Our inventory of the Berks History Center is nearly complete, but we still continue to discover amazing artifacts such as this 200 year old apothecary scale which belonged to Reading pharmacist Gerhard Gottlieb Bischoff. (1775-1856). A native of Thuringia, Germany, Bischoff studied pharmacy under his father and then subsequently worked as an apothecary assistant in both Germany and Switzerland. In 1817, he immigrated to Reading where his brother, Frederick Christopher Bischoff, was already a well established artist.
Gerhard Bischoff opened an apothecary shop on Penn Street, midway between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and by all accounts was still working when he died in 1856 at the age of 81. Bischoff had a keen interest in Botany and Zoology. In addition to a large collection of plant specimens which he had assembled over the years, estate records reveal that he also possessed “19 cabinets of insects”.
During our inventory at the Berks History Center, we recently discovered two U.S. Army hats which are both nearly 190 years old! However, both hats are shrouded in mystery.
The first hat is a style known as a stove pipe shako. While it is missing its original brim and a plume which attached at the top, its condition is surprisingly solid for its age. The emblem on this hat was used between 1833 and 1851 by U.S. Dragoon regiments – horse mounted units that would later be known as cavalry. Unfortunately, that is all we know about this hat. We do not know who used it, and in fact we do not even know how it came to be in our collection.
The second hat is known as a bicorne hat. It is in excellent condition, and we can infer several bits of information from its design. The style of the insignia, for example, was used by the U.S. Army between 1821 and 1851. In addition, the hat is marked with the name and address of its maker: William H. Horstmann & Sons, North Third Street, Philadelphia. It is well documented that Horstmann & Sons only operated at this location from 1830 to 1857.
We know that the Berks History Center received the bicorne hat in 1937, and its donor reported that it belonged to a Major David Hocker. Unfortunately, our predecessors did not record any additional information about this person, and to add to the confusion, they incorrectly recorded the hat as having belonged to “Mayor” David Hocker. To date, we have not yet been able to identify a Major Hocker connected with Berks County or the United States Army.
While there are many questions with both of these hats, they are both unique artifacts. Our hope is that additional research will help us to better ascertain to whom each belonged and how each is connected to Berks County.
Article Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith
Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer (1900-1986) was a Berks County woman of many talents. Many may not know her by name, but her legacy carries inspiration far beyond what anyone would expect from a small town music teacher. Julia Nagel Shanaman started the Shanaman Studio of Music in Reading, Pa around 1924 after receiving her teacher’s diploma. In 1927 she received her diploma in music theory and in 1929 she received her Piano Soloist Diploma. She later attended the Philadelphia Music Academy, receiving her Artist Diploma in 1935, in addition to gracefully achieving her Bachelors in Music in 1937 just after her marriage to Jasper Elmer in 1936.
Despite adopting a new surname, Julia kept moving above and beyond in the music world. She was a skilled pianist and music teacher. She received her Graduate Certificate in Piano from Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia in 1951, and served with them for the next five years. Afterwards she served the Combs College of Music for the next ten years. Elmer became involved with the Community School of Music and the Arts in Reading as a piano and theory instructor in 1966, overlapping with her time serviced to the Music Club of Reading as their president for two consecutive terms. In addition to all of her glowing achievements, Julia was elected to the American College Musicians Hall of Fame in 1968.
Her legacy as a profound musical educator and instrumentalist was honored with the establishment of the Julia N. Shanaman Elmer Piano Scholarship in 1987 by the Music Club of Reading, just after her passing. She was a marvelous teacher, musician and friend who had an unsurpassable enthusiasm for her craft. Her legacy lives on through her only son, Cedric Nagel Elmer, whose donation of concert recordings, programs and photographs to the Berks History Center has made all of this information and acknowledgement possible for the late and great Julia Nagel Shanaman Elmer.
Researched & Written by Mackenzie Tansey
When Rick Polityka first caught a glimpse of the front cover of The Historical Review of Berks County (Vol. 82. #1, Winter 22016-2017) he had a nagging suspicion that he was looking at something familiar. The photo, depicting a vintage winter scene, captured a number of adults sitting upon a large sled. In this particular issue, the editor of The Review, Charles J. Adams III, had called for readers to assist in identifying the location and date of the photograph, a mysterious item from the Berks History Center’s research library collection.
After some contemplation, it finally hit him. He had seen this sled before! Not only in the photograph, but he had actually seen this artifact up close and in person! He wasn’t entirely sure his hunch was accurate. However, he was curious enough to investigate the mystery.
Rick called a few friends and headed to one his favorite local watering holes, The Northeast Taproom. There, with the permission of the owner, Rick and his friends ventured down into the dark, dusty basement of the Northeast Taproom. Sitting along the wall, covered in dust and boxes, Rick uncovered a very large sled, 19 feet in length.
This exciting discovery was just the beginning of Rick’s journey uncovering the history and mystery behind what we now know to be, “Old Glory,” the hand-built, Berks County tiller from the early 1900s. Rick wrote about his adventure and research in an article that will be published in the Spring 2017 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County.
