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.
The H. C. Jones Company
The Schuylkill River used to be lined with mills, many of them textile mills. I’ve written about a few of them over years, but this week, I’d like to take a look at the H. C. Jones Company of Conshohocken.
Horace C. Jones was a native of Conshohocken and attended its public schools, graduating from Conshohocken High School in 1857. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for one year before going into the family lumber business, Evan D. Jones and Company. He founded H. C. Jones and Company in 1880 with a partner, Stanley Lees, purchasing the former Whitton Cotton and Woolen Mills. In 1899, the company moved to a different mill located at the corner of Washington and Ash Streets. Lees had retired and company’s name became the H. C. Jones Company, while the mill was known as the Schuylkill Valley Woolen Mills.
Jones’ write up in Henry Wilson Ruoff’s Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania says the company manufactured “high grade cotton and woolen goods,” but at least one customer wasn’t pleased.
In 1911, Max Goodman and Company ordered 47 pieces of cotton warp worsted filling fabric in two different styles. The fabric was cut to make men’s and children’s suits which were sent out to retailers across the country, and soon sent back. The seams would not hold. Goodman and Company refused to pay for the cloth.
Samples of the fabric in question
The case was determined by arbitration. The arbitrators kind of split the difference between the two companies, not because the fabric wasn’t too slippery to hold the thread, they determined that it was, but because it was up to the clothier to test the fabric first. In other words, “Caveat emptor,” let the buyer beware. Goodman was ordered to pay all money owed with interest, while Jones was ordered to pay $1000 in restitution.
The weaving drafts for the two styles (in case you'd like to try it home!)
An interesting letter follows the arbitrators’ decision in the file of documents, however. It was written by Charles Porter, Jr. of Chas. Porter & Son Park Mills, who served as arbitrator on behalf of the H. C. Jones Company. He writes:
Later he writes, “ I sincerely trust that the decision of the arbitrators will meet with your approval, as I can frankly say that you are getting out of the rather serious matter at a very reasonable figure.”
The H. C. Jones Company continued for several decades. Jones himself lived to be 83, dying in August of 1940. His home, once known as “The Terrace” is now Ciavarelli Funeral Home on Fayette Street.
Recently we received an interesting new accession, a business directory for Montgomery and Bucks counties from 1891. Need a stove in Bridgeport? A house painted in Ardmore? What about a plumber in Jenkintown? This fine book provides a lengthy description of each business. The business listings also have many illustrations of equipment.
This image appears by a description for Alfred S. Kohl, a plumber in Jenkintown. The book describes how he won a medal from the Franklin Institute for his exhibitions there. The accompanying image appears to be a “necessary.” The piece also notes that Kohl is a gentleman of “high repute and standing in the social scale.”
In Ardmore, we find Franklin Spohn, who is listed as a purveyor of table delicacies. The description lists “oysters, poultry, game, fruits – both foreign and domestic, fresh and salt fish, meats of every description, green groceries, etc.” In addition, Mr. Spohn is noted as a “man of high social standing and extraordinary business capacity.”
Souderton has some of the more interesting listings including William Souder who made rims and spokes, and H. S. Souder a seller of cigars and packing boxes. Charles H. Schantz was an artistic coach and carriage painter with a “fine reputation.” Need a buttonhole? Look no further than S. D. Yocum. He and his two employees make machine buttonholes on the New Singer Machine. Finally, there is M. S. Stover, the town’s “tonsorial artist” (a barber who specializes in shaving). The book says,
“His tonsorial department is neatly arranged and contains two finely upholstered, comfortable chairs, while cigars, chewing and smoking tobacco, cigarettes, pipes, canes, etc., are kept in this establishment for the convenience of the costumers.”
For dining, A. R. News kept an “eating saloon” in Lansdale serving “fried, stewed and raw oysters, fish cakes, oyster pie and a variety of tempting articles of food.”
Several woman run businesses appear throughout the book, including the Zeigler Hotel in Harleysville, run by Mrs. C. Zeigler and Mrs. M. D. Jenkins, a dressmaker in Bridgeport.
Certain businesses appear in almost every town that have now all but disappeared: harness makers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and coal dealers. Other companies were rare even then like the Montgomery Web Company which made elastic and non-elastic web for men’s suspenders. There’s one bicycle seller, who also sold typewriters in Rosemont.
My favorite of all is A. J. Reading, V. S. (I hope the V. S. stands for “veterinary science”) dealer in tonic vermifuge, a worm destroyer for horses. He offers samples for sixty cents. I'm happy to say no images accompanied that article.
Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century, the largest green house in the world was here in Montgomery County?
Florex Gardens was built in 1907 in Upper Gwynedd, just across from the North Wales train station.
These pictures were donated by David E. Groshens in 1954. This photo gives a great sense of its size, but if you’d like exact numbers, here they are:
700 feet long
172 feet wide
35 feet high
The green house was located right by the tracks of the North Penn Railroad. The company primarily grew flowers, and a note that came with the photographs says that the greenhouse could grow nearly 100,000 rose bushes at once.
The greenhouses were dismantled in 1951, and the land was sold to Leeds and Northrup, a manufacturer of electronic parts. This part of Upper Gwynedd became an industrial area with other manufacturers like Zenith and Sharp and Dohme, which can be seen in the upper left hand corner of this photo.
The solvents used by those and other companies led to the EPA declaring the area a Superfund site in 1989.
In the 1990’s Leeds and Northrup moved production to Florida, and Merck bought the land for an expansion. Last year, Merck donated nine acres of the property to the Wissahickon Watershed, and it was opened as a public greenspace called “Dodsworth Run Preserve.”