How Ambler Is Beating the Dubious Distinction of ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’

asbestos plant Ambler
Image via REACH Ambler at YouTube.
Ambler asbestos plant of Keasbey & Mattison Co.

Scrappily resilient Ambler has labored mightily to reinvent itself from an industrial past that once brought with it the distinction of being the “Asbestos Capital of the World.” Michael Frost, of Hidden City, chronicled the area’s transformation that balanced both safety and preservation.

The source of the contamination was the Keasbey & Mattison Co., an 1881 asbestos manufacturing plant.

Company founder Richard V. Mattison chose the location for its proximity to a natural water source and to rail lines.

In assembling his empire, Mattison constructed numerous buildings throughout the borough; the dwellings comprised homes and commercial entities for his 900 employees.

These residences have become a significant health concern, given their asbestos-based construction materials.

After the company vacated Ambler in the 1980s, a dilemma emerged for local government. The borough had become highly desirable for residential real estate. Yet its toxic foundations had not been remediated.

Raze or remedy decisions became crucial to the area’s ongoing vitality.

A citizen’s group, Ambler Storytellers, is advocating for the latter.

It has already led preservation efforts to save the Ambler Theater, the Mattison Estate (Lindenwold Castle), and Deck’s Hardware, which dates to 1875.

The efforts of the Ambler Storytellers have been augmented by groups that include the Wissahickon Valley Historical Society, the Ambler Planning Commission, and the Pa. State Historic Preservation Office.

More on Ambler’s ongoing struggle to mitigate its structural asbestos issue is at Hidden City.


Here’s a look at Ambler’s manufacturing past.

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