In March 2019, bulldozers began tearing into the grounds of Lindenwold Castle located at 701 Bethlehem Pike in Ambler, Pennsylvania to make way for a luxury mixed-housing development. Some in the community are calling it progress. Others are saying the project is just plain wrong.
“The castle is an impressive and beloved oddity. Now it stands hideously naked without it’s beautiful landscape,” said Eddie Flotte, an artist and lifelong Ambler resident.
The relationship between Ambler residents and the castle is integral to the very existence of the town. In 1882, Dr. Richard Vandelous Mattison of Bucks County stepped off of a train and chose Ambler as the location for his asbestos factory, Keasbey & Mattison. At the time, Ambler was a sleepy mill town with only 70 houses and a population of 250 people.
Mattison made Ambler the “Asbestos Capital of the World,” drawing workers from as far as Italy. Among those Italian immigrants was the grandfather of celebrated journalist and author Gay Talese whose 1992 book, Unto the Sons, describes turn-of-the-century Ambler.
As business expanded, Mattison, known as the Asbestos King, built over 400 homes for his employees, ranging from modest cottages for manual laborers to stately Victorian mansions for managers. The grandest mansion of all was Mattison’s. In 1912, he renovated his mansion to replicate Windsor Castle in England, bringing in stone masons from Italy and German craftsmen to make the ornate iron gates. It has a multi-story central tower with circular corner turrets and crenellated battlements across the roof. Many of the homes he built for his managers have these same Medieval features, but on a much smaller scale.
Known then as Lindenwold Castle, the property featured gardens, fountains, and statues to rival the grand palaces of Europe. At night, Mattison could gaze down from his castle on the hill at lights flickering inside his managers’ homes like a child admiring his toys.
The Asbestos King was generous. He gave Ambler a library, an opera house, and the Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church. He was also greedy. In addition to being the town’s largest employer, Mattison owned Ambler Water Company, Ambler Electric Light Company, and the Heat & Motor Company. Talk about a company town.
The Great Depression shut down the asbestos factory and its king. Mattison died in 1936 at the age of 85. Later that year, Lindenworld Castle was sold to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth which established it as St. Mary’s Villa for Children and Families. By then, the estate had been whittled down to less than 50 acres. For the next 80 years, the castle, with its Gothic towers, elegant gates, and lush landscape, appeared that it would last forever. Then came the sale of St. Mary’s Villa in 2013. Not long after came the Facebook group The Concerned Neighbors of the St. Mary’s Villa – Ambler, PA. They represented 572 residents who were alarmed that multiple commercial entities planned to turn the bucolic country estate into a densely populated housing development.
The initial buyer in 2013 was Leonard Poncia, owner of Aquinas Realty Partners. Ponica sold off the estate’s two gatehouses to Peter Monaghann of Endeavor Property who has since leased one to a tenant and is currently renovating the other. In 2017, the Upper Dublin Planning Commission gave the green light for a large portion of the estate to be developed by the Goldenberg Group which partnered with Guidi Homes to build 104 new carriage house and villa-inspired homes Ponica subsequently sold another portion of the property to a joint venture of South Bay Partners Inc., Lamb Properties LLC, and Sage Senior Living to build a luxury senior living complex with over 250 units. The surrounding community felt like it was under siege.
Without irony, the Goldenberg Group describes their proposed development, Mattison Estate, as a “masterfully-planned luxury community… nestled on the beautiful grounds of the legendary Lindenwold Estate.” Homes will range from $300,000 to $7,000,00. That’s a sharp hike for Ambler where the average four-bedroom house sells for under $425,000.
The adjacent, 55+ community, Sage Senior Living, will include independent living, assisted living, and a memory unit. Its amenities will include an indoor pool, fitness center, yoga studio, two movie theaters, a dog wash and dog run, art studio, multiple indoor and outdoor dining venues, bars and lounges, barbecue grills, fire pits, and a putting green–and a hefty price tag that goes with all that.
Residents are largely concerned about the impact of the development on local traffic. “Right now, getting into and out of Ambler during evening rush hour is horrific,” said resident Linda Palmarozza. “The cars are all single lane along Butler Pike. Sometimes the back-up is close to a mile long.”
