ST. CLAIR HOTEL
Hover over or click on the images for additional information. Research provided by Mike Poniatowicz.
Growing up in Conshohocken in the sixties and early seventies it was obvious even to a pre-teen/teen that Conshohocken’s heavy industries were in decline. However, there was one business that was booming…bars. On Fayette Street and on both the east and west sides of Conshohocken many neighborhood bars continued to thrive even as heavy industry declined. But did you know that at least some of these bars were decedents of the multitude of hotels which once thrived throughout the borough?
In the late 19th century and early 20th century Conshohocken was an industrial and transportation hub which required a fair number of hotels. According to license records in 1883 there were 18 hotels some with attached bars and restaurants. At that time most hotels were relatively small affairs with perhaps only few rooms above the restaurant and bar facilities. You can find some interesting stories in the local papers concerning the “creativity” of these hotels during the 1920s at the height of the Prohibition era.
Many of these hotels were located in the “lower” part of Conshohocken roughly between Hector Street and the Schuylkill River (on a north to south axis) and Ash and Forest Streets (on an east to west axis). Some of these hotels continued to exist and morphed into neighborhood bars until the early seventies. At that time the first redevelopment of Conshohocken’s industrial and transportation infrastructure began in earnest which meant demolition of many of the buildings in lower Conshohocken. This includes the demolition of the subject of this document. The Saint Clair Hotel.
The St. Clair Hotel stood at the corner of Harry and East Elm Street. We don’t know the exact year that the St Clair Hotel was built but we do know from an 1898 map of Conshohocken that the St. Clair Hotel was open for business in 1898.
We know from the shown advertisement printed in the Conshohocken Recorder on August 18, 1908 that the St. Clair Hotel was still open for business in 1908 under the management of Mayall May.
While researching the St. Clair I also discovered the names and locations of many of the other hotels that once dotted Conshohocken. We did find that one (and possibly two) of these old hotels are currently functioning as a least a restaurant and bar:
East End Hotel – This hotel was located at the intersection of East Hector and Jones Street. This building is currently occupied by the business “Conshy Corner” and still rents a few rooms above the restaurant. It still maintains a hotel liquor license which may be the same license acquired during its life as the East Side Hotel.
Seventh Avenue Hotel – From an 1898 map this hotel was located at the intersection of West Seventh Avenue and Maple Streets. The building currently at this location, which may or may not from 1898, is occupied by the business “Old Time Saloon." This business is a restaurant/neighborhood bar with a restaurant, not hotel, liquor license. It is unclear whether the structure at this location was the original building for the Seventh Avenue Hotel.
Addendum - April 20, 2023 4:07 PM
Since we first published this article various people have enhanced our knowledge with additional first-hand information about the St Clair Hotel. Following is a summary of that additional information:
The name of the bartender pictured in the above article (this picture was taken on July 16, 1972) is Jim Raft. Jim owned the St. Clair Hotel and ran the facility with his wife for 30 years. Russ Burke was a bartender at the St Clair Hotel for more than 25 years. In the mid 60’s Jim Raft sold the St. Clair to Russ and Helen Burke. It seems from the above photo that even after Jim sold the St. Clair he returned on occasion as a bartender.
Russ and Helen Burke owned and ran the St. Clair Hotel until it was acquired by eminent domain and demolished in 1972 as part of Conshohocken’s redevelopment project. Some personal memories of this time are below:
From Diane Boyle, niece of Russ and Helen Burke - Our Uncle Russ and Aunt Helen Burke owned The Old St. Clair Tap Room and Inn which was an historical building that was located right next to the old train station in Conshy. It was a stone building, with several guest rooms upstairs. Downstairs was the tap room. There was a separate ladies entrance. Uncle Russ ran the bar, and Aunt Helen made all the food by hand, and kept the rooms upstairs clean. There were Irish lace curtains, crystal door knobs, solid brass railings, stained glass windows, mahogany wood everywhere. The building was taken from them in the '70's citing eminent domain. It was heart breaking. Uncle Russ and Aunt Helen were the town's favorite people. Uncle Russ even let the numbers be run out of there, but he didn't actually run the numbers himself. All the cops knew them too.
From Diane Boyle – This is the last liquor license issued to the St. Clair Hotel in 1972
From Diane Boyle’s brother-in-law Bob Boyle - Wow, I spent my childhood in that bar. When the Montgomery County Community College opened in Conshy, Chris Capinski and I use to stop in and Aunt Helen would make us lunch (71-72). Uncle Russ was the bartender for 25+ years then bought it, probably in mid-sixties. I think the bartender in the picture might be Jim Raft. He owned it for a lot of years.
This is a picture of part of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station taken on October 11, 1908 at 3:09 PM. In the left background you can see the St. Clair Hotel Building.
This is the St. Clair Hotel outside sign which has been preserved not far from the old St. Clair Hotel site. This sign is currently located in the “new” Pennsylvania Railroad Station which is on the site of the 1908 Pennsylvania Railroad Station. This new Pennsylvania Railroad Station has been converted into a restaurant. The sign is hanging above a staircase as you enter the basement of the building.
This is part of the last remaining wall of the St. Clair Hotel. It stands next to the new Pennsylvania Railroad Station which has been converted to a restaurant.
Despite all of the informational resources at the Conshohocken Historical Society there is still some data which we would like to add to our archives and for that data we come to you.
For the St. Clair Hotel, we'd love for you to share any memories from the Hotel or the identities of people pictured in the photos contained in the above article.