In-Person Memories of Old Perkasie

In February 1954, the Perkasie News-Herald published interviews with Borough residents who were alive in 1879, for the upcoming Perkasie Borough 75th anniversary celebration. Each person remembered Perkasie in its Victorian era. And most grew up in Bridgetown or Benjamin, before it became part of Perkasie in 1899. Here are highlights from those interviews.

J.G. Moyer Building on left

Feb. 18, 1954: Elmer K. Moyer

Elmer’s father was Joseph G. Moyer, a Perkasie founder who owned the iconic three-story building later lost in the Great Fire of 1988. Elmer was three years old when his family came to the village of Perkasie in 1870. His parents sent Elmer to public school in Sellersville since it had a better system in the 1880s, and he had to walk to Sellersville each day. That changed when Perkasie built the Arch Street School in 1892. Elmer grew up in the old frame house at 7th and Market that was moved to Third Street in the late 1890s, so his father could build the J.G. Moyer building.

Feb. 25, 1954: Charles Fretz

Fretz was born in Bridgetown on North Main Street. He was a mason and built the first sidewalks in Perkasie, including those on South Main Street when it was called Benjamin. Fretz’s first house was a rental on Walnut Street in South Perkasie for $3.00 a month in 1900. He also walked six miles to work on average as a mason. Fretz recalled in detail the Blizzard of 1888. He and other students shoveled snow at the old school house on Main Street. The only student at school for two weeks after the blizzard was Sally Hendricks. Her father owned the mill on Walnut Street, later known as the Benfield Mill, and took Sally to school each day on a horse.

Benjamin in 1891. The two-room school house was replaced with a modern building in 1907.

March 4, 1954: Hannah Groff Baringer

Mrs. Baringer’s roots went to back to the first family to settle in South Perkasie, the Groffs. Hannah’s father, David Groff, owned a sawmill near the modern location of Dairy Queen in South Perkasie. During the Blizzard of 1888, Hannah’s family was snowbound on Walnut Street, then known as the Perkasie-Bridgetown Turnpike. Her future husband, Irwin Y. Baringer, was among a group of young men who cleared the road. Gilbert Thompson, the hardware store owner, was the first person to give her family a ride in an automobile, in a road trip to Harleysville. Hannah was also an eyewitness to technology when it came to Perkasie, as the electric light, telephone, motor vehicle, radio, appliances, and television became common place. The first trolley in Perkasie also ran by the Baringers house near Fifth and Market; she recalled not liking the “noisy things.”

March 11, 1954: Martha Groff Pfleiger

Another member of South Perkasie’s Groff family, Martha and her husband Ambrose became cigarmakers. Martha grew up at the Charles Groff house at 144 North Main Street. In 1898, the Pfleigers were part of a cooperative group that financed a block of rowhomes on Fourth Street between Market and Chestnut Streets. “Contractors and dealers in building material would organize a group to construct dwellings. The participants would get a new home at the actual cost of construction. When the dwellings were completed the participants in the project would enter into competitive bidding for choice of location,” said the News-Herald. Martha said the Pfleigers paid $1,300 for their rowhome and $200 for their sidewalk. Note: newspaper records from 1898 confirm this as the Dyer Moyer block, with homes going for $1,400, with an adjustment for interior homes.

Dyer Moyer block today

March 25, 1954: Wilson Lewis Yeakel

Wilson Yeakel was perhaps Perkasie’s most prominent resident in 1954, having served in Harrisburg as a state representative for 26 years. Wilson’s father, Abram, was a jeweler and optometrist known for his self-winding watch stem patent. Wilson recalled when the clock business switched from grandfather clocks to mantle clocks, and the family had so many of the bigger clocks as trade-ins that they had to burn the clocks in a bonfire.

April 1, 1954: Henry Nungesser

Henry grew up on Fifth Street and then Ridge Road, when Perkasie had about 20 homes. Like others in the interview series, he vividly remembered the Blizzard of 1888. Henry became a cigar maker at Boltz and Clymer in the 1890s, making good wages as $11.50 a week. But he decided to open a furnishings store across from the train station. The Nungesser family also operated the Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in the Fraternity Temple building.

In full disclosure, my great-aunt Elsie Leister married Henry and a lot of the restaurant’s recipes were from my family!

The Fraternity Temple

April 8, 1954: Frank Rosenberger

Frank was born in Bridgetown in 1875 and attended the two-room schoolhouse on South Main Street. He also recalled knowing all 60 families in Bridgetown from school and social activities. Frank also made cigars in South Perkasie and then worked at the Boltz and Clymer factory on Walnut and Seventh Street. The Rosenbergers also were in a cooperative group, and they bought a Perkasie row home on Race Street for $1,500. Frank recalled attending the National Guard encampments on Ridge Road after he bought a property at the farm, and he was one of Perkasie’s top amateur baseball players.

April 15, 1954: W. Elmer Savacool

Another prominent Perkasie citizen, Elmer was a member of the Savacool family owned that owned the feed mill in Bridgetown since the 1860s. Elmer worked for his uncle William at the mill and eventually bought the business in 1903, modernizing the facility. The Savacool horse-drawn wagons were a common site in the community until motor vehicles became popular. Elmer was also a bank director and an elected official in Harrisburg.

April 22. 1954: Ira N. Sacks

Ira was born three months before Perkasie became a Borough in 1879 and he grew up at Tunnel Hill farm on Ridge Road and then lived in one of the old rowhomes across from the Reading Train depot. His father Martin Sacks paid $1,050 for the rowhome. Ira became a cigar maker at the age of 18 and stuck with the trade for 32 years.

Sacks recalled that Perkasie had traveling cigar makers known as “hoboes” who were guaranteed work due to their union membership. He called them a “shiftless lot.” Cigar companies were required to find boarding houses for the workers, and their rent came out of their wages to the landlords. Each town also had a hotel that catered to itinerant workers.

The Trio HOUSE

April 29, 1954: Katie Groff Dimmick

Katie was the sister of Martha Groff Pfleiger. She recalled the Blizzard of 1888 and how her family was stuck at a funeral at the Almont Lutheran Church during the snowstorm. Katie briefly was a cigarmaker but decided to try her luck as a dressmaker, a much-in-demand trade during the Victorian era. Katie used the McDowell pattern system to make dresses. She also spent much of her time making mourning clothing for funerals.

May 6, 1954: Addison F. Hendricks

Addison was born in 1872 in Bridgetown on what later became the Pritchard farm. He became a full-time farmer and bought the old Bacorn Fruit Farm in South Perkasie, which he operated until his retirement in 1945. When Addison first started farming, it was the manual “cradle and flail” era that also employed horses. Then steam and gasoline engines mechanized the process and Hendricks drove a tractor. Hendricks also work at the Savacool Mill for a brief period.

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