103 Spring Mill Avenue
Frank Messinger, A Well Respected Man About Town
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. Sometimes the house was owned by a borough business-owner, or someone who contributed to the success of our community. 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.
A house at 103 Spring Mill Avenue fronted by El Limon has a history going back more than a century. The two and a half story Victorian style house was built in 1870 and was home to one of the borough’s most prominent citizens back in the day.
The house was built shortly after the borough experienced its worst flood in the history of the town. Conshohocken was incorporated on May 15, 1850, with a population of 727 residents and before incorporation the territory was simply listed as a village. Either-way the flood of 1869 wiped out most of the structures along the river and canal banks.
The following year in 1870 the Census credited Conshohocken with a population of 3,071, and the ensuing decade was a banner one for the Borough of Conshohocken. A plan drawn in 1871 by H. W. Hopkins, C. E. and G. M. Hopkins listed sixty mills and commercial business and many residences on approximately a third of the borough’s one square mile. A half a century before, it was farmland. The earlier farmland of the Lukens, Harry and Trewendt families became dotted with the homes of residents in the growing borough.
Just months before the home at 103 Spring Mill Avenue was constructed The Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper founded by Charles Smith was put into circulation, shortly after the Heywood brothers purchased the paper which ran for 140 years until 2008. In 1872 the Matsonford Iron Bridge opened replacing the covered bridge that served the village and community from 1833 until 1866, both bridges had a toll gate on the Conshohocken side of the bridge as the bridge and property were owned by members of the Matson family.
Henry Messinger was born in 1824, the same year the canal was completed through the borough. Henry learned the trade and worked as a tinsmith in Philadelphia before moving to Conshohocken in 1855 where he opened a tin-ware store on Washington Street just below Fayette Street. In the early 1860’s Messinger purchased a corner lot at Elm and Fayette Street and constructed a handsome building where he conducted his business until his death in 1898.
Messinger was a well-known man about town having been elected to serve on Town-Council from 1865 to 1868 and from 1871 to 1874. In 1878 he was elected to serve as Burgess (Mayor) of Conshohocken.
When Messinger passed away in 1898, two of his five children, Frank and Harry took over the hardware business located on the corner of Elm and Fayette Street. The hardware store had all the nuts and bolts needed back in the day as you walked thru the store with each and every floor-board squeaking, the afternoon natural light streaming thru the oversized windows created what looked like a light fog in the store, the well-worn wooden creates held the nails, screws, bolts and washers that you could possibly need.
Frank was born in Conshohocken and married Cara Paxon, the two had a son Charles and a daughter Dorothy who married Carl Rein.
Frank and Cara purchased the property at 103 Spring Mill Avenue around 1898 and lived in the house for nearly 50 years until Frank’s death in June of 1948. Back in the early part of last century most all of the businessmen of the day reported to their businesses dressed in suit and tie, Tailor’s like Felix Jemionek , Drug Store owners like George Rafferty and Samuel Katz, Shoe Repair shops run by Pete Rio and Donato Flocco. Cigar Store owners like Pat Lacey of Lacey’s Cigar Store and Bob Crawford of Crawford’s Cigar Store. Even the town barbers dressed in coat and tie like the barbers at Benny and Reds Barber Shop just off the Matsonford Bridge. The business owners believed it was a show of respect to their customers to dress as certified businessmen. Frank Messinger like other businessmen of the day allowed residents to run a tab on needed hardware allowing them to pay off their debt on pay-days sometimes taking three or four weeks to do so.
Frank retired a few years before his death and sold the hardware business and building at Elm and Fayette Street. Following his death in 1948 his wife continued to live in the house for a few more years and the house was sold in the 1950’s. Not long after that an addition was constructed on the front of the building facing Spring Mill Avenue, the addition obstructed the beautiful porch that once graced the large corner house that overlooked the business district along Fayette Street.
The Messinger house was later converted to apartments and a number of businesses have occupied the front-store addition including the J & A Lounge, Carol’s Lounge, Ted’s Pizza and currently El Limon Mexican Restaurant, who has the distinction of moving from 103 Fayette Street to 103 Spring Mill Avenue, I’m not sure if that means anything but I know the food at El Limon is pretty good.
Thanks for reading these stories and we’ll have more soon.