Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1997 – Coal Oil Johnny House, Venango County

Coal Oil Johnny

 

• SAVED!•

Commonly known as “Coal Oil Johnny,” John Washington Steele was the Pennsylvania oil boom’s prodigal prince.  Adopted at a young age by the McClintock family, John resided in this circa 1850 wood-frame farmhouse for much of his life.  In return for decades of helping the widow McClintock run the farm and manage oil leases on the property, John inherited the estate when Mrs. McClintock died in 1864.  His inheritance included well royalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per day, plus a huge reserve that the widow had stored in a safe in the farmhouse.

Almost overnight, John stopped working hard and started playing hard.  He left his wife of two years and young son in western Pennsylvania and adopted a flamboyant, expensive lifestyle that included extended stays in New York and Philadelphia, where he rode in a bright red carriage decorated with pictures of oil wells gushing dollar signs.  According to local lore, Johnny once spent $100,000 in a day; he bought a hotel for  a night; he lit cigars with hundred-dollar bills; and diamonds dripped from his fingers.  His life was reflective of the boom and bust of the industry.  After living the high life and drinking heavily in cities along the eastern seaboard while poorly managing his money, Coal Oil Johnny quickly depleted his fortune.  He returned to this farmhouse and his wife and son in 1866, and filed for bankruptcy in 1867.  Johnny returned to work.  After hauling other people’s oil to market and dabbling in business, he moved his family farther west, dying nearly penniless in 1921.

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years and subjected to water infiltration as well as insect and rodent infestation, the structural integrity of the building’s foundation was in jeopardy. Its support beams had rotted, and the building’s exterior cladding was damaged beyond repair.  Unable to find a new owner for the house, the owners announced plans to demolish the building in 1996.  By 1997, when the house was listed in Pennsylvania at Risk, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (now Oil Region Alliance) had stepped forward to coordinate emergency stabilization measures.  Making good use of both public funds and private donations, they succeeded in moving the house across Oil Creek to the Rynd Farm in Oil Creek State Park in 2001, where they were able to rehabilitate the house over the following years.  The Coal Oil Johnny House is open for special events, an annual open house, and by appointment.  The immediate threat of demolition has been overcome, and the building is currently safe from harm.  But the Oil Region Alliance could still use additional financial support for expanded programming at the house.

To support this project, please contribute to the Oil region Alliance via their website: www.oilregion.org.

 

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Lessons Learned:

Intervention tools such as grants and tax credits are helping to make preservation projects possible.

The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission’s Keystone Historic Preservation grants make a significant impact on the ability of municipalities and non-profits to preserve endangered historic buildings for public use. At least 48 grants have been given to 25 of Pennsylvania’s 201 At Risk properties as a result of the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund. The federal Save America’s Treasures program assisted at least six additional projects that were once at risk of being lost. At least nine additional endangered historic properties in Pennsylvania have benefited from grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The NTHP has invested additional funds into initiatives started to address the threats identified in Pennsylvania at Risk, such as the demolition of historic properties for construction of new, large houses and stores, and addressing problems common among specific property types, such as churches and schools.

At least 20 historic properties that were included in Pennsylvania At Risk over the past 20 years have benefited from the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. All relatively large commercial rehabilitation projects, these projects are scattered all around the state, occurring in Allegheny, Bedford, Blair, Crawford, Dauphin, Erie, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, and Philadelphia Counties. With the new state tax credit in place, rehabilitation tax credits will certainly continue to provide important financial incentives for preserving Pennsylvania endangered historic properties in years to come. [/sws_grey_box]

 

The Central Pennsylvania Preservation Society recently hosted representatives from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for a presentation on the brand new state historic tax credit program.  You can read their summary of the presentation here.

 

 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1995 – Leap-the-Dips, Blair County

 

Leap The Dips

Photo by  Inferno Insane on Flickr

 

• SAVED •

Amusement parks first appeared in the latter half of the 19th century and quickly became a common and significant form of popular recreation.  The development of the roller coaster occurred parallel with the development of the amusement park and was signature attraction at nearly all parks.   Erected in 1902, Leap-the-Dips is the oldest standing roller coaster and the last known example of a side-friction figure-eight roller coaster in the world.  In its heyday, it was one of approximately 250 of its type.  Because of this remarkable significance, Leap-the-Dips was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1996.

