Rambo & Regar Knitting Mills

One of Norristown’s most recognizable buildings is the Rambo and Regar (or Globe) Knitting Mills, located at 660 and 694 E. Main Street.

Globe mills

The firm was founded by Joseph S. Rambo in 1884 as Rambo and Lee.  Lee soon retired, and in 1886, Howard K. Regar came into the firm, which specialized in seamless hosiery.  It was originally located at Moore and Walnut Streets.  The Main Street building dates to 1898.

Here is a picture of the interior:

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And this picture appears to be management and workers, but the occasion for the picture is unknown.  Perhaps it dates to the opening of the new factory.

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You might notice in our first picture that the smokestack was taller when the mill was built than it is today.  It was shortened in the 1950’s when a sportswear manufacturing firm moved into the space.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Across the county in a 1937 Studebaker

In 1940, Jacob K. Rahn set out from his home in Royersford with three companions (Frank K. Rhan, Jacob Shantz, and Harvey Mensch) for California.  He kept a detailed record of the trip which is now in the collection of the Historical Society of Montgomery County.

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The men travelled in a 1937 Studebaker, most likely the model with the unfortunate name of “Dictator” (it would be renamed the “Commander” in 1938).

1937 Studebaker Dictator Image

Image from Conceptcarz.com

The ultimate goal of the trip was the Golden Gate International Exposition, held in 1939 and 1940  to celebrate the opening of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (1937) and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (1936).  Rahn enjoyed the fair, listing all the pavilions he visited (Denmark, Missouri, Illinois, Portugal, etc.). He was less impressed by the midway which he described as having “lots of fakers like the other fairs.”  They also crossed both bridges though Rahn only recorded the toll for the Bay Bridge (65 cents).

Each day on the drive out and the drive back he recorded the main crops.  In Illinois he writes, “Good wide Hiways [sic], the main crops are Corn, Oats and Soybeans.  Beef Cattle and Hogs.”

And in Wyoming, “travelling through the barren State of Wyoming for Miles and Miles no signs of any crops, the fields look [as] if every[thing] is burning up we passed over the LaPlatte river South and it was perfectly dry with a sandy bottom, all smaller streams were dry.”

They took in all the sights, Yellowstone, the giant redwoods, the Great Salt Lake, and Boulder Dam.  In Arizona he wrote, “we are now coming into a Cactus section — it had a very funny shapeand we seen lots of them a little explination [sic] they [are] full of pickers.”  And he drew this helpful picture.

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The only souvenir from the trip kept with the diary was this ticket to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico (where he records seeing the “Rock of Ages” complete with a recorded choir singing the hymn of the same name).

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Rahn recorded the number of miles traveled each day, as well as the cost of gas, food, and lodging (he preferred cabins to tourist camps).

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Yes, you read that number right.

Although I read few complaints in the diary, I guess there’s nothing like coming home again.

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Marsella Conservatory of Music

For the past few months, I’ve been very slowly digitizing our photograph collection.  A couple of weeks ago I came across this one.

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It was actually a negative, but with the magic of Photoshop, I got a pretty good positive image from a scan of the negative.  It’s a great picture.  The note at the bottom was attached to the negative, but I don’t know who the “David” is.  I was, however, able to find out about the Marsella Conservatory of Music.

For several decades Loreta Marsella was Norristown’s leading musician.  Born in San Giovanni Incarico, Italy, in 1874, he first came to American in 1895, settling in Providence, Rhode Island. He moved into this area around 1908 and started a music school in North Philadelphia.  In 1911, he began the Marsella Conservatory of Music in Norristown.  He was perhaps better known for his Verdi Band, which he founded in 1920.  The Verdi Band appeared at all kinds of events and celebrations in Montgomery County, and in 1954 it won the first prize at the Atlantic City Centennial.  Every year the band awarded a prize to the best music student at Norristown High School.

