Karen Ploch, Curator

Wednesday, 30 September 2020 16:40

Memories of River Crest Preventorium

You may recall our blog post from 2019 about River Crest Preventorium. This week we have a personal story about River Crest. While in her 80s, Loretta Garber Bondi reflected on her time recoving at River Crest from 1936 to 1937. The stories were recorded using a talk to text software and Loretta's daughter Barbara sent the documents along with photographs to HSMC. Here is a synopsis of Loretta's story:

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When Loretta was a child, her mother took her to get an x-ray of her lungs. Loretta was just 36 pounds and had recently recovered from measles, chickenpox, and pneumonia. She was quarantined for thirty days in a darkened room to recover from the illneses. The x-ray revealed a shadow on her left lung.


With Loretta's lungs weak from the three illnesses, her mother sought help from various doctors and health agencies. Doctors said Loretta was so undernourished that if she ever caught turberculosis or a second round of pneumonia, she would be unlikely to survive more than six months.

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Loretta's mother sent her to River Crest to recover. The treatment for Loretta was "fresh air, good food, and rest." It cost her family one dollar a day to treat Loretta. Since she was so weak when she first arrived, Loretta went to the kitchen every afternoon to receive an extra egg and cream drink. She ultimately spent two years at River Crest, celebrating her 7th and 8th birthdays at the facility.

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Loretta saw boys and girls from babies to age 16 at River Crest. Few of them had the extensive stay she did and most came during the summer months as part of a summer camp. The only friend Loretta recalls from her time at River Crest was Adele Brown. The two girls got along well and Loretta remarked, "Maybe she felt as lost on arrival as I did."


With animals and vegetable gardens, River Crest was largely self-sufficient. Every day was a routine, with bells ringing to signal different parts of the day's schedule. The children did not own anything, and Loretta remembers standing in line each morning to receive her dress for the day. Toys, such as doll houses, were also provided by River Crest.

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There was a playground with swings, a tire, and a large pavilion to take shelter from rain and heat. Children were even encouraged to plant their own garden during the summer. Loretta recalls not having a green thumb and her garden did not survive.

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The children also attended a one room school while staying at River Crest. There was one teacher and each grade sat at a different table. The teacher would go from table to table assigning different projects, mostly math and reading related.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020 17:16

A Local Olympian

As is the case with many large events this year, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been delayed until next year. This came to mind when I received a phone call from someone looking for additional information about local Norristown Olympian, Joshua Culbreath.

He participated in the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the games were held from November 22 to December 8. On opening night, Culbreath was interviewed. See his statement in the Times Herald below.

 opening night quote

Times Herald, November 23, 1956

Culbreath's sport was the 400 meter hurdle. At only five foot seven inches tall, few people expected him to win the bronze medal. In addition to winning the bronze medal, Culbreath was also the first U.S. Marine serving in active duty to participate in an Olympic games.


Times Herald, November 24, 1956

Culbreath grew up in Norristown and his first track coach was Rittenhouse Junior High School history teacher, Vince Farina. While at Norristown Area High School, Culbreath won the 400 meter hurdles in the PIAA state championship. He also won the Penn Relays three times. In addition to track, Culbreath played other sports while at Norristown Area High School, including football and basketball.

JV Football

Culbreath (top left) on the JV Football team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

Culbreath's success in track earned him a scholarship to Morgan State University. He was the U.S. outdoor champion three years in a row from 1953 to 1955. He ran as the anchor on the relay team with Herman Wade, Otis "Jet" Johnson, and Dr. James Rodgers. They were dubbed "The Flying Four." Culbreath set world records at competitions in Bendigo, Australia and Oslo, Norway. He also won the Pan American Games twice, in 1955 and 1959.

JV Basketball

Culbreath (bottom right) on the JV Basketball team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

After serving in the Marines, Culbreath coached at Rittenhouse Middle School and later earned his Master of Arts degree from Temple Univeristy in 1988. He became the track and field coach at Central State Univeristy in Ohio, where his team won 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships. Four of Culbreath's athletes competed in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, one of whom was Deon Hemmings the gold medal winner in the 400 hurdles.