Leap-the-Dips was closed in 1985.  It was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk a decade later, its condition having deteriorated significantly as a result of insufficient maintenance.  The nonprofit Leap-the-Dips Preservation Foundation, Inc. formed to preserve and restore the coaster.  They began fundraising in 1995, raising more than $100,000 in donations and approximately $225,000 in grants, including $100,000 from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  The remaining $650,000 needed for the restoration of the roller coaster was borrowed from 10 different sources.  Restoration began in 1997 , and Leap-the-Dips reopened at Lakemont Park in 1999.  Today, the Foundation and owner Leap, Inc. work together to operate the ride from May through October and preserve it for future generations.  Proceeds from ridership, fundraising and merchandise sales are used first to pay the debt and then to support operation and maintenance of the historic roller coaster.

To support the Leap-the-Dips Preservation Foundation and Leap, Inc., go to Lakemont Park and ride the roller coaster! 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1994 – Huber Breaker, Luzerne County

Huber Breaker

Photo by  John-Morgan on Flickr

 

• AT RISK •

Built in 1937-1938 by the Glen Alden coal Company, the Huber coal breaker utilized state-of-the-art washing and separating technology to process the output of several collieries into 7,000 tons of marketable coal daily.  The highly efficient breaker delivered purer coal in smaller sizes, a product in high demand in the 20th century. The facility could not overcome strong trends in the energy industry – including competition from other energy sources and the switch from shaft to strip mining, which required different processing technology.  So after nearly 40 years of operation, the breaker was shut down in 1976.

This important industrial property was documented by the Historic American Engineering Record in 1991 and determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.  The Huber Breaker Preservation Society, whose mission is to provide for the preservation of the Huber Breaker and for its adaptive reuse as a historic site and park, has been working for decades to preserve the property.    They hold clean-up days at the site and are building a memorial park where they will interpret its history.

Despite the fact that the Borough of Ashley, Luzerne County, and several area organizations have been supportive of its preservation, the Huber Breaker remains at risk today.  The company that owns the property is currently in bankruptcy.  The very real and imminent threat is that once the bankruptcy proceedings are finished, teh breaker may be sold for its estimated $400,000 value in scrap metal, with additional revenues generated by the mineable coal under the property.  Recongizing this threat, the deteriorating Huber Breaker was identified by leaders of historic and preservation groups as the most endangered historic landmark in Luzerne County in 2012.  If the property is to be saved, it must be acquired soon by a new preservation-minded owner with the resources to take on the monumental task of stabilizing and rehabilitating the property so that its story can be told to the public.  These needs certainly pose an additional challenge.

To support the Huber Breaker Preservation Society and help protect this historic property, please visit: www.huberbreaker.org.

 

 

 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition.  It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered  historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost,  having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1993 – King of Prussia Inn, Montgomery County

1993 - King of Prussia Inn, Montgomery County

• SAVED! •

Built in 1719 at a rural crossroads, the King of Prussia Inn operated as a tavern for approximately 200 years, giving rise to the community that still bears its name.  In 1952, the Pennsylvania Highway Department (now PennDOT) acquired the former inn in order to make roadway improvements to Route 202.  Because of the high cost and engineering challenges associated with moving the large stone building, it sat idle and boarded up, deteriorating in the median strip of Route 202 for nearly 50 years.

Area residents never forgot about the King of Prussia Inn.  The King of Prussia Historical Society got the inn listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  A Keystone Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was used to complete a historic structures report that documented the building’s history and condition.  When it was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 1993, there was consensus that the only way to preserve the King of Prussia Inn was to move it.

After years of planning and negotiations, a plan was developed to relocate the historic building.  The King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce secured a new location for the inn and committed to rehabilitating and maintaining it.  The Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT paid $1.6 million to move it.  PennDOT’s Engineering District 6-0 assembled a team of consultant who carefully planned the relocation effort of the 580-ton building.  They braced the inn with limber, metal plates and steel cables, and used computer-controlled jacks fitted beneath I-beams that held the structure to lift it off the ground, and moved it inch by inch to its new site.  Thanks to the joint effort of Pennsylvania’s transportation and historic preservation communities, today the Chamber of Commerce occupies the relocated King of Prussia Inn.

For more information on relocating the King of Prussia Inn, read PennDOT’s article on the project.

the King of Prussia Inn

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE INN
From the National Park Service

Pennsylvania was still a British colony when the King of Prussia Inn was built in 1719 at the intersection of Swedesford and Gulph Roads. Though that building was but a small farmhouse, the house later grew to a prosperous tavern and inn at the heart of a town by the same name.

