Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

A quarter-century ago, James Biddle (1929-2005), president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, from 1968 to 1980, was named chairman of Pennsylvania’s first State Historic Preservation Board. Jimmy, as the scion of one of the Commonwealth’s most notable families was known – especially to fellow preservationists, many of them working at the grassroots level – was an ideal choice. Under Biddle’s leadership, the National Trust had burgeoned from a membership of twelve thousand to one hundred and sixty thousand members, and established field and legal services, maritime projects, rural conservation initiatives, and expanded educational and grants programs. Joining Biddle were fourteen distinguished citizens representing the fields of archaeology, history, architecture, tourism, education, and law.

“As historic preservation plays an increasingly more important role in Pennsylvania’s community conservation strategies,” State Historic Preservation Officer Ed Weintraub said at the time, “we need the expertise and guidance of professionals who have proven ability in economic development, architecture, archaeology, architectural history, and history.” The standards set by that first board continues in the sound advice and community leadership provided by the current members of the board, who advise on historic criteria, review and recommend nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, review and approve the Commonwealth’s comprehensive historic preservation plan, and support or under take related activities for the preservation of historic resources throughout the Keystone State.

The progress of historic preservation in Pennsylvania marks several important milestones in 2005 and 2006. Pennsylva­nians and their public policy makers embraced the idea of preserving the Commonwealth’s vital natural and historic resources thirty-five years ago with a 1971 amendment to the state constitution. The document captures an important history lesson – that what surrounds Pennsylvanians is relevant and is worth treasuring and protecting. “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic value of the environment,” the constitu­tion declares. “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustees of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

From its seventeenth century roots as a “Commonweal” – borrowed from the British philosophy that what exists in the natural and built environment is for the benefit of all – Pennsylvania and its citizens have worked to reflect the values captured in the 1971 constitutional declaration. These values are as relevant today as they were in 1971 – and in 1681.

All Pennsylvanians are “trustees of these resources,” responsible for preserv­ing the built and natural environment, including buildings, structures, archaeological sites, and landscapes – and the history that accompanies them. In the twenty-first century, preservation presents significant – although not insurmountable – challenges. Economic diversification, suburban and rural sprawl, and shifting demographics are relevant dynamics. Balancing the preservation of historic resources with growth and change means not only caring for the natural and built environ­ment and the social and historical contexts in which they are understood, but also appreciating and utilizing their economic potential.

Historic preservation is a partnership that sometimes begins at the community level with individuals who work to preserve a historic building or landscape. Historic preservation is also a responsibil­ity of local and municipal agencies that may include zoning and planning boards, historical commissions, and boards of historical architectural review. Preserva­tion is the mission of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), administered for the Commonwealth by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Historic preservation is also the responsibility of not only citizens, but also elected and appointed public officials, policy makers, developers, venture capitalists, historians, architects, archaeologists, and the many statewide preservation partners that work with the PHMC.

The idea that certain districts and structures within cities, towns, and municipalities possess historic value and are worth preserving began in the United States in the 1930s. In 1935, Congress enacted and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Historic Sites Act empowering the secretary of the Interior to study and document nationally significant sites. Proponents argued that such action increases and stabilizes property values, fosters community pride, demonstrates appreciation for the built environment, and contributes to enhanced quality-of-life. At the local level, Charleston, South Carolina, enacted the first historic district protection legislation in the United States in 1931. The city of New Orleans followed in 1937.

Pennsylvania first embraced the idea in the 1950s when Philadelphia pioneered the protection of historic resources within the city’s boundaries. In 1955, Philadel­phia City Council and Mayor Joseph S. Clark Jr. enacted an ordinance creating the Philadelphia Historical Commission and granted it powers to certify historic structures and regulate their modification and demolition. Lititz, in Lancaster County, soon followed. In 1959, Lititz Borough Council enacted a zoning ordinance that identified a historic area and regulates the construction, alteration, restoration, and demolition of buildings and structures within the designated area.

