The Brothers of the Brush

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LaVerne F. “Red” Lane

A few months ago, we received a collection of items belonging to LaVerne F. “Red” Lane, donated by his daughter. In her letter to us, she explained that the top hat and bowtie were worn by her father during the Norristown Sesquicentennial in 1962.  She sent along a photo of him wearing them at the celebration and also mentioned that he was a member of the Brothers of the Brush.


Hat and tie worn by Red Lane at the Norritown Sesquicentennial, May 1962

This caught my attention, and I did a little digging. I found some of Red Lane’s fellow Brothers of the Brush among our collection of photographs from the Sesquicentennial.  There were quite a few photos of dapperly dressed men with well-groomed beards and mustaches! Many are even wearing the same bowtie we now have in our collection.

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There are also some short articles from the newspaper which date to just before the Sesquicentennial, which took place in May. The Brothers of the Brush seem to have had a great following in Norristown, and they seem like a fun bunch of gentlemen.

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“Bearded Brothers Groomed”

February 1, 1962— “Bearded Brothers Groomed: Good grooming is the mark of a “Brother of the Brush,” according to the “Brothers,” pictured above who were among the visitors at the first Men’s Night held at Mary Allen’s Beauty Salon Wednesday evening.  Shown from the left are Mayor Merritt W. Bosler, Leon Nester Sr., chairman of the “Brothers of the Brush”; Jack Wilson, whose mustache is tinted by Mary Allen, president of the Montgomery County Hair dressers and Cosmetologists Association, and Norristown Councilman Claude Tyson.”

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“Burial Detail Assigned to Razor”

April 3, 1962— “Burial Detail Assigned to Razor: Above, a somber and presumably sad contingent of mourners carries a wooden replica of an old-fashioned razor to a point on the DeKalb Street bridge over the Schuylkill. They then consigned the razor to a watery resting place, symbolically proclaiming that the men of Norristown have no use for razors, or shaving, during the celebration of the Borough’s Sesquicentennial.  Shown from the left, are Francis Denner, Samuel Hertzler, William Edwards, Paul Weidomoyer, Harry Haupt, and William Santillo, pallbearers for the impressive, tongue-in-cheek burial ritual.”

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The Brothers of the Brush even got the youngsters involved, although they may have had to wait awhile for their beards and mustaches.

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“Junior Fuzzy Brushes Organized”

April 10, 1962— “Junior Fuzzy Brushes Organized: The Junior Fuzzy Brushes, fraternal ward of the Norristown Brothers of the Brush, came into official existence Monday night during an organizational meeting in the Lincoln School. The new unit, with membership open to boys aged from 4 to 18, is sponsored by the Westmar Chapter of the Brothers of the Brush.  The junior group will now assume an active and enthusiastic part in the Borough’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.”


Do any of our readers have memories of the Brothers of the Brush, or were you or someone you know part of the organization?  We would love to hear!

R. C. Titlow, Cabinetmaker and Undertaker

chair 1

Small chair made by RC Titlow

Earlier this year, we received a call from a woman with a chair she thought we might like for our collection. It turns out that this chair had a label on the bottom showing that it was made in Norristown, Pennsylvania, AND it had the name of the craftsman, R. C. Titlow!


Titlow chair label

Label from underside of chair seat “R. C. Titlow Cabinet Maker and Undertaker Main St. Norristown, Pa”

I did some digging and came up with some more information.


Reuben C. Titlow announced the opening of his business in Norristown with a notice in The Norristown Register and Montgomery Democrat on May 22, 1844.  Here’s what it said:


“Reuben C. Titlo Respectfully informs the public that he has commenced the cabinet making business in the shop lately occupied by Jerome Walnut, in the lower end of the Borough of Norristown, where he will be happy to wait on all those who desire furniture. The newly married are especially invited to call.  His furniture is made of good materials and durable.  He endeavors to gain credit by the manufacture of good furniture and therefore does not slight his work; his desire is to furnish people with furniture in the future, and not get a job once, and by slighting it, never receive their patronage again.  His work is not made by apprentices.

Old furniture repaired in a superior manner, at short notice.

By strict attention to business, prompt execution of orders, and moderate prices, he hopes to receive a liberal share of public patronage.

He would also beg leave to inform the public that he carries on the coffin making business, and can wait on all those who may desire his services. Having a hearse, he will attend on funerals in the country.

Reuben C. Titlo.”


A few years later in 1847, he moved his store and advertised in The Norristown Times Herald and Free Press.  Below you can read the ad:



Advertisement from the Norristown Herald and Free Press


It seems that the apprentice he advertised for was found in David Y. Mowday. According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Mowday learned cabinet-making and undertaking from Titlow, for whom he was an apprentice and later a journeyman.  Mowday was very successful and his business lasted well after his death.  Undertaking became the main focus and Mowday Funeral Home continued well into the 20th century.


