Daniel B. Royer Diaries - Part 2

Robert Wood


Last week we began examining the diaries of Daniel B. Royer of Summertown (b. 1834 d. 1911). About twenty of these small books have been passed down through the family and are now in the possession of my sister-in law, Loretta Wood.


The Journal of the Historical Society of Montgomery County notes that “The [Royer] diaries give a fascinating look at the texture of everyday life--weather, farm prices, working conditions, illness and death in a small rural town.”


The first entry of the first diary we have (We believe there are many earlier ones; whereabouts, unknown) notes:

          Mon. Jan 1, 1883-- “Clear with increasing cloudiness at noon. Began to snow at 8 oclock this evening. Wind West to South West. Fah 18, 38, 33. Michael Gerhart died this forenoon. Adam Fleming met with a sad acident on Christmas. He got a chicken bone in his windpipe. No snow from old year, ground bare.”


And the last entry of the final diary:

          Sat. June 18, 1910- -“Clear or partly cloudy with increasing cloudiness toward evening. A thunder shower struck us about 5 oclock pm with a little hail. We did not get much rain still it is still raining or thundering to the west. I fear they got hail towards the west. This was an old time thunder blast. It is now clearing off at 6:15 pm a rainfall of one-half. I hope we will now get settled weather. I have been sick these several days. I fear it is near my end. Good bye. (signed) D. B. Royer, Sumneytown, Pa.”


Between these two are almost 10,000 consecutive daily  entries from which we can learn all sorts of things.


For example, the Hancock ice house in Greenlane was 310 feet long by 90 wide and held an astonishing 25,000 tons! During the winter of 1895 Royer records:

Fri. Jan 18--… “Hancock of Greenlane began to fill his big ice house to-day. A whole crowd went past here long before daylight. I am afraid there are too many hands and some will be disappointed….”

Thurs.  Jan 24--… “The ice men of Greenlane have stopped work to-day. They have one crop off the dam…”


We see that took about six days. 


Tue.  Feb 5--... “The wind is like ice. A most beautiful moonlit evening. The ice men of Greenlane began on the second crop of ice today…”

Sat. Feb 16--… “Hancock of Greenlane got his big ice house filled today. They will now ship from the third crop….”

So it took two or two and a fraction “crops”  to fill the ice house. The first crop took six days, so under ideal conditions in about sixteen working days they could fill 25,000 tons of ice: roughly 1,500 tons per day! I don’t see how it’s possible! Royer may be wrong. However, a photo of ice harvest on Hancock’s dam shows no fewer than nineteen horses working ice plows.


Royer worked in factories all his life bundling and tying cigars and crating them for shipment.


In those days men must have smoked a lot of cigars. It seems every town had a cigar factory or two. Gilbertsville had several. Royer worked as a packer at Barndt’s Hall, a cigar factory in Summertown. Also from 1895:

Jan 22... “Our shop is so full of cigar makers that it is not fit to live in, there is no ventilation, it fairly stinks. Some of the hands became sick and leave the shop….

Jan 24... A batch of our cigar makers left today and others are taking their place. It is come and go. As soon as they can make a cigar off they are. We are always troubled by the shape and thickness [of cigars made by apprentices].

Feb 1... I like it better in the new shop than in the old. You have not got the noise overhead. All the trouble is the smell from the horse stable and the rotten cabbage which Barndt has in the cellar. There 74 cigar makers and five packers, one is a Spaniard.

Feb 25... There was a frolick again at the Sorrell Horse Saturday night. They had some fighting. The cigar makers also had a fight at Barndt’s Hotel. Whiskey fight.

Mar 2 …  My wages were $10.61 [for the week] but I had to work hard.

Mar 22--… Some of the cigar makers left. They were to make scrap cigars which they would not do. I guess the bosses don’t care, they have a large amount on hand.

Dec 31--…  I packed 653,950 cigars this year with a salary of $419.67 Pretty good for an old sickly man like me. Thanks be to God for his bountiful blessings.”

 Royer constantly complains of being sick, having colds and sore throats and “ my nose is stopped with cataerh.”  I wonder if cigar makers got nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco leaves all day? In any event, by going through these diaries and extracting the references to cigar making over the years someone could build up a good picture of that very important local industry.


The fascinating things too in the diaries are the bits and pieces like the following “run-up” to the Spanish American War:

Mar 19, 1895-- “ …Cuba is rebelling against Spain. If only it would triumph. Spain holds Cuba in her tyrannical grip. A Spanish warship fired on one of Uncle Sam’s steamers. She must  appolachise or els Uncle Sam will pull off his coat and roll up his sleeves then look out.”


Concluded next week

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The Goschenhoppen Historians