Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

The primary focus of this series of four articles is the architectural heritage of Pennsylvania through the past three centuries. However, in the context of history, architecture is neither an isolated creation nor an assured cultural resource for the future. As buildings ore the products of the interaction of many facets of a society, so. too, the preservation of architecture is the result of human intentions and actions.


Preservation is a word having many levels and dimensions of meaning. Very simply, preservation may apply to the basic maintenance of a building: necessary repairs and periodic repainting are a fundamental. although often over­looked, part of preservation. Preserva­tion also applies to other processes in­cluding rehabilitation, restoration and re-creation. In general, rehabilitation means the refurbishing and updating of a building to serve contemporary purposes, with maximum retention of its surviving elements possessing good architectural character; the rehabilita­tion process usually is not intended to return a structure to its early or origi­nal appearance. Restoration, if defined strictly, seeks to determine the early or original appearance of a structure through physical and documentary research in order that the building may be brought back to its early or original appearance. In other words, fidelity to the original design usually is the moti­vation in any serious, scholarly restora­tion. A re-creation is the total recon­struction of a lost building or area; ideally, re-creation should be guided by research and professional archeol­ogy. An understanding of these various meanings of preservation is fundamen­tal for an understanding of the history and the future of the movement.

The term “preservation movement,” now used almost in the context of a cliche, also merits clarification. On the most fundamental level, a preservation movement may be any consciousness of the need to preserve buildings or areas possessing historical significance; this consciousness usually acquires the character of a movement when it gains the active support of a community. Within the past thirty years, the preser­vation movement usually has been de­fined on three demographic levels: national, state and local (or regional). Today, the preservation movement in the United States shares broad-based, national objectives and priorities, with local or regional variations being dic­tated by both historical and human resources within a given area. Further, in the past two decades, the preserva­tion movement has acquired political, social and economic dimensions that it hitherto lacked.

A concern for preservation of architecture and areas is not new in Western history. There was a definite interest in preservation in ancient times, and through the Middle Ages there was a marked concern for safe­guarding sites associated with important religious events or persons. How­ever, in America, there was very little consciousness of preservation beyond the level of basic maintenance before the middle of the nineteenth century.

In Pennsylvania, as was the case in most places, an increased interest in history preceded actual preservation endeavors. This historicism took many forms: the production of prints of noted places, the publication of books and the collection of manuscripts. As early as 1798-1800. the Philadelphia printmaker, William Birch, noted in the preface to his portfolio of Phila­delphia views that he was recording the appearance of a city that would soon change. The historian Sherman Day, in his Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania of 1843, included many illustrations of build­ings then noted for their age. In Phila­delphia, John F. Watson wrote his Annals and also formed a collection of manuscripts and memorabilia that in­cluded important visual materials about seventeenth and eighteenth cen­tury structures in the Philadelphia area. I. D. Rupp, author of several county histories in the 1840s, occa­sionally included an illustration of an old building with brief commentary. However, all these historians of the first half of the nineteenth century seemed content to collect and record; none even suggested an act of preser­vation.

If men were the historians of nine­teenth century America, it was the ladies who spearheaded the first stages of the preservation movement. The first organized preservation effort in the country was the formation of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in the decade before the Civil War. At this time, one proposal made for pre­serving Mount Vernon was voiced by the Philadelphia-based architect, Samuel Sloan, who suggested replacing Mount Vernon’s wood exterior with white marble. Sloan’s idea was very revealing of the motives of most pres­ervation attempts in the third quarter of the nineteenth century: the crea­tion of a memorial was more impor­tant than the pursuit of accuracy. In this same decade before the Civil War, there was an increase in the process of saving elements of razed buildings. For. example, when the Lancaster home of George Ross, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was razed in 1852, his great-granddaughter had many pieces of woodwork reused in her own home.

