Karen Ploch, Curator

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 13:19

New Exhibit!

Tonight we will unveil our new exhibit, Made in Montgomery County. Come learn about the history of various Montgomery County industries and how they evolved into the businesses we love today. From 6PM to 9PM, for $30 a person, visitors can view the exhibit before it opens to the public this Saturday. Food and drinks will be available at this event.




This exhibit will be free and open to the public starting this Saturday and will be on display until February 2019. So bring your friends and family to see this new exhibit!

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 21:03

Redware Pottery


Pottery is one of the oldest crafts in Montgomery County. When Germans arrived in the eighteenth century, they brought the redware craft with them.[1]


Medinger 2

Plate, possibly made by Jacob Medinger (1865-1932)

In addition to the use of sgraffito, many potters used tulip designs in their pottery. The use of tulips were common among many crafts created in German culture. According to some historians, the use of tulip designs in German crafts may have been inspired by tulip designs seen in Persian crafts.



Sgraffito Plate made at Mrs. Naaman Keyser’s studio in Plymouth Meeting


In addition to the use of sgraffito, many potters used tulip designs in their pottery. The use of tulips were common among many crafts created in German culture. According to some historians, the use of tulip designs in German crafts may have been inspired by tulip designs seen in Persian crafts.



Some of our redware pieces will be on display in our Made in Montgomery County exhibit. The exhibit will be open to the public on June 30, 2018 and will run through February 2019. We invite you to come see the exhibit, which is free and open to the public!


[1] Helen W. Henderson. The Pennsylvania academy of the Fine Arts and other Collections of Philadelphia, 1911.

Wednesday, 04 April 2018 19:53

Rotelle, Inc.

As we continue to prepare for the Made in Montgomery County exhibit, which opens to the public on June 30, I came across a drawing of buildings and a parking lot. Unfortunately, the drawing does not have a title or an artist’s signature.


However, when I compared the drawing to a nearby photograph, I noticed some similarities in the shape of the buildings. It appears that this drawing depicts Rotelle, Inc.


Prior to the 20th century, people in Montgomery County had less flexibility with acquiring and storing food. Unless they grew their own food, people had to purchase food from different stores, depending on the type of food they needed. With limited options for food storage, items such as meat and dairy often had to be eaten shortly after purchase to minimize the risk of it spoiling.

As freezers were developed for home and commercial use in the early 20th century, the Rotelle brothers saw an opportunity to improve their fruit and vegetable business. The brothers bought a freezer and established the frozen food company, Rotelle, Inc.[1] As the company grew, two locations were opened in Montgomery County: Springhouse and West Point. At one point, the Rotelle family’s freezer was believed to be the largest independently owned freezer in the United States.[2]


Photo Credit: Richfood

By the time Richfood bought Rotelle, Inc. in 1994, Rotelle, Inc. was one of the largest frozen food distributors in the United States, with an annual revenue of roughly $340 million.[3]

** I want to thank one of our volunteers, Kelly, for helping me research the history of this company.


[1] “Urban Funeral Home: Mariono “Pops” Rotelle.”

[2] “September Farm: Meet Our Family.”

[3] Richfood Timeline.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 20:43

Swivel Chairs

As we prepare for our Made in Montgomery exhibit, which opens June 27, 2018, I was excited to learn that one of our chairs is an early example of a swivel chair.

Speaker's Chair

While the craftsman of this chair is unknown, its intricate detail suggests it may have been created in Philadelphia in the late 1800s. Made from mahogany, leather, and cast iron, this chair is a perfect example of 19th century swivel chairs. Although swivel chairs are believed to have been invented in the 18th century, this style of chair was not widely produced until the late 19th century. This was due to the necessity for a strong cast iron mechanism that both supported the weight of a person and allowed them to turn the chair without standing.

