Presentations in Lansdale Provide Entertaining and Educational Relief from Cabin Fever
In the midst of our recommendations to cure the winter blahs by taking advantage of all that Montgomery County has to offer, we've highlighted a number of physical activities: skiing, skating, sledding and such. It is common knowledge that outdoor exercise is a good mood-lifter.
But your brain can benefit from a work-out, too. Which is why the "History Saturdays" - a series of presentations by the Lansdale Historical Society - emerge as an effective means of keeping yourself engaged during our cold, snowy months.
They're not lectures; they're informal oral histories. And if the first edition, held at the Jenkins Homestead, is any indication, they rely heavily on personal recollection, first-hand accounts, period photography and good humor.
Session one covered the vital role that the North Pennsylvania Railroad in the development of Lansdale, both socially and economically. The presenter was Dick Shearer, president of the Historical Society. Shearer, who perched comfortably on a stool next to a hi-def television displaying a slide show of vintage trains and stations, is well-qualified to guide visitors through his tales: He wrote for The Reporter, the local paper, for 37 years, from 1964 until his retirement in 2001.
"The arrival of the North Penn Railroad in 1857," Shearer explains, "was the most life-changing event in Lansdale history. And perhaps in the history of all of Montgomery County. Prior to 1857, Lansdale was known as ‘the old mud hole. The soil was bad; the crops were bad; and things seemed to be always soggy and wet."
Change came with the desire to connect Philadelphia to the Lehigh Valley. The first cars on the tracks were little more than stagecoaches outfitted with iron wheels, pulled by puffing and temperamental steam engines.
In the ensuing years, Lansdale became a hub. Increases in ridership and freight led to spurs branching off from Lansdale to Bethlehem and Doylestown. Commercial enterprise followed, with numerous luxury hotels springing up along the tracks. Lansdale took on a bit of a rough-and-tumble character, according to Shearer, with rooming houses and saloons taking root. "It was something of a Wild West town back then, with dirt roads and street brawls and spooked horses running around," he says.
The former freight station in Lansdale patiently awaits a visionary buyer.
Among the fanciful legends woven into the presentation is the tale of the burning of the Hatfield Station in 1902. The locals wanted a new stationhouse, it seems, and yet the railroad company did not see the need. To convince them, on a dark, deserted night, a barrel of whiskey was placed on the platform. Somehow, it was ignited, eventually reducing the structure to cinders.
As the morning's talk was nearing its conclusion, one more story is
slipped in, that of the "headless engineer" of the Perkasie Tunnel.
Cautionary tale to keep young lads from playing around the tunnel? Or truism that goes beyond its ghoulish themes? Shearer is willing to let his audience decide for itself.
History Saturdays at the Jenkins Homestead continue next month with "The Evolution of Education," documenting the early days of public school. Reservations are required, as space is limited to 20 participants. Call the Historical Society at 215.855.1872 to grab a spot.
As Shearer explained, once the railroad industry took firm hold in Lansdale, hotels sprung up to welcome and host the many passengers and businesspeople coming to town. The tradition of first-class hoteliers providing expert accommodations to Montgomery County visitors remains to this day, as evidenced by the sites listed on our homepage. Combined with our Cabin Fever Reliever offers, they'll provide a memorable weekend that's just the ticket to cure the doldrums.