Members of the Historical Society have probably noticed a few changes in our communications lately. Our last newsletter debuted with its new title “The Acorn,” and you’ve probably noticed our twice-monthly e-newsletter (also called “The Acorn”). And maybe you’ve asked yourself, why an acorn?
Well, an inverted acorn with an oak leaf on either side is the official seal of the Historical Society of Montgomery County.
This seal replaced a much plainer one which simply had the name of the society around the outer edges (as in the one above) and in the center was written “Incorporated January 8, 1884.” We’re not sure when the acorn seal was adopted. According to the society’s first minute book, a committee to revise the seal was created in 1898. For the next couple of years, the minutes record that the committee was making “progress,” but there’s no indication of what they planning. Eventually, the committee ceases to report at all.
So, we don’t know for sure when the acorn became our seal, but we probably know why (kind of). The story goes back to when before our county was a county. Norristown is named after Isaac Norris, an Englishman who came to Philadelphia in 1693, where he served as mayor and speaker of the assembly. He and a partner, Colonel William Trent, purchased the land that is now Norristown from William Penn’s son for 850 pounds. Trent sold out to Norris a few years later (he would go on to found Trenton, but that’s another story), and the land stayed in the hands of the Norris family for several generations. In 1771 John Bull of Limerick bought the land, and five years later he sold it to the University of Pennsylvania.
The university still owned the land in 1784 when Montgomery County came into being. In 1785, the university deeded a portion of the land to several citizens of the “Town of Norris.” The deed book says, “in trust and for the county of Montgomery for the purpose of erecting a court house and jail suitable to accommodate the public service.” The deed book, and a 1924 article in the Times Herald report that the land cost 5 shillings. The newspaper article also says that a yearly rent of one acorn was to be paid the university. However, that does not appear in the deed book!
So where did the story of the acorn come from? It turns out that individuals who purchased land from the University of Pennsylvania were required to pay the yearly acorn rent (if demanded).
So the legend of the acorn rent was born and the Historical Society got a seal.
Now, why did the university want acorns? Was it planting an oak grove, feeding squirrels, or was the acorn meant to be a symbol? I’m afraid we don’t know.
To the Historical Society, the acorn in our seal represents transformation, both of our organization and the constant transformation of Montgomery County.