Although swivel chairs were around prior to the 19th century, no one had patented a design for this type of chair. This changed in 1853 when Peter Ten Eyck patented an American swivel chair. Unlike the cast iron mechanism used for this chair, Eyck’s design used a wooden construction and steel rockers. See how the two designs compare:


So who used this chair? Interestingly, this high back swivel chair was known as the “Speaker’s Chair” and was used by Henry K. Boyer in the PA House of Representatives. Boyer was a Republican who served the 7th District for six terms (1883-1890, 1893-1894, and 1897-1898). During his service, Boyer was elected as the Speaker of the PA House of Representatives three separate times (1887, 1889-1890, and 1897). Based on our records, we cannot determine if Boyer used this chair for all three terms as Speaker or if he only used it during one term. While we do not know precisely when Boyer used it, this chair certainly provides an example of superb 19th century craftsmanship.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 20:50

Dr. Daniel A. Wilson and Desegregating PA Schools

While preparing for our June 2018 exhibit, Made in Montgomery, I found a portrait that struck my curiosity. According to our records, the portrait is believed to be of Dr. Daniel A. Wilson. Since portraits were generally made for prominent people, I wanted to learn more about Dr. Wilson.


According to multiple sources, Dr. Wilson was the first African-American physician in Montgomery County. Dr. Wilson received his degree from Hahnemann Hospital for homeopathic medicines in 1890. His accomplishment was so groundbreaking, that it was even published in the Norristown Herald on May 12, 1890.

 Wilson, Norristown Weekly Herald, Monday May 12, 1890

Dr. Wilson’s ability to graduate from Hahnemann was, in part, the result of a movement led by his own father, Rev. Amos Wilson. In 1839, the Norristown School Board established a public school on Powell Street exclusively for African Americans. [1] However, in the 1880s, Rev. Amos Wilson led a movement to desegregate Norristown schools.[2] This successful movement coincided with a larger, statewide, desegregation movement. Although an 1881 law made it illegal to segregate schools based on race, many Pennsylvania public schools either ignored or found a way to circumvent the law.[3] It was not until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that all public schools in Pennsylvania ended segregation.[4]

Despite the challenges of segregation, Dr. Wilson led a successful career as a physician. He lived on Elm Street in Norristown until his death in 1934. Recognizing his success, the Times Herald published his obituary on the front page of the December 22, 1934 paper.

Wilson Obit., Front page of Norristown Herald, Dec. 22, 1934

According to the second and third obituaries posted in the Times Herald on December 24th and 26th, his funeral service occurred at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (Norristown) and he was buried at Tremont Cemetery.

 Wilson Obit. 2

[1] Dan Kelley, “Blacks Came for Work, Gave So Much More,” Times Herald,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Desegregation of Pennsylvania Schools,” Pennsylvania Heritage,

[4] Ibid.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 21:37

Painting the Markley Family

At HSMC, we have a collection of portraits. While researching the history of these portraits, we discovered three of them were painted by renowned artist, Jacob Eichholtz (1776 – 1842). Starting as a sign painter and copper smith, Eichholtz did not begin painting portraits until 1805.[1] After meeting Thomas Sully in Lancaster, PA in 1808, Eichholtz turned his attention to improving his technique.[2] By 1815 he sold his local business to devote the rest of his life to painting.[3] To learn more about Eichholtz’s history, please visit The National Gallery of Art .

Samuel Markley

     Portrait of Samuel Markley, 1812

Since Eichholtz is a well-known Pennsylvanian artist, we wanted to learn more about the subjects of these three portraits. The portraits depict three men from the Markley family: Samuel, John, and Philip Markley (1789-1834). Based on the design, technique, and material used to create the portraits, we believe the portraits were created at different times in Eichholtz’s career. With dark colors painted onto a wooden panel, the portrait of Samuel Markley demonstrates Eichholtz’s early work. Based on the few records we have on this portrait, we believe it was completed around 1812.

