History of a House
129 Forrest Street
The House That Heroes Built
It Was a Special Group of Men
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.
There’s a beautiful two and a half story Colonial architectural stone building at the corner of West Second Avenue and Forrest Street. Ironically the Second Avenue entrance looks like the front of the building as two stone pillars greet residents and visitors who walk through an archway and up-the-steps as they approach the wide entrance into the building. But the actual main entrance is located on the Forrest Street side of the building as the legal address is 129 Forrest Street.
The stone structure was built in1929 as a Post Home for the John F. DeHaven American Legion Post No. 129 at a cost of $23,000. Eight years later in 1937 the members of the Post cleared the mortgage.
Upon the completion of a war, it is typical of small towns and big cities throughout America to form a Veterans Post, allowing the men and women who have served in the military to gather and conduct services on appropriate days during the course of a year in remembering their fallen comrades.
Conshohocken has had a number of these War Veterans Post Homes over the years including the George Smith Post No. 79 G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic), Andrew Lannutti Post No. 18, the Walter S. Zurkowski Post No. 1, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 1074, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Volpe Binns Post No. 882. The Joseph Wagner Post No. 772 and the Conshohocken Marine Detachment and the John F. DeHaven American Legion Post No. 129 were among the numerous Veterans Post organized in Conshohocken.
Over the years as members start to deplete due to death or sickness a number of these Veterans Post have merged with others.
So here’s the story:
The following segments were taken from the book “Conshohocken & West Conshohocken, People, Places & Stories,” Written by Jack and Brian Coll.
A Brief History of World War One
World War I engulfed Europe from 1914 to 1919, it was an extremely bloody five year war with huge losses of life with very little ground won or lost. The war was mostly fought in the trenches with one on one, (hand-to-hand) combat. When it was over an estimated 10 million military deaths had occurred with more than 20 million wounded.
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921, went before a joint session of congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson cited a number of violations against Germany including Germany’s promise to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and its attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States, as his reason for declaring war.
On April 4, 1917, the United States Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany.
While many countries had hoped World War I would be a war to end all wars, in reality, the concluding peace treaty set the stage for World War II.
Conshohocken’s Contributions to World War One
The borough of Conshohocken holds a very unique designation that no other community in America can claim title to. During World War I, the borough of Conshohocken sent more men and women off to service in the United States military than any other community in America per capita. Robert Bell, Louis Bickings, Harry Dembowski, Daniel Donovan, Francis DeMario, Harry Wertz, John Wood, Samuel Gordon Smyth, Frank Hitner, George Hastings, James Koch and George Rodenbaugh were among the hundreds of Conshohocken residents who went off to war between 1916 and 1918.
Shortly after the signing of the Armistice at Compiegne, France, that brought a close to World War I on November 11, 1918, the United States Congress recognized Conshohocken’s efforts during the war. A merchant marine ship was named the “Conshohocken” in honor of the town’s war service. The “SS Conshohocken” was launched on January 31, 1920, from the Sun Ship Yard and was christened by Mrs. Geoffrey Creyke, wife of the assistant to the vice president of the Emergency Fleet Corporation.
The SS Conshohocken was an eleven-thousand-ton cargo carrier and was the last of the series of ships built under the supervision of the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the twenty-third ship to be launched at the yards of the Sunbuilding Company in Chester, Pennsylvania.
(The above information, “Conshohocken’s Contributions To World War One” was taken from the book “Remembering Conshohocken & West Conshohocken.”)
For more information on the merchant marine ship the “Conshohocken”
Refer to page 130 of the “Tales of Conshohocken and Beyond” book
The John F. DeHaven American Legion Post was instituted on August 19, 1919, less than nine months after the Armistice was signed to end World War One at Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. The newly formed Post members met at the G. A. R. Hall, (Grand Army of the Republic) and organized Post 129 of the American Legion and chose the name, “John F. DeHaven Post” as a tribute to the memory of John Franklin DeHaven, the youngest marine in the service who was killed in battle on June 23, 1918.
The G. A. R. Civil War Post Home was located on the corner of West Third Avenue and Forrest Street. The G. A. R. building was constructed in1885 by the Conshohocken Women’s Christian Temperance Union before the G. A. R. called it home for their headquarters. Since the G. A. R. vacated the building it has been used for many things over the years by many organizations including St. Mark’s Evangelical Church before moving to East Fifth Avenue, The Conshohocken Council of the Knights of Columbus who organized in 1912 purchased the G. A. R. Building in 1922 for $7,000 before moving to Second Avenue and Fayette Street, (currently home to the Great American Pub). A rug company made the building their headquarters before the Coptic Orthodox Church made it their headquarters in the 1980’s and has since been home for offices.
Once the DeHaven Post was established at the former G. A. R. Post Home the members moved their meetings to the Mary Wood Parkhouse on East Fifth Avenue. The Post membership quickly rose to more than 250 members with veterans from both sides of the river participating. The organization quickly became a factor in the progression of the borough planning many of the borough’s parades and other events.
In the mid 1920’s the Post membership voted to purchase a plot of ground on top of the hill on West Second Avenue and Forrest Street. The site had a commanding view of the Schuylkill Valley to the northwest and in the opposite direction and excellent view of Fayette Street down to the river.
In the spring of 1929 the final payment on the ground at Second Avenue and Forrest Street was made. The members immediately set about to erect a new Post Home on their own ground. An architect was engaged and plans for a handsome home of Colonial architecture were designed. The new Post Home was dedicated on Armistice Day November 11, 1929.
A year earlier Conshohocken’s Veterans Monument was dedicated on November 11, 1928 at West Second Avenue and Fayette Street before a large crowd. Members of the John F. DeHaven Post along with the Conshohocken Citizen’s Committee were part of the planning and financial committee. Margaret DeHaven, sister of John DeHaven was given the honor of unveiling of the monument that was draped in an American Flag.
Our records don’t indicate when the American Legion Post vacated their Post Home but we tracked it into the 1970’s. If history repeated itself remaining members of the Post merged with the Conshohocken Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1074.
If you enjoyed our recent articles on “History of a House” then Please visit our website at Conshystuff.com, where you’ll find more than 20 segments of “History of a House.”
For more information on John F. DeHaven refer to “History of a House,” “635 Ford Street.”
Photograph Captions for above photos:
The John F. DeHaven American Legion Post Home located at West Second Avenue and Forrest Street, Photo taken in the 1940’s.
The John F. DeHaven American Legion Post Home located at West Second Avenue and Forrest Street, Photo taken in 2020.
Memorial Day Services in 2020 with members of the VFW Post 1074 with the former John F. DeHaven American Legion Post Home in the background on West Second Avenue.
November 11, 1928 at the dedication services of Conshohocken’s War Memorial at the base of West Second Avenue. Margaret DeHaven, sister of John F. DeHaven is shown in the close-up on the right as she was called upon to unveil the marble monument.
Members of the Conshohocken V. F. W. Post 1074 pay respects to their fallen comrades on November 11, in the early 2000’s at the West Second Avenue Monument.