Lastly, here's a cool side note. Five Saints Distilling, located in the former Humane Fire Engine Co. #1 building in Norristown, created a drink named after Culbreath! It's a gin drink known as the Culbreath Smash.

five saints 


"Olympic Medalist and orristown Native Joshua Culbreath Reflects on Live on Eve of MontCo. Hall of fame Induction." Times Herald. November 24, 2013.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 18:53


We are pleased to share with you a new addition to HSMC's collection. This melodeon belonged to David Y. Custer, also referred to as D Chester, of Pottstown. David was a musician and piano teacher.


David Custer was born in 1866. This melodeon was passed down through the Custer family after David died in 1892 from kidney disease. His great granddaughter kindly donated the melodeon to us recently.

C Chester

The gold colored paint on the melodeon indicates that it was made by Earhart Needham and Company in New York.

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However, when we lifted the lid fully to inspect the bellows, we found a paper label.


David seems to have purchased this melodeon from A. P. Hughes Melodeon Manufacturer in Philadelphia, which was a sales company for Earhart Needham and Company. A. P. Hughes operated in Wareroom No. 258 on Market Street.


Wednesday, 05 August 2020 14:32


Does anyone know how to play the Pennsylvania Polka?


Concertina at HSMC

This lovely instrument is known as a concertina. A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument that uses bellows and buttons to produce sound. It was first patented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in London in 1829. A German model was developed independently by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in 1834.

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Bellows design on HSMC concertina

The original design had one row of five keys on each side of the instrument. It was eventually improved with the addition of more rows of keys. The English concertinas are normally shaped like a hexagon and play the same note when you press a key and pull or push the bellows. The German concertina can sometimes be square shaped and uses a diatonic scale. This means if a musician presses a key and push the bellows inward it makes a different note than if they press the same key and pull the bellows.

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Black youth with early square-ended German Concertina, ca. 1864. From the online gallery of

The concertina was popular in the United States from 1840s to 1900. Unlike other instruments, the concertina was small and affordable for many people. A single row German concertina cost roughly $1 in the late 1860s. A two-row cost roughly $5 in the late 1880s, which would be roughly $30 in 2020. The German concertinas were the least expensive and were thus more popular with the middle and lower class. The English concertinas were generally more expensive and favored by the upper class.

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German concertina, mid 19th century C. Coule - New and Complete Method (or Self-Instructor) for Playing the German Concertinas. London: C. Coule

Seeing the popularity of the German concertinas, some English concertina makers started making their own hybrid models. This combination of English and German concertina designs is referred to as an Anglo-German Concertina. These typically have a hexagon shape and use a diatonic scale.

By the early 1900s, accordions replaced the popularity of the concertinas. Today, concertinas are still used to play traditional tango and polka music from countries such as Ireland, England, and South Africa.



Worrall, Dan. “A Brief History of the Anglo Concertina in the Unites States,” 15 April 2007

Wednesday, 22 July 2020 15:47

David Sower, Jr.

Many of you likely read the Times Herald, but did you know it's one of the longest running papers in our area? We have a few items in our collection that relate to the historic newspaper, such as this commemorative cast of David Sower Jr., one of the first owners of the paper.

David Sower

Copper Cast of David Sower Jr. 

David Sower Jr. was the son of David Sower Sr. the founder of the Norristown Gazette. As a bookbinder and seller in Norristown, David Sr. wanted to create a paper for local news. He published the first copy of the Norristown Gazette on June 15, 1799. The paper's name changed to the Norristown Herald and Weekly Advertiser in 1800. David Jr. took over the Norristown Herald in 1816.