For more than two centuries, the inn and farmhouse functioned with varying degrees of prosperity and fame. The inn provided hospitality to travelers when the colony was just a scattering of farms around the very young city of Philadelphia. It is likely the inn attracted traders on the road from the port of Wilmington, Delaware, who were going north to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where barges could take their goods east on the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia. It also seems likely that the crossroads–upon which the inn was built–influenced the making of this home into a tavern and inn.

The King of Prussia, like other historic inns, links us to the day-to-day lives of travelers, inn keepers, and merchants; and to important trends in the commercial and social history of our country. Historic inns, like the King of Prussia, dotted the major transportation routes and were usually located at important crossroads. Their histories are very much tied to the history of the American transportation network. In the course of providing food, rest, and entertainment for generations of travelers, the inn witnessed many events, trends, and ideas that are central to American history. These included the early network of roads and turnpikes that were essential to the rise of Colonial commerce and trade; the comings and goings of armies during the American Revolution; urban and suburban growth that followed the improvement of local roads in the 19th and 20th centuries; and the rise of the modern American transportation network. After extensive efforts on behalf of preservationists and transportation officials to save this structure from encroaching suburban growth, the inn now serves as a wonderful example of the importance of preserving our past for the future.

 

Preservation Pennsylvania’s latest newsletter edition noted the following historic preservation grant opportunities for 2013:

Historic Preservation Grant Opportunities

America’s Historical and Cultural Organizations. The NEH is offering both planning and implementation grant opportunities to museums, libraries, historic places and other organizations that provide public programming in the humanities. Closing date: January 9, 2013.

FY2013 Our Town. The NEA is accepting proposals for creative placemaking projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core. Closing date: January 14, 2013.

Museums for America. This IMLS grant program seeks to strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve the public more effectively. Closing date: January 15, 2013.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture. This IMLS grant enhances institutional capacity and sustainability through professional training, technical assistance, outside expertise, and other tools. Closing date: January 15, 2013.

National Leadership Grants for Museums. The IMLS is offering funding for initiatives with the potential to advance best practices so museums can improve services for the American public. Closing date: January 15, 2013

National Digital Newspaper Program. The NEH is seeking to digitize and make freely accessible historically significant newspapers published in the US between 1836 and 1992. Closing date: January 17, 2013.

Digital Humanities Implementation Grants. The NEH is seeking to fund innovative digital humanities projects. Closing date: January 23, 2013.

In honor of the ever-approaching spooooooooky Halloween holiday, we’ve been highlighting haunted historic buildings (or historic buildings that by all rights should be haunted) for you to virtually explore so you don’t have to meet the ghosties face-to-face.

One of our recent blog posts was about the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia – the state’s first attempt at humane treatment of prisoners that opened in 1829.  After implementing Penitentiaries as prison management reform, the state then turned its eye towards reformation of the way the mentally ill were treated with the opening of the Harrisburg State Hospital in 1850.

Haunted Historic Buildings

The History Behind these Haunted Historic Buildings

Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital, as it was then called, was also built by architect John Haviland (who built Eastern State Penitentiary, another haunted historic building in Pennsylvania)  The cost for patient housing (paid for by families of the patients or the county in which they lived before admission to the hospital) was $2.50 per week and the facility used an adjoining 130-acre farm for work therapy and to grow food and provide other necessities for the hospital’s operation.

Originally, the hospital was a single structure that housed all administration, staff, and patients.  In the late 1800’s and very early 1900’s, the hospital was rebuilt in the increasingly popular “cottage plan” style.  At its peak, the facility had 70 buildings spread out over 1,000 acres and was completely self-sufficient with its own farm, power plant, and stores.  This “City on the Hill” as it became known, operated as a hospital facility for mentally ill patients until 2006 and has been housing various government administration offices since then.

The Hauntings

Since the closing of the insane asylum the place has been haunted. Noises, screams, shadows, apparitions, and footsteps have all been heard and seen within this place. The basement, morgue, and the tunnels underneath the basement are the areas of heightened supernatural interest.  Blood like stains are sometimes found on the floor of the exam room in the morgue and poltergeist activity runs rampant on the property.  Paranormal activities are reported by visitors, staff, maintenance crews, contractors working on the property, etc.

So rampant that the Everyday Paranormal and Ghost Lab television crew from Discovery Channel came to investigate the building for one of their episodes.  The Ghost Lab show explores haunted buildings, which are often haunted historic buildings.  For this episode, they explored a private residence in Arkansas and the Harrisburg State Hospital.

