Committees

Ambler Storytellers News

To bring you up to date on the threatened demolition of the Freight House at Ambler Train Station:

December 31, 2023—Funds Still Needed to Save Ambler’s Freight House

“Freight House” beer, a special brew created at Tannery Run Brew Works to benefit WVHS and the “Save the Freight House” campaign, is now available at Bar 31, Harry’s Taproom, and Tannery Run Brew Works. Beer glasses depicting the Freight House are also available at the three bars (while supplies last) and with proceeds helping to save the old building. New research shows that it is older than previously stated, and it may be the first train building in Ambler!

Funds are needed: WVHS hired J&M Preservation Studio, a women-owned engineering firm, to complete a structural assessment and to propose plans and estimate costs for re-use of the building. Their work has already begun.

In October, SEPTA announced plans to demolish the pre-Civil War Freight House. However, Pennsylvania has determined the Freight House to be eligible for national register historic recognition in two ways: the Ambler Borough Commercial District and the North Pennsylvania Railroad Linear Historic District, where it consists of “three major components” (the three buildings at Ambler’s Old Train Station).

A meeting of SEPTA and WVHS officials on October 31 created a demolition delay, so that WVHS could find a way to save the structure. After that meeting, WVHS announced its understanding that “both groups prefer that the building should remain where it is positioned now.”  Then WVHS hired J&M Preservation Studio, a women-owned engineering firm, to complete a structural assessment and to propose plans and estimate costs for re-use of the building. WVHS made arrangements for SEPTA to open the building on December 18, when J&M began its study of the broken timbers under the Freight House. It was a “weather advisory” day with pouring rain in the morning and a strong, cold wind in the afternoon. WVHS is raising funds to pay for the services of J&M.

WVHS is grateful to the individuals and businesses who have helped raise the funds to pay for the engineering study conducted by J&M Preservation. A future issue of the Valley Crier will list the donors. A total of $7,840 is needed, and much of that amount has been raised. Everyone can do their part!  It’s not too late to send your check. Also, last month’s Valley Crier showed pictures of the “Save the Freight House” holiday ornament and the beer glass (mentioned above), which the Ambler Storytellers have been selling. Although in limited supply, the ornaments are for sale ($20) at Bussingers Train and Toy Store, 57 N Main St, Ambler. Or to use a credit card, go to “Donate” at www.wvalleyhs.org/get-involved/ and then take your proof of purchase to Bussingers to pick up your ornaments. 

Update for December 7th, 2023–The Wissahickon Valley Historical Society is raising funds to SAVE THE FREIGHT HOUSE, one of three pre-Civil War buildings at the old Ambler Train Station.

Funding is needed for an engineering study!

You can help by purchasing, a specially-designed holiday ornament and some specially brewed Freight House Beer.

1. A Holiday Ornament (Pictured below. Drawn by a local artist):  $20 each. Buy one for yourself and several for your family and neighbors.

Use PayPal online. At the WVHS website, go to “Donate” and in the subject line, write “Freight”:  https://www.wvalleyhs.org/get-involved/. Then pick up your ornaments at Bussingers Trains and Toys, 57 N. Main St., Ambler (Please bring proof of purchase, such as your email or digital receipt.) 

Use cash. Buy your ornaments in person at Bussingers Trains and Toys, 57 N. Main St., Ambler.

2. Freight House Beer: Tannery Run Brew Works has agreed to create a special beer to save the Freight House.  A portion of the proceeds from purchases of this distinct beer and/or a “Freight House” glass will benefit the cause.

Buy a beer or a round of beer—A portion of each Freight House Beer sold will benefit the cause. This beer is available at Bar 31, Harry’s Taproom, and Tannery Run Brew Works.

Update for November 29th–Freight House Still in Danger: In October, WVHS learned that SEPTA intends to demolish the 1855 Freight House, located at the old Ambler Train Station. It is part of a trio of buildings, including the delightful La Provence and the former location of Bussinger Trains and Toys. Bernadette Dougherty, a former board member, is leading the charge to try to save the Freight House. At present, she is raising funds to hire a Preservation Engineer, who will evaluate the Freight House’s broken timbers and suggest how the damage under the building can be repaired. Click on Donate above to contribute!

SEPTA states that they would have to pay over $350,000 to fix the structure, and they want repairs done quickly because the structure may fall onto the tracks. Thus, a priority is raising funds to hire the Preservation Engineer!

Bernadette is selling Christmas ornaments depicting the old Freight House (a limited printing), and she has arranged for Ambler’s Tannery Run Brew Works to create a batch of “Freight House” beer with the proceeds going to save the Freight House. Buy a round or two!  Details about the Freight House project are posted regularly on this WVHS website.

