Water Street (Race Street)- Ambler, PA

Water Street, now Race Street, was named based on a river (Tannery Run) that runs parallel to the road. Back then, the river supplied the mill, owned by Jonathan Lukens.

I didn't know there is a stream running underneath the pavement along Race Street, and I thought it's best to do research on this particular section in Ambler from the beginning when Ambler was developing into a town.

The Clover Mill

The Clover Mill was one of the oldest buildings that no longer existed in Ambler. The land was originally owned by Andrew Ambler, husband of town hero Mary Ambler, after he purchased 83 acres from the Bradis family where they erected the mill in 1810. Not only was there a clover mill on the tract, but there was also a saw mill.

"Evidently the Bradis family were thrifty people because they added a saw mill to the land, and for a period of time this mill had a triple duty to perform: grinding grain, sawing timber, and culling clover seed. Because of this, the mill was distinctive in that it was the only one of the eight which were in the locality that did any work except grinding grain and sawing lumber."

- Hough, "Early history of Ambler 1682-1888"

In 1832, Isaac Thomas purchased 36 acres that was detached from the original 83 acres of Andrew's property.

"In the deed given, it is specified that the race shall be kept clean in width the space of ten feet and also the channel of the stream passing from the chopping and saw mill located on said creek in order to prevent the rising and swelling back of the water, which would otherwise impede or obstruct the work of said mill.
The race built to provide a flow of water to supply the mill with power to run its wheels ran parallel with the present Race Street and the creek which flows along its banks. This race extended from near the bridge, which crosses the creek on Butler avenue, to the mill. This race was also supplied with water from a never failing spring which existed on the hillside of its route. The race ended in a forebay at the mill. The distinct outline of this is still seen in the curve of Race street at the Spring Garden street intersection."

- Hough, "Early history of Ambler 1682-1888"

It was 1865 when Jonathan Lukens, a well-known builder and woodman from Gwynedd, purchased Isaac's property. Ever since he purchased the 36 acres, Jonathan went to work and began laying out the town. He find laid out Main Street where he built 4 homes on. Then he laid out parallel streets: Walnut Street, Forest Avenue, Race Street, Ainsworth Street, and Spring Garden Street.

Due to financial loss from spending his money on putting Race Street on the map, Jonathan's dream of creating his town vanished.

"The saw mill owned by Lukens, also resulted in financial loss owing to the large amount of money he was obliged to spend when he put Race street on his map, Race street, was so called because it ran parallel with the race which supplied the mill with water. In order to get an outlet at Spring Garden street, the contour of the forebay there had to be changed, giving the street at this location a distant curve, still evident today. Later, he realized that this work was a loss of time and money, for great changes had come in a short space of time. The standing timber in the surrounding section of the country, on which he was dependent for the successful operation of his saw mill, was getting scarce. His mill was primitive in its construction; he was unable to compete with the great mills farther west, which were equipped with machinery of modern type and located where there were still vast forests. This change of events, unforseen by Jonathan Lukens, spelled the doom of the saw mill in Ambler and its existence soon became only a memory to the oldest residents."

- Hough, "Early history of Ambler 1682-1888"

Map of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania : from original surveys; William E. Morris, Publisher
Montgomery County 1877, Gwynedd, North Wales, Ambler, Royer's Ford, Limerick Station; J. D. Scott, Publisher

Post-Jonathan Lukens

In 1879, Joseph Levis purchased the lot where the mill once stood. At that time, there were only houses at the northwest corner of Spring Garden and Race Streets. Joseph ended up building his home on the southeast corner of those two streets.

In 1885, Franklin Sheppard purchased one acre and 113 perches of Joseph's property for $1,825. The barn that belonged to Joseph Levis was burned down in 1897.

North Pennsylvania Railroad 1886 Philadelphia - Bucks - Montgomery Counties, Ambler; J. D. Scott, Publisher
There use to be a bridge that ran along Ridge Street until it stops on Race Street. Image that bridge being there; Source: Google Maps
Montgomery County 1893, Ambler Borough; J. L. Smith, Publisher
Atlas of the North Penn Section of Montgomery County, Pa., 1916, Plate 26; A. H. Mueller, Publisher
Montgomery County 1927 Reading Main Line Vol 1, Plate 31 - Ambler Borough 1, Upper Dublin Township 1; Frank H. M. Klinge, Publisher


Hough, Mary P. H. "Early history of Ambler 1682-1888.” A Celebration of Women Writers. Accessed May 6, 2021. https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/hough/ambler/ambler.html.

Klinge, Frank H. M. Montgomery County 1927 Reading Main Line Vol 1, Plate 31, 1927.

Morris, William E. Map of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania : from original surveys. 1849. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3823m.la000777/?r=0.669,0.37,0.06,0.032,0.

Mueller, A. H. Atlas of the North Penn Section of Montgomery County, Pa., Plate 26, 1916.

Scott, J. D. Montgomery County 1877, Gwynedd, North Wales, Ambler, Royer's Ford, Limerick Station, 1877.

Scott, J.D. North Pennsylvania Railroad 1886 Philadelphia - Bucks - Montgomery Counties, Ambler, 1886.

Smith, J.L. Montgomery County 1893, Ambler Borough, 1893.

#pahistory #ambler #waterstreet #racestreet #johnathanlukens #franklinsheppard #archaeology #historicpreservation

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