NOTE: The segment on the Harrisburg State Hospital starts at about 6:42 in the first video.

Readers beware: this is some spooky stuff, please watch at your discretion.

httpv://youtu.be/oV_dCRVO_3c

httpv://youtu.be/1h1VZ7tb6kI

 

For more information about the Cemetery, including how to visit the cemetery and for information on tours, you can visit their website at www.yeakelcemetery.com.

History of Yeakel Cemetery Preservation

Cemetery PreservationThe Yeakel Cemetery is located in Wyndmoor, Springfield Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, about a quarter-mile from the Philadelphia line north of Chestnut Hill. It was once owned by the Mack family of Germantown and used as a place of interment prior to 1753. The Yeakel Cemetery Preservation project aims to preserve this vital history, as well as the final resting place of some of the earliest residents of Chestnut Hill and Springfield Township Montgomery County.

The cemetery is over 200 yards back from Stenton Avenue, in a wooded area, behind a rehabilitation center. About an eighth of an acre in size, the graveyard is surrounded by a stone wall built sometime before 1882. An early photograph shows the wall with a shingle cap. Today it has a cast concrete cap with a date stamp that reads 1927. A pair of wrought iron gates, with small lion’s head medallions, completes the enclosure.

Inside there are 86 head and foot stones, some dating back to the 18th century. The earliest are made of marble and the inscriptions are fading. The later granite stones are still crisp. There are about two dozen common field stones set in the ground upright, as if to suggest a marked grave. The most dominant feature in the graveyard is a polished granite monument placed by the Schwenkfelder Church to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Schwenkfelder migrations. The monument, erected in 1931, is inscribed with the names of the immigrants buried in the Yeakel cemetery as well as the Hood and Pilgrim cemeteries.

According to tombstonCemetery Preservatione research, there are 53 burials in Yeakel cemetery. The earliest inscription is Maria Yeakel who died in 1752 and the latest is Matilda Heydrick who died in 1902. Some other family names that appear on stones are Dowers, Heebner, Neff, Schubert, Schultz, and Schuman. Other burials may include members of the Eshamann, Kriebel, and Mack families, though no tombstones mark their graves.

Tradition states that soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War are buried here. This has not been verified; however a skirmish did take place on this hillside. On Dec. 6, 1777 a detachment of 600 Pennsylvania Militia, commanded by Gen. William Irvine, fought with British troops. According to military records, the fight lasted twenty minutes, General Irvine was wounded and captured, and there were 30 to 40 casualties.

Four patriots are buried in the cemetery. Lists of associators and militia 1777-1781, include the names Christopher Yeakle (under Capt. James Irvine) from Chestnut Hill and Abraham Yeakle, Abraham Heydrick, and Jacob Neff (under Capts. Baltzer Heydrick and Andrew Redheiffer) of Springfield Township.

In 1802 Christopher Yeakle, his sons Christopher Jr. and Abraham, and his son-in-law Abraham Heydrick purchased the burial ground. Additional purchases were made in 1838 and 1847. Every purchase added new names to a growing list of owners. By 1847 seven people had “equal right, title, and interest” to the property. Eventually the land was taken over by the Schwenkfelder Church.

Cemetery PreservationCemetery Preservation

 

Yeakel Cemetery Preservation Today

Today the cemetery is all but forgotten. For many decades the site was nearly inaccessible. The dense overgrowth, a small stream prone to flooding, and the lack of a visible presence, challenge those who wish to visit the place. Many of the older stones are leaning dangerously. Some are broken, missing, or misplaced. Some fragments were moved to other parts of the graveyard making it difficult to determine their original location.

A large tree grows in the middle of the cemetery. It’s roots have shifted some monuments and falling branches continue to threaten many ancient gravestones.

In 2009 the church made an effort to improve access to the site.A long wide path was created by cutting the underbrush and spreading crushed stone. Large pipes were placed in the stream to permit crossing with equipment. However a storm in 2010 flooded the area and washed out the stream crossing.

Large branches came down, damaging the iron gates. The gates have since been removed and are being repaired. The stone wall has also suffered damage. Trees and invasive plants have grown in and around the wall, shifting the stones. In 2011, a 20 foot section of the wall tumbled into the graveyard.

