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A Busy Man
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2021-04-06

            Time is a precious resource and you can't buy more and you never know when you'll run out of it.  Perhaps, that was the impetus of the saying "If you want something

Michael K. Gilbert was one of the

area's most prominent business

owners at the turn of the 20th

Century as well as an active citi-

zen and was well-known for his

philanthropy.

done, ask a busy person." 

            They always seem to get more done because they don't waste time.

            Michael K. Gilbert was one of those very busy people.

            Born in Zieglerville in 1851, he attended the local schools there and worked as a tinsmith in his father's shop.  While still in his teens, he began teaching in the local public schools while attending Freeland Seminary, today known as Ursinus College, and continuing to work in his father's shop between terms.

            After three years of teaching, he decided that the business trade was his true calling.  He partnered up with William Welker in 1874 and opened a general store in Red Hill, appropriately named Welker and Gilbert.

            After the partnership dissolved in 1879, Gilbert ran the store alone until 1881 when he purchased a store in Pennsburg.

            The store, located on what is now the southeast corner of Main St. and Quakertown Ave., was operated by the firm of Shetler and Bissey.  The three-story building was built in 1852 by Jacob Hillegass.

Michael K. Gilbert purchased a store on what is today

the southeast corner of Main St. and Quakertown

Ave. The three-story building was built in 1852 by

Jacob Hillegass. Shortly after purchasing it,

Gilbert had and addition built onto it and as his

business grew, more additions were added to the

store until it became one of the largest store

 buildings in the area.

            Gilbert's ambitious plans proved too big for the current size of the store so he had an addition built on to it.  As his business grew, more additions to the store were added until it became one of the largest store buildings in the area.

            Michael operated the business for 18 years and as it continued to grow, and as he continued to grow older, he teamed up with Geoge Hevener of Pennsburg.  The store would now be known as Gilbert and Hevener for the next 12 years. 

            The store offered dry goods for sale with catchy slogans like "quick sales and small profits", and "quality first then price." 

            Gilbert was involved with many local business and industrial efforts.  It was reported that it was largely due to his efforts and influence that many of the larger manufacturing

In 1874, Michael Gilbert partnered with William Welker

to open a general store in Red Hill, appropriately named

Welker and Gilbert.  After 1879, Gilbert ran the store

alone until 1891.

companies were started in Pennsburg.  He was among a group of local industrialists who incorporated the Pennsburg Manufacturing Company, which employed many area workers at the turn of the century.    

            When the borough of Pennsburg was incorporated in 1888, Gilbert was elected as a member of the borough's first council.  He also served as the first treasurer of the young borough.  He held that position for over 40 years.  It was reported that Michael kept "the borough's purse strings taut and dependable with creditable expertness."

            Beginning in 1892, Michael served as Secretary for the Goshenhoppen Mutual Fire Insurance Company for 36 consecutive years.  He transacted the insurance company's business from its office on the second floor of the Odd Fellows Building.    

            Gilbert was a member of Perkiomen School's Board of Trustees from 1892 until his death in 1928.  He served as President of that group for nearly 36 years.  His tenure paralleled that of the venerable principal during that time, Rev. Oscar Kriebel.  The original Kriebel Hall, Keh's Hall and the Carnegie Library were constructed during this period.

            He was an active member at St. Marks Church in Pennsburg.  His financial expertise was called upon by the congregation when he served as Treasurer (1898-1901) while the group was building a new church at the corner of Front and Main Streets.

            Michael Gilbert was a man who wasn't afraid to put his money where his heart was.  Locally, he was well known for his philanthropy.  Because of his interest in education and the welfare of the local public and private schools, he contributed liberally to them. 

            During the early days following the incorporation of Pennsburg, the borough had financial hardships of its own.  During times of seeming financial hopelessness, it was not unusual for Gilbert to use his personal funds to pay borough bills until taxpayers' money reached the treasury through normal channels. 

            The major efforts that people like Michael K. Gilbert put forth to make his community a great place to live are sometimes taken for granted.

            He was indeed a busy man.


 

 

 

 

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