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The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) has announced the winners of its Community Initiative Awards to recognize accomplishments made in 2021. These awards acknowledge the hard work and dedication of outstanding organizations, municipalities, agencies and individuals whose work is advancing and expanding the definition of historic preservation in Pennsylvania.

The awards are a program of PA SHPO’s innovative statewide historic preservation plan, #PreservationHappensHere. Intended to help Pennsylvanians achieve preservation outcomes in their communities, the plan is grounded in the idea that great preservation activities are happening every day across Pennsylvania but often go unnoticed. Recognizing these achievements helps broaden the understanding of historic preservation and encourages communities to promote preservation successes.

PA SHPO considered more than 70 candidates this year from different communities across the commonwealth. The three recipients and their projects showcase a range of preservation success stories, demonstrating the power of perseverance, collaboration and partnership.

 

The Friends of Fort Halifax Park received the Community Initiative Award for their archaeology work as well as their preservation of the farm complex buildings at the park. Courtesy Joe Baker

The Friends of Fort Halifax Park received the Community Initiative Award for their archaeology work as well as their preservation of the farm complex buildings at the park.
Courtesy Joe Baker

The Friends of Fort Halifax Park

There are few places that embody the breadth of Pennsylvania’s narrative like Fort Halifax Park in Dauphin County. The park’s landscape is a physical representation of the many cultures and transformative revolutions of Pennsylvania’s past. Thousands of years of stories can be interpreted from this property.

Founded in 2007, the Friends of Fort Halifax Park (FoFHP) have been collaborating to preserve the park for its cultural, environmental and recreational value. They have developed a partnership within the region and local community that has rallied around the preservation of the site of the historic 18th-century fort and its surrounding farm and forests.

In 2021 FoFHP led two important preservation and discovery efforts at Fort Halifax Park. They successfully applied for, received and managed grants from several funders to underwrite an ambitious archaeology project in a community park.

FoFHP’s interest in and dedication to the Juniata College field project was commendable as they raised funds and organized volunteers to feed the field school students and staff every day and contributed countless hours of volunteer fieldwork to see the project to a successful conclusion, which was not only the recovery of thousands of artifacts but also finding the location of colonial Fort Halifax.

At the same time, their advocacy was instrumental in mediating and negotiating with Halifax Township, Preservation Pennsylvania, the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, and PA SHPO to prevent the imminent demolition of the 19th-century barn and house at the park. Those negotiations continue as a path to preservation and adaptive reuse for the farm buildings is charted.

 

The City of Wilkes-Barre has been awarded for their Walkitecture app that guides users through Wilkes-Barre's historic district. VizVibe LLC

The City of Wilkes-Barre has been awarded for their Walkitecture app that guides users through Wilkes-Barre’s historic district.
VizVibe LLC

Wilkes-Barre Walkitecture

Few people may realize that the intersection of historic preservation and public health is obvious. The City of Wilkes-Barre, however, discovered that intersection and capitalized on it in a small, easily replicable project with their Walkitecture tour.

Wilkes-Barre Walkitecture is a self-guided, 2.2-mile walk through Wilkes-Barre’s National Register historic district that highlights architecture and local history through engaging current and historic images and stories. Residents and tourists can download the free Walkitecture app or follow the tour using a companion booklet that can be found at many locations throughout the city or online.

Funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant, this project is a successful collaboration between public health, local history and historic preservation groups to encourage exercise and support healthy lifestyles for city residents.

Using information provided by the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society, the Walkitecture project packages local history and learning about historic places into a format that is attractive and accessible for the public and that encourages deeper connection to and interest in their community.

 

Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. and its partners were honored for restoring the Wilkinsburg Train Station and rehabilitating it as a community hub. Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp.

Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. and its partners were honored for restoring the Wilkinsburg Train Station and rehabilitating it as a community hub.
Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp.

Wilkinsburg Train Station Restoration Project

Built in 1916 in downtown Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, as a station for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Wilkinsburg Train Station is an iconic community landmark. The Beaux Arts building, designed by architect Walter H. Cookson, closed in the mid-1970s as passenger rail service began to decline. Despite many attempts to reuse the station in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the building remained vacant and significantly deteriorated through the first two decades of the 21st century.

Beginning in 2015 the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. (WCDC) and its many partners and supporters started the ambitious project to save the train station and return it to use as a hub for the Wilkinsburg community.

Although the building’s condition after 50 years of vacancy would deter some, WCDC moved forward with construction starting in 2017, with an eye toward preserving historic fabric where it survived and sensitively adding new materials, spaces and systems. The rehabilitated station opened in 2021. This project is an example of how a leap of faith and dedication, despite long odds, can result in a transformational project for the entire community.

 

For more information about PA SHPO’s Community Initiative Awards, visit phmc.pa.gov/Preservation/education-outreach.

 

Shelby Weaver Splain is the education and special initiatives coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.