A sign of the times

By on December 11, 2013

This is the story of a general store sign, a historical museum, a country band and a man in his 100th year.

If you are wondering how all of this goes together, the best person to ask is Milton Haldeman of the Historical Society of Cocalico Valley.

“I grew up in the Hahnstown area,” says Haldeman. “And my family lived near Elsie Martin.”

As Haldeman explains, Elsie Martin died in 2011 at the age of 94. She was the widow of Landis Martin, who died in 1996. Haldeman always kept in touch with Elsie and visited the retired seamstress from time to time.

One day, she mentioned that she had an old wooden sign stored in the barn. The sign had come from the H.A. Sweigart General Store, which once stood near the crossroads of Hahnestown Road and Glenwood Drive.

Long gone, the store was owned by Harlan Adam Swiegart, who was related to Martin by marriage.

“Elsie told me that someone had offered her $100 for it,” says Haldeman. “I told her it was just the kind of thing the historical society might like in its collection.”

Haldeman went back to the society and asked how much they would be willing to pay for the sign. He got permission to offer Mrs. Martin $300 for the sign. She was amazed at the offer and turned him down.

She wanted only $200 to sell the sign, which was acquired by the society in 2008.

The sign has significance in more than recalling a piece of general store history. It was painted by the notable chair and sign painter Allen Lane Snyder, who lived from 1878 to 1946. Snyder was from Clay Township and was known for his hand-painted chairs with Pennsylvania German tole designs.

Snyder had painted the H.A. Sweigart sign that the Martins had. Now faded over time, the dark grey and deep red lettering says “H.A. Sweigart General Store Groceries Dry Goods” in shaded serif-letters.

For five years, the H.A. Sweigart sign hung in the lobby of the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley. One day, Haldeman was looking through photographs at the museum and something caught his eye.

In a photograph of a country band with five young men and two young women, there was a sign down in the lower right corner of the somewhat grainy photograph from 1933. The sign had obviously been taken down temporarily while the young musicians played on the porch of H.A. Haldeman’s general store.

“It was the very same sign we had purchased from Mrs. Martin,” said Haldeman.

Even more of a coincidence, Haldeman knew one of the musicians quite well. Leroy Weaver had also lived near him and the two worked at New Holland before Weaver retired. Now 99 and living at The Groves in Ephrata, Weaver was just in his teens when he played in the country band with friends.

“We played country songs at different places,” says Weaver, was born in July 1914.

In the photograph, which Weaver has in his room, he stands in the center of the picture, his banjo in hand, and looking dapper in his dark suit, white shirt and narrow tie. Smiling broadly, Weaver is joined by the two young ladies, each holding a guitar and wearing white or light-colored dresses. One of the women is Elsie High, who later married Weaver’s brother, John High.

The four other young men include Weaver’s brothers, John, on the accordion and Mose playing the guitar. Two other young men are playing an accordion and what appears to be a banjo.

“We enjoyed playing music,” recalls Weaver. “Sometimes we played at dances at the Hill Top.”

Sure enough, in the lower right portion of the photograph, the H.A. Sweigart sign can be seen.

When Haldeman told him that the sign in the picture was the same sign now displayed at the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley, just a few blocks away in downtown Ephrata, Weaver was surprised.

“Well, how about that,” says Weaver.

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