographs from a small community in West Norriton known as Port Indian. These photographs, donated to us by William F. Runkle, depict the flooding along the Schuylkill River after Hurricane Agnes went through the area in late June 1972.

Agnes 1

agnes 2

agnes 3

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Agnes hit Florida as a Category 1 before continuing north and east. Seen in the image below, it regained strength when it entered the Atlantic Ocean before coming back towards Pennsylvania.

agnes 1972 map

The rainfall brought widespread flooding to communities along the Schuylkill River. The Times Herald recorded several photographs and stories about the flood. The storm caused forty-eight deaths and over $2 billion dollars in damage in Pennsylvania alone.

Agnes June 23

The Times Herald, June 23, 1972

Agnes June 24

The Times Herald, June 24, 1972

Due to the destruction, Hurricane Agnes was listed as one of the worst storms to hit the area. The Schuylkill River at Norristown crested at 25.10 feet, the highest on record at that time. That record was broken last year when the river crested at 26.85 feet after Hurricane Ida hit the area in September 2021.







“Flood of June 1972 – Hurricane Agnes.” National Weather Service.

“Top10 Highest Historical Crests: Schuylkill River at Norristown, PA.” 1/14/2020

Heinze, Justin.All-Time Record Floods Slam Schuylkill River, Perkiomen Creek” Patch,

Kiner, Deb. “‘A cruel blow’: Tropical Storm Agnes devastated Pa. in 1972” PennLive, Jun. 20, 2020.,Milton%20J.

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