The Fascinating Career of Gilbert L. Thompson

Perkasie residents and visitors passing by Rams Pint House can’t help but notice the words “Thompson 1922” on the building’s façade. The story behind the “Thompson” in question is an interesting tale indeed.

Gilbert L. Thompson was a man of many talents who led an interesting life before he came to Perkasie in March 1901. Thompson’s Hardware was a vital store in a borough that was booming during the cigar-making era. But Thompson arrived in town just ahead of a disastrous investment in Lansdale, and his business survived for almost three decades in Perkasie.

Thompson’s Store 1929

Gilbert Lewis Thompson was born on January 27, 1862 in Philadelphia. He grew up in Cheltenham and became a hardware salesman at the age of 18. By 1885, Gilbert had moved to Lansdale, and married Ella Kinsey of Doylestown, Pa., and the two had a daughter, Alice, named after Gilbert’s mother, shortly after.

Initially, Gilbert did very well in the hardware business in Lansdale. Thompson had his own store in Lansdale at Vine and Green Streets, and he was an express agent for the Adams Express Company on the Reading Line. Thompson was also a volunteer at the Fairmount Hose and Ladder Company, and he eventually became vice president of the Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association. Thompson also invented a compact steam blower called “The Eclipse.”

The Eclipse Streamer

However, Thompson’s life changed in the mid-1890s after a series of events. Both his parents passed away by 1895. According to the Lansdale Historical Society, Thompson came into an inheritance. He invested $30,000 of it in a failed opera called “Liberty Bell” and declared bankruptcy in 1900. After working briefly as a clerk in Lansdale, Thompson arrived in Perkasie to open a new hardware store at Meyers Block in Perkasie at Seventh and Chestnut Streets, across from the Reading Train Station and next to the Union Hotel, also owned by Meyers.

Thompson's First Store

Thompson’s First Perkasie Store on right, in between the “Witches Hat” towers

With a second chance, Thompson again became successful in business and as a community leader. One of his marketing ideas was to pay for the trolley fares of any customer who spent at least five dollars at his store. And Thompson’s store sold the latest appliances, stoves, and kitchenware, in addition to basic hardware and paint. Thompson was held in such high regard that was tasked to lead the project to raise funds for and install Perkasie’s town clock in the tower of Trinity Lutheran Church in 1907. Hardware Dealer magazine said in December 1913 that Gilbert belonged to 19 local and regional social, religious and fraternal organizations, a record for a hardware dealer.

Thompson by all accounts did well with his business and at the age of 60 he made his biggest investment in Perkasie. In 1922, Thompson bought the old home of Samuel Mood, which had been occupied by his late friend, Alan Willet. Thompson demolished the house, and had local architect Edward L. Smith design a new modern two-store building on Chestnut Street. At the same time, Thompson had been named as president of Grand View Hospital, adding a 20th association to his social network.

Hardware Dealer magazine

Life again changed for Thompson in February 1927 when his wife Ella passed away from stomach cancer. Her funeral was held at the home of his daughter and her husband, local football hero and clothing manufacturer Leon Schwenk. Gilbert sold his home on Sixth Street and moved in with the Schwenks. A little over a year and a half later, Gilbert Thompson married Matilda Hilger, a socially prominent silk hosiery plant manager in Philadelphia, and he moved to Philadelphia.

The Thompson Hardware store remained in business in Perkasie until 1930, when Thompson declared bankruptcy. Thompson had taken out two mortgages on the business. And in 1932, in an unusual dispute, Thompson and his daughter, Alice Schwenk, sued each other in an argument over a three-dollar gold piece.

Thompson spent his last two years in Philadelphia, where he passed away at the age of 72. Hastening his death from several chronic illnesses was an incident at his Wyomissing Avenue home, when someone threw a bomb inside his house during a hosiery mill strike.

Today, Thompson is remembered for his name on the recently refurbished building at 606 Chestnut Street in Perkasie. However, in his time Thompson typified the industrious business person who valued the role of public service in his hometown.

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