D.Y. Mowday from Bean’s History of Montgomery County


Aside from information about Reuben Titlow’s business, I also found information about his life. The newspaper announced his marriage to Sarah B. Levering of Barren Hill on the 21st of November, 1844, by the Reverend Frederick R. Anspach.  He died February 12, 1858, at the age of 41.  The inventory of his estate lists quite a bit of furniture, including bureaus, chairs, and bedsteads.  There were also 16 coffins.  His wife survived him, and in the 1860 Norristown Business Directory she is listed as a widow with “Cabinet ware rooms North Side Egypt (now Main) Street above Green, house same address.”  An interesting fact is that David Y. Mowday began his business the same year Titlow died, in 1858.


Although I could find no images of him, you can visit Reuben C. Titlow’s grave in Historic Montgomery Cemetery! He’s buried in Lot Q-33/34 with a Masonic symbol on his headstone.  Check our website to find out more about Historic Montgomery Cemetery.

Busy Bees

For those of you who know Norristown, this item should look familiar.  It’s a bee skep, and it’s featured in the municipal seal.

Bee skep in the collection of HSMC

Bee skep in the collection of HSMC

Beekeeping shows up in many cultures, from Egyptians using wax and honey in mummification processes to Mayan apiaries in the 16th century.  Even before domesticating bees, people around the globe collected honey for eons, from Asia to Africa, India to Australia.

Close-up of woven straw

Close-up of woven straw

A bee skep is essentially an upturned basket used to house bees and eventually collect honey and wax.  This style, made of straw, was used from the Medieval era through the mid-19th century, when new techniques were developed.  They can also be made from wicker coated with mud or manure.  The skep has one hole for the bees to pass through and it sits on a mat or platform to keep the bottom closed off until necessary.  The bees produce a comb inside the skep just like they would naturally in a tree.

The bees line the interior with propolis, a resin mixture used to seal the hive and prevent fungal and bacterial growth.  If you look closely at this image, you can see the slightly darker material, especially between the layers.

Interior showing propolis

Interior showing propolis

With a skep, a beekeeper had to many times destroy the colony of bees to extract the comb, by either placing the skep over smoking coals or by pressing the skep, bees and all.  Some alternatives were used, like forcing the bees to move from one skep to another, but once wooden hives with removable frames were introduced, the bee skep slowly faded from use.

Bees provide not only honey, which has antiseptic and preservative properties along with being a sweet treat, but they also produce beeswax.  In early colonial America, bees were imported in the mid-17th century.  By the end of the century, most every family would have had at least one skep.  These colonists used wax not only for making candles, but also to waterproof leather and bind wounds, and honey to cure their meat.

Norristown banner, showing bee skep symbol

Norristown banner, showing bee skep symbol

So the question remains, why does Norristown use the bee skep as its municipal seal?  It’s an indication of industry…a busy bee!  It’s paired with the Latin phrase, “Fervet Opus” meaning “Boiling with work.”  Norristown is the county seat, and in its early days was full of canals, railroads, and mills as a manufacturing center in the county, as busy as the inner workings of a bee skep. Through the years it became a hub for retail with department stores and other draws, with trolleys and passenger rail bringing people to the downtown businesses.

Wooden nickel used for advertising at the 1962 Norristown Sesquicentennial

Wooden nickel used for advertising at the 1962 Norristown Sesquicentennial

Norristown isn’t the only one to use this symbolism.  The Mormons also uses the bee skep, and through them it has become one of the state symbols of Utah.  The Masons, too, use the image, to signify industry and cooperation.

Odd Fellows' apron of Norris Lodge owned by Theodore Bean

Odd Fellows’ apron of Norris Lodge owned by Theodore Bean

The Uniform of a Firefighter

Montgomery Hose Company parade hat, mid-19th century

Montgomery Hose Company parade hat, mid-19th century

At first glance, the hats pictured in this post do not conjure up thoughts of firefighting. But sure enough, they represent an important and interesting part of the history of firefighting in our nation and, in particular, our local area.

Humane parade hat, mid-19th century

Humane Fire Company parade hat, mid-19th century

These are called parade hats, but being worn in a parade was not their original purpose.  The start of these hats dates back to 1788, when a fireman’s convention held in Philadelphia recommended that firemen wear a uniform to identify themselves in a crowd.  From this decree, different fire companies in the area adopted different distinguishing marks.  Some wore company-specific hats, and others tied company badges around their own hats.  For many years this was all that was used to identify members of the fire companies, until later in the 19th century when capes and coats became standard.

Norristown Hose Company parade hat, mid-19th century

Norristown Hose Company parade hat, mid-19th century

In the mid-19th century, designs became more decorative, and their purpose shifted. This was a time when fire companies marched in parades celebrating special occasions or dedications. A firefighter could use his parade hat as a personal banner, representing things that were important to him, like political or religious views. Many hats also have the owner’s initials on the top, and some information about the fire company, like its name and founding date.

Founding date on back of Humane parade hat

Founding date on back of Humane Fire Company parade hat

Initials on top of Montgomery Hose Company parade hat

Initials on top of Montgomery Hose Company parade hat

Patriotic themes were extremely popular, as well as classical imagery (think Lady Liberty). Two of the examples pictured are decorated with eagles, our nation’s symbol, and an image frequently seen on these parade hats. Other popular symbols are national leaders like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

Humane parade hat, mid-19th century showing an eagle

Humane Fire Company parade hat, mid-19th century, showing an eagle

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 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.

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