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.

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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!

WNAR

blog205From the late 1940’s until the 1980’s people in Norristown got news, advice, and music from WNAR, Norristown’s own radio station.

In the process of cleaning out our gallery for our upcoming exhibit, I found a small booklet from WNAR with photographs and advice.

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The booklet is undated, but I would guess it’s from the early 1950’s.  This image of President Truman is from his 1948 presidential campaign.

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This picture of Johnnie Ray is probably from the early or mid-1950’s when Ray was one of the most popular singers in the country.

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Besides music and news, the station also featured advice on housework, sewing, and gardening.

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Much of the booklet is made up of small bits of advice.

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The station had three daily shows dedicated to polka music and an “Italian hour” every Sunday.  Western music was also a popular part of the line-up, with titles such as, “Western Round-up” and “Dude Ranch Saddle Pals” on Saturdays.

The station changed format and call letters in the 1980’s.  It now broadcasts Gospel music.  Many of the personalities went on to other stations in Philly and in other parts of the country.

One last note:

Dedicated readers of the blog (that is, both of them) might remember a post we did last June on Old Maid’s Day.  Here’s a picture of some of the organizers of Old Maid’s Day on the air at WNAR.

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Our Acorn

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

Norristown – Then and Now

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Currently, the Historical Society of Montgomery County is working on a project to scan the thousands of historic photographs in our collection.  While scanning this afternoon, I came across a couple of nice photographs of nineteenth-century Norristown, and I thought it would be interesting to see how these spots look today.  This image is identified as 452, 454, and 456 E. Main St.  The gentleman in the picture is a Dr. Bradley.

Here is the street view of the same houses from Google Maps:

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This picture shows something we don’t see too  much of anymore – a harness shop, once located at 113 E. Main St.

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And here’s the same spot today from Google Maps Street View:

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This block didn’t survive as well as the 500 block did, but it’s fun to see how things change around us.  We should have more interesting historic pictures as the scanning project continues.

Gresh Cigar Factory

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Located at Marshall Street in Norristown, the W. K. Gresh & Sons cigar factory was founded in 1872, though Gresh had been making cigars at home for some years before this.  The building in this picture was built in 1891 when he outgrew his first factory.  The article on Gresh in Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, calls the factory “a handsome brick structure of rare architectural beauty and utility, perhaps the finest cigar factory in the world.”  William K. Gresh was killed in front of his factory in 1904 when he was hit by an out of control wagon.

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Today the building has be renovated into apartments.

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