With the subdivision of Montgomery County from Philadelphia, Norristown (originally known as Norriton) was laid out as the new county seat in 1785 by surveyor William Moore Smith, son of the provost of the University of Pennsylvania. His plan provided for a public square on the Philadelphia model, but with the secondary alleys inserted between major streets that had become common in Philadelphia and spread to other Pennsylvania towns. As was customary, the most pressing need was for a jail, which was followed two years later by the courthouse in 1787. The first churches delineate the settlers origins, English at St. John's Episcopal Church (see MO24) and Scots at First Presbyterian Church ( MO25). The DeKalb Street Bridge connected the south part of the county to the county seat in 1828; the present bridge (c. 1924) designed by James B. Long is the third on the site. The Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad, begun in 1831, reached Norristown in 1834, and generated a line of suburban development. At the end of the nineteenth century its economy was derived from an unusual mixture of county government and heavy industry that left its mark in a line of industrial buildings along the riverfront. Norristown has suffered from the urban ills common to industrial cities, and gained little from a generation of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that devastated much of its downtown. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, developers discovered Norristown and it may be on its way to becoming a regional center, befitting its role as the seat of one of the state's wealthiest counties.
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