By the 1960s, a swelling movement of community activists, historians, and those who earned the moniker “preservationist” had begun to influence public policy makers about the benefits of designating localities and buildings as historic. Policy makers were likewise convinced of the viability of preservation as an economic development and planning tool to sustain and revitalize neighborhoods and business districts. Since 1961, Pennsylvania municipalities have had a special opportunity to preserve historic structures, buildings, and neighborhoods that possess historical and architectural significance. That year the General Assembly of Pennsylvania and Governor David L. Lawrence enacted the Historic District Act (P. L. 282, No. 167) enabling municipalities, including counties, to designate certain areas as historic districts. Pennsylvania became the fourth state to enact such a law, following Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The act, consisting of a scant twelve hundred words, remained clear in its purpose: safeguarding the “rich architectural and historical heritage of Pennsylvania, and of making them a source of inspiration to our people by awakening interest in our historic past, and to promote the general welfare, education, and culture of the communities which these distinctive historical areas are located. The city of Bethlehem rose to the challenge and was the first to enact a historic district ordinance and to appoint the first Board of Historical Architectural Review Board authorized by the law. Recently the borough of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, and Moon Township, Allegheny County, have been certified as historically significant by the PHMC.

Between 1961 and 2005, eighty-seven local governments in the Commonwealth have enacted historic ordinances protecting 113 districts and protecting thousands of historic properties. Pennsylvania statutes allow Home Rule Charter governments – such as the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton – to protect a total of twenty-three additional historic districts. By enacting such legislation, state lawmakers empowered communities to determine the extent to which they can preserve their built environment for economic development and aesthetic purposes. By 2004, the Commonwealth had contributed an impressive number to the total of more than twenty-three hundred municipalities throughout the United States that had legislated to safeguard hundreds of historic areas and tens of thousands of buildings and structures.

Complementing state historic preservation efforts was a dramatic shift in federal policy in the latter half of the twentieth century that came on the heels of growing recognition that tremendous numbers of historical, cultural, and archaeological resources were being threatened – and worse, lost. President Lyndon 13. Johnson signed the landmark National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 that provided states with the authority to certify local governments that have enacted historic district ordinances making them eligible for federal preservation funding; established environmental review programs to document resources and determine the impact of publicly funded development on cultural resources; and created the National Register of Historic Places.

Properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects evaluated as being significant in American history. The program is a key tool in assisting state and local govern­ments, federal agencies, organizations, and individuals to identify significant historic and archeological properties worthy of documenting and preserving. Listing in the National Register does not interfere with a private property owner’s right to alter, manage or dispose of property. It does, however, often elevate the ways in which local residents perceive the credibility of their historic resources.

To date, thirty-two municipalities in the Commonwealth have benefited from the federal Certified Local Government Program (CLG). Through the collabora­tive efforts of the PHMC, local and regional historical societies, community groups, municipalities, professional organizations, and Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Board, citizens have benefited by having a remarkable 3,149 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and 5,144 properties determined to be eligible. Likewise, the Commonwealth has identified more than twenty thousand archaeological sites that provide important information on prehistory, human settlement, migration patterns, and life archetypes.

Examples of specific benefits to the Commonwealth’s citizens are easily cited. With a population of nearly sixty-five hundred residents, the borough of Bellefonte in Centre County is one of Pennsylvania’s outstanding small towns with its favorable geographic setting (near the University Park campus of The Pennsylvania State University), pictur­esque vistas, and exceptionally well­preserved Victorian era architecture. In the past thirty years, public and private historic preservation initiatives have contributed to a dramatic revitalization in the local economy, property values, and appreciation for the built environment. The municipality was recognized through the Historic District Act in 1970, achieved National Register Historic District certifica­tion in 1977, and became a CLG through the U. S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service ten years later.

West Chester, Chester County, is a prime example of an urban municipality that employs numerous historic preserva­tion tools to enhance the quality of life of its citizens, revitalize residential neigh­borhoods, and develop a thriving business district with successful retail stores, restaurants, and a parking garage integrated into the streetscape. The borough’s downtown area was listed as a historic district in the National Register in 1985 and in 2005 applied for and received a boundary extension. To protect its historic resources, West Chester enacted a historic district ordinance in 1988. To offset its administrative costs related to the historic district and after receiving the National Park Service CLG status in 1994, the community has since been awarded forty-four thousand dollars in PHMC grants, one of which funded an outstanding publication recommending guidelines for a historic district.

Property owners and developers in West Chester have made use of fourteen million dollars from the federal govern­ment’s Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit Program (RITC) to rehabilitate many commercial and income producing properties. To assist owners of historic properties in the central business district, the borough created a facade improve­ment program.