Sower's Bookshop

While running the paper, David Jr. enlarged the pages and added office equipment. At some point in his eighteen years as editor and publisher, David Jr. changed the paper's name to Norristown Herald and Montgomery county Advertiser (the "c" in county was lowercase). He sold the paper to John Hodgson in 1854. Its name changed slightly a few times as it changed owners in the following years. By the early 1920s, it was known as the Norristown Daily Herald.

In 1921 Ralph Beaver Strassburger bought the Norristown Daily Herald and the Norristown Daily Times, which was founded by Civil War veteran Captain William Rennyson in 1881. Strassburger merged the two papers, creating the Norristown Times Herald. The business operated at 410 Markley Street for 98 years. 

The paper changed its name to the Times Herald in the early 1960s to emphasize its focus on local county news. Today, the Times Herald continues to operate both in print and online.





Russell Rubert(President of Norristown Preservation Society). “Guest Commentary: The Times Herald and the Changing Way of News.” Times Herald, February 13, 2020.


Stan Husky. Remembering Norristown: Stories from the Banks of the Schuylkill River.

Thursday, 09 July 2020 13:32

Dettra Flag Co.

Can you identify these objects? Here's a hint, the manufacture's name "Dettra" is engraved on each item. 


Dettra was a flag company based in Oaks, Pennsylvania. John Dettra founded the company in 1901. The company made flags, pennants, banners, bannerettes, flag accessories, and other items throughout its history.1 So what are these two mystery items at HSMC...flag holders for your car! Believed to have been made around the mid 1900s, these metal items were designed to attach to your car's bumper and hold a small flag.

The flag business appears to eb and flow depending on current events. For example, when the United States added a star to the flag when Alaska became a state in 1959, Dettra saw a huge uptick in orders for a new flag. When Hawaii became the 50th state later that same year, Dettra lost roughly $150,000 in canceled orders and unsalable inventory.2 However, the company quickly recovered when they made and sold roughly 2 million new flags, roughly double what Dettra normally made in a year.3

At its peak, Dettra employed about 150 people and had a large network of roughly 5,000 distributors, retailers, and wholesalers.4 Dettra even had special shops for custom flag and banner designs. They made signals for Frank Sinatra's yacht and pennants for the Seminole Tribe in Florida.5

Flags and banners were tested for durability against wind and sunlight, sometimes even sent to places like Florida and the South Western United States for testing. Depending on where the custormer lived, they would recommend a certain type of fabric. For example, polyester and cotton are more durable, but due to their heavy nature it takes more wind to fly it on a flagpole. Alternatively, nylon is more lightweight and easier to fly. 

John Dettra died in 1967. The Dettra Flag Company continued until it was sold to Annin Flagmakers in 1998.


Photo credit: 

In addition to his flag manufacturing company, John Dettra also sold hedge trimmers. Here is an advertisement for his "little wonder hedge trimmer" invention.6 Thanks to John's great grandson, Mark Dettra, we learned the Little Wonder hedge trimmers were manufactuered under a different company, the John C. Dettra Machine Company. This company was later known as the Detco Manufacturing Company. John obtained the trademark for Little Wonnder in 1922 and was granted his patent for it in 1923. He sold hedge trimmers starting in 1922. In 1942, Howard C. Dettra took over Detco and in 1946 sold it to Schiller Pfeiffer Machine Works. Little Wonder hede trimmers are still procuced today by Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.


Photo credit:

Mark Dettra also shared the following information about his great grandfather: "From about 1903-1905 he was part of Dettra & Hoot Manufacturers, producing Mother's Congress Dolls named Baby Stuart. From about 1914-1917 he manufactured what he called wooden war toys under the name of Dettra's Oak Brand Toys. He held patents for 2 different designs and said there were some thirty odd items. From about 1917 to 1925 manufactured men's athletic underwear under the brand name Kool-U-Off. From about 1930-1939 they made ladies' full fashioned hosiery."

Thank you Mark for sharing this information with us!



1Justia Trademarks.

