Memory Lane, as in a trip down

The Fourth of July is the midpoint of summer to me, even if technically the season only got going about three weeks ago. With it being on Monday this year, it was nice to have a three-day weekend. My  husband and I decided to mark today by taking a walk along the Schuylkill River trail, incidentally collecting a symbol for our Montco trail challenge, though we don’t need one, we’ve met the goal of five.

No, mostly the idea appealed to me as a chance to revisit a place that was very important to me when I first settled in Philadelphia, the town of Conshohocken. Though I don’t live very far away, I don’t come here often, and usually I’m passing through on the way to somewhere else.

This municipality is situated in a bend of the Schuylkill, about 14 miles from downtown Philadelphia. My history with the town begins in 1980. I was working for Philadelphia National Bank, aspiring to become a commercial lender,  and was assigned to work as a trainee in the regional office here. The division handled small business loans; my enjoyment of the work I did here in this office determined the direction of my banking career. I went on to specialize in small business commercial loans for a large part of the next fifteen years or so.

I haven’t spent much time here in the past few years and so I thought we’d enjoy a walk through the borough. As a note, my husband also worked for the bank, although in a different group; that’s how we met, and this territory was familiar to him as well. Not to mention that he grew up only a few miles from here! We really have a history with this area.

All right. We picked up the trail at the Spring Mill train station.


This section of town was entirely industrial during my tenure here. Factories of all types, large and small, were arrayed along the river bank. I was familiar with this kind of structure from visiting customers here.

Consh 8 7-16 small

But the town has changed and changed a lot since my time here. There are a few relics of the industrial past along here:

but the majority of the river area is now pricy apartments and high-rise office buildings.


We walked along the trail up to the Fayette Street bridge, Fayette being the main street through town. The office buildings surround this area now but when I was working here, it was a mixture of warehouses and factories. I crossed this bridge on my way to work every day, and I have some memories of trying to get up the icy hill in winter in my rear-wheel-drive 1976 Monte Carlo that still give me the shivers.

 

Here is a view looking into West Conshohocken – the old and the new.

We left the trail and walked up Fayette. Many things have changed on the main street as well. But the bank building in which I worked is still there, now used by a successor of PNB, Wells-Fargo. I took a picture of the front of the building and then of the side entrance- I shared the office with the windows to the right with two other people.

I have many fond memories of my time here. In those days, before internet banking and all the other changes in how money moves, the branch was very busy all the time. An office full of tellers, customer service people, and commercial lenders served the needs of the businesses, their employees, and the local residents. It was usual for me to arrive at work, before the bank opened, and have to make my way through a crowd of people waiting to go in. The large staff was mostly female and almost all lived within walking distance of the office. They took me, a young out-of-towner, under their collective wing, advising me on where to shop, to get my car fixed, best delis, and so on. If it snowed, I would get phone calls before work telling me to be careful driving. I can’t say enough good about my time in this office.

So. My husband and I walked on through town. Here up on the hill, the traditional Conshohocken landscape still exists – a mix of rows and twins, light industrial, garages, and modest singles. The town was built for the Italian, Irish, and Polish blue-collar workers of yesterday, but prices are high now – it’s a popular location to live. There are also plenty of new builds. I took pictures of what was familiar to me about the place.

We ended up back at the car – Conshohocken is not geographically very large, but it’s huge in my memory. I am glad to have taken the time to look around again, and at a pace that gave me time to remember details.

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Exploring and Seeing A New View

My husband and I have taken Montgomery County, PA, where we live, up on its challenge. Its trail challenge, that is: visit five county trails, walk or run or bike on them, collect the symbol as evidence of your visit, and if you do this by September 4, you will get an achievement award, a medal.

Well, I don’t really need a medal, but I love the idea of visiting more trails. So I looked up the listing. We think we’re going to try to do all of them, if we can. So far we have collected two, pretty easily, since we visit them in our everyday lives – the Pennypack and the Green Ribbon.

Today we decided to try another one. The weather was hot and sunny, just beautiful, and a good day for walking. We chose the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, about 25 minutes from home, in Bala Cynwyd, PA. We had our reasons for picking this one, and I’ll tell you in a minute.

We drove to Bala (you say it Balla Kinwid, with the ‘a’ like the one in Al, although there’s a Philadelphia pronunciation sometimes heard – Balla Kinwood – and people often shorten it just to ‘Bala’). Our route took us into Philadelphia via the section called Manayunk – a former industrial area along the banks of the Schuylkill. We crossed back into Montgomery County over the Green Lane bridge, drove a short distance, and parked at the Bala Cynwyd Park. A Sunday morning baseball game was in progress:

Ball game small 6-16

Right away we were able to collect our symbol:

Cynwyd trail marker small 6-16

And we got on the trail. It’s the roadbed of an abandoned section of commuter rail, reclaimed as a trail through the efforts of a dedicated volunteer group, grants and awards, and a testament to the interest people have in our area in creating and expanding a bicycle/walking trail network. It begins at the Cynwyd commuter rail station and passes behind houses, parks, and even a tennis club. I also noted the mile markers; they are similar to old ones we see scattered around on major roads, made of marble, with mileage to Center  City Philadelphia carved into them.

The Cynwyd trail is not long, only 2 miles, but it’s well-used by local people, and it connects with a very popular trail, the Schuylkill Trail, that runs between Valley Forge and the city of Philadelphia.

Cynwyd trail small 6-16

And how it makes this connection is why we wanted to go on this walk.

Let me back up a bit. In Manayunk, just before crossing the river, we passed under an enormous railroad bridge, the freight line above us long abandoned. The bridge fell into such disrepair that chunks dropped off it and nets had to be set up to protect those going underneath it. As long as I can remember, that is how things have been.

Not any more. This bridge has now been repaired and repurposed as a bike/pedestrian bridge. An access to the Cynwyd trail was built. It opened not long ago. We’ve been wanting to make the trip over this bridge and today – we did.

We were able to see things from a perspective never before possible for us.

Here’s the bridge itself – it’s called the S bridge because of its curving shape.

S Bridge 6-16

We saw the Green Lane Bridge where we had crossed a short time ago in the car, and the Manayunk Canal.

And we got such a great view of Manayunk. This section of the city was filled with industry and packed with small rowhomes for the workers, all arrayed up the hill. Now industry is gone, but it still has many long-term residents – Poeple who live here stay here. And the area has become popular, especially for younger people and apartment dwellers – there is new construction, we saw, along the river (raised to avert flood damage).

And maybe my favorite view – the river, the expressway, a freight train on a rail line – all snaking along toward downtown. I’ve never had this view of things before and I was really taken by it.Schuykill Expressway 1 6-16 small

So, we walked back to the car. I’ll leave you with these photos of the S bridge from ground level, taken from the Green Lane bridge on our way home. You know, I’ve driven this route many times and seen this view of the intersection – but never having done it with the perspective of knowing what things look like from above, to add to it. There is new territory to be explored and new vistas opened – right under our noses! And all we had to do was – look.

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