FUN AT THE BEACH...IN CONSHOHOCKEN???
Research provided by Mike Poniatowicz.
I would put this story in the category of “it is never too late to learn something new." Although I have lived large parts of my adult life in Conshohocken I never, ever heard this story until after I retired. And there does not seem to be any written documentation for this story. This entire story seems to be a Conshohocken “legend” passed down as an oral tradition from one generation to the next. Until….for whatever reason…it mysteriously stopped being passed down starting with my generation. But before we discuss details I would like to describe how I stumbled upon this story.
While working at one of my weekly volunteer efforts in the kitchen in the basement of St. Mary’s Church, two of my coworkers were reminiscing about old time Conshohocken. Both of these coworkers are roughly 15 to 20 years older than me but most of their Conshohocken memories described places that were familiar to me. Until the subject of “BAB” came up. Both of these individuals remember BAB quite fondly. I, being a little naïve, asked “What was BAB?” And they said “Bare A## Beach”. (The letters you need to substitute for the “##” are not “sk” or “nd” or “be” but rather the same letter used twice and yes, it is the one letter that immediately comes to mind.)
“THUD” (That was the sound of my jaw dropping). It was then explained to me that BAB was a well known local swimming hole where many of the local residents were known to go “skinny dipping." And to add yet more color to these newly discovered facts, one of my male co-workers regaled us with a story of how he and his friends were skinny dipping when “some girls from Connaughtown” stood on the beach and waved to them while they were in the water. These ladies caused my male co-worker and his friends to delay exiting the water until these young ladies decided to strategically exit away from the beach and back to Connaughtown.
Semi stunned by this new found information I decided to conduct further research. To make sure this was not another case of “fake news” I decided to thoroughly verify this story and in this spirit one day at a family gathering I approached two of my senior Aunts. Both of these Aunts are aged around 90 and are both upstanding women who I have known all of my life. When I asked them about this skinny dipping story they both responded without hesitation, “Oh yes. That was BAB. Lots of people went swimming there."
“THUD” (Yes, that was again the sound of my jaw dropping). After picking up my jaw for the second time and conducting further research I discovered that BAB was located at the bottom of what is now West 5th Avenue between Colwell Lane and the driving range at Tees. Route 476 (aka the Blue Route) now occupies this space but even today flowing roughly parallel to the Blue Route and Tees is Plymouth Creek. Back in the 1920s into the mid 1950s there was no Blue Route, no Tees and there was a lot more water in Plymouth Creek which lent itself to being a community swimming area. Unlike Pott’s Quarry, which was another well known community swimming area, BAB never became famous as a backdrop for silent films and never became a true swimming club (Potts Quarry morphed into the Sherry Lake Swimming Club. This club was located at the current site of the Sherry Lake apartments). Also, unlike other community swimming areas, clothes seem to have been optional at BAB.
Based on first-hand interviews there was a tree that hung over BAB which served as a combination diving board and rope swing. Also the water was warm even if the weather was cool. The reason for the water being warm was (we are more environmentally enlighten today so the following may cause great consternation) because the local steel company (Alan Wood Steel) used to dump their hot waste product (called “slag” – see Connaughtown Moon story for more details) generated from the production of steel at the BAB location. Cows were also grazing in a nearby pasture. In our much more environmentally enlightened time this type of situation would not occur but in the era of BAB this was not unusual. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not come into existence until the mid '70s. Unfortunately before the EPA there was not much thought devoted to environmental concerns. As all of my interviewees and former BAB participants said to me, ”Who knew? We just wanted to go swimming."
But now the secret is now out!!! Conshohocken had a beach!!! Will this mean that Conshohocken will attract the sun and fun crowd? Probably not. But everyone I interviewed had extremely fond memories of their time at Conshohocken’s Bare A## Beach.
Below is a reader's comment after the above story was posted on the website “More than the Curve":
"Although I heard about the BAB I thought it was just a legend until I read your account. I graduated from CHS in 1963 and heard quite a few stories about the warm water. On one occasion I tried to find the location, and I did find an area of water that appeared warm. It wasn't really a beach, but it was an area large enough to accommodate about 10-12 people."
- Nicholas Giorgio