Montgomery County Courthouse

Courthouse

This week, the nation’s media seemed to focus on two places: Iowa and Norristown.  Well, we don’t have anything in our collection from Iowa, so I thought it might be a good week to take a look at the Montgomery County Courthouse.

The original courthouse was built in 1787, and probably looked less cartoonish in real life.  The courthouse and its neighboring office building stood where Public Square is now.

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By 1849, the Montgomery County had outgrown both buildings. The current courthouse was designed by Napoleon LeBrun, who was also the architect of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

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The building opened in 1854, at which time it had a steeple.  The building is made of brick faced with marble from Schweyer & Liess, a marble quarry in King of Prussia.

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The building cost $150,000.  The top part of the steeple was removed in 1877 due to water leaking though the roof, and the whole thing was replaced by the current dome in 1904.  The building was expanded in 1930 and 1968.  Here are some shots of the construction for the 1968 expansion.

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Over it’s century and a half of history, the courthouse has seen many trials, but I don’t know if any have gotten the attention that the current case has.

A Tory Story

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Here in the greater Philadelphia region, we love to celebrate the role our section of the country played in the American Revolution. The Continental Congress, the army at Valley Forge, and Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, are all well remembered by modern American patriots.  But what about the people who didn’t want independence?

Known as Loyalists or Tories, their side of the story is told in a small collection of papers in the Historical Society’s collection. The Henry and Barbara Junken Papers came to the Historical Society through John F. Reed, who wrote an article on the papers in the Bulletin of Spring, 1965.

Henry Juncken, who was originally from Germany, lived in Springfield Township with his wife Barbara and kept a tavern in Philadelphia.  He seems to have been a prosperous man.

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A “Henry Younkin” appears in the 1769 tax records for Springfield Township (from Ancestry Library Edition)

When the Revolution began, in 1775, Juncken was not silent about his feelings on independence, and in the spring of 1776, he was arrested and jailed.  In July, he was released on parole with a pass to allow him free movement in Philadelphia.

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Henry Juncken’s parole pass

When the British left Philadelphia in 1778, the Junckens went with them to New York. They moved all the way to England after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, settling in London. From England, they corresponded with Barbara’s nephew, John Rees, who stayed in New York.  His letters show that even after Yorktown, the Loyalists were still hopeful.

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Portion of a letter from the Juncken’s nephew, John Rees

In the end, of course, the treaty recognizing American independence was signed in 1783.  The Rebels (or Patriots) sold Juncken’s 116 acres at auction for the benefit of the state of Pennsylvania.  Juncken petitioned the British government for reimbursement of his lost property.  It’s possible that he received some kind of payment or allowance, but neither Reed nor I could find out what it was.  Several drafts of his petitions are with his papers.  I found the actual petitions addressed to Lord Shelburne on Ancestry.

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A draft of Henry Juncken’s petition to the British government

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A note certifying that Henry Junkin [sic] is a “firm friend to his Majesty.” (from Ancestry Library Edition)

Eventually, the Junckens settled in Canada as so many Tories did. After Henry died in 1803 and Barbara  returned to Springfield Township where she lived among relatives until her death in 1812.

The Gray Ladies

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Here is a picture of what I thought at first were a group of nurses. In fact, they’re Gray Ladies, Red Cross volunteers who worked in hospitals all over the county in non-medical rolls.  This group is from Montgomery Hospital.

The Gray Ladies, who were originally known as the Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation corps, were founded during World War I.  Facing a great expansion of its volunteers, the Red Cross created color-coded uniforms, and the “Gray Ladies” quickly became a source of comfort to wounded soldiers.  After the war, the program expanded to civilian hospitals, like Montgomery.

The Gray Ladies first came to Montgomery Hospital in 1939, so this photograph is of the first group.  At that time they were under the direction of Mrs. Warren L. Irish.

They served many roles in the hospital, including the running the reception desk and the patient library.  They also worked in the children’s ward, as reported by the Times-Herald in 1955.

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From blood drives to Christmas parties,  the Gray Ladies made the hospital a warm, welcoming place.  In 1947, the Red Cross changed the name of the group to the Gray Lady Service.