But traffic isn’t the only issue. Residents are also worried about the environment. The development calls for reducing the size of the two-acre lake, creating a dam, and adding a water feature with wetlands. Sensing pushback, the Goldenberg Group is promising to plant 1,600 new trees, over 2,400 shrubs, and 400 ornamental grasses with 3,000 perennials.
Businesses in Ambler are guardedly optimistic. “We do expect to see an increase in customers once it’s complete,” said Jon Roesser, general manager of Weavers Way Coop. “Our belief is that folks who choose to move to the Mattison development are doing so because they want to be part of a densely populated, walkable community and we therefore expect they will be frequent customers of the co-op and the other businesses in downtown Ambler.”
Meanwhile, what will happen to the castle? Leonard Ponica is keeping it for himself to lease out as office space.
A walk around Lindenwold Castle and the Richard Mattison estate. Photographs by Michael Bixler.
The wildlife that lived here are on their own; last summer a huge, old snapping turtle was wandering around, the lake is gone. It is disgusting what greed has done.
I lived in that castle for 10 years what they did was destroyed a historical landmark that should of never been destroyed. Much art of gothic style design and the craftmanship of very skilled artist and stone masonry work and the interior design of expensive carved wood and stairwells every thing on that property was an expression of some of the greatest works of art in every way the style was incredable. And all the memories of beautiful times we had there. And two movies with Ida Lapino,Rosalind Russel June Harding and Mr French ECT. Than Mrs Russell and Lapino, had a Gym basket ball court indoors and a new kitchen and caffateria dinning room.plus they always had annual boy scout and girl scout jamboree some of the largest ones I ever seen. There was so much you can do and learn there. There is so much stories and history behind the orphanage. I am so shocked and disappointed. What a great loss of such a historical site. So sad.
I also live there as child with my brother and my siste.
I lived at St. Mary’s from 6-8 years old. I’m so sad to see this.
I,andmy 3 sisters lived there from 1950 to 1955.Boy’s dormatories were on 3rd floor of the castle.
I lived there in 1992 till 1995. I loved it there. I lived in the gate house. The one that was further from the pond.
I was an orphan at the castle in 1959 till 1963. They also did a movie there with Hailey Mills called where angels go trouble follows. bad memories from there.
It was actually called “The Trouble With Angles”
And the 2nd one was like Daniel Raab stated, “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows!”
I lived there when they filmed The Trouble with Angels. Sad
Ms. Mt. Airy,I do believe the young lady was right. and with all due respect you were wrong. Where Angels go trouble follows… was a sequel to The trouble with Angels.. I think a girl that’s been so much time there and had some bad memories I only can hope she had some good ones too I would think she might know a little more than those of us that never spend a moment there..Long live all your memories.. God bless each and every one of you ..you’re a hell of a lot better than the rest of us because you endured appreciated&
I believe every single soul that spent a moment or many…are truly Angels…
The True Angels of Ambler..
What happened to you when you were there?
my mother and uncle was also orphaned there in the same years
there , she used to take us back when we were small. so sad
I totally agree. GREED is exactly what this is. I lived here in St.Marys Villa as a child. One day I took a trip up here to shoe my daughter,and I could do was cry. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were in the process of destroying this beautiful memory. I am still so very sad over this.
Upper Dublin ripped out Ambler’s history, literally, by the roots. Pa Game & Fish we’re called because of the way they were handling the land’s wildlife.
There have been severe accidents at the intersection of Bethlehem and Lindenwold once a month. And that’s before this monstrosity is completed.
I don’t know what they did with all the wildlife that lived there but I saw pictures of dead animals laying on the property.
This is the purest picture of greed by the UDBOC. As a lifelong resident of Ambler, I’m completely disgusted by Upper Dublin’s decision to rape our land.
Super heart-broken for what they did to “my home”
I was very attached to this place and quite often visited through-out the years.
In my opinion…disastrous.
All about the money!
Ah, fond memories from 1966, the filming there of ‘The Trouble with Angels’ starring Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell.
