By JIM ZBICK
Two days before Christmas in 1909 Tamaqua lost one of its most distinguished citizens in Mrs. Sarah Wolmelsdorf Souder.
Sarah was a direct descendant of Conrad Weiser, the 18th century German immigrant who served as an Indian interpreter and helped coordinate Pennsylvania's Indian policy.
Weiser's diplomacy skills were well-known outside our state's borders. If he ever had the need to write a job resume during his time, he could have dropped the name of George Washington as a reference.
One of his greatest achievements was in negotiating the Treaty of Easton, which helped quell the majority of Indian problems in the eastern third of Pennsylvania. Weiser retired to his house in Reading after completing that treaty.
His death on July 13, 1760, at the age of 63, drew responses from many prominent citizens at the time, not the least of whom was Washington, "the father of our country," who stated that Weiser "rendered many services to his country in a difficult period, and posterity will not forget him."
Today, the Conrad Weiser Homestead is located in Womelsdorf, the Berks County town where Sarah Wolmelsdorf Souder was born. It was her grandfather, John Wolmelsdorf, who founded and laid the town out in about 1767. John was either a son-in-law or grand-son-in-law of Conrad Weiser.
Sarah's husband, William Souder, was born in Lebanon County and served in the Union army during the Civil War. Shortly after the war ended, he came to Tamaqua in 1866 and entered the insurance business in 1868, the same year that Sarah arrived in town.
Souder, who also served as justice of the peace for five years, died in 1892. Sarah died 17 years later at her home on East Mauch Chunk Street, where she lived with her son, Howell Souder. She had been bedridden for about four months.
At the time of her death in 1909 at the age of 86, Sarah was the oldest living member of Bethany United Evangelical Church in Tamaqua. Ironically, her death came only three months after a monument was dedicated in Wolmelsdorf to honor Conrad Weiser.
A number of other residents who, like Sarah Wolmelsdorf, were considered authorities on Tamaqua's early history – died in 1909.
In February, Mrs. Henry Alsbach, age 82, passed away at the home of her son, Charles, on Orwigsburg Street after having lived in the same neighborhood for 50 years.
"She remembered many of the incidents of the early days of Tamaqua and always took delight in telling about them," a Tamaqua Courier reporter stated.
Samuel Beard, who was prominent in political and business life in Schuylkill County, died in April 1909. Many paid their final respects as the remains of the former county register and justice of the peace lay in state at his residence at 100 W. Broad Street.
As a young law student working in the law office of Conrad Shindle, Beard was an eyewitness to the 1875 murder of John P. Jones, a mine superintendent, in Lansford. After Beard brought news of the murder back to Tamaqua, he helped organize a posse and was instrumental in the capture of Molly Maguire suspects. Tamaqua bodymaster Jimmy Kerrigan was implicated in the murder, and later turned state's evidence during the famous Mollie Maguire trials.
In April 1909, the funeral of Mrs. Wilhelmina Bischoff was held from her residence on West Broad Street. One reporter called it "one of the largest funerals that has ever taken place in Tamaqua."
Born Wilhelmina Bury in Germany in 1835, she married Conrad Bischoff, who became a noted cabinet maker, on Oct. 31, 1857.
Mrs. Thomas (Vaughn) Carter was another noteworthy death in August 1909. She was well known as a teacher in Tamaqua before moving to San Francisco with her husband and two sons in the mid-1880s.
"Mrs. Carter, prior to her marriage, was a public school teacher and was one of the most learned and prettiest school marms that Tamaqua has ever turned forth," the Courier reported on August 11, 1909.
Another former teacher who died in January of 1909 was Mrs. Elizabeth Priser, who taught in the South Ward. She remembered the early days of the town when there were no homes on Pine and Hunter streets and also recalled journeys by stage coach and then making trips by on trains pulled by wood-burning locomotives.
John F. McElhenny, a well-respected young labor leader, died of kidney trouble at his home in Coaldale in late May 1909. When the United Mine Workers came to the region in 1900, McElhenny was in on the meetings. He was later elected UMW district president, although only in his early twenties. Even his close friend John Mitchell, the former UMW president, sent his respects to his widow.
At age 105, Mrs. Una Carr was Schuylkill County's oldest resident when she passed away at her home in Port Carbon in late August 1909. She spent almost half her life in her native Ireland before coming to America. A news report in the Courier said she possessed all her faculties – and a wonderful memory – until the end.
"Frequently she took walks around the town and remembered clearly events that occurred in her girlhood," the reporter said.
It's remarkable to note that during her childhood, the nation itself was only about 30 years old!