Historical Societies: News and Highlights

Historical Societies: News and Highlights presents news and information about Pennsylvania's regional and county historical societies.

Historical Society of Montgomery County

The first meeting establishing the Historical Society of Montgomery County was held at the courthouse in Norristown on February 22, 1881. The major motivation for the twenty-three original members who organized the historical society was to prepare for the celebra­tion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the formation of Montgomery County. Shortly after the initial meeting, a letter, dated April 1, 1881 and addressed to “our well-known, intelligent and public spirited citizens,” was sent out asking for help in compiling historical records for the archives of the new organization. With the assistance of such important antiquarians and his­torians as William J. Buck and Abraham Harley Cassell, the flourishing historical society received its charter on May 11, 1883. By that date it had been declared that ladies were eligible for membership.

The Centennial Celebration, around which the society had been formed, was successfully held on September 9-12, 1884, just three short years after the organization was created. To commem­orate the celebration. Which was planned by Jacob A. Strassburger and engineered by the historical society and the Centennial Association, a bound volume containing an account of the Centennial and illustrations of the ex­hibits was published. At about the same time Col. Theodore W. Bean. a guiding hand of the society in its early years and president until 1889, edited and pub­lished The History of Montgomery County.

At first, the Montgomery County courthouse or other places of historical interest served as meeting places for the historical society. It was not until 1896 that the old Norristown Borough Hall, built in 1884, was purchased as the society’s first permanent home. A library was begun, the museum collection was cataloged and money was raised by benefit dinners and room rentals. Al­though the mortgage was burned in 1926, it became apparent as early as 1917 that there was already a need for a larger building. The dream for a more adequate headquarters, however, was not realized until 1954. In that year, a building of homemade brick, laid in Flemish bond and styled after early American architecture, was created at 1654 DeKalb Street in Norristown. To­day, the building continues to serve as the society’s home.

Long before the society moved to its present site, it had already developed a publications program. In fact, only twelve years after it was incorporated, the society released its first bound vol­ume of the Sketches, printed in 1895. Every five years. another volume was released, through 1925. In 1936 the pub­lication took the form in which it appears today under the title of The Bul­letin, a semi-annual of approximately 100 pages on county history taken from primary sources. In addition, The Bul­letin also publishes original and scholar­ly papers first read before the society at its meetings. For the past several years, the 1850 Census of Montgomery County and the complete transcription from microfilm of the Window Pane Taxes of 1798 have also been printed. Occasion­ally, Washingtonia from private col­lections finds its way into The Bul­letin as well. The publication is free to mem­bers and goes by subscription to numer­ous libraries, universities and other historical societies.

The library, perhaps the society’s greatest asset, consists of more than 25,000 books and pamphlets, many of them rare or one-of-a-kind. The de­velopment of this resource has been greatly aided by the presentation of family, church and cemetery records, diaries, letters, ledgers and other manu­script material. Valuable files of new­spapers have also been contributed and Norristown newspapers from 1800 to 1969 are available on microfilm. The li­brary is constantly in use for reference by students, scholars. artists, authors, biographers, genealogists, historians, housewives and businessmen. The mate­rial in the library may be freely con­sulted, but may not be taken from the building. Two full-time employees and several volunteers are always available to give assistance.

Complimenting the library is the society’s museum, which contains a collection of antique furniture, tall clocks and paintings, as well as glass and china, incomparable examples of Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Duncan Phyfe furniture are on permanent dis­play.

Beyond the ongoing publications pro­gram, the library and the museum, the society also conducts three meetings per year – in February, during which the memory of Gen. George Washington is honored, and in April and Novem­ber – as well as an annual fall outing. In addition it maintains an active historical marker program and assumes responsibility for the care of the tomb of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.

Historical Society of Montgomery County headquarters, 1654 DeKalb Street, Norristown, with its ac­companying library and museum, is open Mondays through Friday from 10 A.M to 4 P.M., Wednesday evenings from 7 to 10 P.M., and Saturday morn­ings by appointment only from 10 A.M. to noon. It is closed on Sundays and legal holidays.


Guild of Craftsmen

The Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, a statewide, non-profit, educa­tional group, has served the cause of crafts for nearly four decades and grown in numbers, accivities and oppor­tunities – all through volunteer efforts. Among the services offered to members are an ongoing series of special programs, seminars and workshops, legal and financial counsel, computer pro­gramming, a market resource file, a craftsperson’s directory, a media file and dealer listings, as well as files on available workshops, schools and other craft opportunities. Member also re­ceive a subscription to Pennsylvania Crafts magazine.