Wasn’t this the site of filming the movie..In trouble with Angels
Sad to see beauty go because of greed
Disgusting, After everything Mr. Mattison gave that town back in the day, this is how your legacy lives on, by destroying your grand diamond of Ambler. Iam from Chester County and happen to have drove by and was mortified to see what some towns do for greed who got paid off. Where is global warming assets after you destroyed trees,gardens wildlife. I was heartbroken and don’t even live there. It goes on everywhere so so wrong. I have greedy neighbors here that just timber out all ground for greedy $$ And then encroach on other peoples property to hunt. So sad😪
I can’t believe they did this to historical the castle was beautiful. I Worked there back in the day. It had so much history. I hope the ppl that did this something evil happens to them.!!!
My wife was placed at St Mary’s in foster care twice. She was very mixed memories of her time there, but we remain greatly concerned about what will happen to things like furnishings, stone formations and statues that were important to memories and hallmarks for the children who were placed there. Does anyone have information on the disposition of these items? Throwing them away feels like throwing away the history and story of so many abused and neglected children who were placed there to heal.
This is so sad. I remember ice skating every winter on the pond at St. Mary’s. We had so much fun. I am a graduate of Ambler High Class of 1960. I live in Doylestown now but every time I go through Ambler I have to remember my good times there and that beautiful property on Lindenwold Avenue. It is just horrible to ruin a Landmark like this.
I remember too, Eleanor. The skating pond, with the lighted statue in the middle and beautiful music playing is one of my favorite childhood memories. We lived on the corner of Mattison Avenue and Bethlehem Pike. On winter evenings, we walked up Bethlehem to Lindenwold, past all the spooky houses, to the gate where one of the St. Mary’s nuns would greet us at the gate and take our quarter entrance fees. Sometimes there was no nun waiting and the quarters went into a metal box affixed to the stone gate. Do you remember the small stone shelter with a big fireplace(always burning) on one end and benches on either side were we could warm up and drink a cup of hot chocolate sold by the nuns for a nickel? Sitting and watching the fire was pure heaven.
I wonder if the orphans at St. Mary’s skated at night. At the time I felt very sorry for them because I thought they were probably already in bed, but now I like to think that they also enjoyed the skating.
The few nuns around were low key and though there was no notable supervision I don’t remember there ever being trouble, other than during the filming of The Trouble with Angels. There I saw Rosalind Russell, the quintessential movie star, with dark glasses, a leopard jacket and cigarette holder. Quelle glamorous! During one sleepover party, when I was about ten, we all snuck out and climbed the stone wall across Bethlehem Pike to explore the estate. The statues were quite spooky at night and we stumbled on what we though was a mausoleum. At dawn we all sat in our nightgowns on the stone wall and waved at the drivers going by on Bethlehem Pike. So many memories of Ambler. My best friend and I saw Jesus in the gorgeous old Episcopal church! The stories of Mattison’s life were many, mostly tragic. I don’t know how many of them were true. I think the house we lived in was haunted. My family moved from there to Doylestown in 1965, and you live there now. This morning I woke wondering whether anyone remembered skating at St. Mary’s. So glad you do. Wasn’t it beautiful? Do you know who the angelic statue in the skating pond represented? I’d guess St. Mary?