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. the most success­ful preservation projects focused on buildings from the eighteenth century possessing strong associations with patriotism or military history. In Pitts­burgh, by mid-century, the only surviving part of Fort Pitt was the brick Blockhouse or Redoubt, bearing a 1764 datestone. In the first half of the nineteenth century, this structure, en­larged and converted to a residence, fell into disrepair. A wealthy Pitts­burgh lady. Mary Croghan Schenley (1827-1903), although an expatriate living in England, bought the Block­house and presented it to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Thus, the lone element of the great fortress at the fork of the Allegheny and Monon­gahela rivers survived: today it is the major feature of Point State Park.

Undoubtedly, the most concerted attention devoted to the preservation of one building in Pennsylvania during the last three decades of the nineteenth century was lavished on Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (The architectural history of this building, built as the Pennsylvania Statehouse, was discussed in Part II of this series.) In 1871. a proposal was made to the Philadelphia City Councils that the buildings on Independence Square be made a “Memorial forever…. ” By 1873, a so-called “restoration” of parts of the first floor of Independence Hall was underway. Although this effort was by no means an accurate restoration of the 1776 period interior, it marked the beginning. in very functional terms. of the unity of patriotism and preserva­tion that would prevail. with various manifestations, throughout the next seventy-five years. Between 1896 and 1898, the Daughters of the American Revolution financed more interior restoration to the first floor, plus the more ex tensive restoration of the paired flanking buildings with arcades joining the main block. In 1896, the Colonial Dames of America did some restoration to the Senate Chamber and one upstairs committee room of Con­gress Hall on Independence Square.

The Centennial celebration in Phila­delphia in 1876 gave strong impetus to a broader interest in the American past. In addition to a greater concern for American history and patriotic identity that developed at this time, the serious collecting of American antiques commenced in the generation following the Centennial. The archi­tectural style then designated the “Colonial Revival” also began in New England in the decade following the Centennial. Indeed, some of the first “Colonial Revival” style buildings in Pennsylvania, dating from the 1880s, were adaptations of Boston or Salem (Massachusetts) Federal period man­sions. From the 1890s through the 1930s, several Pennsylvania architects were prominent practitioners of this “Colonial Revival” style, and their works gave increasing evidence of an awareness of regional characteristics distinctive of Pennsylvania. Frequently, by the early years of the twentieth century these architects were also called upon to complete restoration work. Certainly the leader among these architects in the Keystone State was R. Brognard Okie of Philadelphia: less well-known was William C. Prichett, who practiced in both Philadelphia and New Jersey. Further, the early works of G. Edwin Brumbaugh, dating from the 1920s and 1930s, reflect an aspect of this “Colonial Revival” phase of the preservation movement. It should be noted that the “Colonial Re­vival” style of architecture was seldom a scholarly replication of actual eighteenth century buildings; instead, it was an eclectic interpretation of forms and ornament from the eigh­teenth and very early nineteenth cen­turies, with a general preference for Federal style or Adamesque motifs.

Perhaps unconsciously, the tastes fostered by this “Colonial Revival” style exerted some impact on preserva­tion in the years between about 1880 and 1940. Two other factors which influenced the movement at this time were the increased interest in collect­ing American art and antiques, and the growth of museums which sought to include American architectural ele­ments in their collections. As a result of all these conditions, an aspect of preservation in the first four decades of this century, now often overlooked, was the removal of architectural parts and interiors for installation as ex­hibits or period rooms in museums. Representative of this process was the fate of Philadelphia’s Stedman-Powell House (also known as simply the Powell House)on Third Street. Erected about 1765-1766 for Charles and Alexander Stedman, the fine, three­-story Georgian house was purchased by Samuel Powell, wealthy mayor of Philadelphia in 1769. Recognized by contemporaries as one of the most elaborate houses in the city, it was also seen by a very few persons in the early 1900s as a rare survival of a great Georgian townhouse in what had been America’s leading city in the second half of the eighteenth century.