Settled in the early eighteenth century, Newtown has maintained is historic integrity while urban sprawl has trans­formed surrounding Bucks County from a picturesque rural setting into a densely populated area. The borough’s thriving business and charming residential area protects its National Register Historic District through a historic district ordinance and a joint historical commis­sion with the Township of Newtown. Newtown also promotes and educates both residents and visitors with the assistance of a historic preservation consultant. To better compete with shopping centers and malls which encircle it, the community has established a Main Street Program. It recognizes property owners and their efforts to preserve and maintain their historic buildings through a historic preservation award program during National Historic Preservation Month each May. Newtown received National Park Service CLG designation in 1998, and in 2005 was awarded the Pennsylvania State Associa­tion of Boroughs’ Historic Preservation Award.

One of the Keystone State’s best kept secrets is the city of Franklin, Venango County, tucked away in northwestern Pennsylvania’s oil region. The commu­nity has implemented a variety of historic preservation initiatives which has kept its local economy healthy in a region that has suffered serious economic reversals. The community of about seven thousand residents has shown a great deal of sophistication in undertaking many historic preservation initiatives, including a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and protection by a historic district ordinance. Franklin has created a commercial facade improve­ment program and investors have completed several rehabilitation invest­ment tax credit projects. The Franklin Redevelopment Authority has instituted a business loan program for new and existing businesses.

The Historic Franklin Preservation Association has established a local preservation awards program and an essay contest for grade school students, sponsored a Victorian Architectural and Historic Preservation Conference, Franklin Historic District welcome signs, and a plaque program recognizing historic buildings. The organization also saved the historic 1844 Salt Box House by raising twelve thousand dollars to move the building to Cranberry Township. The only home of its kind left in Franklin, its architectural style was named for its resemblance to medieval-style saltboxes. In July 1991, it was slated for demolition, but once preservationists raised public awareness and the necessary funds to relocate it, owner John Davis sold the home for one dollar. Franklin’s newspaper, The News-Herald, published several articles about this preservation success story, including photographs of the entire home being lifted onto a truck in September 1991 and slowly moved to its new location along the Samuel Justice Recreational Trail, known for its orchard planted by pioneer John Chapman (1774-1845), recognized by generations of schoolchildren as Johnny Appleseed. The building, restored at a cost of more than fifty thousand dollars, Is being used as a visitors’ center for the Rails-to-Trails Program. PHMC grants totaling more than twenty-six thousand dollars have assisted Franklin in achieving its preservation goals.

Harmony, Butler County; founded in 1804 by German pietist George Rapp (1757-1847) and three hundred of his followers known as Harmonists, one of the nation’s most successful utopian experiments, retains its nineteenth-century village-like atmosphere. Several important residential and commercial buildings dating from the settlement period have been preserved and are prominent in the central square, part of the historic district, and named a National Historic Landmark in 1974. The Harmonie Society, as the community was called, developed industry and commerce that not only ensured its survival but also acted as a magnet for non-Harmonist enterprises. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Harmony emerged as an important steel manufacturing center and remains one of Pennsylvania’s most picturesque communities.

Another important shift in state and federal policy occurred in 1978, the year Governor Milton J. Shapp signed Act 273 authorizing creation of a State Historic Preservation Board with oversight authority for Pennsylvania’s National Register listings and various preservation initiatives. President Jimmy Carter signed a law creating the Federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit Program that quickly demonstrated preservation as a powerful economic development tool. Besides being a national leader in National Register listings, Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of utilizing the economic benefits of the RITC that provides federal tax credits for rehabilitating a historic property.

In 2004, the combined efforts of private developers, communities, and the PHMC, in taking advantage of the RITC, yielded more than 223 million dollars invested in building rehabilitation. Moreover, the average rehabilitation expenditure in Pennsylvania in 2004 was a remarkable $2.6 million per project. The Common­wealth ranked seventh nationwide in the number of approved rehabilitation proposals and third in the number of certified projects.

Within the past five years the amount of investment in historic building rehabili­tation in the Commonwealth has totaled an impressive one billion dollars; and, since 1978, more than 3.2 billion dollars. Since its i.nception, the RITC has produced 2,041 completed projects that helped build more than nineteen thousand housing units in the Commonwealth, created thousands of jobs, and attracted new businesses. Along with the Main Street program (marking its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2005), administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, RITC and various preservation initiatives have revitalized and renewed Pennsylvania’s downtowns and municipalities.