On October 30, representatives of SEPTA and WVHS met at the Ambler Train Station’s Freight House to discuss saving the historic building from SEPTA’s threatened demolition. SEPTA’s concern is that the building is unsafe.  

Prior to the meeting, WVHS made a plea for public support, and WVHS successfully created a demolition delay. SEPTA representatives stated that were not aware that WVHS learned of the planned demolition through SEPTA’s online announcement about possible train-schedule changes caused by the demolition.  Prior to this announcement, SEPTA and WVHS had been emailing each other since May 2022 about the future of the old building.

Both groups prefer that if the building is saved, it should remain where it is positioned now.  Previously, WVHS had investigated moving the structure.

SEPTA revealed that it will repair the broken culvert, which runs under the building, and that the building sits on piers, not on the culvert. SEPTA also indicated that it would send WVHS President Carol Kalos recent photographs of the damage under the building, which is causing it to lean. The illustrations will be useful to WVHS contractors.

1. The demolition has been temporarily delayed although SEPTA is anxious to take down the building quickly.  President Carol Kalos now has a SEPTA official who responds to her questions promptly.  
2. SEPTA fears the building might collapse onto the tracks, and a 2017 engineering report that shows extensive damage to the timbers under the building and other issues. The condition of the nearby culvert for Tannery Run is also in question.
 
The historical society has been busy.  
3. We are receiving advice from PA SHPO and national preservation office.  
4. WVHS contacted SEPTA and government officials to achieve the demolition postponement, and an online petition shows 1200 signatures of those in favor of keeping the historic building. (Change.org)
5. We understand that the opinion of the Ambler Borough is especially important, and we have emailed members of council.
6. In addition, local banks and regional train clubs have been visited for information regarding fund-raising. 
7. We have contacted news outlets and have received some publicity. 
8. We prefer to keep the Freight House in its position, but we have also investigated moving it. In this case, we have a mover, but finding a new site for the building is quite difficult.
 
Representatives of WVHS and SEPTA will meet tentatively within the next ten days to discuss the future of the Freight House. WVHS is seeking a professional architect/engineer who can attend this meeting, offering their time to assist the historical society make its case for preservation. SEPTA will waive the $2000 Right-Of-Entry fee for WVHS to attend the meeting.

A Message from our President

I know you have heard about SEPTA’s planned demolition of the train station’s historic Freight House.  SEPTA has agreed to delay the demolition, and the historical society has been busy working to save the structure. Ideally, we would like to keep the Freight House where it stands, along with the two other old Ambler train station buildings. An online petition shows public support for saving the building (change.org), and we have received some good publicity.

A SEPTA representative states that rebuilding will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on their description.  He also says that SEPTA is afraid that the structure will fall onto the tracks.  As a result, SEPTA will be pushing us to act quickly as we do fund-raising and provide engineering reports. Importantly, he notes that the factor most influencing SEPTA’s decisions is the Ambler Borough’s opinion. SEPTA works for Ambler, he says. 

Representatives of SEPTA and the historical society will be meeting next week to discuss the building’s future. WVHS has identified an expert to attend that meeting and later provide us with a required Condition Assessment and a Stabilization Plan. 

Preservation of Ambler’s old buildings is important! They make Ambler what it is, lending character and attracting shopkeepers and visitors. Studies show that preserving old buildings saves the environment (less landfill and fewer resources used for construction) and ultimately generates more income for the neighborhood.

WVHS was instrumental in rehabbing the once-deteriorating building where La Provence is located. In the 1970s, the historical society received a $50,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation for its improvements, and the historical society’s volunteers spent hours cleaning and restoring that structure. Now it is a gem at Ambler’s entrance from Morris Road.

Please support the historical society in our recent endeavors to save the Freight House.

The Ambler Storytellers are a WVHS Committee that soon will be sponsoring tours and other programs to raise awareness of the borough’s rich history. This citizens’ group has been working to preserve the history and character of Ambler since the spring of 2021. In addition to researching and promoting Ambler’s historic buildings, they have been attending Ambler Planning Commission meetings and advocating for a historical preservation ordinance.

As a new committee of WVHS, Ambler Storytellers will support and augment the WVHS work promoting and preserving the history of the area. More about the Storytellers will be found via the links below and in future issues of The Valley Crier (the WVHS newsletter).

To read more about the group’s goals, see “Action is Needed by All to Develop Ambler the Right Way” in the December 2021 issue of The Shuttle, published by Weavers Way Co-op: https://issuu.com/weaversway/docs/theshuttle_2021_12/1?f.

