Perkasie’s Ties to a Strange Victorian Murder Mystery

Was it the veal or the arsenic that killed Mrs. Roberts? In May 1878, the national newspapers were abuzz with that question during a trial that featured one of Perkasie’s first businessmen.

Frank Willett and his brother Allen Willett had moved to the Perkasie area in the 1870s to start a sawmill and a wheelmaking shop. But after several trips to Camden with his wife Harriett to check on her parent’s sudden illness, Frank Willett stood accused of complicity in a deadly poisoning.

Can You Pass The Early Perkasie History Test?

In my new book, “An American Hometown,” you can learn about Perkasie’s fascinating history from its colonial days until 1945. If you’ve read the book, you should get all the questions correct, because the answers are in text.

If not,  you can buy the book right now online at www.perkasiebook.com!

 

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What Does The Word "Perkasie" Mean?

Correct! Wrong!

We really don't know the literal translation of the word "Perkasie" as used by the Lenni Lenape. It may be closer to the word "Perkiomen."

The Redcoats Allegedly Stayed in Perkasie in 1777-1778. Where Did They Stay?

Correct! Wrong!

There are at least two versions of this story from Stout family descendants.

What Is the Fine for Smoking Segars on the Covered Bridge?

Correct! Wrong!

The fine also applies to any person riding or driving over the bridge faster than a walk.

The Rev. John Andrew Strassburger founded South Perkasie. What was his religion?

Correct! Wrong!

Rev. Strassburger preached at four Reformed churches, which is now the United Church of Christ.

The Landis Ridge Train Tunnel brought commerce to Perkasie by the 1870s. Who built it?

Correct! Wrong!

At least 300 Irish labors worked on the tunnel for two years. Rumors persist of more than a few deaths at the constuction site.

What was the name of Perkasie's amusement park?

Correct! Wrong!

The investors named it Menlo Park in an apparent nod to Thomas Edison.

Perkasie had many cigar factories. What was the name of H.E. Snyder's most famous cigar?

Correct! Wrong!

The Snyders made the White Ash cigar while Horace Snyder was still working full time at another cigar factory. The Snyders had the last cigar business in Perkasie.

Who Owned the Iconic Plaza Movie Theater?

Correct! Wrong!

The Fire Company at first showed films at the fire house to raise money and then built their own theater.

Who Designed the Iconic Twin Bridges in Lenape Park?

Correct! Wrong!

The next time you are in Lenape Park look for the Roebling name on some of the bridge's cabling structure.

How Much Did It Cost to Ride the Trolley from Philadelphia to Perkasie, Roundtrip, in 1915?

Correct! Wrong!

In 2021 dollars, that is $10 each way, which is why a lot of people used the trolley for shorter trips.

Perkasie History 101, From 1683 to 1945

Sell-Perk High School’s Early Days

Pennridge South Middle School Teacher Brooke Burgy asked me to do a brief review about the early history of her school for her students. Here is a profile of one of Perkasie’s most-important buildings.

The old part of Pennridge South is historic for several reasons, including why it was built and who designed the building. A third part of the old Sell-Perk High that is historic is outside and in Perkasie Borough: the former football field.

Architect Martin’s conceptual drawing of Sell-Perk High School

Introduction to “An American Hometown”

You can read the introduction to “An American Hometown” for free. To order the book online, go to www.perkasiebook.com, and Shopify will safely and securely print your book and ship it to you.

Introduction

On a winter day in December 2019, more than 5,000 people gathered in front of a community Christmas tree to watch Santa Claus arrive in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, on a borough-owned electric-service bucket truck. The crowd cheered as Santa climbed in the bucket to the tree’s top and it roared after Santa hit a switch to light the tree—continuing a tradition dating back more than 100 years.

The American House

To those unfamiliar with Perkasie, the borough is 35 miles north of Philadelphia, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It has about 8,500 residents. Perkasie Borough was born in the Victorian age, about 30 years before the Christmas tree lighting became a big deal for its residents. Before then, a handful of farmers and their livestock inhabited the area after the Europeans arrived in the 1680s.

New Perkasie History Book Debuts February 15

The first new book in quite a while about Perkasie’s history will be released next month, and here are the details.

An American HometownI have been threatening to write such a book for the past few years since starting my Preserving Perkasie blog. The book, called “An American Hometown,” combines three past historical projects with about six months of new research.

“An American Hometown” is the first fully documented history of Perkasie Borough from William Penn’s time until August 1945. The project combines background from several past Perkasie histories with primary sources, such as county records, newspapers, census data, and personal accounts.

Perkasie and World War II: A Difficult End to the Global Conflict in 1945

Editor’s Note: Allied forces push toward Berlin and Tokyo at a great price in early 1945.

