The Community Connection
The life and times of William F. Lamb, Sr.
Born in New Hanover Township in 1879, William F. Lamb Sr. was for 60 years a dominating presence in the Pottstown business community and a leader in the New Hanover Lutheran Church. Considering his humble origin, it’s remarkable how quickly he became an established businessman and community leader.
Our story starts with Isaac Lamb (1818-1897) who was an Orthodox Quaker and ship builder in Philadelphia during the Civil War. While living there, he married his second wife Jeanette Swan (1827-1894). After the war he bought a 30 acre farm in New Hanover and moved there when his son Benjamin who was almost of age. The farm house was situated on a slight rise on the east side of Church Road about 200 yards north of New Road. Nathan Drase had a 50 acre farm just across the street from Lamb’s house. Drase ran a small general store from the house and also did tailoring. Both of these houses have been demolished, but the Lamb’s barn still stands.
On September 28, 1876, Benjamin Lamb married Nathan Drase’s daughter, Esther, in the New Hanover Lutheran Church where he sang in the choir. Their son William and five siblings survived into childhood. Writing in a memoir “Bill” Lamb relates: “Our first school days were spent in an old fashion one-room school about a half mile down the road from the house.” [That would be our restored Swamp Creek School-house on Reifsnyder Road].
“Father [Benjamin], in order to provide for a large family, took on some music pupils. He taught for 25 cents a lesson. This forced much of the farm work upon me--work often too heavy for a twelve year old boy. Our farm stock consisted of two horses, seven cows, calves, pigs, and chickens. All these had to be fed, stables kept clean, horses curried, and hay and straw thrown down from the mows … I would milk two cows, feed the animals curry the two horses, shell corn and be ready for school by 8:30.” He goes on to recount the heavy work of driving a double horse team plowing and harrowing fields, loading hay, and threshing wheat.
“… Well, this farm work came to a sudden end. The family was stricken with the then dreaded scarlet fever. … I was one of the first stricken with the disease, the others all became ill and my two brothers and two of my sisters died within six days, leaving only myself, now 13 years of age, and my sister Esther, ten and one half years. I especially missed my brother Isaac who was nine years old and had been my pal during my working hours on the farm. I was very ill for a long time my life was in danger.”
The loss of the children was too much to be endured, and in the spring of 1893 Benjamin sold the farm and stock at public auction.
William Lamb’s family then removed to Spring Mount where he earned $1.50 a day as a painter’s helper. Saving the money he bought a bicycle. Using the bicycle he sold books door to door and used the profit to buy his clothes and put himself through Perkiomen School in Pennsburg. Then Lamb’s book supplier sent him down South to sell books door to door. From there he returned with $200 profit. He used the profit to take a six month business course at Schisller’s Business College, Norristown.
William Lamb’s father Benjamin was musically talented, and William must have inherited the talent as he then began a lifelong career in the music business. Starting in 1900 he worked briefly at the C. H. Lichty Music House in Reading; managed a small Lichty branch store in Pottstown; bought that branch store with $2500 of borrowed money; outgrew it and expanded into the neighboring property. Next he bought a property on High Street, dug a cellar 20X140, and erected the three story Lamb’s Music House. All in under 10 years! He was just 30.
About this time, 1910, The Edison talking machine was being replaced by the Victor Victrola which played discs instead of cylinders. The Victrola was all the rage. At one time Lamb had 20,000 records in stock. He sold literally carloads of Victrolas, pianos, parlor organs and other instruments. He employed three salesmen, a bookkeeper, front counter person, and sometimes four more record salesmen. Then after the war came a new miracle called radio, and the music business began a downward trend.
To advertise the business during the 1920’s he started Lamb’s Concert Orchestra and also conducted the Pottstown Band from 1928-1936. The Lamb studios taught music, and at the end of WWII had 325 students enrolled.
Also during this time he pioneered the residential development of the North End of Pottstown by purchasing and developing well over a hundred building lots as well as many other houses and apartments in the area. Having been raised on a farm, in 1918 he bought fifteen acres at the intersection of Mauger’s Mill Road and Charlotte Street and planted 1500 apple trees to found Lamb’s Apple Orchard. Additionally, he organized and served the Automobile Club of Pottstown from 1927-1957.
Additionally, in 1903 Lamb became the organist and choirmaster of the New Hanover Lutheran Church. He immediately organized the replacement of the 100 year old pipe organ with a new one costing $3500. He was minister of music for 35 years and was then president of the church council for 15 years marking 50 years of leadership in the church.
In 1907 he married Viola A. Missimer, and they had a son, William F. Lamb, Jr., who continued the music business and who married Margaretta Reid. Local residents may remember her as “Peg” Lamb, long time music teacher and choral director at Boyertown High. Their three children are Susan, Kathy and William Fred.
After the death of his first wife William Lamb, Sr. married Helen Lumis in 1933. They had a son Robert who, after a distinguished career in the U.S. Army Band, worked in communications for the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Their son Michael is in the music business in New York. Their daughter Virginia died at age 12.
Many thanks to Bob Lamb and Carl H. Gottshall who provided information.