The George Moser Family of Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, November 2019

We are all familiar with stories of immigrants who arrived in America with nothing and ended up being very successful. In fact, Cabbage Hill has had its share of German immigrants who were very successful through some combination of talent, ambition, hard work, perseverance, and luck. But no less important to the progress of the Hill were the many hundreds of German immigrants who struggled for years just to get by.

The great majority of German immigrants to the Hill in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were only able to achieve modest success, and for many, the fruits of their struggles only accrued to their children or grandchildren, who often succeeded because of the foundation laid by their parents’ and grandparents’ struggles. The small successes of these struggling immigrants, in aggregate, helped build a strong, resilient neighborhood. Their stories, as painful as some of them are, are an important part of the history of Cabbage Hill.

One such story is that of Georg Friedrich Mosser (George Moser), who arrived in New York City from Bavaria, Germany, on May 8, 1906. He was a single, 23-year-old laborer with $25 in his pocket. He was quickly processed through Ellis Island and got on a train to Lancaster, where he came to meet up with his friend Frank Bernauer on St. Joseph Street. George got a job as a laborer at a brewery, and started what he hoped would be a successful life in America.

Back in Bavaria, George had fathered two children (Theresa and Alphonse) with Rosa Reitberger, a woman five years his senior, who also had relatives and friends who had immigrated to Lancaster. A year later, in 1907, Rosa followed George to Lancaster, leaving her two young children with her widowed mother in Bavaria. On November 19, 1907, George Moser and Rosa Reitberger were married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

In 1909, as they were getting settled in their new life on the Hill, George and Rosa brought daughter Theresa and son Alphonse to Lancaster from Germany, along with Rosa’s mother, Anna. One month after Anna, Theresa, and Alphonse arrived in 1909, George and Rosa bought a two-story frame house at 662 Poplar Street for $1,050. George and Rosa had two more children (Mary and George Henry) in 1908 and 1910. The Moser family unit had been established. Things were going according to plan.

George became an American citizen in 1912, and for the next eight years, he worked in various capacities at breweries in Lancaster, including laborer, brewer, and delivery wagon driver. He was arrested but found not guilty of assaulting a strikebreaker at Sprenger Brewery. He was elected vice-president of the Brewery Workers labor organization. By 1920, he was working at Empire Brewery on Locust Street.

Although George was having some success in the brewery business, he and Rosa had to borrow money several times in the 1910s, and each time they were unable to keep up with payments on the resulting debts. They were sued by their creditors and were just barely keeping up with the required payback plans handed down by judges in civil court.

Then, Prohibition took effect in January 1920, and it became illegal to make, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. The Empire Brewery closed and George’s income from the brewery industry was suddenly gone. Out of necessity, George started his own business—peddling ice. He had a wagon and two horses (Jim and Dick) to pull it, and he and his 16-year-old son Alphonse began selling blocks of ice around Lancaster. His was one of eighteen ice-peddling operations delivering ice from the Lancaster Ice Manufacturing Company at Engleside. He ran his ice business out of the rear of the Moser house at 662 Poplar. To augment the family income, daughter Theresa worked as a weaver at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills on South Prince Street.

The ice business must have seemed promising. In 1921, George and Rosa purchased another two-story frame house and three lots at 615 Fremont Street for $1,500. They likely had to borrow money to make the purchase, but they must have thought the investment would pay off in the long run. When their daughter Theresa married Charles Kirchner in 1922, the new couple moved into the house on Fremont. George and Rosa continued to live with the rest of their family at 662 Poplar, and George and his son Alphonse continued to peddle ice. Soon, the youngest son, George Henry, was old enough to help in the ice business as well. Alphonse also worked for a while at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills, and daughter Mary took a job at the Follmer-Clogg silk mill on Manor Street to help out.

Despite all the hard work, the Mosers still struggled financially. Several times between 1920 and 1925, they were again unable to pay back various loans, and they were taken to civil court and ordered to pay off the loans, which they seem to have somehow done. Then, in 1924, their son Alphonse left Lancaster, and George lost a key pair of hands to help in the ice business. Again, out of financial necessity, George and Rosa decided to start a second new business—a café.

By 1927, they had established a café in the first floor of their house at 615 Fremont, and sold “light lunch and tobaccos”, as their sign on the front door stated. Daughter Theresa and her husband Charles continued living upstairs, and an extra room was rented to boarders. George brought on Philip Kirchner, a cousin of son-in-law Charles, to run the day-to-day café business. When Theresa and Charles moved out of the upstairs living quarters, George and Rosa rented out their rooms as well and the café became known as a hotel. George continued to peddle ice, with his son George Henry’s help, and daughter Mary continued to work at the silk mill. It seemed that George and Rosa and their family were finally going to be able to make ends meet, but things were about to take a turn for the worse.

