History of a House
1022 Fayette Street
ROY “WHITEY” ELLAM
The Pride of West Conshohocken
It’s A Baseball Story!
By Jack Coll
Editor’s Note: (This is one in a series of short articles on random houses throughout the borough of Conshohocken, enjoy)
Houses up-and-down the avenues and streets of Conshohocken are, well, today, just houses, but back in the early part of last century, say a hundred years ago many of these houses provided needed services to the community. Many of them were corner stores or mid-block stores, the living rooms of some of these houses doubled as pool rooms, barber shops, cigar stores, candy stores and doctors’ offices. Also some of the town’s most prominent men and women lived in these houses. I thought it might be fun, and interesting to point out of few of these houses, that today are occupied by residents who I’m sure had no idea that their house was at one time something more than just a house.
The twin houses located at 1022 and 1024 Fayette Street were constructed around the turn of last century, (circa 1895). The two and a half story brick and stucco Victorian Colonial Revival style houses were once owned by Roy “Whitey” Ellam at 1022, and Robert J. “Bob,” “Hooker” Crawford and his wife Emma who lived at 1024 Fayette Street for many years, this is the story of Roy “Whitey” Ellam who grew-up in West Conshohocken before moving to 1022 Fayette Street.
For more than a century West Conshohocken has produced quality athletes who have participated in their chosen sport far and wide carrying the Westside borough name with them. There were the early West Conshohocken Reliance Football Teams that included standout players like Ed Cooper, Jimmy Gordon, Harry Ellam, Jim Boyle, Ed Egan, Hoppy Pennington and Terrence “Pick” Campbell, The Westside Reliance football team won three Schuylkill Valley Championships, the Reliance team played from 1906-1913.
During that same period the Reliance also sponsored some pretty good basketball teams that included talented players like John Clinton, Howard “Chitcher” Armitage, Roy Ramey, Joe Connelly, Harry Ellam, Frank Herron, Ed Hyde and Billy McCabe. Let’s not forget that the1941 West Conshohocken High School Basketball Team that racked up a Suburban Six PIAA Championship with members like Frank Diesinger, Leo Prusinowski, Bobby McDonnell, Robert Schrack, Freddy Ingram, Billy Schaffer, Frank Kennedy, Albert and Robert Slater and Jack Graham.
Early West Conshohocken Baseball Teams were also loaded with talent with players like Eddie Flanagan, Bob McDowell, Steve Ferrier, Joe Garnet, Cliff Williams and Pup McLaughlin.
You can gather historians and debate the greatest West Conshohocken football players of all time and you can debate the Westside’s best basketball players of all time, but when it comes to baseball, Roy “Whitey” Ellam is hands-down the greatest baseball player to ever put on a baseball glove in West Conshohocken.
Whitey would go from playing baseball at “Mud Hollow Field” in West Conshohocken to the professional ranks playing on several major league teams and being recognized as one of the best managers in the country at any level in the early part of last century.
Roy Ellam was born and raised in West Conshohocken and attended the schools in the borough. He grew up at 169 Cedar Avenue with his parents George and Ellen Armitage Ellam and four brothers and two sisters. 169 Cedar Avenue stands at the corner of Cedar and Bullock Avenue’s, the house still stands today and is in great shape. The house is currently occupied by John McCarthy Jr. and his three children.
Just behind the house that Ellam grew up in at the corner of Cedar and Bullock Avenue’s today is the very popular McCarthy’s Auto Service. The garage is owned and operated by John McCarthy Jr. John’s father also named John Sr. moved his automobile repair service from Balligomingo Road to Cedar and Bullock Avenues back in 1984. In 2007 John Jr. took over the business and for the past fourteen years has worked to maintain the quality of work his father performed for more than 25 years providing West Conshohocken car owners with more than 35 years of automobile maintenance and repairs. Previous to the McCarthy’s operating their automobile business there it was known as Zadroga’s Garage in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Back before the turn of the last century there was little opportunity for the young men of the day to display any athletic ability, attending school and settling into a lifetime of working in one of the mills was the life-style. High school was a three year course back then and when young Ellam graduated in the spring of 1902 he went to Ambler to learn the trade of plumber.
