West Conshohocken Basketball
And A Little High School History
Along with some pretty cool vintage photographs
By Jack Coll
Going back more than a century West Conshohocken fielded more than a few championship sports teams. The early West Conshohocken Reliance Football Teams won three Montgomery County Championships between 1906-1911 with guys like Ed and John Egan, Jimmy Boyle, Howard Armitage, Olden Bishop, Chitzer Armitage, John Shade, Pierce Noble, Harry Ellam, Bill Lukens and Pick Campbell.
Back in the early part of the last century West Conshohocken was a thriving borough, this was long before the Schuylkill Expressway and Blue Route cut the borough in half.
A few of the West Conshohocken family-owned businesses during the1920’s included Mrs. Toussaint who owned a grocery store on Ford Street not far from Fishers Cigar Store. Over at the corner of Ford and Elizabeth Street was Peter Maguire’s Tobacco and Candy Store and when prohibition hit in 1919 McLaughlin’s Tavern became McLaughlin’s Ice Cream Store. Right on the corner of Ford and Front Streets was John Fernside’s Grocery Store and not far from Fernside’s was Florance Jacobs Grocery Store at Ford and First Alley. At 120 Ford Street was Toles General Store. There was Felix O’Brian’s Hotel at 31 Front Street and another grocery store owned by Thomas Mathew’s on Front Street below Bullock Avenue and John McKenzie operated a Cash Grocery and Provisions Store at the corner of Cedar Avenue and Williams Street.
A few of the West Conshohocken businesses in later years included Kilmer’s Delicatessen during the 1950’s at 200 Ford Street, Mrs. Reed’s Beauty Shop, Joseph Pioskon Grocery and Meats during the 1950’s once located at 727 Ford Street, Shaffer’s West Side Market at 9 Front Street, Muzzy’s Lunch during the early 1950’s located at 106 Front Street, Campbell’s West Side News Agency and two businesses once located at 16 Balligomingo Road including the Alex Jost Hotel and the Keystone Hotel both during the 1950’s and we should mention the Balligomingo Inn during the 1970’s. There was Wyrembek’s Groceries at 400 Bullock Avenue. There were dozens of other West Conshohocken businesses over the years, perhaps for another time.
The Pastime Baseball Club of West Conshohocken turned in several championships between 1903-1923. A few of the standout players who played their games at Mud Hollow included Ed Flanagan, Bob McDowell, Steve Ferrier, Tommy Flanagan, Pup McLaughlin, Joe Garnet, Cliff Williams, Jack Welsh, Ed and Jack Smith.
A number of West Conshohocken lads played on the Conshohocken Athletic Club Team. This team also played in the early part of last century but played their games at the “Meadow” baseball field once located along the canal at Washington and Cherry Street. William Parry Murphy and Walt Mason were standout players on the team.
While West Conshy turned in championship seasons with their Cribbage and Pool teams the town thrived in the sport of Basketball.
West Conshohocken turned out all-star caliber basketball players for more than a century with their early Reliance teams, high school teams, summer basketball leagues and of course Don Stemple led St. Gertrude’s CYO teams.
The long-forgotten 1911 West Conshohocken Reliance Team was perhaps one of the best teams in the Philadelphia region. The team won the league and county championships after beating teams from throughout Montgomery County and Philadelphia. Harry Ellam and John Clinton, (neither appear in the team photo) proved to be the team’s heavy scorers and Ellam was a pillar at his center position. In the team photo standing in the back row from left included Frank Herron, Player Manager Ed Hyde and Billy McCabe. Seated from left included Howard “Chitcher” Armitage, Roy Ramey; Captain of the team and Joe Connelly. The team was particularly tough when they played at home in Reliance Hall beating Northeast A.C. of Philadelphia by a one-sided score of 70-21 and the Boys Club out of West Philadelphia by a score of 44-24, West Conshohocken residents packed the hall for each and every game.
In the fall of 1940 Conshohocken and West Conshohocken residents were living the American-Dream. The two towns had three high schools including Conshohocken High, St. Matthew High and West Conshohocken High School. Jobs were plentiful with all the mills along the river and throughout both boroughs and there was very little or no-talk at all about the impending war.
West Conshohocken High school was built and established in September of 1930. Alva MacKenzie was President of the Schools Board of Directors, Mrs. Anna Reid, who was the only female on the Board of Directors was the chairman of the school’s dedication committee.
When the school building constructed of red brick opened in 1930 the building contained six classrooms, a combination auditorium and gymnasium, library and teachers’ room on the main floor. The manual training and home economics departments were under the main floor.
West Conshohocken High School struggled for 17 years by putting enough students in the classrooms to warrant their own high school.
While it was reported in 1934 that only nine students would be graduating, the school experienced an increased enrollment in 1935 with an additional 25 new students but it only brought the High Schools total enrollment for grades 9-12 to 110 students. By 1947 the members of the West Conshohocken High School board of Directors announced that after 17 years the high school once located at the intersection of Bullock and Moir Streets that had cost $18,000 to build would close with remaining students going to Upper Merion High school then located at the corner of Gulph Road, (Route 23) and Henderson Road. The old Upper Merion High School is still standing and serves as an office building owned by Brian O’Neil. Many of the students choose to attend Conshohocken High School once located on the corner of West Seventh Avenue and Fayette Street, currently the site of a Bank.
While the school’s athletic programs struggled to field teams West Conshohocken athletics had some glorious times, but perhaps the school’s biggest athletic accomplishment courtesy of the 1940-1941 Boys Basketball Team.
