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James and Lorah families papers


Held at: Village Improvement Association of Doylestown [Contact Us]595 West State Street, Doylestown, PA, 18901

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Oliver P. James (1815-1894) was a prominent doctor and community member in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He, his wife Sarah (1824-1906), and their three children Oliver (1860-1890), Martha (1862-1918), and Sarah (1864-1954) lived at what is now known as the James-Lorah Memorial Home at 132 N. Main Street in Doylestown. In 1896, Dr. James' daughter, Martha, married George H. Lorah (1863-1945), a minister at the Doylestown Methodist Episcopal Church. Martha's sister, Sarah James was a charter member of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA), and upon her passing in 1954, the family home and its contents and property were bequeathed to the VIA.

Oliver Perry James (1815-1894) was born in New Britain Township in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Benjamin James and Nancy Williams. In the mid-1830s, he worked as a carpenter in Philadelphia. After a couple of years, he decided that his true vocation was medicine, and while studying under his cousin, Dr. Robert E. James, in 1840 Oliver graduated from Jefferson Medical College (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University). Returning to his hometown, Oliver James practiced medicine at the county almshouse in New Britain for seventeen years before opening his own practice in nearby Doylestown in 1859. In 1864, Oliver James was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate and ran for United States Congress in 1878, but was unsuccessful.

In 1859, Dr. James married Sarah Ann Gordon (1824-1906), the daughter of John and Martha (Hamer) Gordon of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Oliver and Sarah had three children: Oliver Bion (1860-1890), Martha Ann (1862-1918), and Sarah Maria (1864-1954), or Ollie, Mattie, and Sallie, as they were known by close friends and family. In 1869, Dr. James purchased the Doylestown home of Henry Chapman (1804-1891) and the James family moved to what is now the James-Lorah Memorial Home at 132 N. Main Street in Doylestown. Dr. James set up his practice in part of the house.

Dr. James was active in the Doylestown community. He was a member of the Freemasons (Doylestown Lodge, No. 245, F. & A. M.), acting as treasurer for several years until his death, and also served as president of the Doylestown borough council, treasurer of the Doylestown Agricultural and Mechanics' Institute from its organization in 1866 to its dissolution in 1892, director of the Doylestown National Bank for twenty years, and was a member of the board of directors of the Doylestown and Willow Grove Turnpike Company, and treasurer of the company for many years. Dr. Oliver James passed away on November 19, 1894. In 1915, his daughters donated the first ambulance to Doylestown in his memory.

Sarah "Sallie" M. James (1864-1954) was the youngest child of Dr. Oliver P. and Sarah A. (Gordon) James. She and her sister Martha "Mattie" Ann James (1862-1918) were very close as evidenced in their letters. Both sisters went to school at Linden Seminary in Doylestown, and later attended Oakland Female Institute in Norristown (Montgomery County, PA). The sisters enjoyed going to the library, attending church, hosting music parties in their home, and attending other social functions with friends such as tennis game and dances. Like their father, Martha, and especially Sarah, were involved in the Doylestown community. Sarah was a proponent of women's clubs and their national organization, the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1895, Sarah, became a charter member of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown.

In 1890, the sisters' brother, Ollie passed away from influenza. A few years later, in 1894, Dr. James died from heart disease, leaving the house on Main Street to his daughters. In 1896, Martha married George H. Lorah (1863-1945), a minister at the Doylestown Methodist Episcopal Church. George moved into the home on Main Street and set up his office in the space previously used by Dr. James for his practice. However, shortly after their marriage, George was transferred to the Green Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and he and Martha, together with her sister, Sarah M., and widowed mother, Sarah Gordon James, moved to the Philadelphia church's rectory. They lived in the rectory during the winter months, returning to their Doylestown home during the summer.

George had a passion for writing, especially poetry. He used it in his sermons and encouraged other ministers to use it as well. He wrote a brief book, The Poets Our Helpers, on this topic and read it at the Philadelphia Preachers meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895. Although many of George's poems took on a religious theme, several were about other subjects, including the months of the year, nature, and childhood. Several of his poems were published in his church's publication "The Green Street Banner."