While in the North Penn borough he got his first taste of organized baseball and took to the game like a fish in water. He played on sandlot baseball teams while growing up and became a proficient infielder playing shortstop and second base. In 1907 William Urban, who was a popular Ambler magistrate at the time organized and managed a team known as the Ambler P. C. and Whitey was signed to play shortstop. A guy by the name of Lurid Lew Ritchie who later played for the Phillies and Cincinnati was also a member of the team. Whitey played one year with Ambler and signed with the Quakertown team to play the following season. These were paying teams back in the day where the players would share a small percentage of the gate or pass the hat.
Whitey bounced around a few leagues including a stint with Connellsville following Quakertown, from there he went to Latrobe Pennsylvania to play but attendance was so small there was no money to be made and the team was transferred to Cumberland. That team had problems and brought in a new manager who promptly released eight of its players including Ellam. He returned to Connellsville and by the end of the season was drafted by Birmingham a southern professional league where he had a great season and by the end of the season young Ellam was signed by Cincinnati of the National Baseball League to play the final couple of weeks of their season. Ellam wasn’t happy with his playing time and in the off-season Cincinnati sold Ellam to Kansas City for the 1910 season. He started the season off playing excellent defense and was on a hitting streak but fell into a mid-season slump and was unable to get his batting average back up.
Ellam returned to Birmingham where he played for five years and was captain of the team from 1912-1914, the team never finished lower then third place. By the 1914 season Ellam was considered the best infielder and most popular player in the game.
By the start of the 1916 season Whitey was signed by the Nashville team in the Southern League to manage the team. The team started slow but by mid-season they found themselves in a pennant race. By season’s end Nashville had won the pennant and Whitey became known throughout the South as the “Marvel Man of Baseball”. He was showered with congratulations and was the guest of honor at many banquets. A testimonial dinner was arranged in his honor and he was presented with a Ford automobile by his admiring fans.
By 1918 the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Ellam where he played one season with them and had the distinction of playing in the longest scoreless game on record at that time in the major leagues. The two teams battled for twenty scoreless innings. Pittsburgh finally won the contest when they posted two runs in the 21st inning beating Boston 2-0. Ellam played all 21 innings picking up two hits in eight times at bat and played flawless in the field committing no errors.
In 1919 he headed back down South to play with the Nashville club in 1919 and 1920. Before the end of the 1920 season he tried to form a company to purchase the Nashville club but failed in his efforts. In 1921 Ellam found himself playing for Galveston in the Texas League. He signed a blank contract that year and his salary was too high for the club and he finished the season with Mobile where he served as both player and scout. Thanks to Ellam’s efforts Mobile won the pennant that season and went on to win the Dixie series against the Fort Worth Team.
During the 1923-24-25 seasons Ellam returned home and played semi-professional ball in Philadelphia and Chester. He was living at the corner of East Fourth Avenue and Spring Mill Avenue at this time. While playing for Chester in 1924 Chester was a first place team of the Penn-Jersey League, Chester was scheduled to play a game against Russ Hamilton’s Montgomery County League team at the Athletic Field located at Eleventh Avenue and Harry Street. Conshohocken held a “Roy “Whitey” Ellam” Night in honor of the hometown hero. It was the largest crowd of the season as most of Conshohocken and West Conshohocken’s residents had never seen Whitey play ball not to mention residents of Ambler who traveled to the borough to witness Ellam play ball.
As a testimonial of the high esteem in which they held him, a number of his friends presented him with what was described as a “Neat all-leather carrying bag.” The presentation speech was made by one of his fellow team mates Pitcher Seibold. Roy accepted the gift in his own modest manner and thanked his admires in a few chosen words. The presentation was made when Whitey came to bat in the first inning. Chester won the game by a score of 6-5 thanks to a couple of home runs that went over the right field wall.