George had purchased a touring car and in April 1927, he had a serious accident on Lincoln Highway East near Bridgeport. His car was demolished and he was taken to the hospital with what was feared to be a fractured skull, a broken jaw, and broken ribs. Fortunately, his injuries turned out to be only severe cuts and bruises. In October 1927, he had another accident in which his car was broadsided and overturned at the intersection of Manor and Filbert Streets. Again, he was not badly injured. Adding to the family’s problems, George, who had been a drinker for a long time, began to drink too much. Prohibition was in full effect, but George seemed to be able to acquire illegal beverages. In the same year, 1927, that he had his two car accidents, he was cited for being “drunk and running a car”.

Then, in December 1928, the police raided the café/hotel on Fremont and confiscated three cases of “high-powered beer”. It seems the Moser establishment had become one of the numerous speak-easies in Lancaster, and that George was manufacturing illegal beer for sale to his café customers. As a result of the raid, George was charged with violating the Prohibition liquor law, a crime that often carried a large fine and substantial jail time. A mid-January trial date was set, and George was released on $500 bail put up by his close friend and neighbor on Poplar, Albert Scheuchenzuber. But just two weeks before the case made it to trial, George suddenly died on January 3, 1929, at the young age of 45. The doctor attending him attributed his death to chronic alcoholism complicated by influenza.

Following George’s death, Rosa tried to make a go of the café and hotel business, but within a few years, the business had closed. Their son Alphonse, who had come back to Lancaster after his father’s death, teamed up with his younger brother George Henry to keep the ice business going, moving it from 662 Poplar to where Alphonse was living at 615 Fremont. This last of the Moser family’s two business enterprises lasted until the early 1940s.

In the less than 25 years since George Moser had immigrated to Lancaster, he had accomplished a lot. He had gotten married, bought two houses, raised four children, worked in the brewing industry, and started two businesses of his own. On the other hand, he had failed to repay loans, violated the liquor laws, and become addicted to alcohol. Although George’s immigrant experience was certainly not an unqualified success, he had accomplished enough to allow his four children to succeed. All four of the children of George and Rosa Moser got married and all four owned their own houses on the Hill by the 1940s.

George Moser’s story, with different details, has been repeated many hundreds of times over the years on Cabbage Hill, and the true history of the Hill cannot be told without those stories. Today, new immigrant families are creating their own stories of struggling to succeed on the Hill. A much more diverse group of immigrants are now calling the Hill their first American home, but their language, housing, and employment struggles are not all that different from those of German immigrants more than 100 years ago. SoWe is helping today’s new immigrants overcome their struggles, by trying to create a neighborhood that is safe, clean, and welcoming, and by providing services that facilitate their transition into their new community on the Hill.

Postscript: This story of George Moser and his family was prompted by correspondence with Robert Moser, Ph.D., former Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego. Bob, who was raised on Manor Street , contacted me after reading a history piece on the SoWe website, and expressed an interest in learning more about his grandfather George Moser’s business enterprises on the Hill. I thank him for allowing me to present this story of his grandfather’s immigrant experience. Appropriately enough, Bob’s position with the Diocese of San Diego involved helping immigrants—in this case refugees—start new lives in California.

The Largest Celebration in the History of Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart

August 1, 2019

The greatest expression of civic pride ever to take place on Cabbage Hill in the Eighth Ward of Lancaster occurred on June 15-16, 1923. On the evenings of those two days, a huge festival drew close to 10,000 people to Manor Street to celebrate the long-awaited completion of the paving of the street. More than $6,000 (about $84,000 in today’s dollars) was raised to benefit Rodney Park, a new city park on a triangle of land between Third, Rodney, and Crystal Streets.

The surface of Manor Street had been in terrible condition for many years. Finally, in early August 1922, work crews began the process of excavating the street so it could be paved with concrete. The city’s contractor, Swanger-Fackler Construction Company of Lebanon, was responsible for the overall project and the paving of most of the street, and Conestoga Traction Company was responsible for moving the trolley tracks from the edge of the street to the middle, and paving the street around the trolley tracks. The work proceeded slowly, as the crews ran into several unexpected complications as they excavated 150 years’ worth of old street surfaces.

