History of a House – 126 Maple Street, Conshohocken
126 Maple Street
One of Many Lower Maple Street Stores
Was Your House a Former Store?
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. 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.
During the early years of Conshohocken lower Maple Street was some-what segregated. For many years lower Maple Street in the 1840’s and 1850’s was primarily an Irish neighborhood. Lower Maple Street served as an overflow from Connaughtown, another Irish neighborhood. Connaughtown was settled by immigrants from the Connaught Province of Ireland, (hence the name Connaughtown) who came to work in the neighboring Alan Wood Steel Mills. As a matter of fact the Plymouth Fire Company was founded in 1906 by all Irish immigrants.
The lower Maple Street neighborhood was cheap housing and became known as “Cork Row,” after Cork County Ireland. Within time as many of the Irish residents began to move onto the borough avenues African American residents brought into Conshohocken to work the steel mills owned by members of the Wood family began settling on lower Maple Street. The changing neighborhood later became known as “Banjo Row.” Nearly all of the African Americans who had migrated to Conshohocken in the early years came from Saluda County, South Carolina and many of them were former slaves or the sons and daughters of slaves.
Many residents reminisced years later that walking along lower Maple Street during this time you could hear the sound of banjo music coming from every other porch and stoop on the hot summer nights, hence the name “Banjo Row.”
When the Itialians arrived around the turn of last century they also started buying the houses along lower Maple Street. Eventually the Italian population took over entire blocks from Elm Street to Fifth Avenue and along West Second, Third and Fourth Avenues. This area became known as “Little Italy.”
It was around this time that stores started popping up on the corners of every intersection in that area as well as mid-block stores. The Italian stores, markets and service outlets ran rampant along Maple Street. In a 25 year period dozens of Maple Street stores were doing business starting in 1900, over the years three different members of the Cardamone family had corner stores. Naz Galie ran a grocery store at the corner of Elm and Maple Street. There were other groceries stores including (please excuse any mis-spellings as research often was old and blurry) Joseph Alplionso at 101 Maple Street, A Altiopedia, 328 Maple Street, Joseph Kelly, 326 Maple Street, Angelo Foudote had a cigar store at 133 Maple Street, John Cardamone and Son had a grocery store at 124 Maple Street, Joseph Ciccone, Groceries at 2 Maple Street, Michael Petniccelli Candy Store at 126 Maple Street, Pasquale Matteucci Groceries at 111 Maple Street, Emidio D’Orazio Dry Goods at 201 Maple Street, Joseph Moser had a Cigar Store at 206 Maple Street, Jerry Cardamone Groceries, at 900 Maple Street, Saturno Vagnoni had a Cigar Store at 618 Maple Street, Salvatore DiCiureio had a Fish Store at 702 Maple Street, William Persio had a Candy Store at 127 Maple Street, Nick Malantuono ran a Cigar Store at 46 Maple Street.
I also found three Pool Rooms open for business, one by Satarurino Vagnoni, 618 Maple Street, Joseph Kelly, 326 Maple Street and A. Altopedia & Son who later took over the 326 Maple.
The above stores were over about a 20 year period, there were many other stores and many other names to be mentioned perhaps we’ll save that for another article in the future.
In the 1920’s Michael Petniccelli had a popular candy store at his home at 126 Maple Street. The front room of the house was lined with shelving showing off all the latest candy including “Double Bubble Gum,” “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” “Candy Buttons,” “Red Hots,” and “Sugar Babies.”
Mr. Petniccelli’s timing for a candy store was perfect as bottled soda was expanding with the fact that many of the smaller stores now had refrigeration and offered a cool drink on a hot summer day, up until the 1920’s the soda business was mostly conducted at drug store soda fountain counters. Coca Cola founded in 1888 and Dr Pepper founded in 1885, promoted as a refreshing “Pick-me-up” drink were both early bottlers of their product giving them more outlets to sell their soda.
Hires Root Beer was created right here in Philadelphia by pharmacist Charles Hire in 1876. It began as a powdered extract that consumers could mix with their own soda water. In 1888 Hires developed a liquid product for Drugstore soda fountains and started to bottle the root beer in 1890. Pepsi Cola was developed in 1898, ten years after Coke, by 1907 Pepsi had 40 factories creating the Pepsi syrup.
A few other bottled soda’s Mr. Petniccelli was selling during the 1920’s might have included Bubble UP, Good Grape, Barq’s Root Beer, Nu-Grape, Faygo, Schwepps Ginger Ale which was developed in 1870, considering Canada Dry Ginger Ale didn’t hit the market until 1904. I wonder how many readers remember Red Rock Ginger Ale, Triple XXX Root Beer, Chero Cola or Shasta.
As we drive past 126 Maple Street today it looks like your average Maple Street house. But back in the 1920’s it was a place where many of the neighborhood kids could take a penny or two, spend twenty minutes to a half-hour in the store deciding how to spend their money. It was a welcomed relief for adults who could stop in for dry goods and supplies for dinner. As we pointed out above there were many Maple Street stores that were part of the landscape in the early part of last century, many of those grocery stores served as life-lines for Maple Street residents, able to run a tab with the store owner to be paid on pay-day, typically on Saturday as many of the mills paid cash to employees at 12:00 noon on Saturdays.
As you drive or walk along lower Maple Street, check out the front of the houses, you can still see where the front of the houses were altered and once served as one of the many stores.
In our next edition of “House History” we’ll take a look at a house nearly 150 years old, see ya then.