Marsella was also a composer.  He wrote the grand march “Norris City” for the Sesquicentennial in 1962 and another in honor of John Glenn’s historic orbit of the Earth, titled “Glenn Friendship 7.”  His “Saga of Valley Forge” is 1600 pages long!

Marsella died in 1964 at the age of 90, but the Verdi Band continues to entertain to this day, check out their website here http://www.verdiband.com/.

Were you a student of Professor Marsella?  Do you have any memories of the Verdi Band?

The Martyr’s Mirror

Last week, our director, Karen Wolfe, mentioned that she believed we had a old copy of a Mennonite classic called The Martyrs Mirror.  After much poking around, our intrepid board member and volunteer, Ed Ziegler, found our copy which turned out to be a first edition of the first German translation.

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The full title of the book is Der blutige Schauplatz oder Märtyrerspiegel der Taufgesinnten oder wehrlosen Christen, die um des Zeugnisses Jesu, ihres Seligmachers, willen gelitten haben und getötet worden sind, von Christi Zeit bis auf das Jahr 1600. (The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660).  The title emphasizes two central tenants of the Anabaptist movement.  First the title specifically mentions that the martyrs were defenseless, meaning they offered no resistance in line with Anabaptist pacifism.  It also states that the martyrs were baptized upon their confession of faith, meaning that they were old enough to confess their faith.  Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and would “re-baptize” adults (according to their enemies – they insisted they were really being baptized for the first time).  This practice as well as their pacifism led to their persecution by both the Catholic Church and other Protestant Churches.

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This persecution led many Anabaptists to settle in the New World. Today, Anabaptists have evolved into several groups, including the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites.

The Martyrs Mirror was originally published in 1660 in Dutch, and it recounts the stories of over 4000 martyrs from the Apostles down to the Seventeenth Century.  In 1745, Jacob Gottschalk, the first Mennonite bishop in New World, arranged to have the book translated into German by the Ephrata Cloister.  It took fifteen men three years to accomplish the translation.

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Our copy is a first edition that the Historical Society purchased in 1896.  The book is huge and seems to have been deliberately made to look old or medieval, with brass at the corners and the covers are held on with tacks.

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Many copies of the book were printed as every Mennonite family owned one, and it was frequent gift for newly married couples.  It remains a popular book among Old Order Amish and Mennonites.

Family Reunion

You may remember that last October the Historical Society was honored to receive the diaries, letters, and a self-portrait of John Jacob Scholl, a resident of Norristown and soldier in the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers.  You can check out our blog post about it here.  The items were donated by Scholl’s great-granddaughters Carole and Suzanne.

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The diaries had long been in the possession of Milton Scholl, Jr., John’s grandson, who painstakingly transcribed them and provided us with a brief biography of Scholl.  So, we knew that right after the Civil War he married Laura J. Taft (who is mentioned in the diaries).  The couple had twin girls, but the marriage ended in divorce less than three years later.  One of the twins, Reno Ambrosia Scholl died after only a few weeks, but the other Lillian Laura Scholl survived.  In 1869, Scholl moved to Texas where he married Mary Hester and had another family.  No one seemed to know what happened to Lillian.

That is until a couple of months ago when we received a call from Earlene O’Hare, a descendant of Lillian!  She had seen our article on the Scholl papers in our quarterly newsletter.  She was very excited to see her great-grandfather on the cover of our newsletter.  Last week, Earlene and her siblings traveled here to see the original diaries and read the transcriptions.

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Terrence Wright, Earlene Wright O’Hare, Glenn Wright, and Suzanne Wright Blackburn examining the Scholl papers.

It was wonderful to be able to share a piece of family history, and I think it shows the value of local historical societies (but then, I guess I’m prejudiced).

Oh, if you’re wondering while the first marriage ended, I’m afraid we still don’t know.  I asked the Wrights if they knew what happened, and they all replied that they were hoping we knew!  Divorce was unusual in the 1860’s, but one wonders if the number of young women mentioned in Scholl’s diary had anything to do with it.