By the late 1800s, however, the house had fallen into disrepair, and in 1904 the property was sold to one Wolf Klebansky, an “Importer, Exporter, and Jobber of All Kinds of Russian and Siberian Horse Hair and Bristles,” as proclaimed on his letterhead. Evidently, Kelbansky was far more in­terested in horse hair and bristles than architecture, for in 1917 he sold the woodwork of the second floor rear room to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for its American Wing, and in 1925 he sold the surviving woodwork of the great front second floor room to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In both museums, the respective interiors became the backgrounds for period-room type installations.

The sale of these two outstanding interiors bespeaks much of the priori­ties of preservation sixty years ago. However, although it might seem expe­dient to judge these, and similar acts, as the fragmentation of buildings, it also must be noted that the creation of period rooms may indicate the be­ginning in America of the appreciation of architecture on aesthetic grounds, rather than as a symbol of historical and patriotic identity.

For the Stedman-Powell House, the long-term outcome was very fortunate. In 1931, Miss Frances Wister organized the Philadelphia Society for the Preser­vation of Landmarks which purchased what then was little more than the shell of the Powell House for restora­tion. In the following decade, the in­terior was restored to reflect its origin­al grandeur, with the assistance of the scholar Fiske Kimball and the archi­tect Louis Duhring. The rooms that had been sold to museums were re­created, and original elements, like the excellent staircase, were carefully pre­served. Encouraged by the success of the Stedman-Powell House restoration, the Philadelphia Society for the Preser­vation of Landmarks undertook the restoration of Grumblethorpe in Ger­mantown in 1940.

In the years between the second and fourth decades of this century, several other currents emerged in the preservation movement in Pennsyl­vania. In 1926, the observance of the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Indepen­dence rekindled a patriotic interest in the past. Having even wider, and more lasting, effects on the cognizance of the state’s architecture was the appear­ance of high-quality publications deal­ing with regional architecture. Ad­mittedly, Pennsylvania had lagged far behind the New England states in pub­lishing articles and books about its architecture. The research on these pioneering publications on Pennsyl­vania architecture took place in the prosperous 1920s; it was time’s irony that all should appear in the Depres­sion of the 1930s. Among the most important of these publications may be listed the following: Philip Wallace’s Colonial Ironwork in Old Philadelphia (1930); Eleanor Raymond’s Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania (193 ); Philip Wallace’s Colonial Houses – Philadelphia – Pre-Revolution­ary Period (1931); G. Edwin Brum­baugh’s “Colonial Architecture of the Pennsylvania Germans” published by the Pennsylvania German Society (1933); and Charles Morse Stotz’s The Early Architecture of Western Penn­sylvania (1936). It is revealing of the times that produced these articles and books that most of the titles evoked the imagery and associations of the “early” and the “colonial.” On the other hand, the lasting value of these works is attested by the fact that most of them have been reprinted during the past fifteen years. Indeed, several of these books remain unsurpassed in their respective fields.

Along with the appearance of these influential publications, an equally important happening of this period was the formation of the Historical Com­mission by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1913. (This commission subsequently expanded and evolved into the present Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.) At the time of its establishment, the Historical Commission was mandated with “the preservation or restoration of ancient or historic public buildings, military works, or monuments con­nected with the history of Pennsyl­vania.” Although this Historical Com­mission was not exclusively a preserva­tion agency, it acquired, albeit unin­tentionally, the entire group of build­ings of the Harmony Society at Am­bridge in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1919. These buildings rep resent a very remarkable and intact group of communal structures built for the Harmony Society which was organ­ized in Wurtemberg in southwestern Germany in 1805. The Harmony Society settled at Ambridge in 1824, and most the buildings were built be­tween that year and 1832. The brick Feast Hall, of two-story height with gambrel roof having jerkin heads, stands as one of the best preserved of all the community’s structures.