In 1906, Sarah Gordon James, mother of Martha and Sarah, died from pneumonia. At the end of February 1909, Martha and Sarah traveled to Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and other locations, enjoying shopping, music events, and exploring the European cities and churches. George met them in Italy in April 1909 and they returned the following month. Martha and Sarah also visited Florida frequently. In January 1918, Martha traveled to Miami, hoping that the warmer climate would help her recover from an ailment. She passed away on January 25, 1918 at the age of 56, likely from Spanish flu. After Martha's death, Sarah and George obtained special permission from the Methodist Church that allowed both of them to live in the house with Sarah acting as George's hostess, since at the time it would have been unusual for a man and a woman who were not blood-related and not married to live in the same house. Thus, Sarah and George continued to stay in Philadelphia in the winter and Doylestown in the summer. A stained glass window was placed in the Doylestown home in remembrance of Martha. Educational prizes were also set up in Martha's name.

George Lorah remained the minister at the Green Street Church until his retirement in 1942. He died in 1945. Sarah continued to live at the Doylestown home until 1948, when she moved into a rented room at the Bucks County Inn, only a block away. Although she stayed at the Inn until her death in 1954, Sarah returned to her family home almost daily to do light cleaning and maintenance. After her death, Sarah left her family home, its contents, and the property to the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA) to use as its headquarters, maintaining it through a trust set up by Sarah's will. Sarah also wished for a plaque to be placed on the home that said "James-Lorah Memorial Home, donors, Sarah M. James and George H. Lorah." As of 2015, the home remains the headquarters of the VIA.


McKenna, Kathryn R. A Treasured Legacy: Stories of the James-Lorah Memorial Home. Yardley, PA: 95 North Marketing, 2011.

Pennsylvania State Senate. "Oliver P James - PA State Senate." Accessed on August 14, 2015.

This collection consists of original manuscript documents from the James and Lorah families, primarily Dr. Oliver P. James (1815-1894), Sarah (Sallie) James (1864-1954), Martha (Mattie) James Lorah (1862-1918), and Dr. George Lorah (1863-1945). The largest amount of material is from Sarah James. The papers include diaries, letters, scrapbooks, pamphlets and ephemera, legal and financial documents, photographs, and various other materials.

Materials from Sarah James include personal papers such as diaries and journals, a handwritten recipe book, letters to her sister and parents, an autograph book, historical studies on various topics; financial records including tax receipts and income tax returns, receipts from various businesses (florists, clock repair, utilities, doctors, dentists, and others), and three financial ledgers, circa early 1900s-1940s; and materials relating to the stained glass window installed in the house as a memorial to Martha.

Materials from George Lorah include diaries and journals (including one from just before his death), original poetry and stories, a copy of his small booklet The Poets Our Helpers, handwritten notes and sermons, draft and published versions of articles, historic studies, a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of letters to the editor and other writings published by Lorah, and a binder into which clippings of George Lorah's poems published in "The Green Street Banner" have been compiled.

Materials from Martha James Lorah include letters to her sister and parents, an autograph book, the marriage certificate and invitation for her wedding to George Lorah, and various ephemera she collected (see description of ephemera albums).

Materials from Oliver James include his medical diploma, 1840, a document appointing him to uniformed militia, 1859, and various business letters.

Other materials include scrapbooks; a family photo album with some tin types, mid-19th century to early 20th century, an album of cyanotypes on paper that have been captioned with quotes; other photographs in a variety of formats, including framed and unframed prints, glass slides, stereographs, and daguerreotypes; printed materials including pamphlets and ephemera, newspapers and magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries ("Bucks County Mirror" and others), newspaper clippings; various ephemera collected by Sarah and Martha (see description of ephemera albums below); and numerous other materials. There are also a small number of floral pressings inserted into some albums and volumes, many of which were collected from the sisters' travels.

A portion of the collection is organized into eleven albums, including a large amount of ephemera and printed materials collected by Sarah and Martha, such as advertisements, announcements, invitations, programs, dance cards from a graduation dance at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY (circa 1880s), greeting cards, postcards, calling cards, mourning cards, membership cards from various organizations, including the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown and various other materials. The albums also contain property and legal documents, such as certificates, materials related to insurance policies, the last will and testament of George Lorah, deeds and mortgages, and materials related to investments; personal correspondence between Sarah James and Martha Lorah, as well as between them and their parents; address books; and a few diaries of Sarah James.

There is an item-level index of the materials available on-site. Several published books owned by the James and Lorah families are associated with this collection, but were not included in this survey.

Gift of the Estate of Sarah James, 1954

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Village Improvement Association of Doylestown directly for more information.

Village Improvement Association of Doylestown
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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