Norristown, a municipality located on the Schuylkill River in central southeastern Montgomery County, has an estimated population of 31,000. As the county seat, Norristown functions as a regional center for government, law, and health services.
It was the largest of a series of river boroughs that once formed the industrial base for the county. While Norristown’s industrial base was varied, its primary industry was textile mills. Additionally, the borough served as the shopping center for much of the county with bustling downtown streets.
During the 19th century, Norristown’s economic growth was tied to numerous transportation improvements. In 1824, the Schuylkill Canal was opened, greatly improving navigation on the river. By 1835, the railroad arrived, connecting Norristown with Philadelphia and coal country. The 1880s brought trolley service that eventually expanded into the SEPTA Norristown Regional Rail line and Route 100 High Speed line that serve Norristown today
Norristown has faced challenges similar to other older Philadelphia suburbs. With the flight of industry away from urban areas and to other regions and countries, the industrial base disappeared. The automobile age has been more of a bittersweet experience for Norristown. It led to suburban malls, which emptied the downtown and relocated industry to outlying areas. The advent of these suburban shopping centers, particularly in King of Prussia in 1963 and Plymouth Meeting in 1966, decimated the downtown shopping district, leaving it with vacant storefronts and uninviting streets.
Luckily, the borough was bypassed by most of the region’s automobile-oriented improvements, such as Interstates 276, 76, and 476. It still has convenient access to these highways but was spared the physical destruction that their construction brought.
Since 1960, Norristown has experienced a significant decline in population in contrast to the sharp rise in residential and commercial development that occurred in the remainder of the county.