The Faust Tannery of Ambler operated for over 100 years. It was founded in 1790 by Jonathan Thomas at intersection of Bethlehem and Butler Pikes, when that area was known as Gilky’s Corner (now sometimes called Rose Valley).
Look carefully, and you can find the tannery on this map from 1871
Thomas was a Quaker, who ran the business until his death in 1808. In 1810, Thomas’s son sold the property to James Rutter, another Quaker, who also bought the 35 acre farm that was next to the tannery.
In 1841, Rutter took on Alvin D. Faust as an apprentice. Faust was a native of Lehigh County and a Pennsylvania German. Alvin’s son, Alvin B. Faust wrote a remembrance of his father and the tannery in our Bulletin in 1942. He described his father as “a hustler….From his early youth he had learned to work hard and long.” After a few years of working for Rutter, Faust returned to his family farm in Lehigh County. Alvin B. writes that Alvin D. had to make trips to Philadelphia for supplies, and he sometimes stopped at Rutter’s farm for an overnight stay.
In 1850, Faust bought the tannery from the aging Rutter. He also bought 7 acres of land and a frame house on the south side of Bethlehem Pike. In 1867, he tore the frame house down and replaced it with a brick house. There is a brick house on the site today, which might be that that house (Alvin B. says it was still standing in 1942). When Faust moved in, his wife had never seen the place. The original frame house had once been used to raise silkworms during the decades when the northeast had a bit of a silk craze. Abandoned cocoons had to be cleared away before the family could move in.
Faust Tannery at the time it was sold
Up to Alvin D. Faust’s death in 1884, about half the tannery’s business was making leather for boots and shoes. Around that time, Faust’s son writes that leather top boots were growing rarer, and it proved to be unprofitable. After that point, Faust Tannery specialized in leather for harnesses.
It was important for the business to be on the road to Philadelphia, but also important was the stream running by the land, now known as Tannery Run. Originally, the water powered the bark mill run by the tannery (more about bark in a second). In 1862, Faust installed a 10 horse power steam engine for power. The water source was still essential to the tanning process, however. Tree bark was used in the process of tanning. The tannery bought ground bark by the ton. It was put into large vats of water for leeching. The hide was soaked in this liquid for eight to nine months. Until 1910, the used liquid was run into the creek (after 1910 that was prohibited by the state).
Tannery Run today
In 1876, Faust Tannery won a medal at the Centennial Exhibition. The business worked with other companies throughout the northeast, as far away as Chicago.
Alvin B. writes that the business was prosperous until after World War I, when trucks and automobiles replaced horse drawn vehicles. They stopped ordering new hides in 1920, and the business closed down in 1925. In 1940 all of the equipment and the building was sold off.