Fifty Years Ago Conshohocken - By Jack Coll
Fifty Years Ago
Well, It Wasn’t So Great
By Jack Coll
The 1960’s were tough times along lower Fayette Street. This photograph shown above was 44-48 Fayette Street and was once the home of James P. Meaney Radio’s and John Fogerty’s Grocery Store among others.
The year was 1968, a war was raging in Vietnam and the United States was knee deep in the action. North Vietnam began the Tet Offensive against American forces across South Vietnam. Some doctor from California performed the first heart transplant in the United States and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
Looking back 50 years Americans truly needed a score-card to keep-up with the national and international events of 1968. In February Figure Skater Peggy Fleming won United States sole Olympic Gold Medal. In March it was announced that all new cars must be sold with seat-belts. In April nearly 100 cities burned in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. In June Bobby Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet. By August more than a half a million U. S. Troops were in Vietnam fighting a war and Humphrey and Muskie were nominated while demonstrators clashed with police in Chicago.
In October Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. Among other things happening in sports Pitcher Denny McLain became the first 31 game-winner and in November the movie “Heidi interrupts the football telecast as the Raiders came from behind in the final two minutes to win the game.
Pop and rock music was extremely diverse in 1968, most of us want to say “Groovy”, we had Hendrix, the Stones and Doors, but there was a lot more to the music scene in 1968. The Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon and their wives flew to India for a transcendental meditation study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There was the Stones “Beggars Banquet” album, and a twenty two minute version of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly, the twenty two minute version was rarely played on the radio.
There was the groovy song “Incense And Peppermints,” by The Strawberry Alarm Clock. The Chambers Brothers consisting of four Mississippi brothers including George, Willie, Lester and Joe hit Number One with “Time Has Come Today.” There was “Yellow Submarine,” “Get Back,” and “Hey Jude.” The Supremes with “Love Child,” Marvin Gaye hit the Pop Charts for a couple months with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
But, we also had a softer, more “Bubble Gum” side in 1968. Remember “Judy In Disguise” (With Glasses) of course we all remember John Fred & His Playboy Band. How about the Lemon Pipers singing “Green Tambourine.” I remember the Lemon Pipers playing at Upper Merion High School in 1968. One of the biggest songs of the year was “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, how about “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, and “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert.
Another big hit in 1968 was “Harper Valley PTA” by Jennie C Riley. And just to round out the Bubble Gum Sound in 1968 Tommy Row hit it big with “Dizzy.” I did enjoy “Tighten UP” by Archie Bell and the Drills, “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees.
Hollywood wasn’t exactly killing-it with their top movies of the year including “Oliver,” 2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Planet of the Apes,” Romeo and Juliet,” and “Yellow Submarine.”
Conshohocken in 1968 witnessed the economy failing, the once vibrant river-front rich with jobs was falling silent one factory at a time. In the late 1950’s in Conshohocken the industrial job market fell from nearly 8,000 to 4, 400. This created a mass exodus by residents moving to other areas in search for jobs.
The local family owned stores took a major hit. In 1961 the Plymouth Square Shopping Center opened and took Conshohocken’s F. W. Woolworths with-it. A couple years later the King of Prussia Plaza opened followed by the opening of Plymouth Meeting Mall in 1966.
Conshohocken’s Fayette Street along with Elm and Hector Streets were experiencing white-washed windows and boarded up store-fronts for the first time in the borough’s history, hard times were ahead.
A number of the businesses that were still thriving in 1968 in Conshohocken included Doughtery’s Pharmacy at Fourth Avenue and Fayette Street, Carl’s Diner also located at Fourth Avenue and Fayette Street, Anthony’s Men’s Shop once located at 117 Fayette Street, Town Valet Cleaners at Fifth Avenue and Fayette Street, Fayette Pharmacy at Ninth Avenue and Fayette Street, Kehoe Hardware at 109 Fayette Street, Rafferty’s Pharmacy at 75 Fayette Street, Felix Jemionek, Tailors and Cleaners, Flocco’s Shoe Store at 119 Fayette Street, Vince’s Restaurant at 1032 Hector Street, and Ray’s Tavern at Tenth Avenue and Spring Mill Avenue.
