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Ambler and Vicinity

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The area of Montgomery County between the arms of Philadelphia has much of the flavor of the late-nineteenth-century Main Line, but with different architects reflecting the distinct social caste of nouveau riche rather than old Quaker and industrial Philadelphia. Ambler, North Wales, and Lansdale are the principal exceptions to the generally suburban character.

Ambler, like Conshohocken and the later Lansdale (1872), was incorporated after the construction of the North Penn Railroad in 1856. The tiny village was transformed with the arrival of Keasbey and Mattison's plant for the production of magnesia-related tonics in 1881. Astute observation of the results of a laboratory accident led to the discovery that magnesia could bond to hot metal. With the addition of regionally available asbestos fibers, it could be formed into a fireproof barrier and cast into rigid forms like tiles and shingles, or molded onto furnaces. This led to the construction of an immense manufacturing plant employing hundreds, and a modern company town dating from the 1880s and 1890s.

Most of Ambler's buildings are designed in a conservative late Victorian manner by the company architect, Milton Bean, with the advice and consent of Richard Mattison, who ensured that his views about design would permeate every aspect of the village. In the center is the owner's Gothic Revival mansion, “Lindenwold” (c. 1890; c. 1912 remodeled), that was said to be modeled on Windsor Castle but in fact crudely recalls Horace Trumbauer's nearby and recently constructed “Grey Towers” for William Harrison ( MO36). Now a Roman Catholic home, it contrasts with the smaller houses for plant executives nearby on the main streets, and the still smaller workers’ houses, stores, and garages, all in the local limestone, that repeat the factory hierarchy. In his autobiographical novel Unto the Sons (1992), Gay Talese recounts the stories of his Italian stonemason uncles who were brought to build the village and remained to become Americans.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

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