Appendix #3 See note below
Frank and Pat Fleming were both born and raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania. .Norristown is located in Montgomery County which is in the southeast portion of Pennsylvania. That county was a very unique area when Pat and Frank were growing up.
Abutting the City of Philadelphia (at that time the 3rd largest city in the US) abutted one side of the county and gave that portion of the county a very urban atmosphere. Other parts of the county were rich agriculture areas while mill towns (of which Norristown was one) lined the length of the Schuylkill River as it passed through the county on its winding route from the upstate coal regions of Pennsylvania to join the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.
The eastern portion of the county was dotted with affluent bedroom communities such as Cheltenham, Abington, Elkins Park and Jenkintown from which many inhabitants commuted to work in Philadelphia. The mainline of the Pennsylvania railroad, connecting New York City through Philadelphia and on to Chicago, passed through the western part of the county. That railroad line, which also carried commuter trains to downtown Philadelphia, gave name to the highly affluent and famous Philadelphia Mainline area – a major portion of which was in Montgomery County.
Norristown, itself, is situated on the Schuylkill River a mere 7 miles from the Philadelphia city line and less than 20 miles from downtown Philadelphia. In the opposite direction, Norristown is just 7 miles from, at that time, rural Valley Forge where George Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777. Because it was the nearest population center to this historic site of Washington’s 1777 winter quarters, Norristown always called itself “The Gateway to Valley Forge”.
When Pat & Frank were growing up, Norristown was a major transportation hub connected to Philadelphia by the Reading Railroad which followed the Schuylkill from the upstate coal towns to industrial Philadelphia, by a Pennsylvania railroad commuter line and also by the Philadelphia & Western (P&W) high-speed passenger rail line that connected the Philadelphia “EL” and its subway system with sections of the Main Line before continuing on through Norristown to Allentown, Pa. The Allentown service was discontinued in the early 1950s.
Heavily traveled U.S. Route #202, which was called De Kalb Street when it passed though Norristown, was in the 1940s, the main route connecting Washington, D.C. and points south of there with New York City and points north. Opened in the early 50s, the eastern extension of the Pennsylvania turnpike later connected the Philadelphia and Norristown areas to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and points west. Subsequently, the turnpike was extended from the Norristown area northeast to Scranton and the Pocono Mountain resort areas and east to join with the New Jersey turnpike and on to New York City. The Schuylkill expressway linking nearby King of Prussia and the turnpike to downtown Philadelphia was constructed in the mid 50s and provided Norristown quick and easy access (at that time) to Philadelphia.
Founded in 1812, Norristown evolved to be a very unique town by the 40s and 50s. As the county seat of Montgomery County it had a large professional population. However, it was still very much a mill town with knitting and textile mills, iron and boiler works, screw and bolt factories in the town and a medium size steel plant in adjacent Plymouth Township. Major railroad yards and a major carpet manufacturer were located just across the river in Bridgeport. Because of its proximity to Philadelphia, it was also a thriving suburban, bedroom community.
In both the 1940 and 1950 censuses, the Borough of Norristown had a population of +/- 38,000 in the town and close to 50,000 if the surrounding communities of Bridgeport, East and West Norriton, Plymouth and Jeffersonville were included in the count. Norristown was primarily settled by and inhabited (until the 1960s) by white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. In the late 1800s, a large number of Irish immigrants also settled in Norristown to be followed in the 1900s by many Italians. Both groups came to work in the town’s factory and mills. For the most part, the WASPs lived in a couple of the nicer areas of town while the Irish and Italians lived in their own very nice, clean but modest ethnic neighborhoods. There also were a fairly small number of blacks, who primarily provided domestic labor, and lived in a segregated part of town.
Growing up there in the 40s and 50s, Norristown, to Pat & Frank, was very much an All American community with hard-working, church going residents raising their families respecting God, Country, Family, Good Friends & Good Neighbors. It was a town which in many ways was a microcosm of the many other smaller towns that dotted the east coast at that time. This website and blog is an attempt to recall and revisit what Pat & Frank’s lives were like in Norristown, Pennsylvania the 1940s and 1950s and remembering a past that will never recur, events that are history and things that are now museum pieces.
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Pat & Frank Fleming
List of appendices
Appendix 3 – Our Hometown
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Please Note, This Appendix is provided for reference. only .