Remembering One of Conshohocken’s Greatest Residents
Dr. William McKenzie
By Jack Coll
I’ve been enjoying Christmas week, eating way too many deserts, spending time with family and cleaning and filing in my third floor office. It seems as though whenever I get to filing and organizing my photographs I get nostalgic, reminiscing from years gone by in Conshohocken, everything from sports, to soap box derby, to churches, schools, structures and residents.
I came across a photograph of the house at 208 Fayette Street and went to file it in my “Houses” file, and I thought, “I wondered how many residents know about this house and the man who built it?” It’s located directly across Fayette Street from the former St. Matthew School, and sits above the Check Cashing business.
Dr. William McKenzie and his wife Alice (During) had their home and office built at 208 Fayette Street around 1900. During his 60 year career as town doctor for Conshohocken and West Conshohocken it was calculated that Dr. McKenzie delivered more than twenty five hundred children. Perhaps one of those twenty five hundred children was your mother, grandmother or grandfather!
I thought it would be interesting if I copied a few paragraphs from the book “Conshohocken & West Conshohocken—People, Places and Stories” written by Jack and Brian Coll.
Dr. McKenzie’s name in the year 2019 is virtually unknown, but a century ago Dr. William McKenzie was known by every resident on both sides of the bridge including the Merion’s and beyond.
Dr. McKenzie was born in County Antrim, Ireland on November 14, 1841. Hugh McKenzie his father brought his family to America two years after his son was born, arriving in America in 1843. Hugh was a farmer and moved around settling in Port Kennedy, Cedar Grove, Spring Mill and Philadelphia.
Young William attended public schools and was prepared for college under a private tutor before attending Lafayette College in Easton, Pa where he graduated in 1866. Following his graduation he taught in the collegiate institution of Newtown, New Jersey, during 1866-1867. The following year he became a principal of West Jersey Academy at Bridgeton resigning in 1869. William entered the Medical Department at the University of Pennsylvania, following graduation in 1871 he immediately took up residence in West Conshohocken.
Over the next thirty years Dr. McKenzie made his mark in the west borough serving on Borough Council and was the first Republican Burgess elected to office in 1894. While attending to his patients he also served as West Conshohocken’s Post Master for eight years.
On June 21, 1881 Dr. McKenzie married Alice R. During who was from Easton Pa., where they met while he attended school. Alice’s father was a grocery store merchant in Easton. The couple had a daughter Maude, she was their only child.
The family moved to Conshohocken around 1900 when Dr. McKenzie had his home and office built at 208 Fayette Street. Early-on in his career he attended the school of medicine and opened a drug store in West Conshohocken not far from where his brother John T. operated a grocery store for many years.
As the town’s physician Dr. McKenzie delivered more than 2500 children into the world during his nearly 60 years as the town doctor until his death in June of 1928. Dr. McKenzie during his years practicing gained a wide reputation for his success in the treatment of “Fevers.” Most of his patients were house calls and Dr. McKenzie traveled throughout the year in all kinds of weather. His practice became so extensive that for many years he used four horses. He was a lover of horses and always had animals with exceptional speed, as he would return from one house call learning of another sick patient he would mount a fresh horse and race off to the next patient.
In Conshohocken, Dr. McKenzie was extremely active in the community having served as the borough’s President of the Board of Health for many years. Dr. McKenzie and his wife Alice were also extremely active in the Presbyterian Church which was founded in 1847, at that time led by Stephen Colwell, (Colwell Lane) and John Freedley, (Freedly Street). The Presbyterians built their first church at the corner of Elm and Maple Street.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, September 14, 1890, the cornerstone for the new Presbyterian Church was laid by Dr. William McKenzie who was the Chairman of the building committee. The new Presbyterian Church was located at the corner of Third Avenue and Fayette Street just yards away for Dr. McKenzie’s residence at 208 Fayette Street. Less than a year later on August 9, 1891 the first services were held at the new church. The Presbyterian Church was demolished in the spring of 1972 to make way for the Marshall Lee Towers, Presbyterian worshipers moved to their new quarters to the “Church on the Mall” at Plymouth Meeting Mall.
Dr. McKenzie’s life and accomplishments goes on and on, but on a final note he was a member of the prestigious American Academy of Medicine and was particularly proud to be a member and Past Master of Fritz Lodge No. 420, Free and Accepted Masons of Conshohocken.
Perhaps the next time you wander down Fayette Street on your way to the Boathouse or Great American Pub, or driving past the white house on the hill, you’ll think about Dr. McKenzie, and his nearly six decades of delivering babies and curing the sick.
As I continue to file many of my more than
one million photographs stay-tuned for more memories. Hey Doc, thanks for your commitment!