Frank Kline, Local Business Entrepreneur in a Small Town
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog post contains a new feature. Additional photographs and other information can be accessed by clicking on the buttons throughout the post and at its conclusion. After opening each folder, click in individual images for a larger view. We hope you enjoy these additional images from our archives! (DRW)
By William C. Brunner, President Emeritus
Frank Kline was a local business entrepreneur who started out working in his father’s jewelry store and over time added many new avenues of business. I first learned about Frank Kline when I began collecting local postcards. I quickly discovered that his local jewelry store sold postcards in the early 1900s and the man responsible for publishing those postcards was none other than Frank Kline. Lawrence Shaner, a friend of mine, had introduced me to the world of postcard collecting and he also knew Frank personally. When Lawrence was a boy in school, he would rush down to Kline’s Jewelry Store every day to turn the eggs. Yes, turn eggs. Kline, who was a man with many professions, had incubators in the back of his store and raised baby chicks for sale to the local farmers. More information about his poultry business a bit later in the story.
Frank Kline was born on March 29, 1869, the only child of Reuben Kline & Mary Smith. Frank had a half-brother, Harvey, and half-sister, Mary, born to Reuben’s first wife Hannah Emery. Reuben, a clock maker by trade, had a shop in Limerick where he sold and repaired both clocks and watches. He also sold jewelry at the shop so we could call it a jewelry store. In 1867, Reuben left Limerick and purchased a residence at 13 N. Main Street in Spring City where he opened a new jewelry store. Frank was born in 1869 and grew up around the business as the front of the house was the store and the family lived in the rear and on the second floor. It was natural that Frank would learn the business and someday take it over. It is interesting to note that his older half-brother, Harvey, had gone into the business and owned a jewelry store in Phoenixville. I was not aware of this until I saw a golden thimble for sale on E-Bay that came from Harvey Kline’s jewelry store in Phoenixville.
As the years went by Frank acquired many new business ventures that were all designed to increase the family income. He was interested in poultry, raised chicks, and sold them to local farmers. He published postcards and sold them in the store. Frank was certified to give eye exams and sell eyeglasses at the store. He collected stamps. He was a public speaker for the PA Department of Agriculture and the list goes on. Frank sold and repaired watches and jewelry. He went to the local school and fitted the graduating classes for their rings. I consider him to be a small-town entrepreneur.
Frank married Jennie Thomas on June 13, 1894. They had two daughters, Helen and Grace. Frank had a rough time as he lost his wife, Jennie, in 1900 leaving him with two young girls to raise. Grace was only one year old, and Frank was not able to care for his two young girls, operate the store, and tend to all his other endeavors. His sisters-in-law, Sallie, and Lydia Thomas, stepped in to help with the children, enabling him to continue his business ventures. The Thomas family lived close by and were close friends with the Kline family after Jennie married Frank.
This picture of Frank and Jennie Kline and their family was taken around 1899. Their second daughter, Grace, was born in February of that year and Jennie, died the following year in March of 1900. I believe it to be one of the last pictures of them taken before she died. Jennie had breast cancer and spent the last couple of months in a Philadelphia hospital. The photograph was taken in their side yard at 13 N. Main Street in Spring City.
I started my postcard collection many years ago, collecting railroad postcards at first. In 1988, while hanging out at the Royersford railroad station waiting to see a train, I met Lawrence Shaner who was on duty at the new museum that had opened inside the station. He was also an avid postcard collector and collected local town views. He had a wealth of knowledge of local history as well as postcard collecting and he was very happy to share it with anyone willing to lend an ear. Soon, I was looking for local town views when I went to the postcard shows. I discovered several Spring City postcards that were numbered in a series. These were published by Frank Kline.
