History of A House
133 East Fifth Avenue
Another good Conshohocken Dude!
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.
This is also one of those articles where it’s more about the person that lived in the house than the house itself, Enjoy!
Franklin Harrison is a long forgotten resident that created a footnote in Conshohocken History. Mr. Harrison spent a good portion of his life at 133 East Fifth Avenue. The two and a half story Victorian style twin house was built in 1860. Harrison was one of twenty-five charter members of the Washington Fire Company. The founding members of the fire company first met in Davy Stemple’s Hall, once located on lower Forrest Street on the evening of December 20, 1873. Harrison was yet another one of those residents who was an active promoter of numerous borough activities.
It was Harrison’s imitative which aided in organizing a military group known as the “Bullock Guards” established in 1871. He also has the distinction of being the organizer of the Bijou Minstrel Troupe, Conshohocken’s first minstrel aggregation, there were many to follow.
Franklin Harrison’s claim-to-fame in Conshohocken was his fight for free text books for the borough’s school children. That fight began one day as he worked at the Schuylkill Iron Works Plant, once located on Washington Street and currently the one-time steel mill serves as the Millennium Office Building owned by Brian O’Neil. Mr. Harrison recalled in a 1931 Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper interview one of his fellow workmen lamenting that he had to take his young son from school even though he still had a number of grades to go through before he finished. Harrison declared that it was a pity to deprive the boy of that higher education. “I can’t help it,” replied the father, “for if he stays in school, I’ll have to pay eight dollars for the text books, and I can’t afford it.”
It was at that moment that Harrison decided to pioneer for free text books, so that no other boys would have to sacrifice education. He visited every school director on the board at the time and pleaded the cause. Some were adamant, but others wavered. “If we furnish free text books, the children won’t take care of them as they would their own” others argued. As a remedy, Harrison suggested that if the children destroyed the books, they be forced to pay for them. However, the school board was not convinced and rejected the suggestion.
Harrison took matters into his own hands and became a candidate for a school board seat. He ran for school director on a free textbook platform and won by a two-to-one majority.
Now most of you won’t believe this, but Conshohocken politics will be politics, and Franklin Harrison would never get credit or glory for the free text books in public schools in Conshohocken. At the School Board meeting before Harrison was to take office, the school board voted to abolish the charges for text books, assuring that Harrison would never get credit for eliminating text book fees.
Franklin Harrison came to Conshohocken in 1857, and lived a good portion of his life at 133 East Fifth Avenue. (It wasn’t clear in my research if Franklin Harrison or perhaps maybe his father help build the twin house at 133 and 135 East Fifth Avenue). Harrison was a candidate for Burgess in 1909 and lost to James B. Ray, the jeweler who had a store for many years on lower Fayette Street. Ray served as Burgess from 1909-1913, and again from 1916-1921. By 1926 Harrison was the last surviving member of the charter members of the Washington Fire Company.
Although Harrison was never officially credited with the movement to supply free text books to all Conshohocken students, I’m making this footnote that hereby acknowledges Franklin Harrison for doing just that.
The above information was taken from the book “Tales of Conshohocken and Beyond,” written by Jack and Brian Coll. There are about a dozen copies of this 450 page book still available and can be purchased at Coll’s Custom Framing located at 324 Fayette Street.
Above Photographs include:
An exterior shot of 133 East Fifth Avenue as it looks today.
Members of the Washington Fire Company are shown at the 1926 State Firemen’s Convention held in Philadelphia. Five members of this group also participated in the firemen’s demonstration held in the same city fifty years earlier in 1876 during the city’s Centennial celebration. The five participants from a half a century earlier in the photo included Harry C. Messinger, William Earl, William Stemple, Frank Beaver and Franklin Harrison, who was the only remaining charter member of the fire company. Harrison is seated in the back seat at the far right, Harrison died in the mid 1930’s.
For more chapters of “History of a House” go to Conshystuff.com and look under Articles by Jack Coll where you’ll find more than two dozen House articles.