06 March 2016

Saturday Spotlight- Circa 1890 Queen Anne Victorian in Schwenksville

This week's Saturday Spotlight house is a Victorian house with a perch overlooking Main Street in Schwenksville, PA.

Driving down the Gravel Pike through Schwenksville at some portions transforms one back to the late 19th century. There are various Second Empire and Italianate buildings pressed up against the main road, and multiple large Victorian homes like this one and its neighbor sitting upon the hill. The history of this house is seeped with several names contributing to the development of the borough itself.

Measuring in at about 4,900 square feet, this is a Free Classic variant of a Queen Anne Victorian, with more classical porch columns as opposed to turned spindlework posts. Many of the prototypical elements of the style shine through here, most prominently the round tower with an S-curve roof and finial. Queen Anne homes look to avoid flat facades through many devices, and here we see asymmetry created by the tower and multiple small porches and bays around the entire house. The roof form is a cross-gable, with the front gable dominating. Yet, this shingled gable is broken up by two projections in its upper half, and a pent roof sloping at the bottom of the gable underneath the triple-grouped windows. The solidly brick first and second stories has several ins and outs, and the centered front porch picks up the shingled materiality to lighten up the solid mass. A relatively recent paint job seeks to re-establish the sunburst pattern in both the main and porch gables.


According to A Schwenksville History by the Schwenksville Bicentenial Committee, although founded by German settler George Schwenk in 1756, it was his grandson Jacob Schwenk who built a hotel and store in the first half of the 19th century laying the basis for a permanently settled town. The Victorian house here now sits on a portion of the land inherited by Jacob's daughter, Elizabeth Zeigler (Schwenk) Strassburger. Widowed at the time, Ms. Strassburger sold this parcel extending from Main Street to 2nd Street in 1888, to Valentine G. Prizer, and left the town her family established, moving to Norristown to live with her daughter.

It is likely within the next few years thereafter when Valentine Prizer erected this home in a common style of the time. The house appears both on an 1893 atlas map, as well as an 1894 drawing sketch of the town.
1893 atlas map of Schwenksville, with the house of V.G. Prizer highlighted. Map via Ancestry.
Portion of an 1894 bird's-eye sketch of Schwenksville, highlighting the Valentine Prizer home in red. Sketch via Historic Mapworks.
Prizer had been part of the business venture of McNoldy and Prizer's Store in town, at the location of Jacob Schwenk's original store. Valentine Prizer lived in 1900 at the Queen Anne home on Main Street with his wife, Sarah, and their 26-year-old adult daughter, Bertha.

1910 to 1940

In 1907, Prizer and his business partner sold their store to another partnership, which included Jacob Andrew Bromer, according to A Schwenksville History. Jacob Bromer was not only the son of longtime successful businessman Alfred Bromer (proprietor of the Perkiomen Hotel), but he was also the brother of Valentine Prizer's immediate neighbor, William Bromer, and the newlywed husband of his daughter Bertha. As of the 1910 census Jacob and Bertha Bromer are living in the Prizer's Victorian home, along with Valentine and Sarah Prizer. The Bromers now also had two of their own daughters in the home, Anna Maude, 6, and Mildred, 2. The family also housed a 23-year-old servant named Anna Schmidt. Valentine Prizer is listed as "postmaster" having been appointed to that position at Schwenksville's post office, whereas Jacob Bromer, of course, is listed as a retail merchant of general merchandise.

Ten years later, in 1920, Valentine and Sarah "Sallie" Prizer have the house to themselves, as Jacob and Bertha Bromer moved to their own home nearby. By this time, Jacob Bromer had gotten into the auto repair business, eventually building a new garage on the site of his father's Perkiomen Hotel. Valentine, perhaps minding the general store business, is listed in the census again as a store manager. On March 14, 1922, Valentine Prizer passed away after suffering a stroke, leaving the house and all of his property to his wife, Sarah. Sarah Prizer, upon her death on October 9, 1925, bequeath the house to daugther Bertha.

Jacob and Bertha Bromer, now in their 50's, moved back into the Victorian home on Main Street. Now, for a time, Jacob would again be adjacent to his brother William, in his own Queen Anne home next door:

The home of William Bromer, Jacob's brother, directly next door. Photo likely from 1990's courtesy of Montgomery County.
Unfortunately, the typhoid fever took away Bertha Bromer from this earth in 1933. Jacob, of course, was her beneficiary and became the sole owner of the home. That is, until he succumbed to his own illness, dying of a heart condition in March 1937. Valentine, Sarah, Bertha, and Jacob are all buried at the Keely's Church Cemetery down the road. As for the house, Jacob and Bertha's two daughters, Anna Maude and Mildred, conveyed it to a local bank, apparently as part of the settlement of their father's estate.

1940 to Present

The house's first owner outside of the Prizer/Bromer family was Ernest F. Royer, a bank clerk previously from Red Hill 10 miles to the north. Royer purchased the house and the full extent of its lot to 2nd Street in October of 1940. Ernest and his wife, Ethel, were both 27 years of age and moved to Schwenksville with their infant daughter, Fay.

In the late 1950's, the Royers apparently built a Cape Cod-style home at the back of the property facing 2nd Street. It also appears that Ernest and Ethel lived in the smaller Cape home later on in life, perhaps renting out the Victorian home as apartments. At some point they painted their monogram "R" onto the gable of the front porch, as seen in a 1990's photo on file with the County. In 1991, the Royers sold both homes and the land to the current owners, who in 2006 split the Cape-style house off from the property and sold it off, keeping the Victorian for themselves.

The home as owned by Ernest and Ethel Royer, complete with monogrammed entrance, circa 1990. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County.

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