Craft centers and galleries are yet another activity of the Guild, which presently operates both a craft center for classes and workshops at Tyler State Park and a retail gallery for the sale of Pennsylvania crafts in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Both projects also involve craft residen­cies, a form of scholarship to craft men working to develop full potential in the field. In addition, the Guild works closely with Pennsylvania Designer Craftsmen, which organizes and oper­ates several of the major craft events in the state. The Guild also provide gal­lery shows and wholesale marketing op­portunities.

Membership in the Guild may be “at large” or through any one of the nine­teen chapters across the state, and is open both to craftspersons and those who wish to offer support. For more in­formation about the Guild, write or phone the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, Box 183, Reeders 18352, or call (717) 629-5672.


Local History Development Act

In an effort to provide financial assis­tance to historians, researchers or writers of state and local history and to increase interaction be1ween the Penn­sylvania Historical and Museum Com­mission and county and local historical societies, Rep. Kurt D. Zwikl (132nd District – Lehigh County) has intro­duced to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives House Bill 346, “The Local History Development Act.” The PHMC would administer the act with two programs supported by an initial appropriation of $30,000.

The first program would include his­tory projects proposed either by individ­uals or local or county historical so­cieties. Aimed at providing oppor­tunities for public education, these proj­ects could include exhibitions, oral his­tories, symposiums, forums, lectures or visual arts programs, and would be eli­gible for grants of up to $1,000.

The second program would involve research on either the amateur or aca­demic level by historians “engaged in original research projects pertaining to any aspect of the history of Pennsylva­nia, its counties, or local communities.” A maximum grant of $700 would be available, and as with grants awarded in the first category, the money could be used to purchase supplies. to pay for du­plication services, speakers’ fees, and for other related purposes, but not to pay salaries, purchase books, publish articles or to physically re tore a site.

Both the local history and research programs will receive forty percent of the funding, while twenty percent will be reserved to cover administrative costs. Again, salaries will not be in­cluded.

Those who would like to see the pro­gram instituted should contact their state representative and urge him or her to vote for House Bill 346. A copy of the bill may be obtained by writing to Representative Zwikl at P.O. Box 93, Main Capitol Building, House of Repre­sentatives, Harrisburg 17120.


Smithsonian Kellogg Project

The Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Museum Programs has announced a three-year national program intended “to increase the educational role of mu­seums in their communities.” The Kel­logg Project is funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, which enabled the Smithsonian to develop and underwrite this joint effort. The five-part program includes Colloquia, Regional Work­shops, Community Resources Work­shops, The Kellogg Museum Profes­sionals at the Smithsonian Program, and video tapes produced by the Institu­tion in conjunction with museums around 1he country. Its goals are to de­fine the role of museums as educational agencies, to afford them the chance to experiment with new ideas, to increase their educational role by helping them work with other institutions (colleges, li­braries, universities), and to achieve these goals by working with the policy ­and decision-making directors, trustees and senior staff of the institutions.

Because museums must recognize and accept changes in their communities, Project Kellogg has adopted “Museums and Change” as an overall theme, which will be addressed from a different perspective in each of the programs’ three years. The first will be devoted to “Museums and Changing Commu­nities” and will emphasize the cultural diversity of the nation’s rapidly chang­ing populations. The project will then examine educational trends in “Mu­seums and Changing Educational Pat­terns” and will close with “Museum and Changing Technology.”

Additional information on the Kel­logg Project and application details are available from the Kellogg Project Co­ordinator, Office of Museum Pro­grams, Arts, and Industries Building, Room 2235, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560.


Urban Architecture Program

Two organizations, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), have acknowledged the historical value of an unlikely resource – urban architec­ture. “An Eye for Architecture” is a series of five slide-tape presentations which highlights Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle and four historic neighbor­hoods.

The program was created jointly by the foundation and the Gifted and Talented Education Program of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and has been shown in approximately sixteen area school districts. Last spring, the series, which was funded by the National En­dowment for the Humanities, was viewed by approximately 800 students who also went on field trips and com­pleted projects outlined by the program. The foundation and AIU are in the process of securing additional funds to be able to continue showing the pro­gram to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County schoolchildren.

For additional information, write to Louise King Ferguson, Director of Edu­cation and Public Affairs, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, The Old Post Office, One Landmarks Square, Pittsburgh 15212.