Historic preservation as defined by The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) includes archaeological sites. Until recently, archaeological sites were normally excavated prior to the com­mencement of construction projects. The sites were usually lost, although the data was saved. Since the early 1990s, there has been an enhanced effort to preserve sites and to make data from archaeologi­cal investigations available to the public under the act. As a collaborative effort between SHPO and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn­DOT), the Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS) is accessible by both professional archaeologists and the general public. Initial funding for development of the CRGIS was provided by the Baltimore District of the Army Corps of Engineers as a result of mitiga­tion efforts to raise the levee along the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County.

Pennsylvania’s successes in archaeo­logical preservation include the Point Pleasant Pumping Station, an early 1980s U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission project diverting water from the Delaware River to the Limerick Nuclear Generating Facility on the Schuylkill River. Among several archaeological sites identified, the Lower Black’s Eddy site on the Delaware River became the focus of mitigation. As early as the 1880s, Henry Chapman Mercer demonstrated at this site that humans had not entered the North American continent until late in the Pleistocene era (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago). A large portion of the site remains intact where significant informa­tion is being recovered and is now publicly owned and preserved for future research.

During the mid-1980s, the Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Company expanded significantly in Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required the company to conduct archaeological surveys prior to any ground disturbing activity. The company’s original gas pipeline, known as “The Big Inch,” an extraordinary engineering accomplishment listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed at the beginning of World War II across Pennsylvania to provide emergency fuel to the East Coast. Scores of archaeological resources were identified as a direct result. Texas Eastern’s systematic sampling surveys produced valuable prehistory data from all of the major river valleys and physiographic zones. The project included the excavation of a huge Late Prehistoric village (part of the Monongahela Culture dating to AD 1450) in Washington County; an early farming hamlet with houses (part of the Clemson Island culture dating to AD 1200) in Perry County; and an early farming village (part of the Minguannan Culture dating to AD 1450) in Chester County. Texas Eastern’s intensive analysis of archaeological survey methodology was especially valuable to the SHPO when guidelines for archaeological surveys were developed for Pennsylvania.

The excavation of the Sandts Eddy site, a deeply stratified site along the Delaware River, revealed significant human occupa­tion dating to approximately 3,000 years ago, and a second occupation to 9,100 years ago. This innovative investigation established safety procedures for the excavation of very deep sites and intro­duced a detailed functional analysis of stone tools. These specialized studies have since become a regular component of mitigation projects. The site is now owned and protected by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

During a Transcontinental Pipe Line Company project, an early farming hamlet (part of the Owasco/Clemson Island culture dating to AD 1300) was discovered on Pine Breeze Island in Pine Creek, Lycoming County. The company altered its construction plans, causing minimal impact and later donated the site to the Commonwealth. Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is the administrator and prohibits any activity disturbing earth on the island.

As part of a bridge replacement project on Calver Island in the Susquehanna River in Dauphin and Cumberland Counties, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is conducting an extensive excavation of a site representative of the time period 3000 to 6000 BP (“Before Present”) in which significant changes occurred in the lifestyles of traditional hunting and gathering Native Americans. The commission is purchasing the island and preserving most of the site for research.

Developers have found benefits in preserving archaeological sites and using them as green space. Prior to a proposed housing development, the Parke Farm site in Chester County was identified as an extremely important late prehistoric farming village site (part of the Shenks Perry culture and dating to about AD 1400). The land owner granted an easement to the Brandywine Conser­vancy and the site is now permanently protected. In Lehigh County, a developer donated a two-acre portion of King’s Quarry, the site of a prehistoric jasper mine, to the Archaeological Conservancy, a national nonprofit organization which has preserved more than three hundred sites throughout the country. Although the site will be eventually be surrounded by houses, it will remain undeveloped under the conservancy’s stewardship. In recent years, the SHPO has also encour­aged archaeological studies of individual watersheds.Four syntheses have been completed: the Lower Schuylkill Valley, the Upper North Branch of the Susque­hanna Valley, the Upper Juniata, and Raccoon Creek in the Ohio Valley. The long-term goal is to complete studies of the approximately twenty major water­sheds in Pennsylvania.

