Gresh Cigar Factory

Gresh cigar factory

Located at Marshall Street in Norristown, the W. K. Gresh & Sons cigar factory was founded in 1872, though Gresh had been making cigars at home for some years before this.  The building in this picture was built in 1891 when he outgrew his first factory.  The article on Gresh in Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, calls the factory “a handsome brick structure of rare architectural beauty and utility, perhaps the finest cigar factory in the world.”  William K. Gresh was killed in front of his factory in 1904 when he was hit by an out of control wagon.

Gresh with cars

Today the building has be renovated into apartments.

John Jacob Scholl – 51st PA Volunteers


This week the Historical Society of Montgomery County received a visit from Carole Scholl and Suzanne Jaggers who presented their great-grandfather’s collection of diaries, letters, and a self-portrait.  John Jacob Scholl had served in the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.  His diaries, letters, and other papers were passed down to his grandson Milton Scholl, Jr. (Carole and Suzanne’s father and honorary HSMC Volunteer), and Milton became the caretaker of this precious collection.

Besides preserving his grandfather’s documents, Milton transcribed the diaries and letters.  The sisters also donated a bound copy of the transcription and several papers, relating to John Jacob Scholl’s military service.  Clearly a labor of love, Milton Scholl did an excellent job of preserving his family’s legacy by carefully storing the various pieces in acid free boxes, folders, and sleeves.

The diaries cover only about one year, from February 9, 1864 to February 23, 1865.  It’s an exciting year in which Scholl saw action at the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.  At the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, he wrote, “9 AM. our Brigade took up the line of Battle about the centre of our column heavy wood along the line at 11-1/2 [11:30] our Brig. was ordered to make a charge also the whole line we drove the rebels out of their Pitts but being Flanked on our left were forced back.  fighting desperate.  Some firing continued and I was struck on the side and took the corner of the diary off.”


Photograph of the first diary with part of the left corner missing.

Throughout the diaries, Scholl lists his activities, how far the regiment marches, and details of regimental losses.  He also keeps track of letters he received and sent, many of which he transcribed into the diary.  From these we learn that he was popular with the young ladies of Norristown (though he describes himself as “bashful” in one letter).  While the diaries list the bare details of Scholl’s activities, the letters provide us some insight into his thoughts.  In one letter he writes of his Christmas meals, “Breakfast Hard Tack and coffee.  Dinner.  Pork and hard tack.  Supper Coffee and tack and whatever pork was left from Dinner.  Stylish way of f[e]asting wasn’t it.”

In another letter he writes “I never seen much enjoyment in the Army, but think it my duty to help crush this Wicked Rebellion.  I enlisted and since I have made up my mind to see it through unless prevented by sickness, and if the Johnnies Chooses to make me their Target which I hope they will not do.  So far I have been one of the lucky ones.”

Before and after the war, Scholl worked as an artist, and included among his papers was this pencil sketch.


After the war, Scholl moved from Norristown to Texas where he lived until his death in 1919.  Milton Scholl, Jr., without whom the Historical Society would not have this wonderful collection, passed away last year, just a few days after Freda, his wife of nearly sixty years.  HSMC is very grateful to the Scholl family for bringing us this extraordinary collection.

The Great-Granddaddy of Emailing

This relic from our collection is a Morse, or electric, telegraph.

Before the advent of the telegraph, the most useful means of long-distance communication were smoke signals or semaphore. With advances in the science of electricity and magnetism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many people experimented with using electricity to transmit communications.  Some successful projects were realized in Europe in the 1820s and 1830s, but in 1837, two separate groups finally conceived the telegraph.  Cooke and Wheatstone in England created a model which was used on British railways through the nineteenth century, up until the 1930s.  Samuel F. B. Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, patented the Morse telegraph in the United States.  In 1844, Morse sent the first telegraph from Washington, DC to Baltimore.

Samuel F. B. Morse

Samuel F. B. Morse

By 1861, cross-country lines had been laid, and by 1866, transatlantic lines were run.  This long-distance transmission almost instantly changed the face of communication.  Instead of waiting days or weeks for news to arrive, information could be exchanged in a matter of minutes.  The instrument pictured here was donated in 1930 by John C. Rountree.  He was an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad and used the instrument throughout his employment there, from 1875 until 1924, when he retired.  According to his obituary, he always wore a “sand sombrero” and was a well-known figure in the Main Line.

Detail of Morse telegraph

Detail of Morse telegraph, owned and operated by John C. Rountree from 1875 to 1924

Morse code was utilized by telegraph operators, consisting of a series of dots and dashes representing letters. Originally, a marker of some type was used to record the codes, and then a series of embossed symbols, and quickly, operators began sending by key and receiving by ear.  This meant that the operator was essentially able to recite in English what was coming through the telegraph in Morse code.

Samuel K.  Zook

Samuel K. Zook

Samuel K. Zook is best known as a Civil War general, and is buried in Montgomery Cemetery, owned by the Society.  Before his military days, he was a telegraph operator.  He helped to string lines from Norristown to Philadelphia, and worked with crews as far west as the Mississippi River.  Before the war, he was operator and manager for a variety of different telegraph companies, and even contributed some important improvements to the design of the telegraph.