The Red Cross continues to provide support services to hospitals across the country, but the Gray Ladies themselves have gone.  In the 1960’s, the Red Cross unified it’s various volunteer corps, and a single blue uniform was issued.

 

Some Musical Discoveries

 

Before streaming  and iPods, even before vinyl LP’s or Edison cylinders, when people wanted music, they often made it themselves.   At the turn of the last century, Norristown had several music stores, which not only sold instruments and sheet music, but also published original compositions.

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Several songs were written in honor of Norristown’s centennial in 1912.  If you have a piano handy, you might want to play “Ring Those Bells – Hang Out the Flag,” by Joseph N. King or “Dear Norristown” by Samuel Stevens.

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Stevens also wrote a song just for Norristown High School, which was played by the high school’s mandolin club, called, “The Diploma March and Two-Step.”  I can’t help but wonder how a march sounded on mandolin, or how long Norristown High School had a mandolin club.

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Samuel Stevens

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Willow Grove Park, once famous for it’s summer concerts, had its own march by Eugenio Sorrentino.

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Not all of the pieces were about places in the county.  William M. Wood composed “Teddy the Tried and the True,” in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and “Teddy’s Army” a scouting movement he started.

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Finally, we have a piece of music called “Waters of the Perkiomen.”  This one wasn’t written by locals, but by F. Henri Klickmann (perhaps best known for “Kitten on the Keys”) with lyrics by Al Dubin who wrote the lyrics for many songs for Hollywood musicals.

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I managed to find a recording of “Waters of the Perkiomen.”  You can check it out here.

Nowadays, we have a world of music at our fingertips, but looking at all this amazing local music, I wonder if we’ve lost something, too.

Abner H. Gehman

Yesterday, since the Historical Society was closed, I got to spread out in the reading room and process some long unopened boxes.  A box labeled A. H. Gehman revealed a chaotic collection of papers belonging to Abner H. Gehman and his son, Harry M. Gehman.

Abner H. Gehman was born in 1854 in Franconia Towship.  As as adult, he moved to Norristown.  Going through the box, I found many things familiar from writing this blog.  Mr. Gehman was member of the Republican Invincibles.

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He also briefly worked as a clerk at Adam Scheidt Brewing Company.

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Gehman was an active Republican and served as clerk of the county courts for four years and as a deputy clerk for forty.

For most of his life, Gehman worked in real estate and insurance, but for five years, 1895-1900, he owned a haberdashery shop on West Main Street in Norristown.  That business is connected to this curious document I found.

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Was this an attempt to get husbands and fathers home for dinner on Thursdays or was there something else going on?  I looked through the Times-Herald for the years Gehman had the store, but I didn’t see a notice about the new hours.

When Abner Gehman died in 1939, just after his 85th birthday, his obituary appeared on the front page of the Times-Herald.

Christmas comes early!

One of the greatest treasures of the Historical Society of Montgomery County is our extensive microfilm collection.  Tax records, deed indexes, newspapers, and much more can be found on our over 1000 reels of microfilm.

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Our microfilm cabinets

We now have a brand new ScanPro 2000 to view them on (thanks to an anonymous donor).  If you’ve used our old machines (which are still available), you’ll be amazed by our new one.

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The new scanner

The ScanPro converts the microfilm into a digital image, which can be adjusted on the screen before printing or saving the image.

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The sharp image and easy-to-use interface

The images are much easier to read, and negative films can viewed as positives.  There’s a tool for spot editing, and users can copy and paste text.  You can even search the screen for a word!

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Volunteer Ed Zeigler researches the Times-Herald

Come in soon and try our newest tool!

Wilcomb Machine Company

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These strapping men were employees of the Wilcomb Machine Company, a firm that made industrial sewing machines in Norristown.

The company was managed by J. Frank Wilcomb who had several patents on sewing machines, such as the two pictured here.

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And here’s a neat advertisement from a 1910 trade paper:

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The factory stood at Washington and Franklin Drives in Norristown.  I can’t tell when the factory closed down, but by 1920, Frank Wilcomb had moved on and founded another company in Rhode Island.