He returned South in 1926 to manage the Lakeland, Florida team, Managed Augusta in 1927, Tampa in 1928 and shifted to Montgomery in 1929-1930. The depression struck baseball in the South, many teams were forced to disband and Manager Ellam returned home. He later played for a few minor league teams closer to home.
In the off-season Whitey continued to practice his plumbing profession as a Master Plumber and when he retired from baseball opened up his own plumbing business where he worked out of his shop at First Avenue and Forrest Street, (in the former Post Office Building) for more than 15 years before his tragic death. It was during this time that Ellam moved to 1022 Fayette Street.
On October 28, 1948, Ellam’s employees finished a job just before lunch on the top floor at the Knights of Pythians building located at Second Avenue and Harry Street. (The building still stands today, 200 Harry Street, built as Odd Fellows Hall)
Ellam stopped by to inspect the job. Finding the downstairs door locked, he decided to go up by way of the fire escape, a safety device of the type which had its bottom stair held well up from the ground by a balance weight. Then the stair is pulled down, the balance weight is raised on its cable to a height of about 18 feet. Ellam pulled down the stair and was just about to mount the bottom step when the cable snapped. The heavy weight crumbled and crashed downward striking Ellam in the head. Dr. Hargreaves was notified but it was too late and Ellam was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ironically Ellam had a near death experience years earlier when he was playing for the Chester team back in 1925 he was working a job with four other men in Chester. They were securing a large radiator to the wall when the scaffolding below them gave-way. The radiator that had not been secured to the wall fell and gashed Ellam’s head and landed him in a Chester Hospital. Despite fearing a fractured skull and fractured spine Ellam only suffered a large gash on his head.
Whitey was a proud member for the Fritz Lodge No. 420, Free & Accepted Masons among other organization including the Knights of Pythias.
He left behind his wife the former Gertrude McCarns and a son Robert, Robert served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II and participated in the U.S. Forces invasion of Normandy. Robert married the former Frances H. Higgs Ellam, who was a former Treasurer of the Borough of Conshohocken, the couple had two children including Nancy E. DeVitis and a son John, a long time police officer for Conshohocken.
One final note, Roy “Whitey” Ellam was one in a long line of one of the oldest families in the Conshohocken area who were really good athletes. Prominent members of the Ellam family include George Ellam who was one of the pioneers of West Conshohocken, shortly after incorporation of the borough in 1874 George went to work at the Bullock Mills on Balligomingo Road and was a standout football player on the early Reliance teams and well known athlete throughout Montgomery County. Billy Ellam was a well-known sought after baseball player, Albert Ellam was a member of the first basketball team organized here by the old Pioneer Club back in the 1890’s, and Harry Ellam, who lived at 300 West Tenth Avenue was a standout athlete in high school in 1944 playing Football, Baseball and Basketball, he was the only three letterman in his class. Following graduation Harry enlisted in the navy, two years later he died of a gunshot wound to the chest in the Philippines, he was 20 years old.
Members of the Ellam family remain prominent, active and involved in the community to this day.
More than 30 segments of “History of a House” can be found on Conshystuff.com under articles by Jack Coll, be sure to check out our face book page and other features on the site.
Photographs above include:
The house located at 169 Cedar Avenue in West Conshohocken where Roy “Whitey” Ellam was born and raised.
Roy relaxing when he was a young man, perhaps at a Sunday outing to one of the many open parks and picnic grounds that were once so plentiful in the area.
109 Forrest Street where Roy resided as a young man in the 1920’s.
McCarthy’s Auto Service located behind the house where Roy was born at the corner of Cedar and Bullock Avenues.
Roy “Whitey” Ellam as a young player and as an older player.
The house Roy lived in at 1022 Fayette street for many years.