When cold weather set in during the late fall and concrete could no longer be poured, work was halted for the winter, leaving some sections of the street torn up and virtually impassable. Fortunately, by the first week of April in the spring of 1923, the weather was good enough for the crews to get back to work. Progress was steady throughout April and May, and by late May the residents of the Eighth Ward were hopeful that the work would finally be completed by mid-June.

The Eighth Ward Community Association met on May 25, May 31, and June 7 to develop plans for a festival to celebrate the opening of the newly paved Manor Street. The festival was scheduled for June 15-16, 1923, and the Association decided to dedicate the proceeds of the festival to outfitting Rodney Park—acquired by the city just two months earlier—with playground equipment and a surrounding sidewalk for roller-skating.

Advertisement for festival in Examiner & New Era, June 15, 1923

In late May, the Association canvassed door to door in the Eighth Ward to gauge the level of interest and ask for donations to support the festival. The canvassing generated much enthusiasm and many donations; in fact, the level of interest was so high that the Association decided to expand the scope of the event from just a Manor Street opening  to “A Cabbage Hill Celebration and Festival”. One of the leaders of the Association said that “this is the first time in the history of the city that such a celebration has been held” and that “it is for all the people”.

To plan the festival, twenty-six committees were established, with each committee having a chairman and three to five other men as members. The women had their own committees, most of which corresponded in topic with the men’s committees, and the two sets of committees worked together to prepare for the festival. Committee chairs were selected for their expertise in the area of the committee’s topic. For example, Christ Kunzler of Kunzler’s Meat Market was the chair of the Hot Frankfurter committee, and Leo Houck of boxing fame was the chair of the Sports committee.

The committees included: Program, Publicity, Music, Decorations, Amusement, Sports, Dancing, Candy, Prizes, Hot Frankfurters, Soft Drinks, Popcorn, Flowers, Ice Cream, Fruit, Truck, Ice, Printing, Cigars, Equipment, Lumber/Chairs/Tables, Public safety, Tags, Cakes, Novelties, and Fancy Work. Probably to many people’s chagrin, there was no Beer committee—at least not officially—because the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) had gone into effect a few years earlier.

Advertisement for festival in Intelligence Journal, June 15, 1923

In the days leading up to the festival, several items were donated to be used as prizes. Congressman William Griest donated a new Ruud water heater that was put on display in the window of Louis Fellman’s hardware store (568 Manor Street) to help ratchet up interest. The Conestoga Traction Company donated a new Clark Jewel gas range, which was also displayed at Fellman’s store. The Friends of the Eighth Ward Community Association donated a $550 mahogany bedroom suite that was displayed at Hoffmeier’s furniture store on East King Street near the square.

Cash donations also were made. Christ Kunzler took up a collection of $87 at an Elks Club dinner held the week before the festival, and he also paid for the first hour of music by a band at the festival. Hamilton Watch Factory and Armstrong Linoleum Company each gave $50, as did the Fraim-Slaymaker Lock Company. The Select Council also presented a cash donation. In addition, the Intelligencer Journal and the Examiner-New Era newspapers would supply Rodney Park with a drinking fountain and a flagpole.

To the relief of all the committees, the paving of Manor Street was completed on time, and by the afternoon of Friday, June 15, the final preparations for the festival were underway. Two large banners were strung across the street at the ends of Manor Street—one at the crest of the hill near West King Street and one near South West End Avenue. American flags and bunting were displayed along the street and on many of the houses (Flag Day was the previous day), and colored electric lights were strung along and across Manor Street from West King Street to Fairview Avenue. Dozens of booths that had been built by the residents and decorated with flowers lined the street on both sides.

It was partly cloudy and about 80 degrees when the festival kicked off at 6:30 p.m. Friday evening. At that time, the leaders of the Eighth Ward Community Association, the American Legion Band, and some 500 school children of the Eighth Ward departed in a parade from the intersection of Manor and Dorwart Streets. They marched to City Hall, where they met Mayor Frank Musser and other city officials and escorted them back in the parade to the intersection of Manor and West King Streets, where a fence barrier had been erected across Manor Street.

At the barrier, the mayor was presented with a new axe, and with one stroke he broke through the ceremonial barrier, officially opening the newly paved street.  Immediately after the barrier was broken, a chorus of children sang a welcoming song, and a switch was flipped, lighting all the colored electric lights along the street. The Star Spangled Banner was played, followed by a short speech by the mayor. At the end of the ceremony, the whole group of officials, school children, and the American Legion Band paraded the length of Manor Street to great cheering. The festival was officially underway.

