Wednesday, January 27, 1971, started out just as another day in West Conshohocken.
People drove along the Schuylkill Expressway on their way east to Philadelphia and beyond as well as on their way to Valley Forge and points west.
People went to work in the mills along the railroad.
Children went to school.
It was cold that day. And that night.
With the chill from the winds, the temperature was below zero.
Gas hot water heaters provided relief from the cold.
As people came home from school and work, dinner was prepared. Gas ovens were turned on.
There were reports that people on Front Street smelled gas. There were reports that those reports were checked out, but no gas leak was found.
At about 9:45 PM on January 27, 1971, the date ceased being ordinary in the Freedom Valley.
That was the moment that began the West Conshohocken Gas Explosion and Fire.
The Borough of West Conshohocken was forever changed.
A pipe carrying natural gas underneath Front Street was evidently under pressure for some time. It eventually cracked.
For an unknown amount of time, the natural gas from that pipeline had been seeping into the houses along Front Street.
An explosion took place.
At that moment, fire started to consume homes on Front Street.
The top photo shows the fire that was fed by natural gas.
Three firefighters man a hose line to attempt to stop the fire on Front Street.
It may difficult to see – a larger version of this photograph shows it better – there are two groups of firefighters manning two different hoses as they strive to fight the fire.
Flames could be seen for miles as the natural gas fed the fire in West Conshohocken.
This is the view as you would enter West Conshohocken from Upper Merion. Firefighters had to deal with wind gusts that were as high as 40 miles per hour.
Fire trucks and emergency response vehicles lined this section of Front Street as you enter West Conshohocken from Upper Merion. Flames were said to have climbed 100 feet in the air.
The white building to the right is one of the mills that used to be found along the Schuylkill River in West Conshohocken in 1971. Today, One Tower Bridge would be in the foreground of this photo. Five Tower Bridge would be where the mill is in this photograph.
The houses to the left have been destroyed in an explosion. The houses to the right on Front Street are being consumed by fire.
A house is consumed by fire on Front Street.
This shows the fire trucks on Front Street at its intersection with William Street. A lumberyard is to the right in this photograph.
Flames consume houses on Front Street.
This photograph shows the silhouette of firefighters on Front Street near Bullock Street. The river side of the street is to the left.
In Part Three, you’ll see additional photographs that show further aspects of the devastation in West Conshohocken.
The photos are provided as a courtesy by George Clay Fire Company.
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© 2018 Richard McDonough