Headlines in World War II’s final year in Perkasie were again dominated by sacrifices made overseas and at home and the debate over the Borough’s post-war fate.

Early January 1945 started with the news that PFC Walter Moyer, only one of two married men from Silverdale in the conflict, had been killed in Germany. Moyer was well-known in the community and president of the Silverdale Fire Company. PFC Warren Forgan of Seventh Street in Perkasie also had been captured at the Battle of the Bulge. On January 25, 1945, three other soldiers from the Pennridge region were unaccounted for at the Battle of the Bulge, followed by two more the following week.

Perkasie and World War II: Paying the Price of Freedom in 1944

Editor’s Note: World War II was taking its toll on Perkasie’s domestic economy during 1944, a year that also saw the most fatalities for local servicemen during the global conflict.

The news in Perkasie during 1944 would be dominated by the deaths of 13 local young men in service of their country and the sense that World War II was about to end.

To be sure, labor shortages, rationing, and an upcoming presidential election were big news, too, in a small town. But the price of freedom was steep, and the nation would keep paying that price for another 20 months.

The U.S. Gauge played a key defense role

PFC Kenneth Maurer, 19, of Blooming Glen was the first causality of 1944 reported to a war-weary public. His mother received the telegram on January 2, 1944, that her son died in action in Italy. Then on February 3, 1944, Lieutenant Charles Gemmell was reported missing in action after the plane he was piloting was shot down over Germany. (Gemmell was captured by the Germans and released a year later.)

Perkasie and World War II: Fights at Home and Abroad in 1943

Editor’s Note: After the shock of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and a year of preparedness in 1942, World War II’s reality becomes a part of daily life in Perkasie.

By January 1943, Perkasie residents and their neighbors were fully vested in the fight for victory in World War II, making daily sacrifices on the home front. At the same time, local troops overseas hit the battlefront in Europe and Asia.

Indeed, even with two years of war preparations, the global war deeply affected the Borough at a local level that is hard for us to understand in modern times. But some measures taken by the government to conserve resources seem familiar today.

canning posterFor example, in January 1943 the federal government limited all forms of pleasure driving after gasoline was rationed. Officials ordered police to impound any cars parked in front of the Plaza Theater in Perkasie; people were expected to walk or take mass transportation to town. Mass vaccinations were put in place against smallpox to ensure workers could remain on the job in war-related industries.

Perkasie and World War II: Enlistment, the Draft, Rationing in 1942

In Part One of this series about Perkasie and World War II, Perkasie finally saw the Great Depression’s end as America pondered its role in a global conflict.  Events at Pearl Harbor changed life in the Borough forever.

Three realities dominated 1942, the first full year of World War II as it affected Perkasie residents: voluntary enlistment and the military draft; home-defense preparations; and rationed goods.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, led to a truly global conflict with the United States getting ready to fight battles on two fronts in early 1942. The daunting task required the full mobilization of all local economies, along with the national economy. The nation also needed 15 million people to join the military in service of their country, with two-thirds of those people inducted via the draft.

ration cards

Ration points, as well as cash, paid for food

On the home front, domestic labor shortages; restrictions on household goods and raw material purchases; and constant appeals for donations to the war effort were daily facts of life.

In Perkasie (and Bucks County), tires were the first items to be rationed to the general population, and motor vehicle registration became required to track who had tires. Shortly after, tin cans were banned in the use of consumer products such as beans, condiments, and beer. Perkasie also started practicing blackouts as part of a national exercise on January 19, 1942; people not cooperating in the Borough between 9:00 p.m. and 9:25 p.m. faced possible arrest for 30 days or a $100 fine.

A booming Perkasie enters World War II

Editor’s Note: This five-part series looks at the World War II-era in Perkasie Borough, using accounts from Perkasie’s newspapers and other primary sources. In Part 1, by 1941 defense production leads to an economic boom in Perkasie, but war looms as an inescapable reality.

In January 1941, Perkasie Borough was a town on edge, as it finally recovered from the Great Depression while residents prepared to fight an uncertain war against a despised foe.

The big business in town was pants, and the latest addition to Perkasie Borough’s most significant employer was the new jagged-roof modern clothing factory in South Perkasie. The Royal Pants Factory expansion in South Perkasie (the current location of the Free Will Brewery) was built to supply plants for the defense effort, with nearly 500 workers churning out 1.3 million trousers in 1940. The new building’s walls were 85 percent glass, and architect Charles Talley tailored the establishment to win Army contracts with its efficient production design. Royal Pants was so successful that it had to sublet half of its cloth cutting to other factories.