2 Nilsson, Jeff. “More Than a Flag.” The Saturday Evening Post. June 6, 2009.

3 Kita, Joe. “Stars and Stripes Forever Turning Red, White, and Blue into the Fabric of American Patriotism.” The Morning Call. June 14, 1984.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Flag guys.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 16:42

Flexible Flyer

If you are a snow lover like me, this sled may have you reminiscing snow days from your childhood. This sled was owned by Ethel Mullineaux. We do not have much information about Ethel, but we believe she lived in the Philadelphia and southern Montgomery County area in the early 1900s.

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1971.11533.001 – Flexible Flyer

Made by S.L. Allen Company, this type of sled is known as the Flexible Flyer. Compared to other sleds, the Flexible Flyer became popular for its speed and maneuverability. One downside to this sled, as many of you have probably experienced firsthand, it does not work well in soft, deep snow.

Samuel Allen started his company, S.L. Allen Company, as a farm equipment manufacturing business in 1868. To be close to the railroads and workers, the company was established in Philadelphia. Allen’s Planet Drill (a fertilizer drill) and Planet Junior (a seed drill) were designed to help farmers plant their crops more quickly.


Samuel Allen, Photo Credit:

Although Allen’s business was a success, he wanted to provide work for his employees during the summer (farm equipment was only made in the winter so it was ready for sale by the spring). Allen designed several sleds in the 1880s and eventually patented the Flexible Flyer in 1889.

It took a few years to gain momentum, but by the early 1900s Wanamaker’s and other large retailers began selling the Flexible Flyer. In 1915, an estimated 120,000 were sold and nearly 2,000 Flexible Flyers were sold in a single day!


Photo Credit: Hagley Museum

The company continued to make both farm equipment and Flexible Flyers after Allen’s death in 1918. When the company closed in 1968, the rights to the Flexible Flyer design were sold to Leisure Group. The rights to manufacture this sled have changed hands a few times since then and you can still buy a Flexible Flyer today!



“It’s All Downhill From Here!: The Iconic Flexible Flyer Sled.” Hagley Museum. January 22, 2018.

Masciantonio, Robert. "Flexible Flyer Glides into Obscurity,” Hidden City. Febrary 8, 2016.

Thursday, 16 January 2020 16:39

Governor George Howard Earle III

Born on December 5, 1890, George Howard Earle III was a resident of Lower Merion. In his youth, he attended the Delancey School in Philadelphia and later attended Harvard, but never completed his degree.

In 1916, Earle became a lieutenant in the army stationed on the Mexican border. His duty was to prevent raids from Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary and guerrilla leader. His military service continued in World War I when he commanded the U.S.S. Victor. In February 1918, Earle earned the Navy Cross when he helped to save his crew from a fire onboard.

Earle portrati

Photo credit: Capitol Preservation Committee and John Rudy Photography

After his military service, Earle turned his attention to his family’s sugar business and participation in politics. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in 1933, Earle switched his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. President Roosevelt appointed Earle Minister to Austria. Enjoying political life, Earle decided to run for Governor of Pennsylvania.


Norristown Times Herald, Wednesday November 7, 1934

Earle became Pennsylvania’s 30th Governor in 1935, only the second Democrat to hold the position after the Civil War. During his time as Governor, Earle followed in President Roosevelt’s footsteps by creating a “Little New Deal” for Pennsylvania. He created work projects, many of which focused on parks and historic sites. Some of the projects included: the reconstruction of Pennsbury Manor (William Penn’s summer home) and connecting the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Harrisburg to Pittsburg. He also passed public aid laws such as unemployment compensation, civil rights laws, and support for unions. At this time, Governor Earle was not permitted to run for a second term and thus attempted to become a U.S. Senator in 1938. He ultimately failed.

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Norristown Times Herald, Tuesday, November 6, 1934

After his term as governor ended in 1939, Earle served President Roosevelt again, this time as Minister to Bulgaria. During World War II, it is rumored that Earle served as a spy for President Roosevelt. Of the many stories that arose from this rumor was the story about Earle’s private meeting with Adolf Hitler where he is said to have stated, “I have nothing against the Germans, I just don’t like you.” Earle later presented a plot to capture Hitler, but President Roosevelt declined to proceed with the plan.