Why historic preservation? The short answer is that preservation creates new jobs, stimulates private and public investment and venture capital, enhances tax revenue, and is a powerful tool for economic development, tourism, educa­tion, and community vitality and rebirth. The long answer is that historic preserva­tion keeps intact community history and aesthetics while building – and, in many cases, restoring – community pride and sense of place, and belonging. These elements are vitally important in a rapidly changing culture, society, and economy. Moreover, preservation connects people to their past and validates their history. Preservation also places Pennsylvania’s history within the broader context of American history. Finally, preservation enhances quality of life through which all citizens can work, enjoy leisure activities, find respite, learn, raise families, visit, and retire.

The PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP) administers the Commonwealth’s preservation initiatives as authorized by the Pennsylvania History Code, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and other legislation. As Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office, the BHP manages an extensive grants program that assists communities and organiza­tions to preserve and interpret history. In collaboration with preservation partners, the SHPO also manages the state historical marker program and educates Pennsylvanians about the value of cultural resources and history. Among the PHMC’s lead historic preservation partners are the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organiza­tions, Preservation Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Pennsylvania Archaeological Council, Pennsylvania Historical Association, the State Historic Preservation Board, and local, regional, and statewide historical and preservation societies.

This fall, the PHMC will officially release a new historic preservation plan for 2006 through 2011. Among the highlights of the new plan are increased public awareness and education on the value of and available programs for historic preservation, adapting technol­ogy to provide accurate and timely public information on preservation initiatives, new school programs and teacher workshops, enhanced grants programs that will encourage tourist initiatives, including walking and driving tours of historic areas, enactment of a state tax incentive program, growing the number of historic districts across the Common­wealth, and the continuation of initiatives that have proven successful, such as the state historical marker, National Register of Historic Places, and the National Historic Landmarks programs. The plan will serve as an important resource for partners, communities, organizations, and individuals.

Pennsylvania’s history is an exem­plary lesson that important history happened all around us. Besides making good economic sense, preservation and caring for historic and cultural resources guides one and all to understand the fundamental lessons derived from the past.


For Further Reading

Burns, Deborah Stephens, and Richard J. Webster, with Candace Reed Stern. Pennsylvania Architecture: The Historic American Buildings Survey, 1933-1990. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, 2000.

Carr, Kurt W, and James M. Adovasio, eds. Ice Age People of Pennsylvania: Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Pennsylvania Archaeological Council 2002.

Custer, Jay F. Prehistoric Cultures of Eastern Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1996.

Dickson, Harold E. A Hundred Pennsylvania Buildings. State College, Pa.: Bald &zgle Press, 1954.

Donehoo, George. A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names of Pennsylvania. Lewisburg, Pa.: Wennawoods Publishing, 1996.

Miller, Randall M., and William Pencak, eds. Pennsylvania: A History of the Common­wealth. University Park and Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania State University Press and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, 2002.

Murtaugh, William J. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. New York: John Wilei; and Sons, 1997.

Raber, Paul A., and Verna L. Cowin, eds. Foragers and Farmers of the Early and Middle Woodland Periods: Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology;. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council, 2003.

Raymond, Eleanor. Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 1997.

Richman, Irwin. Pennsylvania’s Architec­ture. Middletown, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical Association, 1997.

Sullivan, Lynne C., and Susan C. Prezzano. Archaeology of the Appalachian Highlands. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

Wallace, Paul A. W. Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1987.

Wolensky, Kenneth C., ed. Honoring the Past-Planning for the Future: Pennsylva­nia’s Historic Preservation Plan, 2006-2011. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2005.


Kenneth C. Wolensky is a historian for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) where, most recently, he works with the agency’s historic preserva­tion programs. A frequent contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage, he publishes and presents extensively on Pennsylvania history. He is the principal author of Honoring the Past-Planning for the Future: Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Plan, 2006-2011, recently released by the Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commission. The author also teaches in the American Studies Program at Penn State University.


Michel R. Lefevre has served as chief of preservation planning for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation since 1989. Before joining the agency he was the historic preservation officer for Reading, Berks County, for eleven years. He has written a variety of historic preservation articles for magazines and government publications and authored Historic District Designation in Pennsylvania and A Manual for Pennsyl­vania Historical Architectural Review Boards and Historical Commissions, published by the PHMC. He coordinated Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Plan and has developed hundreds of seminars, workshops, conferences, and special events to inform Pennsylvanians about their built heritage. He has also provided historic preservation technical assistance to more than five hundred municipalities throughout the Commonwealth. He received a bachelor of science degree in public policy and a master’s of arts degree in public administration from The Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg.