Displaying items by tag: Ambler

Thursday, 08 February 2024 00:08

Ambler Opera and Theater

While preparing for our next exhibit, Downtown: Then and Now, I came across this picture in our photograph collection.

Ambler Opera House

Harry Samuel Nash and Store Clerk, Haberdashery Store, HSMC Photographs Collection

According to the back of the photograph, it depicts Harry Samuel Nash and a store clerk in front of Nash's Haberdashery Store in Ambler. The photograph is dated around 1902 to 1904. Nash's store was located in the former Ambler Opera House.

opera house

Ambler Opera House, HSMC Photographs Collection

Like most buildings in Ambler, the Opera House was a product of the Keasbey and Mattison Company. It was built around 1889. The first floor housed six stores like Nash's until 1904. In 1928, the building was renovated into a movie theater.

OPERA house 1928

Ambler Opera House c. 1928, HSMC Photographs Collection

In our extensive N. Howard collection, which covers many aspects of Ambler, we are fortunate to have a few photographs of the Opera House. We even have photographs taken right before and during its demolition in 1967. From the demolition photographs, you can tell they were worried about the asbestos as some of the workers wore masks on the scene.


Demolition of Ambler Opera House 1967, HSMC Photographs Collection

This building was located on Butler Pike between Maple Avenue and the railroad tracks. Today it is home to a parking lot and a French restaurant. Many other buildings in Ambler did not share the same fate as the Opera House.

 Ambler Theater 2

Ambler Theater, HSMC Photographs Collection

One example is the Ambler Theater, also located on Butler Pike. It opened in 1928 and was originally operated by Warner Brothers. This theater closed in 1969/1970 and was reopened as a Christian movie theater. By 1997, the theater closed again. It was purchased in 2001 and became the non-profit Ambler Theater, Inc. The group restored the theater in stages and continues to show films to this day in 2024.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 29 July 2021 16:51


Lindenwold winter

Lindenwold in the winter

Last summer we received a collection of photos of Lindenwold, the castle-like home of Dr. Richard Mattison. While we had some photographs of the building, both from its time as an asbestos mogul’s home and as a Catholic orphanage, these pictures were interesting because they showed some details of the building’s exterior, as well as interior photos of Mattison in his office.


Dr. Mattison in his office

Another interesting photograph is this one. It’s unlabeled, but it’s possible its Mattison’s more retiring partner, Henry G. Keasbey, but we can’t be sure. Do a Google image search for Henry G. Keasbey and you only get a bunch of pictures of Richard Mattison.



Also included were some photos of Bushy Park, Mattison’s summer home in Newport, Rhode Island. Originally built in 1852, Mattison added a carriage house. The original mansion was torn down in 1939, but the carriage house remains according to this post from the Newport Historical Society from 2015.


Bushy Park, Newport, R.I.


The carriage house built in 1924

Keasbey and Mattison began their partnership in 1873 in Philadelphia to sell patent medicines. Mattison was a pharmacist and Keasbey had money. A few years later, Mattison discovered a way to make asbestos stick to pipes, and the focus of the business changed. It moved out of Philly to Ambler, which became the asbestos capital of the world.

Lindenwold summer

Keasbey retired from any direct involvement with running the company in the 1890’s. Mattison continued to expand. In 1912 he remodeled his home to look more like Windsor castle. But, he over extended in the 1920’s and had to sell the company during the depression. Lindenwold, too, was sold to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. For many decades the house served as an orphanage, and was famously used for the exterior shots for the movie The Trouble with Angels.

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Today, what remains of the estate is under development as luxury housing.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 28 March 2019 19:52

Tornado hits Jarrettown

May of 1896 witnessed one of the worst tornado outbreaks in American history. It lasted about two weeks and spawned tornados all over the south and Midwest, including three F5 tornados (the more severe category). On the final day of the outbreak, an F3 tornado touched down in Jarrettown then cut a path 35 miles east into New Jersey.


A photo of Judge Knight with his parents from about 1919

I hadn’t heard about this tornado until one of our volunteers, Rita Thomas, told me about some newspaper clippings she had found in Judge Harold Knight’s diary of 1956. I was excited to learn more, but disappointed to see that our collection of the Ambler Gazette on microfilm starts in 1898. Luckily, you can find the paper from 1896 on PA Power Library through the Wissahickon Valley Public Library. The Weekly Herald of Norristown covered it, too, but the Gazette had this sketch of Alexander Knight’s house, one of the oldest in the borough of Ambler.


Here’s a photo from our own collection of the house taken in 1971. Alexander Knight was Judge Harold Knight’s father, and this was his home as well.


The Gazette article focused on the damage from the storm. Two men were killed inside the carriage barn of the Jarrettown Hotel when a wall collapsed. They were Winfield Ensley and Alfred Moffit. Several others were injured. The Jarrettown Public School was badly damaged as was the Jarrrettown United Methodist Church. Both of those buildings had to be rebuilt.

The Weekly Herald of June 1st, focused on the sightseeing, claiming “Effects of the Cyclone Must be Seen to Be Appreciated.” The article estimated that 4,000 people had already come to see the damage which included several collapsed barns and many uprooted trees.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 08 November 2018 21:08

Faust Tannery, Ambler

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

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.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 30 March 2017 19:44

How Wissahickon Became Ambler

ambler map

A view of Ambler from the 1871 atlas by G. M. Hopkins.

The European settlement of what would one day be Ambler began when a Quaker family named Harmer bought the land along the Wissahickon from William Penn.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, a mill town, known as Wissahickon had developed.  By 1855, the settlement was prominent enough that the North Penn Railroadbuilt a station in the town.  The station was also called Wissahickon.

About one year later, on July 17, 1856, the north bound Shackamaxon crashed into the south bound Aramingo between Fort Washington and Camp Hill.  Fifty-nine people died in what was then the deadliest train wreck in history and 86 were injured, according to Frank D. Quattrone’s book Ambler.  Some bodies were never found and some were unidentified, so the exact number of dead might be higher. It was known as the “Picnic Train Tragedy” because many of the riders on the Shackamaxon were day trippers up from St. Michael’s in Kensington, and the train may have been overloaded.


ambler wreck A newspaper drawing imagining the wreck.


The rail line curved near Camp Hill and neither engineer could see the other.  The Shackamaxon may have left Philadelphia early, further confusing things.  When the locomotives hit head on, the explosion of the boilers could be heard for miles around and the fire that followed could also be seen for some distance.    It was the fire, and not the collision, that seems to have claimed the most victims.

Volunteers from nearby homes and farms arrived as quickly as they could.  Most prominent among them was Mary Johnson Ambler, a Quaker widow who lived two miles away in Wissahickon.  She gathered medical supplies and walked the two miles to the wreck.  Once there, she calmly attended the wounded.

Mary Ambler

Mary Ambler

After her death in 1868, North Penn Railroad decided to honor her work at the accident site by renaming the Wissahickon train station in her honor.  When the borough incorporated in 1888, it took the name Ambler.

ambler station

Postcard showing the Ambler train station

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 10 November 2016 14:56

Garibaldi's Row


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.outhouses

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.

Published in Found in Collection