After his public service, Earle returned to Pennsylvania. He died in Bryn Mawr on December 30, 1974. He is buried at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr.




Dixon, Mark E. “George Earle Paid a Price for Being the Messenger: the Lower Merion resident gave President Roosevelt some unpleasant news on the Soviet massacre.” Main Line Today.

O’Loughlin, Kathy. “History: PA. Governors with Main Line Ties.” Main Line Times. January 18, 2013.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Governor George Howard Earle III.

Thursday, 21 November 2019 17:44

Enterprise Manufacturing Company

As we enter the holiday season, many of us will be eating plenty of pies and cakes. For people who enjoy fruit pies and cakes, having a device to remove pits is essential.

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Cherry Pitter, HSMC Collection

This is an example of a cherry pitter, circa late 1800s. It is made from cast iron. The user secures the clamp to a table or counter, places the cherries in the top tray, and moves the crank. One by one, each cherry is moved under the blade, which pushes the pit out from the cherry. We still used pitters today, but they are generally less heavy and easier to use than older models like this.

cherry pitter

Photo Credit: Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network and the Free Library of Philadelphia

This particular cherry pitter was manufactured by Enterprise Manufacturing Company. Located in Philadelphia, this company specialized in making hardware products. The company was especially known for their cherry pitters, apple peelers, and coffee mills. 


Photo Credit: the American Artisan, Volume 71, Issue 3

The company was founded in the 1864 and was located on the corner of Dauphin, 3rd, and American Streets. Enterprise Manufacturing Co. remained in business until 1956 when it was bought by Silex Co.




Paul, Larry R. Made in the Twentieth Century: A Guide to Contemporary Collectibles. (The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham: 2005), page 144.

The American Artisan and Hardware Record, Volume 71, Issue 3. Chicago, 1916.

“Hexamer General Surveys, Volume 18, Enterprise Manufacturing Co. of Pennsylvania.” Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.

Around 1:00AM on September 1, 1909, a group of four robbers assaulted an elderly East Norriton cobbler, George A. Johnson, in his home near the intersection of DeKalb Street and Germantown Pike. After being hit on the head and shot, Johnson crawled about a quarter mile to seek help from his neighbor John Steffin. He was taken to Charity Hospital where he recounted the event to Sergeant Macolly. Johnson died the following day at Charity Hospital.

 Norristown Daily Herald September 2, 1909

Norristown Daily Herald, Sept. 2, 1909

The discovery of fake mustaches and a gold piece taken from Johnson’s house lead to the arrest of six men: Frank Chicorine, Nich Maringe, John Ballon, Felix Fare, Frank Paruchi, and Antonio Jacovettie. The first four were involved in Johnson’s murder and the last two had previously attempted to rob Johnson. Fare was found guilty of second degree murder, which earned him 20 years in prison. Chicorine, Maringe, and Ballon were found guilty of first degree murder and were sentenced to hang.


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Norristown Daily Herald, Sept. 11, 1909

On June 23, 1910, a crowd of approximately 300 people gathered in front of the Montgomery County prison, even though executions were no longer held publicly. Chicorine and Maringe were hanged inside the prison. Ballon was reprieved by Governor Stuart hours before the execution was to occur. Chicorine and Maringe were falsely informed that Ballon was not present with them because the law only allowed for two people to be hanged at one time. This was claimed to have been done to minimize the potential for an incident as Chicorine was known to have made threats to destroy the prison with dynamite. Chicorine and Maringe were pronounced dead in front of twenty-five witnesses with the cause of death listed as “strangulation.”


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These were the hoods and remnants of one of the nooses used in this hanging. If you want to see these artifacts in person, be sure to attend our free Capital Sin program on Thursday November 14, 2019 starting at 7PM.

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