The Freedom Valley Chronicles: West Conshohocken Gas Explosion And Fire – Part One

Tonight, at about 9:45 PM on January 27, 2018, you might be sitting on your sofa in your warm living room in front of your television.  You might be watching one of the hundreds of channels on cable, one of the legacy television networks, or maybe binge watching your favorite (or about to be your favorite) show on Netflix or Amazon.

You might instead be primping to get your hair just so right so that you’ll have the guys notice you when you’re at the bar a little later tonight.  Or you might be making sure you pick out the right shirt so the ladies give you a second look when you’re out trying your new dance moves later tonight.

Maybe you might be using your computer.  You might be playing a game on line with hundreds of people you’ll never meet from around the world.  You might be starting to prepare your income taxes.  You might be even watching certain types of movies that would make your grandma…well, would likely be movies you wouldn’t discuss with your grandma.

Or you might be getting ready for your job working the third-shift.  Getting your “lunch” ready.

But as you enjoy the entertainment on television, primp for a night out with your friends, use the computer, get ready for work, or any number of other activities, please take a moment and think about what happened at about 9:45 PM on January 27, 1971.

One of the worst disasters ever to hit the Freedom Valley took place at that hour on that date in that year in West Conshohocken.

The West Conshohocken Gas Explosion and Fire.

It was bitter cold outside.  With wind chills, the temperature was below zero.

A natural gas pipe underneath Front Street had cracked.

The natural gas had seeped into the homes of people living on Front Street.

At least two explosions.  Massive fire that could be seen for miles.  Flames shot upwards of 100 feet in the air.  For hours.

Dozens injured.

No one knew at that time that three had died at the scene.

An 8 year-old little girl.

A 14 year-old little boy.

A 19 year-old firefighter.

A fourth – the grandfather of the two children – died a couple days later.

A fifth person – an elderly resident who was severely burned in the blast – died almost 3 months later.

West Conshohocken, then one of the poorest communities in Pennsylvania, was devastated.

Houses destroyed.  Homes damaged.

But amongst the flames and facing the cold, there was light too.

Bravery was on full display that night.

Men and women rushed in to the little town from near and far.  Firefighters came from Upper Dublin and Plymouth.  Police officers rushed in from Upper Merion and Upper Moreland.  Ambulances from Ambler and Springfield came to help.

Hospitals in Norristown and Lower Merion took in dozens of injured people.

In this series of news articles, you’ll learn about what happened that night in a little town on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

In a place today that houses beautiful offices in high-rise buildings that make no mention of what happened at that hour on that date in that year.

About 9:45 PM on January 27, 1971.

There are four parts to this article. Links to parts three through four are below:

Part II
Part III
Part IV

The photo displayed here is a portion of the original photo that appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on January 3, 1952.  (Photo is courtesy of the George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photographic Collection of Temple University.)

Do you have questions about local history?  A street name?  A building?

Your questions may be used in a future news article.

Contact Richard McDonough at

© 2018 Richard McDonough