The figure in the middle of the pond was an Archangel, not Mary. I lived at St. Mary’s in the early 40’s for 8 years, from nursery age to 8. I know the history from a child’s viewpoint with exceptional clarity. My memory is startling clear of the nuns and priest and the manicured grounds and foliage that I traipsed through as only a child would. St. Mary’s had a German Shepard that ran loose and was a pet to us children…on sight were Peacocks that woke us up in the morning. A bell in the Castle side entry was set up to ring for us kids to take a nap where ever we were during the noon ringing. We were allowed to run through the property with few restrictions. I could write a book of my experiences there. All good ones. If you look towards the front of the castle, look to the column on the right. At the upper window a pillow was thrown out by mistake during a pillow fight. I lowered my fishing line to the ground and hooked it back up. Many, many experiences so vivid. Experiences of swimming in the pond, sledding in the winter praying and sleeping alone in the grass in the warm summer sun in the grotto where Mary in statue form was nestled. I loved St. Mary’s. Sad only that I was left there when my family (less my mother who died at my childbirth) lived…just a mile and half away. I was Larry Breininger then. I was adopted by my mothers brother and his wonderful wife, Rhoda and took their name Larry Costella. I am heart broken to see this remarkable estate that as a child, discovered the natural world. Bye folks…
Mr.Vostello your words memories & storytelling melted my heart.. you could instill empathy in those who remain untouched by emotion. I hope I am misinformed, & the Iconic Castle Will stand,though surrounded now by arrogance greed & obviously soulless non God fearing so called magnets of industry…
none are greater Giants or Pillars of & for All People,than
The men & women who just exposed themselves,
To all the children now adults, you humbled me to tears, you reached inside the hearts of so many, to give not take, to remember in order to educate, to share rather than take… You are the Icons of Inspiration… True Heros truly Ambler’s Angels…
I have photos of us skating at St Mary’s. So much fun. Remember the $.25 fee too. Remember when the kids were playing whip lash & several were impaled by their blades. The nuns were thinking of closing it but instead left it open for fishing.
I have that bell. The structure was falling in & Andy (maintenance guy) offered it to my dad. He has passed & I inherited it
Eleanor, I meant to write that my family moved from the haunted house to Doylestown, and that you also live in Doylestown now. Not that you now live in the haunted house!
What was the haunted house you lived in?
Hello Eleanor. My name is Kathy Dupuis.I lived at Saint Mary’s orphanage in the 1950’s you only mentioned st Mary’s villa. How come. In 1950 ‘s it was an orphanage for boys and girls that were abused by their parents. So, me and my sisters lived ther until we graduated 8th grade.i would love to talk to you about my experience at St Mary’s.
I too lived in St. Mary’s Home for Children.
I was 6 years old in 1963 when my sister, brother and myself came to live in the beautiul Castle. The home was run by nuns. They were so good to the children who were either orphans or children from desperate homes. We went to school there, played in the rose garden and learned how to ice skate on the pond.
I was chosen, as the youngest child there to have pictures with Ida Lupino and Roseline Russell on the front steps of the Castle.Wish I had those pictures today. I remember the filming of The Trouble With Angles. Good memories during troubling times in my life. So sad to see these pictures of whats happening to that beautiful area. They call this progress. Nothing is sacred anymore.
I believe you may have a brother Michael?
Lupino & Russell would come to my Dads hardware store & sit on the rolls of wire and chat with him & the locals that came in. Bob Gordon & Joe Noble would charm the heck out of them. Great times
Such a shame that they tire down such an iconic structure. I would love to hear stories from people and see pictures of the place in it’s heyday.
I lived at St. Mary’s in the early 90’s, for a kid from the city to be placed in a group home with such an amazing structure on it was life changing for me. Although I stayed in the cottages by the lake, we frequently were in the castle and loved the groups walks on the grounds. The gardens, the lake and the gate houses amazed me as a kid. This place definitely influenced me, I’ll alway credit this experience as a kid with opening my eyes to the world. It showed me there was a lot more out there then just the rowhomes of south Philly and cultured me. After reading the comments about the wildlife, I’m even more saddened and this historical landmark should have been left as is.
I was there in early 90’s as well with two of my brothers. I have good memories with the exception of about three.
My brothers,sisters, and I were “residents” at St. Mary’s back during World WarII. That would be when I was about 5 or 6- 1944. As others have written, so sad. I actually stumbled on the article. I visited there around 1998 when St. Mary’s was being used for slightly different causes. We were considered orphans in the 40’s but our parents were still alive but could not care for us🥲🥲such a shame.
Our lesson from St. Mary’s and other orphanages in the Philadelphia area through the 50’s was No, not for our children.
Well anyway I hope you are still writing and publishing.
hi so sad to hear whatthey are doing to st.marys home for chrildren,i as of many others lived in the castle.so amazed of its wood carvings,was there for sixyears,yes missed my family so much,but i must also say they did help many chrildren,when the nuns took over.