Photo of the ceremonial breaking of a barrier to open the newly paver Manor Street on June 15, 1923. The barrier is in front of 412-414 Manor St. Mayor Frank Musser stands in front of the barrier to the left. The banner reads, “Welcome to the Manor Street Opening, Friday & Saturday, June 15 & 16, A Cabbage Hill Celebration and Festival”.

For the festival, Manor Street was divided into three segments, each with a distinct focus—dancing, boxing, and amusements. Four bands, including the American Legion Band, the Iroquois Band, and the City Band, participated over the two nights, and each one was stationed at a different segment. The segments were linked together by the strings of colored lights that extended along the entire stretch of the street, and by 33 booths that lined the streets between the segments, offering the Eighth Ward’s best food, drinks, clothing, novelties, and hand-made items for sale.

The block of Manor Street between Laurel Street and Fairview Avenue was set aside for street dancing, with the music supplied by the American Legion Band. Rousing Roaring Twenties music was no doubt on the program, and the young people of the Eighth Ward danced until the festival closed each night. At one point during the dancing, the lights briefly went out, and the newspaper slyly reported that this unexpected feature was much appreciated by the young revelers.

The intersection of Manor and Dorwart Streets was designated for exhibition boxing matches, and a ring was set up in the street. Each night, there were five, three-round exhibition matches arranged by Leo Houck, the Eighth Ward’s own boxing hero. One match was for the championship of the Fraim-Slaymaker Lock Company (Young Biddy vs. Willie Bloom) and another was for the 125-pound title of Manor Street (Battling Fuzzy vs. Kid Carney). The final, much anticipated match was Leo Houck, who had fought many of the world’s best boxers in the previous two decades, facing off against his long-time sparring partner, Jule Ritchie. Unfortunately, Ritchie was late and the feature bout had to be replaced with a quickly arranged one between two different boxers.

The intersection of Manor and Third Streets was set up for amusements. Eddie Fisher, a well-known local clown, was in charge of the program at this location. Each night, the YMCA provided a gymnastics and stunts exhibition, and Fisher and a troupe of clowns performed. A little farther down the hill, the Strand Theater in the 600 block of Manor Street provided a free showing of a silent movie, and Brinkman’s Metropolitan Four sang a selection of songs. On Saturday night the Strand hosted a public wedding of a couple from Columbia, officiated by a pastor from Marietta.

An unusual feature of the festival that must have served as a good ice breaker was the Miss Rodney Park contest. Each evening, in three different hour-long time slots, a secretly selected young woman was designated as Miss Rodney Park for that hour. She went out among the crowd incognito and the first person who approached her with “You are Miss Rodney Park”, would be the prize winner for that hour. No doubt many young women were approached by many young men, but Miss Rodney Park was only correctly identified three times.

By the time midnight rolled around on Saturday night and the festival was over, it was clear to everyone that it had been a much bigger success than anyone had imagined. The crowds had been huge (almost 10,000 over two nights), the booths were almost completely sold out of their merchandise, and every featured event on the program had been a big hit. Over the next couple of days, as cleanup took place, the Eighth Ward Community Association counted up the proceeds and decided on the distribution of prizes, which were then awarded on Tuesday night, June 19, at Fellman’s hardware store. The amount of money raised exceeded $6,000, and on the night of June 20, again at Fellman’s store, the Community Association met with the City Parks Committee to discuss how to best use the money for Rodney Park.

The Eighth Ward had done itself proud. For two nights, the residents had channeled their abundant civic pride into accomplishing the largest festival ever seen on Cabbage Hill. The people of other parts of Lancaster who had joined in the festivities left with “a lot of respect for the manner in which the Eighth Ward does things”, as one of the newspaper articles put it. It was hoped that the paving of the street and the successful festival might end the long held opinion that Cabbage Hill was not treated like a fully accepted part of the city. In fact, one of the newspaper articles stated that the reconstruction of the street was “the first thing worth while the Hill has ever gotten from a city administration”. At least for two nights, on June 15-16, 1923, Cabbage Hill had finally gotten its due.

The City of Lancaster and SoWe are committed to promoting the same kind of neighborhood pride that made the 1923 celebration such a success. The city has installed pedestrian-style streetlights along Manor Street and part of West King Street, and has started the process of planting trees along the street as well. And SoWe, with its many partners, is working on numerous initiatives to build neighborhood pride, including a cost-sharing program to improve building façades on Manor Street, especially those that once had storefronts. It is hoped that all these efforts will help rekindle some of the proud neighborhood spirit of the past.