Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Instituted on August 21, 1853, the Pottsville Fishing Party held only one meeting each year-during the last week of August. Ironically, members of the Schuylkill County organization did not fish. According to the memoirs of member Richard Henry Koch, published in 1938, “we ate, drank fish-house punch, old rye and champagne, told stories, made speeches, played cards, chatted, and sang from 11 A. M. to 6:30 P. M., when all went home happy. … ”

Re-organized in 1873, the Pottsville Fishing Party counted among its members some of the most prominent individuals in the anthracite region, as well as members living in Williamsport, Harrisburg, Easton, and Philadelphia. Simon Cameron (1799-1889), noted state and national political leader who served in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, was an organizer of the Pottsville Fishing Party and rarely missed its annual outings. The Party’s early meetings were held near a dam at Tumbling Run, southeast of Pottsville, but were moved after one of its members tumbled into the water. Subsequent gatherings were held in a pavilion at People’s Railway Park in Pottsville.

The Pottsville Fishing Party’s annual events were gala affairs. Orchestrated by a Philadelphia caterer, the day’s fare was as elaborate as it was abundant. Pottsville’s now defunct newspaper, the Miners Journal, took special note of the culinary offerings of the Party’s 1890 meeting: “The luncheon menu included snapper soup, deviled crabs, chicken croquets, cold roast beef, tomatoes, celery, olives, vienna rolls. The dinner which was served at three o’clock was composed of green turtle soup, baked Spanish mackerel, potatoes, cucumber salad, tenderloin of beef with fresh mushrooms, sugar com, lima beans, lobster salad, roast grouse with currant jelly, charlotte russe, meringue glace, cantaloupe, watermelon, peaches, grapes, pears, cheese and coffee.”

In his memoirs, Koch remembered that “we had our own specially made decorated dishes of every kind, and all necessary linen which was well identified by a special decoration, and we had all the silverware we needed.” The china, decorated by Minnie Whitney of Pottsville, depicted a man fishing; he was portrayed pulling an American sucker – half-fish, half­-champagne bottle – out of the water. From the border of the club’s china dangled bottles of champagne and whiskey bottles bearing the initials “J. B.” The letters stood for the name of Jacob Bear of York County, a distiller of old rye whiskey, whose spirits were used in the White House by President James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861.

Membership in the Pottsville Fishing Party began dwindling about the turn of the century, and it disbanded in 1908. Richard Henry Koch, however, made sure that several objects bearing testimony to the organization’s existence were carefully safeguarded. To the Historical Society of Schuylkill County, he donated serving pieces, some flatware, a book entitled Songs of the Pottsville Fishing Party, and invitations for the 1884 and 1892 annual meetings. These objects, as well as several photographs, are on permanent exhibit at the society.

For more information, write: Historical Society of Schuylkill County, 14 North Third St., Pottsville, PA 17901; or telephone (717) 622-7540.