First National Bank of Conshohocken
By Jack Coll
While browsing Conshy Stuff.com the other day I noticed a picture of a beautifully framed five dollar bill and description of the currency, framed at Coll’s Custom Framing, (of course), the framed currency was presented to the Conshohocken Historical Society by members of the Mayor’s Special Events Committee. The Conshohocken Historical Society is located in the Mary Wood Park House, 120 East Fifth Avenue with Saturday morning hours. The framed currency was a wonderful addition to the Society, if you’ve never visited the Historical Society’s library and show rooms on the second floor, it’s certainly worth the trip if you are interested in Conshohocken history. It turns out that Mayor Robert Frost came across the five dollar bill and found it very unusual that the bill was dated 1929, and had the words “First National Bank of Conshohocken,” printed on the bill. Local signatures on the bill included Bank Treasurer David Hayes, and Bank President Reese P. Davis. Mr. Frost thought the bill was a great find and wanted to preserve it, and present it to the Society. So I thought a little background and a little history on the currency and bank, might be interesting. In the fall of 1872, a small group of investors led by prominent manufacturer Alan Wood Jr., applied for a charter with the United States Treasury Department to establish a bank located within the boundaries of the borough of Conshohocken. Conshohocken was 22 years old at the time, (incorporated in May 1850) and had no banking institutions at that time. In 1872 Conshohocken barley had three thousands residents, and the residents and small industries were forced to travel to Norristown if they wished to do any banking. A letter dated December 17, 1872, from the Treasury Department’s Office to Alan Wood Jr., gave permission to organize and operate a bank in the borough of Conshohocken, starting with capital assets of $150,000. (A lot of money in 1872) Following several meetings, the Board of Directors signed incorporation documents, and on January 30, 1873 the First National Bank of Conshohocken was born. The Directors had purchased the home of George Washington Jacoby for $12,000, Jacoby’s home was located on the corner of Fayette and Hector Streets. The Board of Directors hired William McDermott as the bank’s first cashier. McDermott was paid a healthy $1,600 a year for his services, in cash, and given a house suitable for his family, rent free. On January 4, 1924, a contract was signed to demolish the old bank/house, and construct a new, more modern bank building. Over the next eleven months bank business was conducted at the Central Hotel Building located on Fayette Street. When the new bank reopened for business on December 9, 1924, it was truly a mad house. The Conshohocken Recorder newspaper headlines declared “Thousands Visit New Bank Building,” an estimated 7,500 persons were at the opening to view the new marble structure. All male visitors that day received a cigar, all females received a red rose, and all children were given a feather sticker. As far as the currency goes I didn’t do a lot of research on it but if my memory serves me correct the United states Treasury Department issued National Bank Notes with the names of First National Banks of small towns and cities throughout the country back in 1902-1906, and again from 1928-1931. Conshohocken’s name appeared on all of those bills from the years stated above as did Bridgeport, Plymouth, Phoenixville, Whitemarsh, and even West Conshohocken. The First National Bank of Conshohocken merged with Philadelphia National Bank, and moved up-town to Fifth Avenue and Fayette Street in 1956. Philadelphia National later merged with Core States Bank, and the rest as they say is bank merging history. The Washington Fire Company purchased the original bank building located at Fayette and Hector streets and used the building for many years as their banquet hall. The demolishing ball claimed the building in the mid 1970’s, but what a history. If this kind of local history interests you, then don’t miss the new book published by Jack and Brian Coll called “Conshohocken in Pictures and Short stories,” due out in late 2014, or early 2015. The new book will have an in depth story on the bank, the currency, the Jones estate that was sold to Philadelphia National Bank, the cashier who embezzled most of the banks holdings during the depression and the murder/suicide that followed. Call Coll’s Custom Framing to get on a list to reserve your copy. First National Bank of Conshohocken. 1873-1924 located at Hector and Fayette Streets. It was the former home of George Washington Jacoby. Notice the Washington Fire House on Hector Street in the background? First National Bank of Conshohocken located at Hector and Fayette Streets 1924-1956 Philadelphia National Bank 1956 until the late 1990’s located at 5th Ave and Fayette Streets. This photo taken from the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper from December 1955 shows the banks vault being constructed for the Philadelphia National Bank.
Recently Mayor Bob Frost and his special events committee presented a $5.00 Conshohocken Bill to the Conshohocken Historical Society. Stop by the Historical Society to see a very cool piece of history.