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History of a House
635 Ford Street
It’s Not So-Much-About The House
As it is About the Young Hero That Lived There
By Jack Coll
Hugh and Anna DeHaven purchased the house at 635 Ford Street in West Conshohocken around the turn of last century. 635 Ford Street sits at the end of a row of houses that was known as “Noblett’s Row” when they were constructed back around the 1880’s. Noblett’s Row consisted of two sets of row homes, 601-635 that extended from Simon Street to Church Street, Noblett’s Row also bordered on Wilsontown near an area known as “Goat Hill.”
If you’re a West Conshohocken “Old Timer” you’ll understand all of that, if you’re a young residents, say in you’re 30’s or 40’s, then go ask one of your grandparents about the areas mentioned above.
These houses were built to accommodate the many immigrant families who settled in West Conshohocken and found work in one of the many West Conshohocken Textile Mills, perhaps Bullock’s Mills once located along Balligomingo Road, or Harrison’s Carpet Mill once located up around the Four Falls area or perhaps the immigrants found work for one of the many steel mills along the river or other industries that were spread out throughout both boroughs.
Hugh DeHaven was not an immigrant having been born in 1880 to John and Bridget DeHaven in Rebel Hill. When Hugh married Anna (Matson), a relative of Peter Matson who built the Matsonford Bridge, they purchased the house at 635 Ford Street. The couple had two children John Franklin and Margaret, who later married William Oxford. In 1912 Hugh took a job with Lee Tire and Rubber Company where he worked for 43 years until his death in 1955, his wife Anna died a few years earlier.
This story is about Hugh and Anna’s son John, who was born in 1904 and grew up in West Conshohocken, running up and down Ford Street, an adventurous kid John ran with a circle of friends doing everything from playing along the river to taking part time jobs on both sides of the bridge at an early age.
One documented incident involving John happened in 1913 when nine year old John hitched a ride up Ford Street from two gentlemen driving a light team, (two horses). John asked permission to board the wagon near Merion Avenue and exit the wagon at his house. As soon as John settled into the back of the wagon the horses started up the street at a break-neck speed. When the wagon approached the DeHaven home, the horses were brought to a walk but young DeHaven remained in the wagon and the driver again started the horses on a fast trot. Fearing he would go further up the street then he wanted John attempted to jump from the wagon and in doing so he fell heavily to the ground, striking the base of his head, rendering him unconscious.
The men in the front of the wagon were aware that young John fell and after going about another block they decided to turn around and see how seriously the young man was injured. However in making the turn one of the wheels of the carriage was broken completely off and the two men hopped off the wagon landing into the street. The horse started back down Ford Street on a mad gallop. William Restine who was a neighbor of the DeHaven’s was working in his yard and noticed the accident to young DeHaven and heard the runaway horses coming down Ford street, he rushed out and grabbed him, and carried DeHaven to a place of safety, Ross Noblet also heard the commotion and grabbed for the frightened horses, caught the bridle and brought them to a standstill.
If it hadn’t been for the two neighbors, one grabbing John and the other stopping the horses, young DeHaven could have been run-over by the horses, the accident happened a few doors away from his own home.
A few short years later war broke out and America was involved, and that’s where our HERO story begins.
Below is a segment taken from the book, “Tales of Conshohocken and Beyond” written by Jack and Brian Coll nearly ten years ago. A few copies of the book still remain for sale at Coll’s Custom Framing.
John F. DeHaven and George Robinson
One Gave His Life and the Other Gave His Leg
John Franklin DeHaven grew up at 635 Ford Street in West Conshohocken, he was the son of Hugh and Anna DeHaven and the grandson of Margaret and Frank P. Matson.
George Robinson grew up at the corner of Third Avenue and Harry Street, he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Robinson.
George spent a lot of time in West Conshohocken as a child and he and John DeHaven became very good friends. DeHaven worked as a clerk in a grocery store for Patrick Leary at 37 Fayette Street and Robinson worked in a restaurant owned by Joseph Zimmer at 74 Fayette Street.
On the morning of April 23, 1917, just a few days after the declaration of war by this country DeHaven and Robinson went missing from their jobs. DeHaven went to the Leary’s store manager Maurice Brady and asked if he should start out to collect orders. Brady told him to wait a few minutes but DeHaven put on his coat and hat and exited the store. At the same time Robinson just walked out of Zimmer’s Restaurant and the two headed for the train station, traveled to Philadelphia where they enlisted in the Marines.
John DeHaven was just 14 years old while George Robinson a few months older than DeHaven was not yet 15 years old. It was reported in the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper on May 10, 1918 that DeHaven was without a doubt the youngest boy to enter the fighting services of the United States since the outbreak of the war with the Germans. Robinson was also 14 years old although a few months older than DeHaven would have been considered the second youngest
DeHaven was assigned to the Sixteenth Company, Third Battalion of the Fifth Regiment. Robinson was assigned to the Forty-Third Company, Second Battalion of the Fifth Regiment. Early in June 1917 DeHaven’s regiment left for France, being the first contingent of American fighting forces to be sent across the ocean to take part in the great world struggle for democracy. DeHaven landed in France before he reached his fifteenth birthday.
