History of a House
113 Josephine Avenue
Alva S. MacKenzie
A West Conshohocken Pioneer
By Jack Coll
7-2-22 (published 8/29/2022)
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 and West 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. On occasion there was nothing special about the house but something special about the resident who may have lived in the house for a period of time. The residents that I continue to point out or highlight contributed something special to the success of our community, and I take great pride in pointing out these residents who otherwise may have been forgotten.
I thought it might be fun and interesting to point out a of few of these houses, that today are occupied by residents or businesses who I’m sure had no idea that their house was at one time something more than just a house.
Alva S. MacKenzie was for the most- part a life-long resident of West Conshohocken. Although he was born in Elmira, New York in 1874, the same year West Conshohocken was incorporated as a borough, his parents William and Christine MacKenzie along with Alva moved to the Balligomingo section of the borough when Alva was just an infant, he remained in West Conshohocken the rest of his life.
Mr. MacKenzie grew up in the borough during the time when George Bullock was serving the borough as Burgess from 1874-1888. Bullock’s businesses thrived providing hundreds of jobs to the West Conshohocken residents.
Alva attended West Conshohocken schools and later learned the trade of machinist and engineer. After completing his trade, he entered business for himself opening three machine shops in Philadelphia where he engaged in the manufacture of precision instruments. In 1942 he sold his businesses to Machined Metals Company and became associated with that firm as general manager. During that time, he was in business he invented a number of testing machines which were popular in the industry at that time.
Alva married Rachel Riles and the two settled-in at 113 Josephine Avenue in West Conshohocken. Soon Alva took a deep interest in the affairs of the West Borough and sponsored any movement that would be for the betterment of the community. He served two six-year terms as school director, during those twelve years it was a critical time for the West Conshohocken High School.
Important to members of the Conshohocken Fritz Lodge No. 420 Free & Accepted Masons, (later merged with Lodge No. 308) was that Alva MacKenzie was a member and a Pastmaster of the lodge. When the Masons were in search of a permanent Lodge back in the early 1920’s, it was Alva who sold the former O’Brien mansion and property to the masons in 1922.
The Conshohocken Free and Accepted Masons is the oldest service organization in the borough having been chartered in 1868. The masons charter installation was held in the Odd Fellows Hall then located at 37 Fayette Street which in it-self had a long running history. 37 Fayette Street at that time was the property of Dr. Comfort, later owned by John Ross and subsequently H. Kleinman’s Dry Good Store. In November of 1902 Pat Leary, father of Dr. Joseph Leary purchased the building from Elizabeth M. Harry, widow of James Harry, who owned and operated the drug store on the property.
The Masons outgrew the property at 37 Fayette Street within the year and relocated to Tracey’s Hall located on Elm Street between Fayette and Harry Streets. In 1885 the lodge was again relocated to the newly erected Chislett Hall owned by Joseph Chislett, located at Washington and Forrest Streets, Chislett was also a member of the lodge. Eighteen years later in 1903, increased membership forced them to move again, this time they moved to Washita Hall, later known as Littles Opera House, located on the northeast corner of First Avenue and Fayette Street.
It was then that a quest began for a permanent site for erection of a Temple. Nearly 20 years later a resolution was passed recommending the purchase from Brother Alva MacKenzie, of a plot of ground located at the lodge’s current site at Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street. The property at Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street consisted of a large house and a barn that extended back to Harry Street. Alva MacKenzie sacrificed the house and property for $13,300, in an effort to give the Masons a permanent home. The Masons spent nearly $47,000 to build their Temple and opened in March of 1931, smack in the middle of the depression. Thanks to Alva MacKenzie, former Worshipful Master, the members of the Fritz Lodge have called Eighth Avenue home for more than 90 years.
Mr. MacKenzie was also a Director of the Conshohocken Federal Savings and Loan Association and a longtime member of the George Clay Fire Company.
Alva had three sisters including Annie, Louise and Christine, he also had a brother Donald and all the West Conshohocken residents should take a minute and thank Alva’s other brother Keith, whom as we know donated the original property for what we know as MacKenzie Park.
Alva passed away in early March of 1944 and is buried at Gulph Cemetery. West Conshohocken has had a lot of residents to be thankful for, you can count Alva MacKenzie as one of those residents.
It’s been a hundred years since Alva MacKenzie sold his property to the Masons for the erection of a Temple.
Photographs above include
A portrait of Alva S. MacKenzie
113 Josephine Avenue where Alva spent a good portion of his life with his wife Rachel.
For more articles on Conshohocken and West Conshohocken go to Conshystuff.com and click on articles by Jack and Brian Coll.
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