The other week, Lois, Danielle, Katie, and Karri’s family took a field trip to see the ruins of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  A nearly 200-year-old prison that looks like an abandoned castle and held scores of the dangerous, morally bankrupt, and sometimes the completely innocent for about 150 years… does it get any spookier than that?

Take a few minutes to explore with us.  We’ll begin with some basic history of the prison and then you can “walk” around the grounds with us as we comment on what we saw and learned.  The spoooooooooooky stuff we saved until last, because we didn’t want to scare you away from all of the rest of the fantastic stuff in this post.  But if you like to be scared first, feel free to scroll on down to the end.

After you’re done with our article, there is an excellent detailed description of the daily life and operations (including some surprisingly horrendous punishments for a “more humane” approach to imprisonment) at Eastern State read “Solitary Confinement: History & Hauntings of Eastern State Penitentiary”.

Note: Click on any of the smaller pictures to see them in full size.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Built in 1829, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA was the world’s first, true penitentiary.  After gaining their independence and launching a new nation, America’s founders were eager to lead the way in social development too.  At the time, prisons were nothing more than places to hold large groups of criminals, and not necessarily even humane or safe places.  Overcrowding and abuse of prisoners was common, as were unsanitary conditions and horrific physical punishments.

Inspired by Enlightenment thinking, a group of Philadelphians founded The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons in Benjamin Franklin’s home.  The goal of the Society was to establish a ground-breaking prison system that would encourage true penitence and spiritual change in a criminal’s heart.

Designed by John Haviland, the Penitentiary turned the concept of incarceration at the time on its head and strove to rehabilitate instead of punish.  Based on the Separate System principle of isolation, the Penitentiary used solitary confinement to encourage self-reflection.  Not only were daily schedules and activities structured to encourage that self-reflection, the Penitentiary’s architecture was too.

Katie: It was interesting that the Pennsylvania System was used in most of Europe but the New York System was popular in the United States.

Note: The New York (or “Auburn”) System also strove to rehabilitate prisoners.  It did so by having prisoners work in silent groups during the day. At night they would retire to solitary, and once again silent, confinement.  This was to teach them discipline and respect for work, property, and other people.  An example of a prison founded on the Auburn System principles is Sing Sing in New York.

Eastern State Penitentiary’s overall design was seven main cell blocks arranged around a center hub, like spokes on a wheel.  This enabled the guards to watch each cell block from the center hub.  For the exterior of the Penitentiary, Haviland deliberately chose the intimidating gothic style to both keep outsiders at a distance and imply the kind of fortitude we associate with massive, stone castles.

Lois: The layout may look like wheel spokes from an arial view, but walking around inside the Penitentiary felt much more like a maze!  If an inmate, used to walking around with a hood over their head, managed to get into the main part of the building, they would never have been able to find their way out.

Aerial View of Eastern State Penitentiary Layout

[pe2-gallery] Watchtower at Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Front Wall at Eastern State Penitentiary

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State Penitentiary   Eastern State Penitentiary   Front Entrance of Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Note: The gargoyles are not original.  They are circa 9/20/2012 when they were erected for the Penitentiary’s annual “Terror Behind the Walls”.

Danielle: Eastern State Penitentiary definitely seemed like a fortress from the outside.  As imposing as it seems today, it must have been more so sitting on top of a hill in the midst of fields and forest a few miles outside of the hustle and bustle of the “civilized” city in the 1800’s.

The Cells at Eastern State Penitentiary

Individual cells were small, sparse, and closed off by a heavy wooden door that had a hole just large enough to pass food through.  At the back of each cell was an entrance to an outdoor exercise yard that was also small, sparse, and closed off from the rest of the prison and prisoners (though there was no roof).  Inmates spent all of their time in their cells, and were allowed a single hour out of every day in their exercise yards.  For those rare times a prisoner needed to be anywhere other than his cell or exercise yards, they were transported with hoods over their heads to eliminate contact with others and keep security tight.  After all, inmates couldn’t escape if they didn’t know the layout of the prison they were held in.

[pe2-gallery] Later Cell Skylights at Eastern State Penitentiary  Original Cell Skylights at Eastern State Penitentiary  The Exercise Yard at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Note: The original cells had the much-smaller circle skylights seen in the second picture instead of the larger rectangle seen in the first picture.  To give you an idea of the size of the exercise yard – those cute kids of mine are standing at the door to the cell and I am back against the outside wall.  That was all the space they had to “exercise” in.

Katie: The solitude the prisoners felt must have been unbearable.  I can’t imagine being walked into a prison with a hood on my head and not really knowing the layout of the building.

