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All About “Conshy”

“Conshy,” as Conshohocken is known to the locals, was established in 1850. But it was the Lenni-Lenape Indians who first called “the place of the long fine land,” home.

We are located just northwest of Philadelphia, on the Schuylkill river.

Most families have been here for generations. Our town’s founding fathers’ great-grandchildren still live here today. Conshy has always been a close-knit community filled with history. Most of our streets bear the names of early settlers. Hector Street is named for Edward Hector, an African-American teamster in the Revolution. Fayette Street was named for LaFayette, the general and his two thousand men who used the road to escape from the British in 1778.

In 1873, the Borough Council appointed our first police officer, John A. Harrold. Today Conshohocken has 30 officers.

Our first post office was just one room on Fayette Street between Hector and Elm in 1836. It moved several times before arriving at its present location on Fifth Ave and Fayette Street in 1941.

James Harry, a druggist at 37 Fayette Street, registered for the first telephone in town in 1880. Three years later the American Telephone Co. installed a switchboard in the drugstore. Clerk, William Neville, operated the switchboard while waiting on customers. By 1890, there were thirty-one telephones in town.

In 1887 a group of citizens organized the Conshohocken Electric Light and Power Company and built the first electric light plant. It took until 1888 for Fayette Street to have light by the new Edison light bulb.

By 1890 we had 5,561 citizens in our one- square mile community and Conshy was thriving.

The original trolley on Fayette Street went from Twelfth to Hector Street in December, 1894 and ran until September,1933.

J. Ellwood Lee, who formed his own surgical supply company, built a three-story factory at Eighth Ave. and Harry Street in 1887. In 1910, Lee built his own automobile tire factory. With a work force of 850, his company was known around the world as “Lee of Conshohocken.” In 1966, Lee Tires became a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire and Rubber company and closed in 1978. The building still stands today on Hector Street and is used as offices for various businesses.

The Alan Wood Company produced iron and was incorporated in 1885. In 1903, the company began producing steel at Ivy Rock, a mile west of Conshohocken along the Schuylkill. Alan Wood Steel operated for 145 years and was once the country’s largest employer (3,500). In 1977 they filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors.

Conshy fact: There are 17 bars, 4 funeral homes and 9 churches in Conshohocken.

Like most industrial towns, Conshohocken began attracting immigrants who moved in for the jobs. The Irish came first to work in the mills and quarries. The already established Irish families offered immigrants beds and meals until they found work and their own rooms. The social life of the Irish revolved around the churches and schools. Bazaars and card parties were the main fund raisers and entertainment. By 1900 the Irish constituted the largest number of taxpayers in town, and the following Irish businesses thrived: R. W. O’Donnell, cabinetmaker; Daniel Foley, hotel (since 1879); Miles Stemple, livery stable; Joseph McGonigal, cabinetmaker; Wrigley Shoes; Patrick Leary and Charles Williman, groceries; George Darrah, shoes; James Tracy, flour and feed; Thomas McCoy, owner of three drugstores; Michael F Moore and Harry Collins, undertakers; Redmonds Shoes; Patrick Lacey, cigar store; Patrick Meadey, hotel; John and Mary Fogarty, groceries; Moylan’s Drugs; William McGovern, cigar store; McNally’s Groceries; Quigley’s Bakery; Kindregan’s Meats; John Hushen, meats.

About 1895, immigrants began arriving from eastern Europe. Among those from Poland, Michael Opielski, Jacob Zajac, Walter Sztubinski and the Staromowicz, Antonowicz, Kruszynski and Pateracki families found on East and West Elm Street. By 1905 one hundred Polish families became the backbone of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.

The Italians began arriving in 1901, the year John Cardamone found a job at Beatty’s Stone Quarry and settled in Conshohocken. Soon he and his wife Carmella moved into a house at 125 Maple Street and opened a small grocery. This small section of Maple Street known as “Cork Row” was soon renamed “Little Italy.” John Cardamone was known for helping other immigrants get to the U.S. by loaning them money and food until they could get on their feet. He was named president of the SS. Cosmas and Damian Association in 1907. By 1969, one-third of Conshohocken’s population was of Italian origin. Today, Russell Cardamone (John’s great-grandson) and his wife, Maureen, are busy raising the fifth generation of Cardamones in Conshohocken.

Conshy fact: Conshohocken is one square mile.

Conshy reached its peak population in the 1950s with a population of 10,900. The iron and steel industries were booming and had 5,000 employees locally. But by the mid 1950s things began to change. Because it was cheaper, America began to buy its steel from Japan. By the 1960s, steel prices began to drop and our local industries began to layoff workers. In the ’60s our local workforce of iron and steel workers dropped to about 700 and soon the companies began to close. When Alan Wood Steel and Lee Tires (along with many other companies) went out of business, many families left Conshohocken in search of better opportunities. Our town almost became a ghost town.

Urban redevelopment began in 1974 with a 5.6 million dollar grant from the government. The borough began buying local real estate and building more office buildings. The borough leaders saw Conshy’s future as home to new professional industries. The first of the Tower Office Buildings along the Schuylkill was completed in 1983. In 1987, there was new excitement with plans for a new expressway, Hwy. 476 (“The Blue Route”), that would meet the Hwy. 76 (“The Schuylkill”) right in Conshy. There was also the completion of the new Matson Ford Bridge into town that made Conshohocken more accessible and attractive than ever to new businesses.

Today, our little town continues to thrive. With the continued development of new businesses along the Schuykill and new parking structures, Conshy has never been more prosperous. We have the best of both worlds here, great economic opportunity and a small town community.

Conshy fact:Our current population is 8,000.

Special thanks to Jack Coll of Jack Coll’s Framing and Photography, The Conshohocken Historical Society and Nora at the Conshohocken Borough for their assistance.