Henry and Maggie Mininger, respected builder and hidden artist
Written by Joel Alderfer on February 18, 2021
Last year, a descendant donated several artifacts and digital images of Henry and Maggie Mininger. As I documented these items, and began to research their lives, I became intrigued with their story. Maggie’s nearly hidden talent, expressed in adversity, is fascinating to consider.
Henry H. Mininger (1878-1957) was born and raised in Hatfield Township, Montgomery County, the son of Jonas J. and Annie Hackman Mininger, of the Plains Mennonite congregation. In 1899, he married Maggie Moyer (1879-1949), a daughter of David K. and Katie Freed Moyer of Elroy, Franconia Township.
As a young man, he learned the trade of a carpenter and builder, working in the lumberyard and construction crew of Jacob B. Delp of Souderton. In early 1912, he took over Delp’s contracting business and became a trusted builder himself in the Harleysville-Lansdale-Souderton area.
Henry Mininger built a number of churches and meetinghouses in the area in the 1910s and 1920s, including Souderton Mennonite, Salford Mennonite, Rockhill Mennonite, Emmanuel Lutheran (Souderton), Grace Methodist (Telford), Lansdale Methodist, and Lansdale Schwenkfelder. He was also the builder of the Broad Street Theater in 1922, the Souderton High School in 1931-32, and the Union National Bank in Souderton, where he was a director.
The Heritage Center also has four, twenty foot-long barn raising poles used by Henry Mininger and his crew in the early decades of the 1900s to erect barn frames. They were donated by his son Harold M. Mininger in 1990.
A woman’s item donated recently was a wool petticoat, circa 1900, made of rather bold colored fabric, worn by Maggie Moyer Mininger of Franconia Township. She probably wore this as a younger woman – perhaps around the time of her marriage to Henry Mininger in 1899. After marriage, they lived next to Maggie’s parents along Allentown Road, just south of Elroy in Franconia Township, until at least 1912. By 1920, they moved to Franklin Ave., Souderton.
In the early years of their marriage, Maggie became partially paralyzed through an unfortunate incident. Some family members were later told that husband Henry had pulled a chair away from her as she was about to sit down, and the fall to the floor injured her lower spine. She was, however, able to bear three children. Her first, Katie M. Mininger (1902-1904), died at age two and was buried in the Plains Mennonite Cemetery. Two sons born later lived to adulthood and married — H. Lloyd Mininger (1912-1983) and Harold M. Mininger (1918-2009). Henry and Maggie were long-time members of Plains Mennonite Church. Family members say that Henry would carry her up the stairs into the meetinghouse, but as she got older, she often just stayed in the car if she went along to church.
About 1911, with her on-going disability, Maggie took up drawing and painting as a way to occupy her time and, I believe, for self-expression. From the surviving signed and dated pieces, we know that she made numerous small drawings and paintings in late 1911 and early 1912. Many are signed “Made by Mrs. Henry H. Mininger, Elroy, Pa.” Some were post card greetings which she sent to friends or neighbors; some were kept and later given to family members, and are now owned by descendants. Maggie’s drawing seems to have stopped when she was pregnant with her next child, son H. Lloyd, born in October 1912. None of the drawings are dated after May 1912.
By 1920, according to the census, Henry and Maggie had moved their young family to Souderton, and had a live-in “servant” or housekeeper, 26 year-old Bertha Stover. She must have been hired to do much of the housework and childcare that Maggie couldn’t. Stover remained in their household until at least 1930. In 1940, their resident housekeeper was 17 year-old Betty Musselman. Son Harold Mininger, age 21, and his young wife Myrtle were also a part of the household.
Granddaughters remember that Maggie spent much of her time (at least in her later years) sitting on a downstairs day-bed by a large window, with legs crossed. She often had cold legs due to nerve damage and would sit with a hot water canteen and sheepskin covering her legs most of the time. She also had a cane-seat wheelchair. Maggie loved caring for her houseplants.
The Miningers lived the remainder of their years in Souderton, Maggie passing in 1949 and Henry in 1957. They were buried in the Plains Mennonite cemetery.
Thanks to Steve and Berdine Mininger Leinbach for donating these artifacts and scans of family photos, and to Mininger family members for allowing me to photograph Maggie’s artwork in their possession.