Typical of the small town weekly newspapers of a hundred years ago was the "Schwenksville Item." If one spends a little time scrolling through microfilm copies of these old papers he is left with the impression that in this region there were more crimes, assaults, violence and injuries in the old days than there are today if we adjust for the difference in population numbers.A typical story in the "Item" from Swamp, April 21, 1921 is the following. "NEW HANOVER GARAGE BURNED On Sunday morning at 3:30 o'clock fire was discovered in the New Hanover garage, at Swamp, conducted by C. C. Bickel, and was completely destroyed. A member of the family of Charles Fabry, proprietor of the Swamp Hotel, seen [sic] a small blaze outside of the garage building, but by the time the members of the family reached the garage the flames spread across the first floor and the building was doomed. Every effort was made to remove the contents but only one machine [automobile] was gotten out and 32 autos together with accessories and equipment were consumed. Mr. Bickel had sold an automobile on Saturday night and placed the receipts of the sale, amounting to nearly $600 in the garage which was also consumed. The flames communicated to the store house and dwelling of Washington F. Leidy and the interior of the building is practically burned out and most of the furniture was consumed."
It's hard to see how a garage holding 32 autos could fit on the small triangular lot across from the Swamp Hotel, now called Our Place, but that is where it was.
Also burned on the site was Leidy's Store and dwelling. Washington Feather Leidy, a merchant and storekeeper of Swamp, had been conducting business there since 1887. His great-great-grandfather was Johann Philip Leydich who was sent here in 1748 by the Reformed Synod of South Holland to be the first minister of Falkner Swamp Reformed Church after John Philip Boehm, who started the congregation in 1720. Some readers may recall Washington Leidy's son Wallace, who lived in the large house at Leidy Road and Swamp Pike.
The article continues: "The loss on the buildings and contents amounts to about $35,000. Fire companies from Pottstown and Boyertown responded and had the flames under control after a hard fight which lasted several hours. It is believed that the fire was of incendiary origin [arson] as Mr. Bickel had received two threatening letters during the week previous, both mailed in Pottstown. The first letter was a threat on his life, valuables and new Mitchell automobile and the second stated, 'Beware of your valuables and if you don't keep your new Mitchell car with you wherever you go you will not have much use of it.' Mr. Bickel did not consider the threat serious. The damage to the Leidy home amounts to about $5000 and the contents $800. The total loss is only partly covered by insurance.
"Cars stored in the garage and others waiting for repairs and cars taken in trade are enumerated as follows:
Emil Snell, banker and broker of Phila., Stanley Steamer, valued at $5000 Warren Cimptims, Phila., Overland Touring William Taggert, New Hanover, King "8" Oliver Romig, New Hanover, Ford Charles Wally, Limerick, 7 Passenger Mitchell
Roland Leister, Gilbertsville, Overland Country Club Other cars were the property of Mr. Bickel as follows: A new Mitchell coupe; two Maxwell coupes; two Maxwell trucks; two Chevrolets; two Vim trucks; a Saxon; four Fords; a Maxwell delivery, Three Maxwell 20's; three Maxwell 15's; a Maxwell 16; Maxwell one ton truck; a Metz Touring car; and a Republic truck."
The most exotic of these autos was the Stanley Steamer. As the name suggests, Stanley Steamers were steam powered automobiles. Most people in those days were familiar with steam as a reliable power source and the new, cranky, unreliable, noisy, difficult to start gasoline engines were often not the choice of the well to do.
Many of the wealthy preferred the quiet hiss and power of the steam engine. From 1900 to 1904 Stanley's were the most popular car made in America.
Having few moving parts, Stanleys were light, quiet, and powerful. In 1906 one set a world record of 121 miles per hour. But electric starting motors on the gasoline engines doomed the "flying teapot" and the production line declined and then closed in 1924.
The article continues: "The insurance men were there and Bickel's loss for cars, machinery, tools and accessories was estimated by the underwriters at $32,896.32. Against this amount he carried $15,000 insurance which was written by the Aetna, Windsor, Berks and Lehigh, Sinking Springs and Perkiomen Valley Companies, the later four carrying $5000 and the former $10,000. The $$5000 was against the accessories, which were worth more than $8000. Mr. Bickel will sustain a loss of approximately $18,000.
"The Leidy home was insured at $2,5000 in two companies, the Boyertown and Goschenhoppen Company. This amount will not nearly cover the loss of the building.
"Mr. Bickel stated that he will at once start in business again, in one of Charles Fabry's stables or sheds on the Swamp Hotel premises."
Apparently not, as soon thereafter we find Curtis C. Bickel starting an American Motors Agency in Pottstown and Stowe.