In 1989, I joined the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society and continued my friendship with Mr. Shaner. In a few short years (early 1990s), I was doing “Then and Now” slide shows for various local organizations. The “then” photos were mostly postcard views and many of them were from the Kline series. In 2003, I did a history book for Arcadia that featured many postcard views of early Spring City & Royersford. I put a photo of Frank Kline and his wife in the book and explained that he was a local publisher and deserved credit as without him and others like him I would not have a book. I had submitted my book to Arcadia and a week later I got a phone call from Erin, their editor. She explained that the caption I had submitted with the Kline photo was unacceptable. She said Mrs. Kline had to have a name and "Mr. & Mrs. Kline" was not acceptable. They were going to print the book soon and wanted her first name. I did not know it and didn't have that much information about the family. I told her I would find out. A week later I stood in the cemetery at Zion Lutheran Church and looked at Jennie’s tombstone. I took a photo and just stared at the stone. 1900 stuck in my mind and as I started thinking, it came to me.
All those postcard pictures that showed Frank posing with his wife were taken between 1905 and 1910. It could not have been Jennie in the photo. Lawrence and I had assumed the cards showing Frank with his arm around a woman were those of Frank and his wife. I had given numerous people misinformation, an honest mistake, but one that was repeated for many years. It is a harmless insignificant mistake, but one that annoyed me. Frank was posing with his sister-in-law, Lydia Thomas, who had moved in and was caring for the children. I called Arcadia back a week later with the name, but it seems they went with "Mr. & Mrs. Kline".
Along the back property line of 13 N. Main was a long building that stretched all the way to the canal. In this building Mr. Kline had rows of brooders with a coal-fired stove at each end for heat. Trays of eggs were placed in the brooders to hatch the chicks or ducklings. The eggs had to be turned at least twice a day. To do that, the tray of eggs was removed from the brooder, an empty tray placed on top, the two trays turned over and the tray of turned eggs was put back into the brooder. It took between 19 and 21 days to hatch a tray of eggs. Frank Kline was one of the first persons in the Schuylkill Valley to incubate eggs on a commercial basis and ship chicks all over the Eastern United States. Mr. Kline, a true showman, won many awards with his fancy breeds of chickens, but it was much more than just a hobby as newly hatched chicks were shipped all over the area on a commercial basis. Mr. Kline also did special presentations state-wide for the State Department of Agriculture. He was on the state payroll as he received a substantial fee for all these programs.
Another one of Frank Kline’s ventures was that of a postcard publisher. Frank Kline published postcards from 1905 until 1915. Many of the scenes were local views of Spring City, with a few from Royersford and the surrounding area. There were at least 25 numbered views in the series and at least four different cards that were not numbered that have turned up. Some of these cards show Frank Kline in the actual photo. On card number one you can easily see Frank and his sister-in-law on the walkway to the right of the old iron bridge. The local photographer for many of Kline’s cards was Clarence O. Grander. The printer whose logo appears on cards 6 through 10 was “The World Postcard Company” which was located at 1008 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, Pa. The official photographer was Clarence O. Grander. All his cards were available in both black & white and color. The color views were done by Alice Zook of Elverson, Pa. The water coloring applied to each individual card accounts for the diverse color combinations found for the same view. The color of a boat may be different on three identical cards, or the color of a brick building may vary from dark orange to pink. It is no doubt that today the Frank Kline cards across the board are very desirable for many local Chester County collectors.
Frank Kline’s Published Numbered List of Postcards sold at the store.
Card #1 Iron Bridge between Spring City and Royersford
Card #2 Humane Fire Company, Royersford PA
Card #3 Grace Lutheran Church, Royersford PA
Card #4 Francis Memorial Hall, Spring City PA
Card #5 Liberty Fire Company No. 1., Spring City PA
Card #6 Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge PA
Card #7 Yost Avenue & Church Street, Spring City PA
Card #8 A Glimpse of the Schuylkill River, Spring City PA
Card #9 North Main Street, Spring City, PA
Card #10 The Spring City Hotel, Spring City, PA
Card #11 Swartz’s Lock between Spring City, PA & Parkerford PA
Card #12 Twin City Navy on the Canal at Spring City, PA
Card #13 Yankee Dam on the Schuylkill above Spring City, PA
Card #14 A View of Broad Street, Spring City, PA
Card #15 Bonnie Brae Park between Spring City, PA & Phoenixville, PA
Card #16 Hospital for Feeble Minded and Epileptics Spring City, PA
Card #17 Zion Lutheran Church near Spring City, PA
Card #18 Bridge Street School, Spring City. PA
Card #19 View on West Bridge Street, Spring City, PA
Card #20 Pennsylvania Railroad Station, Spring City, PA
Card #21 Reformed Church, Spring City, PA
Card #22 (unknown) none have surfaced to date - 2022
Card #23 (unknown) none have surfaced to date - 2022
Card #24 Children’s Cottage State Institution, Spring City, PA
Card #25 Men’s Cottage State Institution, Spring City, PA
Cards identified as published by Frank Kline with no published number:
Card - NN Methodist Episcopal Church, Spring City, PA
Card - NN Friendship Hook & Ladder, Royersford, PA
Card - NN Spring City High School. Church Street, Spring City, PA
The State Institution referred to in the list was Pennhurst State Hospital, a name not used at the time the cards were printed.