To join their efforts, please send an email to amblerstorytellers@gmail.com.

To receive The Valley Crier, please send an email to info@wvalleyhs.org.

Ambler “Demolition Ordinance” Voted Down.  At its June 2022 meeting, the Ambler Borough Council voted against the Ambler Planning Commission’s proposed Demolition Ordinance, saying, in part, that it was too weak to be effective. Ironically, although Ambler’s official plans call for historic preservation (already approved), this situation leaves the borough with no ability to protect its historic buildings. WVHS President Carol Kalos and members of the Ambler Storytellers, a WVHS committee addressing this issue, have been attending the Planning Commission meetings since January to speak about the advantages of historic preservation. (There were objections to any regulations, especially for residences.) Members of the Planning Commission now recommend that WVHS take its concerns about demolition to the Borough Council, stating that they must follow only the directives of the council, but the Borough Council states that it will not address the issue again. As a substitute to an official policy, one of the Borough Council’s members has suggested that WVHS raise awareness of the value of the local architecture by creating walking tours; the Ambler Storytellers have already begun work on this project.  
 
 
<<Words to Remember: Board Member Charlie Miller often warns, “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever!”>>

After several months of discussion, the Ambler Planning Commission has sent a recommendation to its Borough Council regarding the proposed content of its “demolition ordinance” to be overseen by the Zoning office.

It will call for a 90-day delay on demolition of any of the borough’s pre-1935 buildings. One phrase heard during these meetings is “Would you chain yourself to the door to save this building?” Thus, because a demolition cannot be stopped (the current proposal), the commission is relying in part on public opinion to protect Ambler’s old buildings.

The Ambler Storytellers will continue to encourage appreciation for Ambler’s historic properties (and save them) by providing guided tours of the borough. Tour guides are needed! For more information about the tours or the new ordinance, please email amblerstorytellers@gmail.com

Check out this op-ed from Hidden City Philadelphia about Ambler Storytellers’ historic preservation efforts!

Op-Ed: Saving the Town that Asbestos Built

Ambler Storytellers Features Building of the Month:

The King and Betz Grocery Building

THEN: Circa 1900, the first grocery store on the corner of Lindenwold & Greenwood was likely established in the 1890s by Richard L Tyson, shortly after Ambler’s incorporation as a town.
NOW: Antique Drummer, owned by Terry Addison, sells antiques and artifacts of times gone by — fitting for a building that mirrors Ambler’s rich history.

 

THE HISTORY. The core of the original building at 216 Lindenwold Ave retains its shape, but over time the stone façade has given way to siding and brick: The first-floor porch has been enclosed, and a large addition has been added to the side closer to Butler Ave. In a nod to its original architecture, attractive corbels appear under the eaves along the roofline. The changes to the building appear to have been made in the 1940’s, giving it a WWII era vibe. Some historically significant buildings change over time, wearing their history even as they evolve to meet the needs of the community. Today it’s known as the King & Betz building, owing to the engraved marble plaque that bears the name of the grocery store it housed for half of the last century.

This historically significant building was, in fact, a grocery store continuously from the 1890’s through the late 1970’s. Back then, many grocery stores were owned by “mom and pop” and located on neighborhood street corners. Its first owner was Richard L Tyson, who had it for 14 years. Tyson sold it to Josiah Longstreth, whose ad in the 1906 Ambler Gazette boasted, “Fine Home Dressed Meats, Fresh Provisions and Fine Groceries.” Longstreth sold the store to Charles E Ridgeway, who used World War I patriotism in his ads. Ridgeway sold the store to J. B. Neely. By 1929, the store became King & Betz when Frank King and Charles Betz, whose names are engraved in marble on the side of the building, started the iteration that served this community through the late 1970’s. This long-running version of the grocery is remembered fondly by people who lived nearby in those years.

FUN FACT. Martin Kilson, the first tenured African American professor at Harvard University, grew up in Ambler. In his recently published book, A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey (2021), he recalled, “The store’s clientele was mainly North Ambler’s upper-middle-class WASP families, and whenever its fruits exhibited even a slight sign of spoilage, King & Betz set those pieces in crates outside the store. It was the heart of the Great Depression, and our parents could rarely afford to buy fresh produce, so we kids really appreciated those crates of spoiled fruits, picking out an orange, banana, or handful of grapes for our lunch bags.”

Please reach out to us at amblerstorytellers@gmail.com if you have any feedback, comments, or suggestions.

Thank You!

Ambler StoryTellers