Rose Brown, Retiring for Real


This week the Historical Society of Montgomery County bids farewell to our dedicated librarian Rose Brown.  Anyone coming to the Historical Society for research certainly knows how she will be missed.

Rose’s time as HSMC’s librarian has actually been a second career for her.  She worked for 35 years as a nurse before becoming a professional researcher.  While still a nurse, a co-worker got her interested in genealogy. That curiosity led her to us.  She began as a volunteer in 1980 as part of a large project to transcribe cemetery gravestones.  Rose joined of the staff in 1996.

In recent years, Rose and her husband Harry have spent their winters in Florida, and she was only at the Historical Society from late spring until Christmas.  Now, however, she’s leaving the front desk permanently (and she says she really means it).  She will, however, return to teach her genealogy classes every spring and fall.  Beginner Genealogy will held in spring 2015.

Everyone at the Historical Society, staff, volunteers, and patrons, will miss Rose’s kindness, patience, and most of all, her thorough knowledge of Montgomery County’s records.


Wind your way though a spiritual labyrinth


The Historical Society recently acquired a new piece which sheds light on an interesting part of our county history.  A geistlicher irrgarten, or spiritual labyrinth, was a piece made by skilled German printers and typesetters.  An irrgarten represented their best work and was used to demonstrate skills to attract customers.  Since all type had to be arranged backward during typesetting, a printer had to read backwards, sideways, and upside-down!  He also had to keep margins uniform, make sure the words were spelled correctly and evenly spaced, and keep all the squares at right angles.  One can start to see why only the most skilled printers created these mazes.

Detail of center

Detail of center

The printing seen in this irrgarten is known as German blackletter, or Gothic script.  It was popular in German printing for centuries until World War II.


Most labyrinths show biblical verses or other religious texts which lead to the four rectangular areas in the center.  The verses lead the reader through a maze of moral and immoral, to Heaven or Hell.

Detail of lower left square

Detail of lower left square


This irrgarten was printed between around 1830 and 1850 by Enos Benner, a Marlborough Township printer.  He also printed Der Bauern Freund, or the Farmer’s Friend between 1828 and 1858 from his print shop in Sumneytown.  This newspaper was a successful, German-language newspaper aimed at American Germans.  It was well-read throughout rural eastern Pennsylvania during a time when, according to the paper itself, German was the prevailing language in Montgomery County.


The Historical Society also has a collection of issues of Der Bauern Freund.  Come visit and test out your German skills!

The Fifty Year Club of Montgomery County

In 1925, Ralph Beaver Strassburger, publisher of the Norristown Times-Herald had an idea.  He wanted to create an organization consisting of all the people who had lived in Montgomery County for fifty years or more.  The club would have no political or religious ties, there would be no dues, just a social group meant to bring old friends together.  So, he printed blank membership forms in his paper.  Soon over 2000 people had joined and the Fifty Year Club of Montgomery County was born.


The first outing was held on August 7, 1925 at Normandy Farm.  Over 1200 members attended.  The Times-Herald provided the food for free, which included 3500 bottles of soft drinks, a lunch a roast beef, lamb, tongue, beans, relishes, and cakes, followed by over 300 gallons of ice cream.  After lunch the members elected their first club president, Dr. Willoughby H. Reed (who was also a very active member of the Historical Society).

Then the members enjoyed an afternoon of sing-a-longs and quoits.  This became the standard entertainment at the annual picnic.  The Historical Society has two Fifty Year Club editions of the Times-Herald, produced for the picnics of 1929 and 1931.


These miniature newspapers provide club news as well as a program of events and lyrics to many popular old songs such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Pack Up Your Troubles.”  Not surprisingly there was also a song written just for the club to the tune of “There’s a Long, Long Trial.”


So, whatever happened to the Fifty Year Club?  The records in our collection end in 1931.  We’d love to know more about the club so if you have any information, please let us know in the comments.

Kirke Bryan Christmas Cards


Since its December, I thought a display of Christmas produced by Kirke Bryan, printer and president of the Historical Society of Montgomery County from 1943 to 1950.  We have a large collection of his Christmas cards and booklets donated by Margaret Thompson.

Bryan produced cards for Sessler’s Bookshop, a Philadelphia institution which closed in 1986.  This one features Charles Dickens and scenes from A Christmas Carol.


Kirke Bryan’s own Christmas cards were complicated affairs, often recreating some of the earliest works printed in Pennsylvania.  He also wrote stories about local history or essays on the Christmas Season.  Some booklets have nothing to do with Christmas at all.


This image of Horticultural Hall from the 1876 Centennial Exposition was Bryan’s 1975 Christmas card in anticipation of the 1976 Bicentennial.


This booklet is a reprint of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore, from 1847.


A small selection of Kirke Bryan’s Christmas cards is currently on display in our Headquarters.