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A Bite out of Town and Country’s 123 Years
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-03-22

            As the Town and Country begins its 123rd year of publication I wanted to highlight the paper's second publisher, Foster Hillegass.

            The son of Dr. Charles, Q. Hillegass, founder of the newspaper, Foster served as

Foster Hilligass, the second publisher of the Town and

Country Newspaper, was the son the newspaper's first

publisher, Dr. Charles Q. Hillegass.

publisher from 1929 to 1960.  He was a pillar in the community who served more than just the readers of the paper.

            Foster Hillegass was a Valley native.  He was described as a businessman, fraternalist, and civic and political leader. 

             Foster was a graduate of the Perkiomen School.  He received his college education at the Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.  As a boy, he worked as an apprentice at his father's newspaper.  After graduating from college, he became editor of the publication.  He took over the helm of the newspaper as publisher in 1929.

            His list of community affiliations and accomplishments is mind-boggling.  He served as a councilman for the borough of Pennsburg, was treasurer of the Pennsburg Water Company, and was a member of the Upper Montgomery Joint Authority.  He served as president and vice-president of the Union Mutual Insurance Company.  He served as a director of the Farmers National Bank and the East Greenville Savings and Loan.  He served as a President of the Press League of Montgomery and Bucks

As a boy, Foster worked as apprentice at his father's

newspaper.  After graduating from college, he

became editor of the publication.

County.  He was a member of the Pa. Newspaper Publishing Association and the Southeast Publishers Association.

            Service to civic organizations were high on Foster's list as well.  He was a charter member and past president of the Upper Perkiomen Valley Rotary Club.  He was president of the Upper Perkiomen Valley Community Chest for six years.  For 29 years he served as the treasurer of the Perkiomen Lodge 595, F&AM.  He was also a past master of that group.

            Foster was an advisory committee member of the Valley Forge Council of BSA.  He was a member of the county's Welfare Advisory Committee of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.  He served as a member of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Pa. German Society, and the Sons of the American Revolution.  The list goes on and on.   

            Foster served his Perkiomen Alma Mater as a vice-president and member of the board of trustees.  For many years he sponsored journalism awards at the school in honor of his father.  He served as a member of the building committee for the education wing at New Goshenhoppen Church.

            His service to the county is no less impressive.  In 1939 Hillegass, along with fellow commissioners Frederick Peters and James Potter, conceived a countywide park plan and established a board to help administer it.  With the opening of the Upper Perkiomen Valley Park in 1940, that site became the county's principal park attraction.  In 1951 he was instrumental in helping to acquire Mill Grove, the first home in America of artist-naturalist John J. Audubon.  The location was made a county-owned

Foster Hillegass became the publisher of the Town

and Country when his father died in 1929.  He

would lead the paper until his death in 1960.

wildlife sanctuary and historical site.  Also in 1951, the 90-acre Lower Perkiomen Park was created.

            Hillegass was first appointed to the position of County Commissioner in 1937.  He was elected to full terms in 1939, '43, '47, and '51.  He and his colleagues instituted the "Pay-As-You-Go" policy.  It was reported that this policy garnered state-wide attention when the tax rate was cut in half from 3 mills in 1937 to 1-1/2 mills in 1943.  This rate was in effect at the end of Foster's final term in the commissioners' office in 1955 and was heralded as the lowest tax rate of any debt-free county in Pa.  In addition to no bonded debt, the county had a $1 million dollar cash surplus at the close of 1955.   

            It was during this time when, in 1941, Pennsylvania State Assemblyman Charles E. Voorhees, of Philadelphia, came up with a scary idea to render financial aid to the cash-strapped City of Brotherly Love.  He introduced the "Voorhees Act" to the State Assembly.  The proposed legislation would annex Montgomery County and Delaware County to Philadelphia.

            Montgomery County was experiencing a period of financial stability at the time. Foster Hillegass, Fred Peters, and Raymond Mensch were outraged at the suggestion of becoming part of Philadelphia.

            Their Pay-As-You-Go policy was tremendously successful in balancing the county's budget and their Montgomery County Aid program was in full swing at the time.  Montgomery was the only county to operate such a unique program.  From 1936 through 1940, more than $3,000,000 was spent on highway projects through this program.  The county was able to secure more than two-thirds of the money from the Federal Government by providing road projects for local workers.

            At the time the Voorhees' bill was introduced, Montgomery County had no debt – one of only five counties in the state that was debt free. They boasted the lowest tax rate of any of the debt-free counties in the Commonwealth. 

            News of the "Voorhees Act" spread quickly in the area, and local residents wanted no part of it.  Montgomery County had a reputation of fiscal soundness and they couldn't understand why they were being called upon to bail Philadelphia out of their fiscal abyss.

            The general feeling was that Montgomery County had everything to lose and nothing to gain.  The Voorhees bill failed.

            Foster's efforts in creating the Upper Perkiomen Valley (now Green Lane) Park proved beneficial as well.  A 1997 study by the Montgomery County Planning Commission identified 29 sites in the county as having statewide conservation significance.  These are areas containing endangered, threatened, rare, or species of special concern.  Four of the specific areas named are located within Green Lane Park.  Another report named Green Lane Park as one of the "most desirable places for bird watching in the Delaware Valley."

            When Foster died in 1960, The Norristown Times Herald newspaper paid tribute to his role in establishing the county's Upper Perkiomen Valley Park by reporting, "with the death of Hillegass, the great recreation center in the heart of the beautiful Perkiomen Region stands as a fitting memorial to his foresight and sound judgment."

            Foster Hillegass – Town and Country Newspaper's second publisher.


 

 

 

 

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