Karri: I see the roots in Enlightenment philosophy and the mimicry of monastic life, and I see where it would be easy to think of a place like Eastern State Penitentiary as being a much better approach than the traditional prisons of the time.  But were they really?  Or were they just a horror of a totally different sort?  It seems akin to sensory deprivation and other kinds of psychological torture – to subject another person to such complete isolation against their will.  And I wonder how well this approach really worked?  How many inmates truly changed and were successfully rehabilitated?  How many simply went mad?  (Is it perhaps telling that no one really talks about whether or not this revolutionary approach worked?)  Oh, and can you imagine the eye strain the prisoners must have experienced working in such low light?  My eyeballs are hurting just thinking about it.

Lois: This humane system’s intent was to repair souls that had gone astray.  But we will never know if more harm than good was accomplished.

A special note about this very topic… Some deeper research after our field trip reveals that prisoners often did go mad while imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary.  During the 1800’s, the many cases of insanity that were documented by prison doctors at Eastern State were listed as being caused by one of two things: genes and excessive masturbation.  Never once was the total isolation of the prison listed as a cause of any of the breakdowns.

During the 23 hours out of a day that inmates spent in their cells, they were expected to work diligently and studiously at a vocation.  The founders of the Pennsylvania System believed that lack of training in a trade or education in general was a contributing factor in someone developing a criminal career.  They also believed that providing criminals with education and training in a vocation or trade was a critical aspect to rehabilitating them.

[pe2-gallery] Recreated Cell at Eastern State Penitentiary       Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Tucker: Someone really should have invented TV back then so the poor guys could sit back and watch the game after they were done working.

Katie: The cells even had feed doors and doors to their own exercise yards to minimize contact between other prisoners and guards.

The Door System at Eastern State Penitentiary

[pe2-gallery] Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Cell Door Track at Eastern State Penitentiary  Original Door Hinges from Eastern State Penitentiary  Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot at Eastern State Penitentiary  Cell Numbers at Eastern State Penitentiary  The Doors of Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

The door system for each cell was intriguing.  There was a solid iron interior door (the grated one you see in the pictures) that swung out on hinges, and a heavy solid wood exterior door that slid on a track.  Both of the doors were secured with a locking system, and both locking systems had special little “tricks” to them that weren’t easily figured out in the event that an unauthorized person did try to let someone out.  The pictures below show the kids trying their hand at getting into a cell – not an easy task.  Note: not all of the doors that are currently at the Penitentiary are original.  The wooden doors that are original have a cross in their ironwork, as pictured above.

Karri: I think there is something so much more final, and foreboding, about a sliding door like the wooden doors on the outside of the cells.  I think it’s those little things that might have added up to a terrible madness.  Think about it, put yourself inside that cell.  What seems more restricting to you – a door that slides back or one that swings open?

[pe2-gallery] Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  Unlocking a Cell Door at Eastern State Penitentiary  [/pe2-gallery]

Bean: I could have TOTALLY picked that lock if I was a prisoner!
(Let’s not burst his little 5yr-old bubble and tell him if he was a prisoner he would have been on the other side of the doors.)

Gracie: I would have thought, “Oh crap I’m going to be stuck here for the rest of my sentence because I’mnever breaking out of here.”  Then I probably would have asked, “Can I have Al Capone’s cell?”.

The front gate of Eastern State Penitentiary had a similar set-up.  There were three sets of doors at the entrance to the Penitentiary, and only one set was opened at a time.  This ensured that people and deliveries could be moved in and out of the Penitentiary without any chance of someone slipping in or out.  Again, there were “tricks” to the locking system so that someone unfamiliar with how it worked couldn’t quickly unlock the door.

[pe2-gallery] DSC05046.JPG Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary Unlocking the Front Gate at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Mason: Opening up the front gate was really neat.  I can’t believe it weighed 3,400lbs and I could move it.  See, Mama, you were wrong – I don’t actually need spinach to grow big and strong!

With all that time in their cells, inmates often “decorated”.  Perhaps not quite as lavishly as Al Capone’s cell, or other inmates of higher status, but many painted murals in their rooms or faux-finished their walls.

[pe2-gallery] Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary Cell Decorations at Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Karri: The story behind that eye above the door was intriguing.  Positioned like that above the door, it’s unlikely that guards or prison officials ever saw it, or at least didn’t see it right away – which makes me wonder if the positioning was chosen deliberately to remain as “hidden” as possible.  The kids and I also couldn’t decide if the tear of sorrow was for the prisoner, or the guards.  Because we’re really not sure who’s fate was more sorrowful.