To read Rick’s entire story and research about Old Glory, subscribe to The Historical Review of Berks County. Copies of The Review can also be purchased in the Berks History Center Museum Store.
Rick Polityka is a local history enthusiast, lifelong Reading resident, and a long-time member and volunteer at the Berks History Center.
(From the Postcard Collection, Henry Janssen Library at Berks History Center)
Today in 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded and sank in the Port of Havana. 267 Americans were killed, including one man from Reading–Frank Anders. Many at the time believed Spain deliberately blew up the ship because it was sent to the area during Cuba’s revolt against Spain. The Spanish-American War started about two months later. Parts of the ship were salvaged after the explosion, including an anchor later presented to the City of Reading. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled the monument, which still stands in City Park, on July 31, 1914. The monument was rededicated in 2014.
In addition to numerous postcards depicting the anchor in City Park, we also have two scrapbooks in the Henry Janssen Library compiled by Frank Anders’ family.
Have you ever wondered why it appears as if everyone in Berks County is related to each other? Well, there is a reason for that.
It is 1730…something. You are sitting on 900 acres with a big stone house, a big stone barn and some additional outbuildings. You have actually done well carving out your wealth in the Pennsylvania wilderness. One day, your wife looks at you and says it’s time to start marrying off the older children. What to do? You are isolated on your plot of land and meeting new people is a little difficult. There is no match.com or eHarmony. Your closest neighbor is at minimum a couple hundred acres away. Therefore, to keep your wife happy, you pay one of your neighbors a visit and try to make a match. Eventually, your daughters are married off and living on other farms. Your son’s are married and their families are working on your land. Your wife’s happy, your happy…done.
Matchmaking in the 18th and 19th century was definitely more complicated than that. While it would make for some very interesting research, it will not help you in locating your family’s history. What’s key to remember when doing your family’s genealogy/history is that 1: there is always a bigger picture and 2: it is all relative…literally. People are always interacting with each other. When you own a large tract of land and your neighbors own large tracts of land, it limits interaction, but there is still interaction, just not with a lot of people. In a roundabout way, I am trying to suggest that you should not limit your research to just your family. When you start researching families surrounding yours, you will notice connections and find information that you did not know exist. So where do you look?
1. Deeds. When performing a deed search, you need to be aware that there are different types of deeds and you need to attempt to look for them all to be successful. There are:
- Patent – is an exclusive land grant made by a sovereign entity, in this case the Penn Family, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to a tract of land. Really, what is important is that it establishes the first landholder in the chain of landholders.
- Warrant – type of deed that says the landowner holds clear title to the land and can legally sell it.
- Quitclaim Deed – is the opposite of a warrant, in that the owners selling the land cannot swear they have clear title to do so.
- Indenture – is a legal transfer of property for a fixed and agreed upon amount of money.
- Deed Poll – is a change of name on the deed. It only obligates one party for the responsibility of the property.
- Sheriff Sale Deed – usually is issued in cases, for instance, when property is sold to pay off debt. This will sometimes describe how the property was seized by the county.
In some instances, names will appear on a deed, and you realize that it was the husband of a daughter that you did not know existed. Believe me when I say, that they are bogged down in legal jargon and I am always amazed at the inability of the clerk to spell chestnut. I always wonder how accurate the land surveys are after 50 years when that Chestnut sapling is grown and that stone shifted because someone tripped over it. Regardless, the interesting part is through all of that, in the part I call “Change of Hands”. That is were it relates how the property came into the hands of the grantor, who is now selling it. Read the deed in its entirety, because you will never know what you will find.
2. Wills. They contain a wealth of information and like deeds, can point to family members that are not found in church records. They might also prove a connection with another family or your family. Some are very interesting to read because they can spell out in detail, how the children should provide for the care of their mother, including how many cows, lumber and water she is allotted. Just like a deed, read the whole thing.
A lack of will is just as interesting. When someone dies intestate, then the fate of their estate is decided at Orphan’s Court. Just to clarify, this court has little to do with orphan’s. Orphan’s Court is a probate court and is there to protect personal and property rights. If you can’t find a will and your research trail is cold, check with the court for a ruling on the estate. You never know what you will find and sometimes nothing is something.
These two types of documents are just as valuable to your research as the church records. They are also the least used. Just the other day, I had a researcher interested in knowing more about their property. The first thing I asked them… “Did you read the deeds?” Oh, I did a deed search (usually stated multiple times). It is always 2 hours into the research that you send them out the door to the courthouse because they did not read the deeds. Trust me…we know you didn’t read the deeds, just like we know you didn’t consider the wills…it’s our researcher intuition or psychic powers telling us. If you need some help, bring in the photocopies, we are happy to assist.
When you live in a small community, everyone knows everything about you and it does seem like everyone is related. It is a small town reality and perception all at the same time. If you go back far enough, you can cross paths with just about anyone. That is what keeps researching fun!