Norristown didn’t have a Catholic Church until St. Patrick’s opened in 1834, mainly to serve Norristown’s Irish population. In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe began coming to America, and Norristown became home to hundreds of newly arrived Italians. Although the word “catholic” means universal and Catholic services were conducted in Latin at the time, it was typical for immigrant groups to start their own parishes, staffed by priests from the home country.
Norristown was no different. For many years, Italians celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s. Eventually, an Italian mission church opened in the basement, led by two Italian priests who preached, heard confessions, and gave spiritual support in Italian. In 1902, a new priest came to Norristown, Father Michael Maggio, who formed a committee, raised funds, and in 1903 built a small church on land acquired from the Good Shepherd Sisters of St. Joseph’s Protectory.
The first Holy Saviour Church, or Sanctissima Salvatore, was barely a full story high. In 1908 it was replaced by a larger, more typical looking church that would accommodate the growing parish. This was largely the work of Father Lambert Travi, Holy Saviour’s second pastor. Father Travi went on a decade later to build the parish’s first school. It in September of 1928 with 500 students. The parish continued to grow, with the school getting up to 800 students. The school was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one to each grade, making for a student-teacher ratio of 100:1!
In 1948, the parish purchased a closed public elementary school, the James A. Welsh School, and moved in for the 1948-1949 school year. In the 1950’s, Holy Saviour’s pastor, the Italian born Father George Delia, expanded the church, doubling its size to hold up 1000 people.
Monsignor Peter J. Cavallucci with the Norristown Exchange Club at Holy Saviour School
The school has been closed, and students from the parish now attend Holy Rosary Regional School in Plymouth. However, Holy Saviour parish is still a vital part of Norristown’s culture, celebrating several feast days a year. The parish also has a mission church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Black Horse section of Plymouth.
Source: Basile, Joseph M. Holy Saviour Parish - Norristown, Pennsylvania: 1903-2003, 2001
Do you recognize any of the children in this picture? The picture captures what was known as "Garibaldi's Row" in Ambler in 1961, just before it was demolished. Nineteen-sixty-one was quite significant in the demolition of residential structures and the West Chestnut Street properties associated with Keasby & Mattison Industries of Ambler.
The above map is from a 1916 North Penn Railroad atlas and shows the area Keasby & Mattison developed.
The history of Keasby & Mattison with its Ambler residential development is a fascinating one dating back to the 1890's after the company relocated from Philadelphia. The firm began with the manufacture of asbestos paper and mill board as insulation products, according to the book Early History of Ambler by Dr. Mary Hough.
According to various reports Dr. Richard V. Mattison, the partner of Henry J. Keasby, chose Ambler to develop what became the major asbestos product manufacturing company of the United Sates. As the doctor expanded the Keasby & Mattison plant, experienced Italian stoneworkers and laborers were recruited and urged to settle and build in Ambler. Thus, approximately 400 residence were built, including row homes for factory workers as well as more upscale homes for the managers and executives. This development included Dr. Mattison's estate, known as Lindenwold, which was built in the 1890's and expanded in 1917.
This photo shows Dr. Mattison's house Lindenwold.
It was during this building period that row homes such as "Garibaldi's Row" and West Chestnut area homes were constructed. However, by 1961, due to serious health and social concerns and other deteriorating conditions in the neighborhood, the local government made the decision to tear down these structures. The decision included the creation of a park and recreation area as a replacement. Many saw this as a positive outcome as the neighborhood was described as a "blighted area" with poor sanitary facilities subject to flooding.
The row houses did not have plumbing, as shown by this photo of outhouses.
August 10, 1961 was targeted to resettle the effected families and subsequently demolish the homes.
With this demolition, it seems many found and cherished memories of over seventy years has faded into the history of dear old Ambler.