Happenings in the town back in the spring of 1968 included the passing of Albert Garthwaite, former President and Board Chairman of the Lee Rubber and Tire Company. Garthwaite took over as President in 1939, he was married to John Ellwood Lee’s daughter Elsie, the two were married for 55 years. Garthwaite love aviation and it led him to take the first coast-to-coast airplane trip of Trans World Airlines on July 8, 1929. At the controls was famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and one of the passengers was Amelia Earhart, woman pilot who later disappeared on a flight in the pacific. Former Conshohocken High school teacher Dr. Russell Erb also passed away in May of 1968. Dr. Erb lived a good portion of his life on Maple Street and became the head of the department of chemistry at PCOM. He became a national authority on the subject of osmics, the science of smells.
A few other prominent residents that said good-bye in the spring of 1968 included Francis “Bunny” Blake, a popular Conshohocken policeman and former professional boxer who died at 67 years old. Seth Mitchell who was a standout football player and a former President of the Conshohocken School Board among many other activities during his lifetime also passed away in the spring of 1968. We lost an old Conshohocken Recorder newspaper guy in 1968, Walter Hoopes who had worked at the Conshohocken printing plant once located at the corner of Hector and Forrest Street for more than forty years before retiring in the early 1960’s.
Some readers of this column might remember when local newspapers published “Hospital Admissions.” Anyone living in Montgomery County who reported into one of the two Norristown hospitals, Montgomery or Sacred Heart was published in the local papers. A few of the Conshohocken residents listed under Hospital Admissions in the spring of 1968 included Lori Penna, West Tenth Avenue, Maryann Wright, East Fourth Avenue, George Ewing, East 11th Avenue, Carl March, East Sixth Avenue, James Haines, East Ninth Avenue, Irene Tice, East Hector Street, Judith Watkins, East Elm Street, Antoinette Tomczak, East Elm Street, Mary DiNino, East Third Avenue, Vera Miller, East Elm Street, Anna Capelli, Maple Street, Charles Herron, East Hector Street, Yolanda Cardamone, West Elm Street, and Rose Piermani, of West Sixth Avenue.
Other news items included the retirement of Isabel Tyson, West Conshohocken Secretary for more than 28 years, she was replaced by Helen Mullen. Frank Opeliski was re-elected president of the Holy Name Society of St. Mary’s Church. Other executive positions were filled by Alexander Kunasziuk, Stanley Zbyszynski, Stanley Gleba, John Cabot, Charles Grohoski, and Frank Jablonski.
An article praised Arthur Vermuth, an Airman First Class from West Sixth Avenue was a member of the Weapons Loading Crew C-2, the squadron’s Outstanding Load Crew at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. Vermuth was a weapons specialist who was selected for his exemplary conduct and duty performance with the Pacific Air Forces.
Corporal George Bland, a member of the Conshohocken Police Department was attending the eighth annual Institute on Police Handling of Children and Youth, at the Philadelphia Police Academy.
Conshohocken Council appointed Rev. Edward Price, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Chairman of the Conshohocken Citizens Advisory Committee.
A twin house on the avenues in Conshohocken would cost you about $10,000 in 1968, you could get a fixer-upper for about $8,000. A new Chevy at Moore’s Chevrolet would set you back about $2,700.00, gas was still about 32 cents a gallon at Bowe’s Exxon. The average income for the steel workers that were still employed was about $7,500.00 a year and a movie ticket at the Riant Theatre would set you back about a buck and a half.
If you read the “Conshohocken, A Century Ago” article you’ll know that by 1968, gone were the trolley cars that rumbled up and down Fayette Street, by 1968 gone was the tree-lined Fayette Street. Also gone was Conshohocken High School, no longer were the retail shops on lower Fayette Street one hundred percent occupied. And no-longer was the borough’s unemployment rate at zero.
No matter how bad things seemed back in 1968 in Conshohocken, it was still the greatest town in America to grow up in! We had four elementary schools, we had, and still have the Fellowship House, and we had the silt basin at Tenth Avenue and Colwell Lane. We took bike rides, went to the Ridge Pike Drive-in and hung out at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.
It seems every generation has the best, but nothing was better than growing up in Conshohocken during the 1960’s.
Thanks for the Memories!