WHAT WAS THE CONNAUGHTOWN MOON?
Research provided by Mike Poniatowicz.
“What was the Connaughtown Moon?" Was it the name of a planet from a science fiction novel? Or the result of the earth colliding with a meteor in some distant archeological past?
Well….the answer to both of these questions is no. The Connaughtown Moon had nothing to do with science fiction novels or meteors from space. But the explanation will only take a minute or two so stay with me and all should become clear.
First the name Connaughtown. Connaughtown is the local/unofficial name of an area bordering Conshohocken and Plymouth Township. It actually lies partially in both Conshohocken and Plymouth Township and runs roughly (since there are no official borders) from Colwell Lane and West Elm Street, westward across Plymouth Creek to the entrance of Tees Driving Range on West Elm Street. How Connaughtown developed, etc. could be another subject of this column…but today’s story is about the moon from Connaughtown.
Connaughtown was/is located right next to what was the Alan Wood Steel Mill which was in operation at the western edge of Connaughtown from about 1903 until the late 1970s. Alan Wood made steel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for many years. My own personal memory of Alan Wood steel (and the Connaughtown Moon) dates from the early '60s as I grew up within sight of the Alan Wood facility.
Now during the manufacturing of steel a waste product was produced called “slag." This slag would be dumped along Plymouth Creek roughly following the Blue Route’s current route starting from (more or less) beyond where West 5th and West 6th Avenues end to the entrance of the Schuylkill River. This area was/is still considered Connaughtown.
When the slag was dumped it was generally red hot and when it hit the cold water of Plymouth Creek it would make very loud “banging” noises. I would not call them explosions but rather just very loud “bangs." If the slag was dumped at night you would see a very distinctive red glow in the sky. And since this glow was coming from Connaughtown the name adopted locally for this phenomenon was the “Connaughtown Moon."
Now I know some of you are asking, “How could a steel company get away with dumping hot slag and thereby pollute our water, air, and ground?” The answer to your question is that up until roughly the early '70s a) Not many people really thought about it and b) There was no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was just something that was part of life. Most of my memories of the Connaughtown Moon date to the pre-EPA era. Alan Wood Steel may have actually been within their legal rights to dump this slag. There are other Conshohocken Stories with this similar theme (pre-EPA of course) which may become the subject of future articles.
Below is a reader's comment after the above story was posted on the website “More than the Curve":
"Excellent article. Thank You (it brought back memories of me being a child on the top of Colwell Lane. Before my father built the garage next to our house I would stand at my bedroom window watch the very same mountains of slag you describe. I remember the trains screeches and metal slamming knuckles as they coupled and uncoupled. I can see the steam and red glow and billows of smoke above the hills of black material. I remember waking to see the cars covered with red , black of even white curly cue's from stoking the stacks. As I got a little older I remember riding my bike down Brook road and leaving it in the weeds, sneaking up on those same mountains just to watch the giant coldens dump spewing hot lava of steel from the big red building.)
Thanks for the memories."
- Bob Palac
"My father, uncles, grandfather all worked at Alan Wood steel. My grandparents and uncle lived in Connaughtown. I would love to hear more about Connaughtown. Thanks for this article."
- Kathy Thomas
"This brought back memories of my childhood watching the slag being dumped over at Alan Wood Steel. I would watch from my bedroom window probably for more nights than I would know or care to admit. From my vantage point I could see each car as it was brought up and each, in its own turn, dumped. The banging noises were just that, banging. I could see what appeared to be a sort of a wrecking ball, bang each car after it dumped the slag, Making sure all of the slag left the car. I would think the wrecking ball was attached to a crane that would "attack" each car. I remember the amount of time it would take for the sound to travel from the dumping site to my bedroom window. Great story, Mike!"
- Tully Grady
"We lived in Black Horse and we could see the moon."
- Don Augustine