George Robinson who enlisted with DeHaven was also not-yet fifteen years old, he was also sent across the ocean with DeHaven and the two were stationed about four miles from each other while in France and were able to see each other about once a week.
In a battle leading up to Chateau Thierry where the Americans and French would launch an offensive drive against the Germans on July 18, 1918 Robinson was wounded. As he later described the wounds to his parents from his hospital bed he said that on June 11 his division was ordered to take the Belleau Wood, a German stronghold. The job was done neatly and quickly.
The next day we were ordered to clean up the woods as the Germans had left many machine gun nests there. The division started on the clean-up and was making good progress but was under shell fire the entire time.
As the troops advance Robinson felt a blow on his chest as if he had been punched by a very strong man. Robinson fell to the ground but suffered no pain and crawled to a shell crater for cover. When he reached the shell cover shrapnel burst over a number of soldiers and Robinson received a wound to the shoulder and in the left thigh. A soldier standing on the edge of the creator was killed by the same shell.
With gas mask on Robinson was unable to look at his wounds but hospital detail reached the crater hole by early afternoon and warned Robinson not to stand-up and was told to remain in place until they could transport the wounded back behind the lines, Robinson had been unaware that his foot had been blown-off. On his own Robinson crawled back behind the firing lines where he was taken to a hospital.
It was at the hospital that Robinson was told that he had received shrapnel wounds in the right shoulder and the left thigh; his right leg below the knee was shot away and had received a machine gun bullet in the left side of his chest which punctured his lung.
It was during this same battle two weeks later on June 23, that John DeHaven lost his life. At first DeHaven was reported missing in action and several weeks later it was confirmed that he had died in battle. His mother Anna was officially informed by telegram:
Washington D. C.
July 30, 1918
Anna L. DeHaven:
Deeply regret to inform you a cablegram just received from
Abroad, states that Pvt. John Franklin DeHaven, Marine
Corps, previously reported missing in action June
twenty-third, is now reported killed in action same date.
Remains will be interred abroad until end of war.
Accept my heartfelt sympathy in your great loss. Your son
Nobly gave his life in the service of his country.
Major General Commandant
John DeHaven was the first to lose his life in the line of duty in the Conshohocken area and the youngest marine to die in the war. He was just fifteen years old at the time of his death.
A friend of DeHaven’s who served with him in the war Harry S. Dixon wrote a letter to the family of young DeHaven as to how and when he died. The letter read in part:
John met his death on June 23, as you know, his battalion
made an attack, and John captured a German machine gun
and with the aid of two or three men turned it on the
Germans. John was killed and his companions were wounded.
He was buried in the Belleau Woods, somewhere around Meaux.
They are now lifting the bodies. That is all I know about it.
Your young friend,
Harry S. Dixon
Tributes for young John DeHaven followed for years, a memorial was held in his memory in August 1918 where more than 500 residents packed Little’s Opera House, the John F. DeHaven Post 129 was named in his honor. John’s sister Margaret unveiled the DeHaven Post monument located at Second Avenue and Fayette Street in 1928 and many other events in both Conshohocken and West Conshohocken.
Although George Robinson lost his leg and suffered the rest of his life with a bullet in his chest among his other injuries he never had any regrets about serving in the Marines and never forgot his friend John DeHaven.
John DeHaven spent his childhood growing up at 635 Ford Street, with all due respect to today’s youth John had a great childhood growing up when Ford Street was still a dirt road. Swimming in the Schuylkill River and leaping from a rope swing on a hot summer’s day was still recreation and not a forbidden death trap. If you were hungry, you pulled fruits from neighbors trees along the way, if you were thirsty there was always a nearby creek. During the glory days of the West Conshohocken Relience Football Team who had won three Schuylkill Valley Championships, kids like John DeHaven would attend the games played a few hundred yards from his house behind the Mingo Hotel. The Relience football team played from 1906-1914.
At the age of 14, John and his best friend George didn’t set out to be hero’s when they boarded that train in the spring of 1917 and headed off to join the Marines, they saw a challenge they had been practicing for their entire short lives.
Real heroes are few and far between, well we had one who grew up at 635 Ford Street, he was the youngest person to enlist in World War I, and he was the youngest to give his life during that bloody war, he was killed in action, his body was buried overseas, and was never brought home.
Mr. and Mrs. DeHaven were married for more than fifty years before Mrs. DeHaven passed away in 1952. She left behind her daughter and grandson Carl Oxford, and Airman Second Class. Ironically Mrs. DeHaven’s other grandson Corporal John DeHaven Oxford, was reported missing in Korea in the summer of 1951 and was later reported Killed in action.
May God Bless John DeHaven and his family, and I ask for these prayers even a hundred years later.
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.”
Photos Above Include:
John F. DeHaven’s childhood home located at 635 Ford Street in West Conshohocken.
Patrick Leary’s Grocery Store once located at 37 Fayette Street where John DeHaven once worked before hoping on a train with his friend George Robinson to enlist in the Marines.
An Advertisement from the Conshohocken Recorder from Joseph Zimmer’s Store once located at 74 Fayette Street where George Robinson worked before he joined the Marines with his friend John DeHaven.