West Conshohocken High School
1940-41 Suburban “Six” Champions
In the fall of 1940, and the winter of 1941, the talk was hot and heavy down at Min’s Diner once located at 104 Ford Street in West Conshohocken. The talk was all about the West Conshohocken High School Basketball Team. Who could believe the basketball team, would be 7-1 in league play by late February. The West Conshohocken Hill Toppers had won a number of close games outscoring their opponents 604-476.
Head coach Jack Hinchey never expected his squad to post a 14-5 season record, before going into the Quarter Finals in Section One where they dominated Radnor High School with a 32-21 victory before losing to Ridley High in the Semi-Finals. The Borough of West Conshohocken only supported a High School for 17 years from 1930-1947, the school was always handicapped with limited numbers of students resulting in very small sports teams.
Fred Ingram was a substitute player on the Championship Team but hit some key buckets that helped the team with a victory over Bridgeport. Frank Diesinger was a defensive standout in the 30-28 victory over Bridgeport. William Hilt and Robert Schrack were Co-captains that kept the team going in the tight games, ten games were decided by four points or less and thanks to the leadership of the co-captains West Conshy pulled out victories in most of those games. Edward Fenelon, Leo Prusinowski, and Robert McDonnell all provided highlights during the season. The Slater boys, Bob and Albert also contributed at times. Bill Schaffer, Jack Graham, and Francis Kennedy all played key roles with their passing, scoring and rebounding throughout the championship season.
When you win a championship, the cheerleaders take part in every win and loss, during the 1940-41 season, the West Conshy cheerleaders included Mary Shaw, Ruth Sowers, William McDonnell, Eleanor Waltemyers, and Helen Winners.
It would be West Conshohocken’s High School’s only championship season.
But during that magical season in 1940-41, all was right at Bill’s Lunch on Ford Street, the talk of basketball greatness was the only conversation at Reid’s Barber Shop at 118 Ford Street. Over at the West End Garage in Wilsontown they talked about the play of Hilt, Schrack, and Schaffer. Over at the Florence Café not far from the George Clay Fire Company they hung newspaper clippings from each and every game and at David Arndt’s Newspaper Store located on lower Ford Street, well it was as though the customers didn’t want to leave as they talked about game after game.
For a brief moment, all was well in West Conshohocken, all hail the champs.
In the spring of 1941 on June 16, 26 students graduated from West Conshohocken High School including Joseph Sierotowicz, Louise Ruth, Mary McCarrick, William McDonnell, Ann O’Brian, Alice Williams, Della Carter, Margaret Finneran, Mary Shaw, Marie McTamney, John Huber, Jane Baranowski, Jane Ried, Elva Bovell, Paul Schwartz, Mary Brady, Joseph Pollack, Florence Dimick, Ruth Sowers, William Hilt, Margaret Waltemyer, William Schaffer, Fred Ingram, Margaret Buler, Elizabeth Costello and Robert Schrack.
Just months after graduating war clouds were looming over the United States and on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States found themselves in the throes of a world war. American boys and girls put graduations behind them and strapped on their military boots. In Conshohocken one out of every seven residents living in the borough served in the military during World War Two. In West Conshohocken one out of every six residents served in the armed forces during World War Two. No-one has ever proved to me that there was a more patriotic towns in America than the Conshohocken’s.
Over the years West Conshohocken has produced dozens of outstanding athletes that have left their mark at Upper Merion High school, Plymouth Whitemarsh High school, Conshohocken High School and St. Matthew’s High School.
West Conshohocken is perhaps the toughest little town in the country
Hey Happy New Year to all my West Conshohocken Friends,
Photographs above in no particular order include:
The former West Conshohocken High School constructed in 1930 at a cost of $18,000. This photo was taken in the summer of 1990 shortly before it was sold and demolished.
A photo taken in 1919 when River Road was still a dirt road. The photograph was taken just outside of the gas-plant that was under construction at the time. Notice the homesteads along river road and the construction workers using horse and wagons.
A photo taken in the fall of 1921 of Front and Ford Streets showing McLaughlin’s Candy Store. Prohibition was in effect, on the left and a row of stores on the opposite corner that once housed Ried’s barber shop, and a number of other stores in the building. Notice the steam roller working as crews were finishing work on the new Matsonford Bridge that opened two months after this photo was taken.
Another view of the intersection at Front and Ford Streets.
An early view, (circa 1920’s) of Ford Street in West Conshohocken showing a number of the businesses including McGuire’s Tavern in the center of the photo.
Eight hard drinking men standing outside McGuire’s Tavern at the turn of last century showing an unpaved Ford Street.
Patrons at McGuire’s Bar in 1986 take-in a Fourth of July parade.
A 1940’s photograph showing the West Conshohocken monument, the two houses in the background were demolished in the early 1950’s to make was for the Schuylkill Expressway ramps, the building on the right today is Jasper’s West Side.
The 1911 West Conshohocken Reliance Basketball team won the Montgomery County Championship. Standing in the back row from left included Frank Herron, Ed Hyde, and Billy McCabe. Seated from left included Howard “Chitcher” Armitage, Roy Ramey, and Joe Connelly.
West Conshohocken High School Varsity Basketball Team from 1944.
The 1940-41 West Conshohocken High School Basketball Team that won the Suburban 6, P.I.A.A. Championship recording a 14-5- record. Members of the team included Standing from left were William Hilt, Jack Hinchey, Robert Schrack, Fred Ingram, William Shaffer, Francis Kennedy and Jack Graham. Kneeling from left included John Huber, Frank Diesinger, Leo Prusinowski, Robert McDonnell, Ed Fenelon, and Paul Swartz, manager. Robert and Albert Slater were not present for the photo.
Assorted St. Gertrude’s CYO photos from the 1960’s. Be sure to check out Conshystuff.com for more history articles written by Jack Coll and check out the local businesses on the site that have supported our community for years.