CONSHOHOCKEN, a Borough of Montgomery County, in southeastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A., is situated on the banks of the Schuylkill river. The Borough 1.03 square miles in area, is 15 miles northwest of center city Philadelphia. Pop. (1890) 5,470; (1900) 5,762 (932 being foreign-born); (1910) 7,480; (1950) 10,900; (2004) 7,745; (2005) 8,000. Incorporated in 1850, the area was first settled about 1820, and for several years was known as Matsons Ford. In 1830 it was laid out as a town and received its present name, from a derivative of the Lenni-Lenape Indians ... "the place of the long fine land," and described today as Pleasant Valley or Conshohocken. It was served by the Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia & Reading railways. It had a variety of manufacturing establishments, among which were cotton and woolen mills, rolling mills, steel mills, foundries, boiler shops, tube works, and works for making surgical instruments and artificial stone. Immediately across the Schuylkill river in West Conshohocken, large textile mills operated along the Schuylkill, producing carpets and woolen goods and army uniforms for federal government up to and including World War II. The iron and steel industries were booming up to the mid 1950's employing approximately 5,000 local workers. But then, things began to change. Less expensive overseas imports led to large layoffs of workers at Alan Wood Steel Company. The 145-year-old company, once the country's largest employer reduced their workforce to less than 700 in the 1960's. During the same time period (1966), Lee Tire known around the world as "Lee of Conshohocken" employed more than 850 people became a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire and Rubber company.
Because of the large layoffs of the former vibrant Allen Wood Steel and Lee Tire companies and the lack of jobs in the boroughs, many residents moved from the Conshohockens, leaving the boroughs to deal with a devastated local economy. As a result, the Borough of Conshohocken found economic revitalization a necessity. George Rafferty, the head of the Borough Planning commission and other borough leaders recognized the need to reverse the Borough’s faltering economy and turned to Montgomery county for help. In response, the Redevelopment Authority commissioned a study for downtown Conshohocken. That 1966 study produced a fanciful plan, at the foot of the Matsonford bridge, consisting of a multipurpose retail, residential, office, restaurant, and hotel complex, spanning over the intersection of Fayette and Elm streets. Based on that plan, a formal Redevelopment Plan was adopted in August of 1971. Under the leadership of Joseph Burns, the president of Borough Council, the Borough, submitted the plan along with a request for funds to HUD who after three years of negotiations with the Borough, in 1974, granted the Borough of Conshohocken a $5.6 million Urban Renewal Grant to acquire and clear 25 acres within a newly defined Urban Renewal Area in order to make this newly vacated ground available for future development.
After receipt of the federal grant, acquisition of properties commenced, which entailed relocating more than 600 residents and 55 businesses in order to make way for the demolition that began in the spring of 1976. Upon completion, in 1981, 248 buildings had been demolished leaving only three buildings, the 1874 Washington Fire Company firehouse, the Outbound station and Vycal Plastics at Harry Street. During that time period, the Borough’s leaders foresight was confirmed when Alan Wood Steel and Lee Tire closed their doors within a year of each other. Shortly thereafter many other supporting companies in the area also closed.
In July of 1979, the Redevelopment Authority adopted a new Redevelopment Plan, and in December of 1979, chose Harold R. Epstein as the first redeveloper of the 25-acre Urban Renewal Area. That 1979 Plan was bounded by First Ave on the North to the Septa railroad tracks on the South and from Oak Street on the West to Ash Street on the East. Within that area, Mr. Epstein proposed to develop a discount retail center from First Ave to Elm Street. However, interest rates rose steadily from 8.7% in 1975 to more than 18.5% in 1981. Consequently Mr. Epstein was not able to finance any new development and decided to withdrawn as redeveloper of the Urban Renewal area.
1979 Redevelopment Plan for Retail Center Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and Howard Epstein
As interest rates started to turn around in 1981, the Borough turned to Meehan-Weinmann to develop a 40-unit Section 8 housing development in the redevelopment area. Within a year, the revitalization efforts of the Borough came to fruition with the start of construction on the Pleasant Valley Apartments. Based on their performance Meehan-Weinmann was then selected by the Borough and the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority to sign a contract on Oct. 3, 1983 as the exclusive Redeveloper of the 25-acre Urban Renewal Area.
Making use of the first of six UDAG grants awarded by Urban Development Action Grant program to Conshohocken, to help overcome lending institutions’ early reluctance to financing early development of properties in the Conshohocken, ground breaking ceremonies for the first office building at One First Ave occurred on Oct. 8, 1983 announcing to the region that "Conshohocken means business." Subsequently a March 22, 1985 groundbreaking for a second office building in Conshohocken’s Urban Renewal Area occurred. Within six months, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation demolished the existing Matsonford bridge on Sept 7, 1986 and direct access from the west side of the Schuylkill river to Conshohocken was cut off until November 27, 1987 when the new Matsonford bridge was dedicated.
With the 1985 announcements, that a new bridge would replace the old Matsonford bridge, and that a Federal Judge had given the green light to resumption of I-476 construction, (that had been stalled since in 1979 when new Federal Environmental laws became retroactively applicable, to the 21.5-mile mid-county expressway dubbed the "Blue Route" in 1958 originally scheduled for completion in 1964, was consequently put on hold.) Conshohocken was poised to become the physical center of the region due to suburban growth with its direct access to the Schuylkill Expressway, Philadelphia and City Line Ave 6 miles to the East and I-476, King of Prussia and the PA Turnpike 5 miles to the West.
However, in 1984, during a flyover of the Conshohockens for aerial marketing photos of the Conshohocken for Meehan-Weinmann it was discovered that ramps to and from the Conshohockens had not been incorporated when the three-mile stretch of I-476 from Ridge Pike in Plymouth Township to the Schuylkill Expressway was built in 1981. With the help and active support of State Senator Richard Tilghman, who understood the importance of the ramps to the Conshohockens, PennDot agreed to install "slip" ramps at the Schuylkill Expressway interchange which led to and from the foot of the Matsonford bridge in West Conshohocken. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the previous lower Court’s Order in the case. Essentially, the 1985 Supreme Court’s action meant that the Blue Route was finally going to be completed which created additional excitement, ignited the interest of Acorn Development and Oliver Tyrone Pulver to come to Conshohocken which led to further development of the Conshohockens that had never been previously envisioned, resulting in the Four Falls and Tower Bridge concepts. Finally, on December 16, 1992, the Blue Route originally budgeted at $40 million was opened entirely with the completion of the last section of the 21.5 mile bypass at Plymouth Meeting, after six decades of planning, litigation, and construction at a final cost of more than $600 million.
As a result of the work of the three pioneer redevelopers, Meehan-Weinmann, Acorn Development, and Oliver Tyrone Pulver, Keating Development came to the Ccnshohockens in 1997, followed by the Berwind Property Group and O’Neill Properties in 2000. Today there is in excess of two million square feet of space in 18 office buildings, two hotels, over one thousand residential units on both sides of the Schuylkill river, and there is much 'More to Come'.