Norristown’s Lost Museum

Did you know Norristown once had a natural history museum?

In 1915, Howard Severn Regar, partner in the manufacturing firm H.K. Regar & Sons, purchased the collection of William H. Werner, a naturalist from Pennsylvania.  Werner had displayed his collection on the Atlantic City boardwalk for many years, and Regar purchased the collection from his son.

Regar was born in Philadelphia, but the family settled in Norristown.  He graduated from A. D. Eisenhower High School in 1907 (he later composed the school song, “The Blue and the White”).  His father’s firm, of which he eventually became a partner, was a hosiery manufacturing firm.  He also was active in politics, serving on the Town Council as the representative of the Eight Ward.  He was, of course, a member of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, as well as a Mason, and a member of several naturalist societies.

The Regar Museum of Natural History was a two story building at DeKalb and Fornance streets.  The collection consisted of American birds, some of which were extinct by the time the museum opened in 1915, including the passenger pigeon, whooping crane, and the Carolina parakeet.  In addition to the mounted birds, the museum displayed the nests and eggs in order to recreate the bird’s environment.  The Audubon Society of Norristown also used the museum as its meeting place.

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In 1918, Mr. Regar delivered an address to the Historical Society about the importance of museums in civic life and urging other collectors in Norristown to follow his example and provide access to their collections for the betterment of their fellow citizens.

“Norristown is growing and some day will rank as one of the great cities of Pennsylvania.  In that day our children’s children mourn the loss if we allow these collection to become scattered.  We must keep them here; provide a suitable building for their exhibition, and make that our contribution to posterity.”

HSMC Sketches, 1918

Regar took his collection out of Norristown when he moved to Alabama in 1929.  He donated the collection to the city of Anniston, Alabama, where is remains in the Anniston Natural History Museum.  You can see a little of the collection here .  The Historical Society has in its collection a 1943 letter from Regar to S. Cameron Corson, in which he writes,

“I have always been sorry that Norristown lost the interesting and valuable collections which it once had.  You may remember I gave a paper at one of the Historical Society meetings called attention to the fine collections in that were in Norristown and urged that a place be provided so that they could be left to the town….I could not however work up any real interest…. As for me I am more than satisfied at the way my gift [to Anniston, Alabama] turned out…for I am very proud of the institution bearing my name in Anniston.”

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He died in Eufaula, Alabama in 1968.