Before 1936, many sites through­out the state came under the owner­ship and/or jurisdiction of the Penn­sylvania Historical Commission. These included Oliver Hazard Perry’s Flag­ship Niagara at Erie, restored by the Commission with WPA (Works Prog­ress Administration) funding between 1932 and 1941; the Cornwall Iron Furnace in Lebanon County; the 1859 Drake Oil Well site near Titusville; and the Ephrata Cloister in northern Lan­caster County, acquired in the decade following 1929. Although these very diverse properties may seem to be a random assortment of the Common­wealth’s heritage, their acquisition heralded an important transition in the preservation field in the United States. The very diversity of these sites an­nounced the fact that preservation in­terests in Pennsylvania were no longer tied to the patriotic or period-room concepts. For example, the Drake Oil Well, although only a site when acquired, marked one of the first in­stances in the United States when an industrial or related location of great importance was deemed worthy of preservation. Reconstructed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Drake Oil Well now approximates its original appearance.

Alongside the appearance of sound publications and a statewide agency, another very important development can be seen in the ambitious, full-scale re-creations of lost buildings or sites. These re-creations were not limited to Pennsylvania, but rather manifested a nationwide phenomenon. Surely, the largest – and costliest – re-creation of this time was the combined restoration/ re-creation project at Williamsburg, Virginia. One of the most publicized, and conjectural re-creations of this period was the simulation of George Washington’s birthplace, Wakefield, in Virginia.

Certainly, a prime example of this reconstruction emphasis was the total re-creation of Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s country seat overlooking the Delaware River in Bucks County. In the 1920s, the site of Pennsbury Manor was scarcely even a memory; the mansion, erected in the late seven­teenth century, had been a ruin by the time of the Revolutionary War. How­ever, in 1928. a member of the Historical Commission, Charles Henry Moon, pointed out that the Commonwealth had no tangible memorial to its found­er, and that even the archeological re­mains of Pennsbury Manor might soon be eradicated by the excavations of the Warner Company, a sand and gravel business. As a result, the site was acquired from the company in 1932 and excavation of the founda­tions of Pennsbury began under the direction of State Archeologist Donald Cadzow. The project was to be cited as one of the first examples of historical archeology in the United States. In 1934, another bit of evidence was added when the historian Albert Cook Myers noted that he had discovered “a crude manuscript drawing … of Penns­bury House.” and in the following year the architect R. Brognard Okie offered his services to the Commission as a consultant for the re-creation.

The project was not without con­troversy, however. Leicester Holland of the Library of Congress, closely associated with the then-new Historic American Buildings Survey. publicly criticized the proposed re-creation in 1934, charging that ” … we like to shatter history to bits and then rebuild it nearer our heart’s desire … any re­construction is inevitably theatrical …. ” Despite this strong cautionary note, excavations and research continued, while work on the re-creation commenced.

Completed on the eve of World War II, Pennsbury Manor is a perfect turn­ing point for any consideration of the history of the preservation movement in Pennsylvania. In its very ambitious re-creation, Pennsbury Manor may be regarded as the ultimate development of a mentality, the roots of which stretch back far into the nineteenth century – preservation was intended as a memorial or monument to very im­portant persons or events. Yet the very controversy over Pennsbury’s re-crea­tion heralded the future; in this con­flict, the divergent views of the senti­mental, altruistic concept of preserva­tion and re-creation encountered the more objective realization of the chal­lenge to preserve that which had sur­vived. Today, Pennsbury Manor may be seen as more of a period-piece. em­phasizing the Colonial Revival phase of the preservation movement, than an actual re-creation of a long-lost estate. It is not only a memorial to William Penn. but also a key monument to the development of the preservation move­ment in both state and nation.

The developments of the last thirty years of the preservation movement in the Keystone State will be the topic of the final article of this series. There, the innovations of the 1960s and the 1970s will receive more detailed atten­tion and the growing relevance of pres­ervation as a part of the total socio­economic fabric of the state will be treated as an indication of the direc­tion the movement may be taking in the future.


John J. Snyder, Jr. was consultant to the Louise Steinman Von Hess Foun­dation of Lancaster from 1974 to 1977 for the restoration of the Wright’s Ferry Mansion in Columbia and con­ducted detailed historical-architectural research for the restoration of Zion Reformed Church near Brickerville. His series on “Pennsylvania’s Architec­tural Heritage” will conclude with Part IV, scheduled for the next issue of Heritage.