John Markley

                                                            Portrait of John Markley                                                                  


Although we do not know much about Samuel Markley, our research revealed more about John and Philip’s service to Montgomery County. John Markley of Norristown was a Montgomery County sheriff in the late eighteenth century.[4] John was also a prominent member of the Republican Party. Like his father John, Philip Markley pursued a career in politics. From 1819 to 1823, Philip became a State Senator for the seventh district of PA.[5] Our records indicate that Philip’s portrait was completed in 1824, but there is no date given for John’s portrait. Given the improved detail in the portraits, when compared to Samuel’s, it seems likely that John’s portrait was likely finished a few years prior to Philip's.

Philip Markley

Portrait of Philip S. Markley, 1824


[1] National Gallery of Art, Eichholtz, Jacob Biography,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pennsylvania State Senate, Philip S. Markley: Biography,

[5] Ibid.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017 21:51

Rev. Mentzer and Baptists in Montgomery County

Montgomery County is home to people of various religious faiths. Interestingly, when we research our genealogy, researching specific religions can uncover new insights to our ancestor’s lives. A recent accession is a perfect example for how religion can help us research our family history.

We recently acquired this beautiful, pastel photograph of Rev. William Harrison Mentzer (1844-1921) and his wife Alzina Jenkins (1867-1952). On its own, this photograph does not reveal much information about Rev. Mentzer and Alzina. However, knowing Rev. Mentzer served in various Baptist churches in Montgomery County helped us uncover more information about his life.


So what do we know about Montgomery County Baptists? According to Rev. David Spencer, the first known Baptists arrived in the area in the late 17th century.[1] Many of these original Baptists can trace their roots to Wales.[2] As the religion gained attention, many Quaker families converted to the Baptist religion. This was a result of a theological divide within the Quaker church around 1691.[3] However, although Baptism predates the founding of Montgomery County, the majority of Baptist churches in the area were not founded until the 19th century.[4] This surge in construction of Baptist churches coincided with Rev. Mentzer’s ministries.

Thanks to an autobiography printed on April 14 1921 in the Lansdale Reporter, we were able to learn more about Rev. Mentzer. He was born in Chambersburg, PA on January 25, 1844. As a child, he was raised as a Lutheran. However, when he moved to Bells Mills, he began attending the Logans Valley Baptist Church. On January 29, 1865, he officially became a baptized Baptist. Shortly after his baptism, Mentzer join the Union Army and served until the end of the war in April 1865.

After the Civil War, Mentzer decided to attend the University at Lewisburg (present day Bucknell) and later Crozer Theological Seminary to become a Reverend. Over the course of 47 years, Rev. Mentzer served Baptist Churches throughout Montgomery County and Eastern Pennsylvania. Rev. Mentzer served in these Montgomery County towns: Lansdale, North Wales, Royersford, and Ambler.

[1] Rev. David Spencer, Early Baptists of Philadelphia, Philadelphia: William Syckelmoore, 1877, 18

[2] Ibid.

[3] Spencer, Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1691, 27.

[4] Clifton S. Hunsicker, Montgomery County Pennsylvania: A History Vol. I, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, INC, NY 1923, 123.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 21:28

Commemorating the First Passenger Steamboat

During our inventory project, we uncovered a small, decorative tile. At first glance, this tile may not appear to have much connection to Montgomery County history. However, upon closer inspection of the detailed artwork, we realized the steamboat depicted on the tile was inspired by the first passenger steamboat used in the United States.


Made in Doylestown, PA, this decorative tile was inspired by John Fitch’s steamboat. In 1785, Fitch, who suffered from rheumatism, began designing a steam engine to make it easier for people to travel.[1] Once he realized a steam engine had already been invented in England, Fitch sought to improve his engine and attach it to passenger boats.[2] Despite difficulty acquiring investors, Fitch managed to build his steamboat and test it on the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

Fitch Steamboat

On August 22, 1787, Fitch demonstrated his invention to members of the Constitutional Convention on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Trenton.[3] Although many people were impressed by the steamboat, Fitch continued to struggle with finding investors. Fitch’s steamboat carried passengers between Philadelphia and Trenton until 1791. Unable to compete financially with stagecoaches, Fitch was forced to end his passenger steamboat service.[4] In 1798, Fitch died in Bardstown at the age of 55. Although Fitch failed to maintain a passenger steamboat enterprise, his work set the stage for Robert Fulton to further improve the steamboat design in 1807.[5]

[1] “The Legacy of John Fitch,” Historic Craven Hall & The John Fitch Steamboat Museum,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017 20:12

Science or Fiction?