When you entered Kline's Jewelry Store from the street, the main door was in the middle with two large show windows, one on each side of the door, a wood awning over the brick sidewalk, a hitching post and a stepping-stone at the curb. The hitching post was used to tie your horse and buggy and the stepping-stone was used so that women with their full skirts could make two small steps instead of one big one from the buggy to the sidewalk. Once inside one could look around and see many items offered for sale. To the left, just inside the front door was a long glass showcase displaying new and rebuilt gold and silver men’s and ladies’ watches, jewelry, stamps, coins, men’s watch fobs, and ladies’ watch chains in both gold and silver. On the wall behind the showcase were
shelves with glass doors. These shelves contained repair parts for watches and clocks, and beautiful little boxes. Some were velvet covered and were lined in several colors including white, blue, pink, and maroon. When a customer came into the store and purchased a watch or piece of jewelry the item was placed in a box of the customer's choosing.
With its back against the street side of the bay window was a very large roll top desk and a swivel chair. On the top of the desk were Mr. Kline’s stamp albums along with several books on watch and clock repair. Along the canal side of the bay window was the bench where Mr. Kline did his repair work. A cabinet on the wall over the bench contained many special watch making and repairing tools used by Mr. Kline.
Backing up to the end of the showcase, then walking to the rear of the room on the left, was a large two-door safe used by Mr. Kline to store valuables. Back to the front door, to the right, were two showcases. The first case contained silverware, knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, sugar and creamers and so on. Kline would take a piece of silver to Philadelphia and have a plate engraved for a wedding present. Small silver cups were engraved as new-born baby presents.
The second case contained implements for his eyeglass business. The eyeglass procedure was primitive compared to today. There were 12 frames to choose from and all the lenses were the same shape and size. When Mr. Kline fitted someone for glasses, he used a special device that looked like a brass frame with lots of thumbscrews. Once he had the frame adjusted, he would select test lenses from a special case with numbered slots. When the person was able to read from the eye chart with the selected lenses, he would then make up a pair of glasses.
In 1918, Mr. Kline measured each of the 31 class members of Spring City High School for class rings. He had them individually engraved, including initials for a total cost of $3.85 each. After Reuben Kline retired in 1890, Frank owned and operated the business until his death in 1935. Frank was buried alongside his wife Jennie in the Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery.
From 1935 to 1988 there were numerous owners of the former Kline Jewelry Store. There was Quinn’s Jewelry Store, Murdock’s Dress Shop, and Hipple’s Taproom. In 1988 The American Legion Walter T. Caffrey Post purchased the property. The building at 13 N. Main was demolished in May of 1988 to become the parking lot for the American Legion.
William C. Brunner served on the board of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society for 30 years, 15 of those years serving as its president. He now serves as President Emeritus and continues to write articles, blog posts, and newsletter inserts for the society. Bill has written three books about Spring City and Royersford, all available at the museum. He loves photography, garden railroading, postcard collecting, and local history. He graduated from Spring-Ford High School in 1962. He and his wife of 60 years, Joyce, live in Spring City. They have a son, Chuck, a daughter, Joyce, three grandchildren, Amber, Willie & Frank, and 6 great grandchildren.