Thanks to our Historical Society’s project to digitize the Perkasie News-Herald‘s archives, we can now look back to 1881 and see how Perkasie Borough celebrated Thanksgiving Day during that decade.
The archives are mostly online at Newspapers.com. These newspapers are a window to a different time we can learn from, including the importance of charity at Thanksgiving.
Today, our local traditions include the Pennridge-Quakertown football game and various turkey-featured dinners. Occasionally, there has been a snowflake or two spotted here. Back in 1881, just two years after Perkasie Borough was formed, things were a bit different.
Mahlon S. Sellers was editing the Central News and the weekly newspaper costs 3 cents if you bought it on the train. An annual subscription was $1.00 for 52 issues. There was little news about Perkasie, aside from Thanksgiving and the formation of a Perkasie literary society; the town only had 300 residents. Apparently, snow was already here as Sellers wrote in a poem of sorts:
Prepare for winter.”
Sellers noted the current typhoid fever epidemic and said, “make yourself modestly comfortable – life is short.” Sellers died in 1882 before the next Thanksgiving edition of the Central News was published.
A year later, the newspaper said it had already snowed in Perkasie, and a bear had been spotted in town. The Rev. Dengler gave the Thanksgiving service in German at the Church in Bridgetown. Perkasie Borough didn’t have its own church yet.
Two years later, there was controversy in Bucks County: dairy farmers protested the practice of feeding brewery grains to cows and a Democrat, Grover Cleveland, won the county’s presidential vote. But Perkasie’s own John Schwartz won election to the state house, too.
In 1885, the Central News’ owners, Henry Moyer, and Stanley Kramer, reminded readers that legally in Pennsylvania, Thanksgiving was a secular and religious holiday: “Today has been set apart as a day of Thanksgiving. Everyone has something to be thankful for, and the majority of people have much to be grateful for. Let not your heart be selfish, but give to God the blessing his gifts deserve.” Perkasie now had more stores: Greer Sheetz’s Emporium was selling shoes for $1.25 per pair, and it was well-stocked with corsets.
Two years later, a new food crop had been introduced locally and became part of the Thanksgiving dinner: celery. The newspaper interviewed 95-year-old George Weikel of Hilltown, who said he didn’t want to return to youthful times, but noted in the past “everybody considered each other in the plane of equality both socially and intellectually. … The rich were no better than the poor, and the poor as good as the rich.”
In 1888, the newspaper again repeated its annual message that Thanksgiving was a day to remember others. “In our thankfulness, let us not forget those who are less fortunate,” they said.
By 1889, the Central News Thanksgiving edition pondered the possibilities of a new invention: the phonograph. It was being tested as a way to announce station stops on railroad trains. The turnpike between Bridgetown and Perkasie (the current Walnut Street or Route 152) was devasted by heavy rains, but that didn’t keep people from getting to Thanksgiving church services.
The 1890 paper featured a recipe for how to roast a turkey. It was important to wash the turkey, stuff it with bread, onions, and butter (no celery), sew the cavity shut, and bake it at 15 minutes per pound, basting the bird constantly.
The constant themes of Perkasie and Thanksgiving in the 1880s were that turkeys were a really big deal and the holiday was a joint secular-religious holiday that stressed the importance of charity.
“Among the many diverse relations of the Thanksgiving season, the personal relation is pre-eminent. If each, as a citizen of the state, or a member of the family, feels it is his duty to offer thanks to the Giver of all good, this day of gratitude rests with a greater obligation upon each as an individual,” the Central News editors said in 1890
And it was a time when people felt optimistic about the future. “No people have more reason to be thankful than we for the bountiful harvests, prosperity, and peace. Let us be thankful.” By that time, the Thanksgiving Day service was in English at the St. Stephen’s Church in Perkasie Borough.