History of a House
200 Harry Street
ODD FELLOWS HALL
One of a Number of Civic Buildings
Constructed During the Borough’s Infancy
By Jack Coll
It wasn’t un-common for numerous civic clubs and organization to establish and build their own club-houses in the early years following the borough’s incorporation back in 1850. The Penn Club, The Polish Eagles, The Knights of Columbus, The Conshohocken Bocce Club, (CBC), The Red Men’s Association, Loyal Order of Moose, The Patriotic Order Sons of America, The Fraternal Association of SS Cosmas & Damian, The Tadeusz Kosciuszko Association, (The TK Club), Fritz Lodge No 420 Free & Accepted Masons, and The Odd Fellows were a number of organizations who had built their own “Club-House/Headquarters.”
Each and every organization that has ever existed in this borough has and had a very unique history of dedicated residents who helped make this borough a better place to live, work and play.
Odd Fellows, or Oddfellows is an international fraternity consisting of lodges first documented in 1730 in London. Odd Fellows promote philanthropy today, the American-based Independent Order of Odd Fellows enrolls more than six hundred thousand members divided into approximately ten thousand lodges in thirty countries.
Years before the village of Conshohocken was incorporated a number of Conshohocken residents interested in the Odd Fellows Organization would travel to Norristown to participate in the long-time established Montgomery Lodge, 57 of Norristown. As the Conshohocken traveling Membership expanded so did the interest of forming a Conshohocken chapter of Odd Fellows. So in 1846 the process was started to gain a charter in Conshohocken and become a chapter of Odd Fellows.
Odd Fellows organization was known as a secret organization that promoted philanthropy and donated very heavy to charities around the world. So Conshohocken chartered their lodge on January 15, 1847 with impressive ceremony.
The first meeting of the lodge was held at Temperance Hall once located on West Elm Street, the site later became Harrold’s Hotel and in later years Zalick’s Hotel. In 1850 the lodge moved its quarters to the third floor of the building once located at Oak and Washington Street, the building later became property of the Conshohocken Iron & Steel Company. These quarters were occupied for nine years when the Odd Fellows decided to occupy the room over the Norristown Railroad Station and for the next five years the lodge met there as the lodge continued to grow prosperous.
In 1864 a more convenient hall was necessary and quarters were taken in Comfort’s Hall once located at 57 Fayette Street. Very few of our residents today would remember Jack’s Seafood at 57 Fayette Street in the early 1940’s and in the late 1940’s the store became Frank Stallone’s Seafood Daily but perhaps a few residents alive today might remember George Rafferty opening his drug store at 57 Fayette Street in 1946.
The Odd Fellows became the leading organization in the borough in number of members and in finances. Among its members were prominent business leaders, politicians and leading residents of the town. The finances of the lodge warranted the building of a hall and a contract was awarded to Alex Martin and Son for the erection of two dwellings at the corner of Harry Street and East Second Avenue, the hall occupying the third floor of the corner dwelling with two houses below the hall. Alex Martin and Son were up and coming designers and contractors in the borough. In 1892 they were contracted by John Elwood Lee to design and build a mansion for him at the corner of West Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street, for more than a century the building has been known as “Leeland.” Martin and Son built the three story Victorian Italianate building for the Odd Fellows out of brick with a beautiful front porch at a cost of $7,800.
The Odd Fellows occupied the new hall on Harry Street on November 15, 1884. The building was constructed on land granted in 1882 from Benjamin Harry, who granted the land to the Trustees of Gratitude Lodge of Conshohocken’s Odd Fellows in the amount of $1,400.
For the next thirty years the lodge provided money to many of the boroughs residents mainly sick and death benefits as there were no solid benefits for employees at the many steel mills and other industries in and around the borough.
By 1913 membership had started to dwindle as other organizations and town activities were grabbing the interest of the younger generation. One of the growing organizations was the Conshohocken Lodge Knights of Pythians. It was around this time that the membership of the Odd Fellows had dwindled to the point that they could no longer afford to maintain their headquarters building on Harry Street.
So on November 6, 1913 the Conshohocken Lodge Knights of Pythians with more than 60 members in attendance voted to purchase the Odd Fellows Hall and two dwellings below the Hall at an undisclosed price at that time. (Mentioned to be around $12,000 at the time).
In the spring of 1914 the officers of the Conshohocken Odd Fellows announced the organization was disbanding, many of the remaining members merged with neighboring lodges such as Norristown, Ardmore and the Merion Lodge. At the close of the lodge in 1914 the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper reflected back on the lodge and commented that the Odd Fellows Lodge always occupied a prominent position in the affairs of the town by reason of prominence and activities of its members. During the Civil War the lodge gave many of its members to the country’s service. In 1862 there were sixty-four members enlisted in the Union Army.
During the first fifty years of its existence Gratitude Lodge had paid sick and death benefits to its members $22,000 and $5,000 to members of other lodges.
A new chapter of Odd Fellows re-grouped in Conshohocken and continued on for another twenty-five years or so holding their meetings at the P. O. S. of A. Building, located at East Second Avenue and Fayette Street. (above Tony and Joe’s Pizza)
The building at 200 Harry Street returned to private residences I believe sometime in the 1950’s. Sometime after 2000, the building was converted into offices and the building was rehabbed to reflect the business district of the lower end of the borough.
If you enjoyed this edition of “History of a House” there are more than two dozen editions along with other interesting histories of the borough on “Conshystuff.com” under articles by Jack Coll.
One final note, 2020 has been a tough year on everyone, we can’t fix the world but we can help our neighbors, many of our Conshohocken neighbors are in need of help, due to the corona virus many of our residents are out of work and could use a helping hand. The Colonial Neighborhood Council, (CNC) is currently collecting food and Super Market Gift Cards in an effort to put a Thanksgiving Day meal on their table. Many of these out of work residents have young children and could really, really use the help.
I’ve rarely asked anyone in our community for help but I’m asking now, I’m collecting any and all favors to please donate to the CNC in an effort to support our neighbors. Food and or Gift Cards can be dropped off at the CNC on West Fourth Avenue or by dropping them off at Coll’s Custom Framing at 324 Fayette Street.
Thank you so much, I love Conshohocken for the same reason most of you do, it’s the people in this community, I’ve said it many times over the years, we live in the greatest community in the world, it’s time to show-up friends and give back.
Thanks for checking in with Conshystuff.com and look for more of the great community coverage and history as we round the bend heading for 2021, and HEY, I predict it will be a better year!
Photos Above include:
The site of the P. O. S. of A.’s early meetings were held at Temperance Hall once located on West Elm Street at the site of the former Harrolds Hotel.
A photograph of 200 Harry Street as it looked when it was built back in 1884. (The image in the photograph was taken in 1989).
A current photograph of 200 Harry Street, The building was converted into an office complex a number of years ago, and although the building is 136 years old, the current design of the building fits into the borough’s overall modern day design as we move forward towards the next century.