Mary Wood Park and Parkhouse - Thank You Mary Wood
THANK YOU MARY WOOD
FOR HOSTING BOROUGH RESIDENTS FOR THE PAST 100 YEARS
By Jack Coll
The Mary Wood Parkhouse is located at 120 East Fifth Avenue and the park is bordered by Harry Street down to Hallowell Street, from East Fifth Avenue to East Sixth Avenue. The Parkhouse in recent years has served as the headquarters for a number of organizations including the Junior Women’s Club of Conshohocken, The Conshohocken Art League and The Conshohocken Historical Society. The Parkhouse has hosted many borough and organization meetings and events over the years including Borough Council meetings when the borough hall once located at Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street was under renovations in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
In 2017 a committee was formed inconjunction with Conshohocken Borough Council members called “Friends of Conshohocken Parks,” the committee’s main goal is to restore and preserve the Mary Wood Park House and park among other things.
In the spring and early summer of 2018 the playground portion of the park was renovated adding new-more modern playground equipment for borough youngsters including a very popular zip-line. Once the playground opened it attracted hundreds if not thousands of parents along with their children throughout the summer and fall to enjoy out-door concerts, picnics and use the playgrounds facilities.
The restoration of Mary Wood’s house will take a little more time and money. The Friends of Conshohocken Parks have been working hard in an effort to not only raise funds but looking for other types of donations that would include materials, volunteers and committee participants in an effort to raise funds and apply for grants. It’s been my impression that bringing together members of the community with the goal of restoring the Parkhouse will be an event in-itself.
It was 100 years ago that Mary Wood passed away on Thursday December 12, 1918, she was the widow of Alan Wood Jr., (born July 6, 1843, died October 31, 1902) he was the son of Alan Wood Sr. and grandson of Conshohocken founder James Wood. Mary was born on October 10, 1841 in Plymouth Township to Joseph Yerks and Mary Harry Yerks. Joseph and Mary had three children including David, born in April 1837, Ann, “Annie,” born in May 1839, and Mary, named after her mother born in 1841. Mary, the mother of the three children died just two year after the birth of Mary in 1843.
Alan Wood, son of Alan Wood Sr., formed a partnership with his father named “James Wood & Son” in 1826. He later founded his own company, “Alan Wood Steel Company” in Plymouth Township.
Alan and Mary were introduced when she was 20 years old and Alan was 18 years old. Alan Wood built the Queen Ann Victorian style house at 120 East Fifth Avenue in 1859, (Dates vary from 1859-1861 as to when the house was actually constructed). It has been noted in several publications that Alan built the house for his new bride Mary who were married in 1861. It is well documented that an addition was added to the rear of the house in 1895.
The couple lived in the house until 1876 when Alan Wood was elected to the Forty-Fourth Congress and was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, Mr.Wood was 33 years old when elected. Mr.Wood did not run for a second term and the couple returned to the borough. While in Washington Mr. Wood became friends with Hannibal Hamlin, the first Vice President to Abraham Lincoln from 1861-1864, in later years former Vice President Hamlin visited Conshohocken and stayed at the home on East Fifth Avenue as guest of the Wood’s.
In 1890, Alan and Mary purchased property in Gladwyne and had a castle-like mansion built that took three years to complete. When finished, the property known as “Woodmont” was complete with tennis courts, a swimming pool, stables, several outbuildings, greenhouses, a stream, walking paths, two dairy barns, and a working farm. When completed the 32 room three story mansion cost more than $1 million. (Think about 1890’s $1 million dollars)
Mary and Alan, who had no children lived in the mansion for less than a decade, where more than 100 servants were employed. Upon Alan’s death in 1902, Mary thought the house was too isolated and sold the property to a nephew Richard Wood. Richard began sub-dividing the property in 1929, including the sale of 200 acres to the Philadelphia Country Club. The mansion was later sold to J. Hector MacNeal, and in 1952 Father Divine and the Peace Mission purchased the mansion and 73 acres of land. Although Father Divine and his wife known as Mother Divine have passed away members of the Peace Mission still maintain the mansion and property.
When Mary sold the mansion in 1902 she moved back to her house on East Fifth Avenue in Conshohocken where she lived until her death in 1918. Just days after her death executors of her will that included Clement B. Wood and Mary W. Highley, wife of Dr. George Highley revealed that her East Fifth Avenue house and surrounding property that included a stable/garage, green houses and servant’s quarters along with $100,000 was given to the borough of Conshohocken.