I am very sad to read this . The castle should have remained in the Church to support children in need . Very sad to read they will destroy this historic American garden and property as odd as it may be . Henry Keasbey is my great great grandfather and I think it’s criminal they are destroying a piece of American history . Shame on this developer who has no honor or decency.
Geraldine,I remember you and your brother(Jerry)
I am Doug Wirtshafter.
Im reading back on this and thinking, WHY. Im all for development truly I am, but in a district that’s extremely unaffordable and lacking history, we couldn’t even redevelop the area with masonry-designed structures? Pay some form of respect to it? Instead were building 2000+ sqft homes priced for manhattan!? The way this district has been developing Is stupid, ugly, and horribly planned, these units should have been directed towards that office park they want to develop. SMH . And considering how much land the tornado destroyed, wildlife in the area has so little now. This is truly a shame
1960-1963 lived there with my younger brother and two older sisters. even now, still think of the place with very fond memories. At Christmas they took us to see Mary Martin perform Peter Pan. Was very close to a kid named Douglas Worchester. A much better life than i had at home. The only constant in this world is change !
I remember you Billy.
IWas there from 62-70 then went to “The HUT” 70-74
I just moved into the Mattison House Apartments across the street from this property just a couple of days ago. I love historic locations (and found this land’s history so fascinating) and thought this building looked a little different standing out from the development and houses that are currently being built. I had no idea that what I was looking out to the past couple of mornings was a huge historic emblem of Ambler. I also had no idea of what was being done with the wildlife that used to be on the land and seeing what the property once looked like, it’s sad to see how it’s being treated now. All I hope, I suppose, is that I still see this castle standing every time I open my blinds. It’s a diamond in the rough, truly. Ambler is a quaint little town I’m still learning to adjust to, but this new development is going to stick out like a sore thumb. I agree with everyone above that the property/houses are going to be unaffordable to many, it’s a waste of land and money turning it into a boushy development.
There were graves and headstones on the property that were clearly seen when driving along Bethlehem Pike. When construction began I drove past and the graves were still there. The next day I drove past the headstones were gone, and what I found disturbing is that the ground underneath did not look disturbed. I asked myself, “How could they possibly have moved all those bodies in 1 day and without the soil looking upturned?” I hope I’m wrong about this, but part of me wonders if the developers even had the decency to remove the bodies.
I share your concerns that a developer’s greed has caused a potential Poltergeist for the buyers of $300K-700K homes built over orphan’s graves. I passed your comments on to Upper Dublin officials today. God Bless!
Mr.Costello, not Costello, forgive the misprint..
Truly hate what has happened to the grounds and the castle, soulless homes and an ugly eyesore of a building surrounding one of the most unique pieces of architecture and history Ambler had to offer. They built the structure surrounding the castle as close as they possibly could without it ‘technically’ disturbing the historic structure, and they jammed as many ugly homes as possible on the grounds. Only those with more money than taste will ever move in, and Ambler didn’t want them to begin with. UD town council are truly crooked. The grounds should have been a public park and the castle a museum, but heaven forbid the people of Ambler get something beautiful to enjoy, just more Bethlehem Pike traffic.
I worked at the school in 2010. I wonder how the now grown children are? The school was an Alternative School for students whom suffered difficulty in their families and later became Wards the the state. Bless the children always.
When we moved to this area almost 30 years ago, I could tell that the property was something unique and special. I couldn’t see beyond the gates in the back because it was private property but it was clear that it was beautifully created with the lake in the middle. I would always take the cedar road to Lindenwold short cut just to gaze at this place. Now, it’s all gone. All of it. The developers or upper Dublin township owes it to all of us to tell us where all those things ended up… the statues, the gates… I’m sad, too.
In the 50’s, 60’s& 70’s my Dad had a toy donation box at his hardware store(Cranes Hardware). Every Christmas Eve he & I would stop at St Mary’s & drop off the toys.
In the late 60’s the belfry was falling in and Andy the maintenance guy asked my Dad if he wanted the bell. Dad took it & after his death I got it & still have it. Memories