Historical society exhibit highlights products ‘Made in Montgomery County.’
Historical Society of Montgomery County project focuses on county’s ‘productive personality’
NORRISTOWN » The Historical Society of Montgomery County’s ongoing Made in Montgomery County exhibit makes it clear that locally made goods — “from food to furniture to fine art” — have been a defining part of this area’s profile since its establishment in 1784.
The free show at HSMC headquarters in Norristown opened June 30 and will continue until next Feb. 1. It features everything from handcrafted tall case clocks to pottery and agricultural implements and is designed to highlight Montgomery County’s “productive personality … from the years of European settlement and beyond,” explains HSMC Executive Director Barry Rauhauser.
“I think that for areas like Montgomery County, change and diversity have always been defining characteristics,” Rauhauser says. “We are an area of the country that has witnessed nearly continuous change since our beginnings. So, here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, we especially enjoy examining themes that may surprise people with their continuity.
“While the nature of Montgomery County’s history of production has changed over the past two centuries, the county and its people have remained strongly committed to the idea and value of production. Whether you look at production as a craftsperson creating and decorating a fine piece of pottery or you see production as a major industry that is employing hundreds of workers to produce steel, both capture part of the identity of Montgomery County. Seeing these objects in the exhibit and learning about their makers allows visitors to get a sense of Montgomery County’s productive personality.”
Although the firm isn’t featured at the HSMC exhibit, any mention of steel will prompt longtime Montgomery County residents to recall the huge impact Alan Wood Steel Co. played in this area’s economy before it closed its Conshohocken operation in the mid-1970s.
“You could do a whole book on Alan Wood Steel, alone,” says Conshohockenbased historian Jack Coll. “They did so much, for example, [the invention of] diamond plate steel, which you see everywhere, including, probably, every ship deck in the world … these raised bumps on a metal surface that make it nonskid. They eventually sold the patent for diamond plate steel, but it was Alan Wood Steel that came up with that.
“Here in Conshohocken, you also had the John Wood company. Their steel and cast-iron hot water tanks were all over the world. And Hale Fire Pump. You see pictures of France burning in World War II, and there are Hale pumps on those trucks.”
On the other hand, the county has no shortage of practicing potters, and two of their distinguished predecessors are represented in the Made in Montgomery County exhibit. Whitemarsh native Holly Cairns’s late mother and grandmother, June Keyser Adams and Mildred Keyser, began creating their distinctive Pennsylvania German red ware pieces in the studio, Brookcroft Pottery, at the family’s 17-acre homestead on Butler Pike during the late 1930s.
Well before ECRI occupied the tract, Keyser and Adams were producing the highly regarded pottery — signed with a stylized pine tree and an “A” or “K” — prized by contemporary collectors. Five Brookcroft pieces are on display at the HSMC show, among them a trio of plates from Cairns’s personal collection. A potter herself, Cairns spent decades teaching at both the Whitemarsh Art Center and Montgomery County Community College. She also oversaw the art galleries at MCCC’s Blue Bell and Pottstown campuses.
The Made in Montgomery County exhibit also includes a pipe organ (ca. 1850) made by John Ziegler, a surveyor’s level (ca. 1770) made by David Rittenhouse, a desk (ca. 1880) made by D.Y. Mowday and several items related to agricultural production in the county’s earliest days.
HSMC is located at 1654 DeKalb St., Norristown. Made in Montgomery County is open to the public during the society’s normal office hours: Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. HSMC staff and exhibit curator is Karen Ploch.
Additional information is available at 610-272-0297, firstname.lastname@example.org and hsmcpa.org.
Breweries and distilleries have been a continuing presence in Montgomery County, from the county’s earliest days through the present with the proliferation of micro-breweries.
A pipe organ made by John Ziegler of Skippack ca. 1850 is included in the Historical Society of Montgomery County’s ongoing Made in Montgomery County exhibit.
Historical Society of Montgomery County curator Karen Ploch stands with a surveyor’s level made by David Rittenhouse ca. 1770.