$10,000 in cash was given to the following organizations,
Conshohocken Free Library
Calvary P. E. Church of Conshohocken
Philadelphia Home for Incurables
Women’s Medical College, Philadelphia
Women’s Hospital, Philadelphia
Charity Hospital, Norristown
And $5,000 to Pennsylvania Industrial Home for Blind Women, Philadelphia.
Six months after Mary passed away her sister Annie, who was living at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Hallowell Street, (Currently the George Washington Wood Bed and Breakfast) passed away on June 24, 1919 and bequeathed $25,000 as a further endowment for the park and Parkhouse bringing the grand endowment total $125,000.
On July 19, 1919 Town Council adopted an ordinance setting forth rules and regulations to govern the use and operation of the Mary Wood Park. This enactment created the Park Commission, consisting of six members, three of whom shall be members of Borough Council, the remaining three residents of the borough.
In November 1919 the local Red Cross Chapter was the first organization requesting permission to meet at the Parkhouse and continued to use the facility until 1943. The Women’s Club of Conshohocken was also granted permission for use in November of 1919 as well. A few months later in February of 1920 the Visiting Nurse Association was given use of the room for the Baby Clinic.
On July 4, 1920 The Mary Wood Park was formally dedicated for public use. Walkways had been constructed, light standards had been erected, formally converting what had been Mary Wood’s gardens into a public park.
Just to give you an idea of how busy and useful the Mary Wood Parkhouse was to this community here are a few groups and organizations that called the Parkhouse their Home Headquarters in the first twenty five years of existence:
The local Red Cross Chapter
Visiting Nurse Association
The Conshohocken Women’s Club
The American Legion
The Veterans of Foreign Wars
Respected Ladies Auxiliaries
The Merchants Association
Chamber of Commerce
Conshohocken Athletic Association
Conshohocken Community Center
The Men’s Club
(Dancing and Singing Classes, Choral, Sewing, Dramatics,
Business Training, Classes in Civics and Citizenship)
The Pentagon Girls
Conshohocken Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
The Tennis Club
More than 20 baseball and basketball teams met at the Parkhouse
The Rotary Club
Good Will Group
20-year club of the John Wood Manufacturing Company
The Civilian Defense Council
The first Casualty Station was formed
Conshohocken branch of Red Cross Surgical Dressings
Headquarters for the Conshohocken War Chest
Jr. Woman’s Club
In the first 25 years there were many holiday extravaganzas, school plays, club plays and many, many musicals held at the Parkhouse that it was known as the heartbeat of Conshohocken.
By 1943, so comprehensive were the programsat the Mary Wood Parkhouse, that National organizations for recreation visited Conshohocken to study the Parkhouse plan. It was said that in the first 25 years of public use of the Parkhouse that the whole history of our community was shaped from the channel of life that flowed in and about and from the Mary Wood Parkhouse
In 1953, the Conshohocken Fellowship House was constructed on the property of Alan and Mary Wood and has served as a community gathering place for young and old spanning hundreds of different programs involving residents and visitors, ages from new-born infants to 100-year-olds celebrating with birthday parties.
The construction of the Fellowship House was primarily funded by the Walker Brothers, Hervey and Newton. On March 1, 1953 ground breaking ceremonies were held at Mary Wood Park, it was a cold windy Sunday morning and hundreds of residents had gathered to witness the ceremony. Newton Walker stated that this would be a facility for all of Conshohocken residents, a place of fellowship, therefore the name of our recreational facility shall be called “The Fellowship House.”
It all started a hundred years ago this month, December 1918, Mary Harry Yerks Wood was a philanthropist, the wife of a Pennsylvania Congressman, daughter of Mary and Joseph, who lost her mother at the age of two.
As we enter the New Year 2019, I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about the restoration of the Mary Wood Parkhouse. The Friends of Conshohocken Parks have already started the ball rolling talking, to architects and finance representatives to see and understand what’s needed to complete the task at hand.
And perhaps we’ll all come together on July 4, 2020 to celebrate the centennial of the formal dedication to public use of the Mary Wood Park and Parkhouse.
Here are a few photos from over the years in and around the Parkhouse. If you have a keen eye, take note of the surroundings and in the first photo, the barn in the background is what the current Fellowship House was built around.