Experimentation with medical devices to cure ailments is common among every culture throughout much of human history. Even today it is nearly impossible to turn on the television or log onto the internet without seeing an advertisement for a new cure for a common ailment. However, as many of us know, some of these medical devices do not cure the ailments described in their advertisements.

At HSMC, we have a collection of medical devices that were used in Montgomery County. One of these devices is an example of a medical device that did not cure the ailments described in advertisements. Dr. Young’s rectal dilators were advertised as a permanent relief of piles, constipation, nervousness, dyspepsia, sick headache, neuralgia, rheumatism, insomnia, asthma, indigestion, eczema, and all diseases caused by sluggish circulation, malnutrition, defective elimination and the abuse of cathartic drugs. It was even claimed that these dilators could be a cure for insanity.[1]

rectal dilators

Made by F.E. Young & Co., these dilators were used by many Americans around the turn of the 20th century. In 1940, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York seized a shipment of these dilators, claiming they were misbranded. This lead to many legal cases, including one in Philadelphia, which revealed the dilators did not have any proven scientific cure for every ailment they claimed to fix.[2] The FDA eventually labeled the product to be hazardous to a person’s health if it was used as frequently as the company advised its customers.

rectal dilator advertizement

[1] Editorial Comments. The New Way. Medical News. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea's Son & Company. April 29, 1893. p. 471.

[2] U.S. National Library of Medicine, “335. Misbranding of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and Dr. Young's Piloment. U. S. v. 67 Sets of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and 83 Packages of Dr. Young's Piloment. Default decrees of condemnation and destruction.”
March 1942,

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 20:14

Why Do We Decorate Eggs?

Decorating eggs for crafts and religious holidays is prominent in American culture, but have you ever wondered why we decorate eggs? While the precise date of the first decorated egg is not known, historians have uncovered decorated eggs from as early as the middle stone age![1] Since eggs symbolize life, renewal, and rebirth, many cultures around the world continue to decorate eggs for religious ceremonies.[2]

While decorating eggs is a common form of decorative arts, how people decorate eggs varies. Before you decorate the egg, there are three options: drain the egg, cook the egg, or decorate as it is. Many people choose to drain or cook the egg because this process increases the life-expectancy of the egg. If the egg was not drained or cooked, weak parts of the shell could crack over time and cause the interior liquid to seep through the cracks.

Once the egg has been prepared, or not, the decorator can use dyes, plants, wax, and carving tools to create their design. To this day, people are still exploring new ways to decorate their eggs.


At HSMC, we have a beautiful collection of decorated eggs. However, one in particular stood out to our volunteers during our inventory project. This beautiful decorated egg dates back to 1832. Upon removal from the box, we encountered a powerful smell. Once we examined the egg, we realized it had never been drained! Miraculously, the liquid interior never leaked through the shell. Due to its age, we determined that anything left on the inside of the egg has likely turned to powder.

Egg 1832   

The artwork on the egg is in amazing condition. We can clearly see the designs of people, flowers, and a clock tower. One mystery that remains is: Who created this decorated egg? The initials “E.N.” are on the egg, but we have not been able to uncover this person’s name. Based on the clothing styles of the people depicted on the egg, it is possible the decorator was a middle or upper class woman who lived in Montgomery County.

Egg, Woman

[1] Stephanie Hall, The Ancient Art of Decorating Eggs, April 6, 2017,

[2] Stephanie Hall, The Ancient Art of Decorating Eggs, April 6, 2017,

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