Mohler family artifacts come back to Ephrata

By on October 23, 2013

The Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley recently announced the donation of artifacts which once belonged to the William Mohler family of Ephrata by The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, formerly known as the Hershey Museum. Shown is an important 19th century cupboard belonging to the Mohler family. (Photo from the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley)

The Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley, 237-249 West Main St., is pleased to announce the recent donation of artifacts which once belonged to the William Mohler family of Ephrata by The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, formerly known as the Hershey Museum.

The donations were made following a request by the donor of one of the items, a large early nineteenth century Sheraton kitchen or china cupboard, and the family of a second donor, the late Harold Mohler, former president and CEO of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. At the time the requests were made to The Hershey Story museum the artifacts were in storage and it was felt the items had no historical association with Hershey, but did have a direct relationship to the Ephrata Community.

The items now in the possession of the Historical Society, which had previously been donated to the Hershey Museum by Harold Mohler had originally belonged to Mohler’s grandfather William Keller Mohler [1858-1949]. William K. Mohler operated a tailor shop out of his home at 125-127 N. State St., Ephrata; he also served as burgess of Ephrata from 1894 to 1898. Included in the items recently donated to the local society are William Mohler’s 1882 certificate from the American Tailor Cutting School, New York City, indicating that he had "fulfilled the regular course in cutting Gentleman’s Garments."

Most importantly, the collection contains the complete records of Mohler’s tailoring business from 1881 through 1938. The records read like a "Who’s Who" of the male citizens of Ephrata and the surrounding communities. Recorded in the account books are the records for every coat, suit, and every pair of pants Mohler created, along with the records of the alterations and repairs he made. Even more fascinating are Mohler’s measurement books containing pencil entries for each of his male customers, the entries record his customers’ waist, chest, hip, sleeve, etc. measurements.

Entries in 1891 under the name of A. W. Mentzer, Ephrata merchant and builder of the Mentzer Building, located on the northwest corner of the square, record that Mohler charged Mentzer $1 for making a pair of pants and $6 for making a suit. In 1886, he charged Milton Sheaffer ten cents for patching a pair of pants and ten cents for shortening a second pair. A small curious leather-bound book labeled "Papa’s helpers wages" records payments to Richard Fisher, Alice (Mrs. Horace M.) Fry and others for making pants and vests for Mohler, the entries span the years 1887 through 1904.

Other tailoring related artifacts received by the local historical society include Mohler’s Davis treadle sewing machine, a pair of tailor’s shears patented in 1859, and wood and brass measuring devices: a tailor’s rule, a square and a sleeve measure.

Also received from The Hershey Story were William Mohler’s Lancaster open-faced coin silver pocket watch and brass watch chain, a J. L. Taylor (New York, Chicago) fabric sample book, and two leaves from the Mohler’s School, Ephrata Township, teacher’s reports for 1866 and 1869. The records, completed by teachers William Overly and John K. Royer, record the names of the students, records of attendance and average scores in the various branches of study.

A small exhibit of selected items from the Mohler collection will be mounted in a second-floor showcase in the late fall or early winter. Mohler’s tailoring certificate, currently in a very fragile state, is being sent out to a paper conservator by the Society’s Museum and Library Committee for restoration and conservation.

In addition to the William Mohler tailoring collection The Hershey Story donated an unusually well documented early 19th century Sheraton kitchen or china cupboard, belonging to the Mohler family, to the local society. The cupboard had been donated to the Hershey Museum in 1992 by Mrs. Betty Stump, granddaughter of William Mohler. Recently Mrs. Stump and her husband Carl, of Hershey, had donated a late 18th century walnut Schrank (cupboard) belonging to the Mohler family to the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley .

The two-piece walnut and pine kitchen or china cupboard is of a most unusual form, having French feet and, in its top section, double arched hinged doors fitted with glass. Unlike the common Dutch cupboards made throughout Lancaster County in the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th centuries the Mohler cupboard does not have a pie shelf below its top section and contains no drawers. A typed note signed by William Mohler records the cupboard’s history and is pasted on the inside of one of the doors in the cupboard’s base.

The cupboard, which reportedly cost $40 when it was new, originally belonged to Maria or Mary Long, the daughter of Isaac Long [died 1803] and his second wife Christina (Sheffer) Long, of near Landis Valley in Manheim Township. (It was in Isaac Long’s barn that the famous "Great Meeting" between Martin Boehm and Philip William Otterbein took place, resulting in the formation of the United Brethren Church.) Around 1820 Maria Long married George

Keller (1799-1849) of Springville, Ephrata Township, the son of Jacob Keller (1761-1830). Maria died on Jan. 5, 1821; she and her husband had no children. Shortly afterward Maria’s death George Keller married his second wife, Christina Brubaker, with whom he had several children including Susanna (Keller) Mohler [1829-1888], the mother of Ephrata tailor William Mohler. In later years George Keller gave the cupboard to his eldest daughter Leah (Keller) Wissler Coleman [born 1827]. By 1850 Leah and her first husband had moved to Stark County, Ohio. When she left for her new home Leah decided that the cupboard "was too expensive to take along," so she left it in the care of her brother George Keller (1823-1887). The cupboard remained in the attic of George Keller’s home in Springville until his death in 1887. George’s widow Mary Keller encouraged her nephew William Mohler to purchase the cupboard at the public estate auction held the same year. William bought the cupboard for $3.50 and following its purchase paid George Mohler $10 to refinish the piece. The cupboard still retains its 1887 finish.

The Historical Society is pleased to add the cupboard to it collection, particularly as documented pieces of furniture from the Cocalico Valley are extremely difficult to find. The cupboard is presently on display in the second floor hallway of the Society’s museum, the Connell Mansion, 249 West Main St. The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; admission is free.

More MOHLER, page A15

About Ephrata Review