The Freedom Valley Chronicles:
Expansion Of Conshohocken Through Annexation
May 28, 2018
The Borough of Conshohocken attempted to annex what was the then the headquarters and factory of the Lee Tire and Rubber Company in 1955. Seven of the nine largest industries in Whitemarsh Township – along with the homes of about 500 people – were targeted for annexation by the Borough. This photo shows the site of the former buildings of the Lee Tire and Rubber Company at Hector Street and North Lane in 2017.
In Parts One and Two of The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Expansion of Conshohocken Through Annexation, we detailed how the Borough expanded its size through modest adjustments to its borders with both Plymouth Township and with Whitemarsh Township.
There were at least three other attempts to expand the Borough of Conshohocken by annexing chucks of Whitemarsh Township. Two attempts were initiated by residents of Whitemarsh who wanted to become part of Conshohocken.
The other attempt – an attempt to double the size of the Borough – was initiated by the municipal leaders of Conshohocken. It appears that, at least initially, two leaders of Whitemarsh – one of whom was active in the leadership of the Conshohocken Chamber of Commerce – worked behind-the-scenes to encourage the Borough annex this part of Whitemarsh.
None of these three attempts to expand were successful.
According to The Weekly Recorder in a news article dated August 18, 1888, residents of the Spring Mill Village in Whitemarsh Township were discussing plans to be annexed into the Borough of Conshohocken. The newspaper published an editorial in support of the annexation as beneficial for both Spring Mill and Conshohocken. There was an acknowledgement that property owners in Spring Mill would face higher taxes, though the newspaper indicated such an increase would be modest compared to the benefits that would accrue to the former Whitemarsh residents if they joined their neighbors in the Borough.
Residents in the Spring Mill section of Whitemarsh Township again tried to leave the Township in 1904. In that year, the local residents were "formulating plans" to be annexed to the Borough "to avoid being included in a township school consolidation,” according to a news article dated February 13, 1904, in The Reading Times.
The annexation efforts in 1904, like the ones in 1888, did not succeed.
Whitemarsh Township did eventually consolidate some of its schools with the opening of the Barren Hill Consolidated School on August 20, 1921, according to a news article of the same date in The Philadelphia Inquirer. That school was later renamed as the “Lafayette Consolidated School”. After being used as an educational facility for several generations of Whitemarsh residents, the school was closed and the building sold. Today, the building serves as the Whitemarsh Township Municipal Building.
The idea of merging Spring Mill into Conshohocken did not disappear. But until 1955, it was simply talk. In that year, things moved very quickly.
Conshohocken decided it wanted to about double in size. (Whether the area to be annexed truly would double the size of the Borough is not certain.)
The Borough sought to annex approximately $9,000,000.00 worth of real estate into its corporate limits.
This aerial map (from 1958) shows the area of Whitemarsh Township that
the Borough of Conshohocken attempted (in 1955) to annex into its
corporate limits. The area was bounded roughly by Righter Street,
12th Avenue, Butler Pike, North Lane, and the Schuylkill.
The Conshohocken Borough Council met on July 13, 1955, to begin the process of annexing almost one square mile of land in Whitemarsh, according to a news article dated January 12, 1956, in The Conshohocken Recorder.
The area to be annexed was the section of Whitemarsh bounded roughly by Righter Street, 12th Avenue, Butler Pike, North Lane, and the Schuylkill. It included Leeland Heights and Spring Mill.
According to a news article dated July 15, 1955, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors and the Whitemarsh School Board met jointly on July 14, 1955, to oppose the move by Conshohocken.
The newspaper article indicated that the land that Conshohocken wanted to annex contained "7 of the township's 9 major industries"; including the headquarters and factory of the Lee Tire and Rubber Company; about 500 residents lived in the area to be annexed, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Municipal and school officials confirmed that if the industries were removed from Whitemarsh, the tax burden would fall more directly on the remaining owners of residential property in the Township.
“Township residents in favor of the plan are scarce as hen’s teeth,” according to a news article in The Recorder on July 21, 1955.
This photo shows the intersection of North Lane and Butler Pike in 2017. Had the Borough of Conshohocken succeeded with its annexation attempt of a section of Whitemarsh Township in 1955, part of the border between the two municipalities would have been North Lane rather than 12th Avenue. Saint Matthew’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, seen to the left in this photo, would have remained in Whitemarsh. All of the properties seen here in the center of photo – between North Lane and Butler Pike – would have become part of Conshohocken.
About 200 people attended a meeting on August 8, 1955, at the Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint High School to discuss the proposed annexation and ways to avoid the loss of territory and tax revenue from Whitemarsh to Conshohocken. This, according to a news article dated August 9, 1955, in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
One option discussed at that meeting was for Whitemarsh Township to convert from a Second Class Township to a First Class Township. As a First Class Township, Whitemarsh would be able to stop annexation of its land without its consent by another municipality. In addition, First Class Townships could levy higher real estate taxes as compared to Second Class Townships.
The newspaper reported that the option to become a First Class Township was "opposed by a show of 150 hands" at that meeting.
Despite the opposition by leaders of Whitemarsh Township, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in a news article dated August 11, 1955, that the Conshohocken Borough Council met on August 10, 1955, to continue its efforts to annex part of Whitemarsh. At that meeting, the Conshohocken Borough Council began the required survey of the section of Whitemarsh scheduled for annexation, according to a news article in The Conshohocken Recorder on January 12 1956.
On August 11, 1955, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Whitemarsh Township declared the annexation efforts by the Borough of Conshohocken to be dead, according to a news article published the next day in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The newspaper quoted the chairman of Board of Supervisors as stating that the annexation "has died a natural death".
The newspaper reported that the chairman of the Board of Supervisors stated that 305 of 430 residents in the proposed area to be annexed had already signed petitions opposing the annexation of Leeland Heights and Spring Mill into the Borough of Conshohocken. For an annexation to be successful, a majority of the property owners in the district to be annexed must approve of the annexation.
With the majority actively opposed to the annexation, the Borough of Conshohocken was unable to proceed with its efforts to about double its size.
The photograph of Spring Mill is courtesy of Google, 2017.
The aerial photo is courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, 1958.
The photograph of North Lane and Butler Pike is courtesy of Google, 2017.
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