Township's First 300 Years marked by spring snow

By David Schmidt
Special to Main Line Life

In spite of the specter of a spring snowstorm, the Lower Merion Historical Society had its grand unveiling and first sales of their history of Lower Merion Sunday. The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion was introduced to the public at a celebrations at the General Wayne Inn.

Society President Gerry Francis says some people didn’t make it to the event because of the snow, but there were several hundred who did, and happily joined in the celebration of the book’s publication.

Monday the book officially went on sale at area Borders and Barnes & Nobles bookstores. “The library bought 15 copies and they planned on putting them on the shelves Monday morning,” he says. In addition the books will soon be available on the Internet.

The society had 4500 of the nearly 300-page book printed, and advance registrations were close to 450. The book costs $39.95 with the proceeds going to continue the work of discovering and saving the history of Lower Merion and Narberth.

The best part of the event was that there were a number of the contributors and authors who made the book a reality during the past three years that the it’s been in the making. More than 85 historians, educators, archivists, writers, architect, artists and local residents did the research and wrote the text. Many of them will be at the affair, ready to sign copies of the book.

One of the most popular was Bob Swartz, a former president of the Lower Merion Historical Society, for whom the book was dedicated.. Even while he was trying to eat his dinner, people were coming up to him and asking him to sign their book. For good reason, because anyone interested in Lower Merion’s history knows of him.

“Bob was an icon,” says Francis. “There wasn’t anything he didn’t know, and he was always ready to answer questions. He owned a photography business in Ardmore, but the business very clearly took second place to his love of history.”

Swartz had a collection of thousands of pictures which he used as the basis of the society’s photographic collection. In addition, many of the photos used in the book exist because of him. “People knew he was collecting history pictures, and they would bring their family albums and treasured photos to Swartz,” Francis says. “He would then copy them and give the photos back to the people, but thanks to their thoughtfulness, and Bob’s efforts many of those photos are a part of the archives and haven’t disappeared.”

In addition to the people who were signing books or getting then signed, others attended to take note of the publication. In comments Francis and Editor Dick Jones noted that numerous people had made the book happen, and called for many of them to stand. Jones chose to thank those who had pitched in and written more that just one section, including Mary Wood, Victoria Donohoe, Jim Garrison, Hamill Horne and Jeff Groff. He also noted Bob Swartz and his collaborator Sigrid Berkner, who was responsible for the book’s artwork, which meant preparing each photograph for publication. Finally he commended the book’s printer, Paul Orkline of Stauffer Printing in Lancaster.

In return the society presented him with an antique map of the area around his house, a historic site itself, as the residence of John Roberts, the miller, who was a major figure during colonial times — before Lower Merion was anything other than the Welsh Tract.

The society also presented “special editions” to a few people, those had their names embossed on the front. Included were copies for the givers of money the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Deborah Filipi, the McLean Contributionship’s William McLean III and James Ettelson from the Merion Tribute House.

Francis also thanked key people in the society, in particular Ted Goldsborough, the immediate past president who started the project. “If there is something going on with history in Lower Merion, Ted’s got his fingers in it,” he says. He also praised Stella Gabuzada and Ross Mitchell, who as the ways and means committee had to find the money. “They kept finding more money and we kept adding pages,” he says.

Gil Smith and Phil Bagley, the past and present treasurers were applauded for keeping track of the myriad of financial details. He then introduced the two people who’s work is just beginning, Mary Ellen Yuhas Hagner, the project’s marketing director and Herman Baron, whose Diane Publishing is the book’s publisher.

Local politicians also attended the even including State Representatives Lita Cohen and Connie Williams as well as State Senator Richard Tilghman. Francis thanked them, then charged them with “continuing their daily efforts and struggles in keeping Lower Merion the ‘peaceable kingdom,’ a reference to Hick’s painting on the cover of the book by the same name.