Eastern State Penitentiary is self-described as a “stabilized ruins” – an apt description of the property.  Some improvements have been made. There is a modernized admissions office and gift store, and a few places in the Penitentiary that have been restored to original condition to show visitors what it would have been like.  But largely, the Penitentiary remains as it has been since it was abandoned in the 1970’s.

Lois: “Stabilized ruins” isn’t just an appropriate title, it seems an appropriate manifestation as well.

Danielle: Not only are there guides throughout the Penitentiary to answer questions and host demonstrations and tours, the Penitentiary also offers an “audio tour”.  When we arrived, we each received headsets to wear as we walked around.  While at a specific spot (the exhibit on women in the prison, for example), you could play a recording of information about that topic.  These recordings included a lot of first-hand accounts of life in the prison – something I found incredibly valuable.

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State University  Another Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Gratuitous Cute Husband Shot at Eastern State University  A View from the Center Hub at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Eastern State University  Gratuitous Cute Family Shot at Eastern State University  Eastern State University  The Greenhouse at Eastern State University  The Greenhouse at Eastern State University  The Bocci Court at Eastern State University  The Visiting Room at Eastern State University[/pe2-gallery]

Bean: Those prisoners were pretty lucky – they got to play Bocci!

Pep the Dog

Although Eastern State Penitentiary housed some pretty big names (Al Capone spent almost a year there), perhaps its most infamous “inmate” was Pep the Dog.  Legend has it that Pep killed the Governor’s wife’s cat and was sentenced to life in the penitentiary.  Pep even had a mug shot taken, and was wearing an inmate number in that mug shot.  The Governor’s official story is that he donated the dog as a “prison mascot” of sorts to improve morale among the inmates.  But skeptics of that theory point out that Pep’s inmate number was never assigned to a human inmate and is completely missing from prison records….almost as if it had been assigned to Pep.

Danielle: Pep might have been a bad dog, but he must have been a very popular prisoner – he had the most items devoted to him in the gift shop!  Of course, the gift shop also had shank magnets available, so……  (And really? Shank magnets? Who buys those for their fridge?)

Katie: I thought the story behind Pep the dog was cute, but I think he was really just donated to the prison.

The Kids (resoundingly, as in all four of them): Somebody should have helped him escape, it’s not fair to lock a dog up behind bars and never let him out again.

The Inevitable Escape Attempts at Eastern State Penitentiary

Speaking of escape attempts, Eastern State Penitentiary did have its share of them.  Over 100, in fact, though only two go down in history.  The first because it was the only time a prisoner escaped and wasn’t recaptured when six men used a 30-foot ladder to climb over the Penitentiary walls in 1923.  All were recaptured, except Leo Callahan.  Callahan vanished and no one knows where he went or what happened to him after that.  The second, perhaps most infamous simply for its audacity, is the tunnel escape in 1945.  In that escape, 12 men crawled through a tunnel to escape under the Penitentiary wall.  The tunnel went down 15 feet from an inmate’s cell, across 97 feet under the courtyard, and up 15 feet outside of the Penitentiary’s 30-foot walls (which also ran 10-foot deep below-ground).   The first prisoners were recaptured within minutes of escaping, and all were recaptured within weeks.  One prisoner even turned himself back in after just a few days on the outside – he was tired, hungry, and cold and needed somewhere warm to sleep and eat.

Karri: Leo Callahan fascinates me simply because he’s the sole successful escapee from the Penitentiary.  Where did he go?  How did he just disappear?  What did he do that the five other men who escaped with him and were re-caught didn’t do?  Did he plan better?  Did he run further?  Was it just luck?  The tunnel escape was brilliant, but how did they do it?  It took them years to dig that tunnel, where did they put the dirt?  How did they hide what they were doing?  How did they keep it secret from other inmates? And just how on earth did they know that the exterior walls of the Penitentiary went down 10-foot underground?  That’s got to be the most brilliant of all, to have taken into consideration that those walls just might go deeper than normal.  Me?  I would have dug down a couple feet and then dug over to the wall and smacked straight into the stone.

