Great Local Beer!

Early image of the brewery

Early image of the brewery

The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company was a Norristown institution.  Existing for over 100 years, the brewery produced a variety of beers that many can still remember.  Their story begins in 1870 on the Stony Creek.  Charles Scheidt, a salon owner and brewer, purchased a failing brewery from the Moeshlin brothers.  Once his brother, Adam, arrived from Germany in 1878, the brewery grew and grew.

This building still exists at the corner of West Marshall and Barbadoes Streets

This building still exists at the corner of West Marshall and Barbadoes Streets

The brewery began as a small, one-story building.  Over the years the building was enlarged to a five-story structure.  The brewery housed a laboratory, a bottling department, and, later, an electric plant.  Trains ran right into each building with massive refrigerated cars to transport the beer up and down the East Coast.  Three large artesian wells were drilled in the complex, which were said to be the reason for the superior flavor of Scheidt’s brews.  At its largest, the brewery took up seven and a half acres across the Stony Creek between Marshall and Elm Streets.

Through the years, Adam Scheidt Brewing Company brewed many types of beer.  Some of the most well-known varieties are Lotos Export, Standard, Norristown Porter, Twentieth Century Cream Ale, Old Stock Ale, Brown Stout, and Valley Forge Beer, introduced in 1912.  A market for ale in New England prompted them to create Ram’s Head Ale in the 1930s.

Various beer bottles produced by Adam Scheidt Brewing Company

Various beer bottles produced by Adam Scheidt Brewing Company

 

During Prohibition, from 1920-1933, the company brewed “near-beer,” also called Valley Forge Special Beer, which was brewed as regular beer and then dealcoholized to meet the requirements of the 18th Amendment.  The brewery also sold Mission brand sodas and Caddy ginger ale, along with ice and coal, to stay afloat.  On April 7, 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st, and long lines formed outside the brewery.  Staff worked for over twenty-four hours straight to keep up with the demand for their again-legal product.

Two bottles of Ram's Head Ale from the collection of HSMC.

Two bottles of Ram’s Head Ale from the collection of HSMC.

 

In the end, the large western breweries were too difficult to compete with.  By 1950, the company had quit producing soda, and by 1954, they were purchased by Philadelphia brewery Schmidt’s.  Schmidt’s continued production of a few brews, like Valley Forge Beer and Ram’s Head Ale, but eventually shut the doors in 1974.

Adam Scheidt Brewery for sale in 1975

Adam Scheidt Brewing Company for sale in 1975

 

Source:  The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company by Joseph M. McLaughlin, HSMC Bulletin, Volume XXV, Fall 1986, No. 3

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Diary of John H. Ashenfelter

John H. Ashenfelter was a soldier in the 138th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that mustered in on August 16, 1862.  The Historical Society has in its collection Corporal Ashenfelter’s 1864 diary.  He only kept the diary about a month, but we can learn quite a bit about him from just a few entries.  For example, he was a religious man, attending church on Sundays and frequently attending prayer meetings during the week.  He writes about eating beans and turnips and often having “dresparade.”

In one moving entry, he writes of his sister:

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In a later entry, he records a review of his regiment by General Grant, who had been given command of all Union armies the previous month.  It’s difficult to read, but clicking the image will make it bigger.

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Most of the entries describe the slow days of a regiment in camp, but at the beginning of May, the 51st was given its marching orders.  They were heading into the Battle of the Wilderness.  The final day recorded by Ashenfelter is a long day marching that ends, “no fighting at all.”

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The entry for May 5, 1864 was written by John Ashenfelter’s cousin, Charles Barnes.

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Ashenfelter had anticipated his own death.  At some point he had written this note in the back of the diary:

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A Temperance Pledge

Our hardworking volunteer, Rita Thomas, has been working hard on transcribing the diaries of Theodore W. Bean.  This afternoon, she came across a temperance pledge taken by Richard J. Stewart witnessed  by Bean and pasted into his 1868 diary.

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It got me wondering what else we had in the stacks about the nineteenth-century temperance movement.  One thing I found was a small booklet titled “The National Temperance Songster” features hymns of the anti-drink movement.

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The National Temperance Society was based in Saratoga Springs.  It published thousands of pamphlets promoting temperance and petitioned Congress on temperance causes.  A frequent metaphor of their literature is to judge the tree by the fruit it produces.  Some of the fruits in this image are misery, crime,  mystery, madness, and death.  You can click on the image for a better look.

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This pamphlet tells the story of “two good mechanics [who] earned fair wages,” John Thirsty and John Thrifty.  After ten years of employment, both men were let go by their employer.  John Thirsty has spent $72 a year on beer, while John Thrifty saved his money and owns a home.

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As to whether or not Richard J. Stewart kept his temperance pledge, we don’t know.  Maybe Theodore W. Bean will let us know in his diary.

The great school strike of 1918

In continuing with our back-to-school theme from last week, I found this article in a scrapbook created by Clara A. Beck in 1918 (1924.7517.001).  In it are several articles about a student walk out at Norristown High School in February, 1918.

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It seems the school board had shorted lunch from 60 to 45 minutes while increasing the length of the school day for more study hall.  Unhappy with the new hours, 400 of the approximately 600 students walked out of the school in protest at 2:30 (the old dismissal time).  The article reports some of the students’ demands.

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The teachers were in agreement with the students, though they did not approve of the walk-out.  In a statement to the school board, they explain some of their reasons.

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According to the articles, 45 students were suspended and several parents were prosecuted under the truancy law. Ultimately, though, the students and teachers won.

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