Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

The annual observance of Historic Preservation Week will be conducted the week of May 13-19 throughout the nation. In Pennsylvania, we have made impressive gains in recent decades in preserving properties of historical and architectural significance. The earliest successes in this field have been, of course, the ac­quisition and development of such nationally important historic sites as Old Economy Village, Ephrata Ooister, Cornwall Iron Furnace and Eckley Miners’ Village. With public resources sustaining these preservation activities, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has operated these facilities as visitors’ attractions.

Since the late 1960s, how­ever, the Commission has also developed the capacity to assist in the preservation of historic resources not owned by the Commonwealth, as well as those not in public hands. Federal legislation created the National Register of Historic Places and the Advisory Coun­cil on Historic Preservation to assess the significance of all historic resources, and offered a measure of protection to properties considered to have local, state or national impor­tance. For the very first time, the PHMC could designate entire historic districts, which recognized the wide variety of architecture found in so many communities throughout Pennsylvania.

During the past two dec­ades, more than 2,440 historic properties in Pennsylvania – including 300 historic districts (some of which contain hun­dreds of buildings and structures)-have been entered in the National Register.

Although listing does not guarantee protection, state and federal agencies can not carry out a publicly funded project without considering its impact on a registered property and without consulting PHMC staff. Codified in federal law and state legislation, this re­quirement has saved hundreds of historic properties through­out Pennsylvania.

Legislation in Pennsylvania has greatly supported historic preservation. In 1978, a com­prehensive statute established the Historic Preservation Board for the review of our National Register program and provided an opportunity for all state agencies to consult with the PHMC. The statute be­came part of Pennsylvania’s History Code in 1988. Of equal significance is the enabling state legislation that encourages local governments to support historic preservation through historic district zon­ing.

In spite of Pennsylvania’s impressive successes, we can not take our progress for granted. While development jeopardizes the preservation of important landmarks and historic districts, changing economic patterns have con­tributed to the abandonment of commercial and industrial structures and complexes. Even the legislation that sup­ports our program comes under attack from time to time. An effort this past year to add owner consent provi­sions for religious properties in locally-designated districts became a subject of intense debate by the state senate and the PHMC. Only a strongly worded resolution by the PHMC and an outpouring of opposition by local preservationists prevented this legislation from further consideration.

Only through a renewed commitment to the value and goals of historic preservation we will be able to protect not only our precious historic resources, but the entire legal and administrative framework that supports this effort.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director