[pe2-gallery] 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University 1945 Escape Tunnel at Eastern State University[/pe2-gallery]

Surprising Details

[pe2-gallery] Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Barber Shop Chair at Eastern State University Barber Shop Chair at Eastern State University Al Capone's Cell at Eastern State University The Greenhouse at Eastern State University The Greenhouse at Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University Eastern State University [/pe2-gallery]

Danielle: Despite the somber Gothic architecture and serious nature of what the purpose of the Penitentiary was, it was equipped with beautifully ornate details and very modern amenities.  Every cell block had its own barber shop that would (in later years) become the “social spots” where inmates gathered.  There was a “hospital” where inmates received medical care and a greenhouse where they grew fresh foods.  The Penitentiary even had running water and a central heating system before the White House did. 

As part of the modern preservation of Eastern State Penitentiary, there are a number of different “artist installations” around the Penitentiary that are all commentary on the Penitentiary – some good commentary, some purely historical commentary, some critical commentary.

[pe2-gallery] Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University Art Installation at Eastern State University [/pe2-gallery]

Karri: In 2012, we look back at history and the things our culture has done in the past and often think, “How could they have done that to another human?”  It is certainly easy to wander the Eastern State ruins and wonder that very thing, and then breathe a sigh of relief that we were born in a much more progressive time.  Until you come across the art installation that depicts a Guantanamo Bay cell sitting inside an Eastern State Penitentiary cell.  For as little as the Eastern State cells looked (and they were indeed tiny), the modern-day Guantanamo Bay cell was significantly smaller.  And looked like a dog cage.  A dog cage.  Let me correct that….looked like a cage most of us wouldn’t even house our dogs in. Somehow, the stone cell of Eastern State with its chipping whitewash, total silence, small cot, toilet, and a sink seemed so much more homier and comfortable than a dog cage with no light, no ventilation, and two buckets instead of plumbing.  How could we still be doing that to another human being?

Speaking of doing things to human beings… punishment was horrific at Eastern State Penitentiary – a penitentiary founded as a humane alternative to prisons at that time. In the beginning of the Penitentiary’s long existence, punishment didn’t happen – administrators and the Penitentiary’s founders and designers believed the solitary confinement in small cells was punishment enough.  But as prisoners continued breaking the rules, punishment began to be used and progressively worsened stepping far outside the Quaker roots of the prison.

“The Mad Chair” was a punishment where an offending inmate would be strapped to a chair so snugly that they could not move at all and was left there (without food and water) for a period of time that depended on the severity of their offense ranging from hours to days.

“The Water Bath” punishment involved dunking or dousing an inmate in ice cold water, hoisting them up onto a wall with chains, and then leaving then leaving them there overnight (a “treatment” method used at that time in mental hospitals).  When used during the winter months (the time of year the guards most often used this form of punishment), a layer of ice would form over the inmate’s skin by morning.

“The Iron Gag” was the most popular form of punishment at Eastern State – and the most feared by prisoners.  The gag was an iron collar that went around a prisoner’s neck, with a metal piece that went in the prisoner’s mouth to suppress their tongue.  The prisoner’s hands were then crossed and pulled tight behind their necks and attached to the collar as well.  Any movement of their hands or arms would pull at their tongues and prisoner’s mouth was usually bloody and sore by the time their punishment was over.

“The Hole” was a set of incredibly small, completely windowless and utterly dark, rooms beneath the Penitentiary where inmates could be thrown for weeks at a time.  While in The Hole prisoners were given one cup of water and one slice of bread a day, and did not leave the dank cells for anything.  Not even bathroom breaks.  They were left to sit in their own filth, fighting off rats and other vermin until their punishment was done.

The Spooooooooooooooooooky Stuff at Eastern State Penitentiary

Rumors of ghosts at Eastern State Penitentiary have been around since the early 1900’s.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the first solid ghost story at Eastern State Penitentiary involved Al Capone.  Purportedly, Capone was haunted mercilessly by one of his St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victims and could be heard repeatedly screaming and begging in his cell for the ghost to go away and leave him alone.

But even before Capone getting his just desserts, prisoners and guards alike have reported supernatural goings-on at Eastern State Penitentiary – footsteps in empty halls, pacing in empty cells, wails coming from empty darkness, and dark shapes that resembled human forms drafting past.  Since the site has been opened to the public in the middle of the 1970’s as a National Historic Landmark, tourists and staff confirm even more supernatural encounters.

In Cell Block #12, independent witnesses have reported hearing laughter in certain cells and shadowy apparitions.  Similar shadowy apparitions have been sited in Cell Block #6 and “Death Row” Cell Block #15.  The most frequent “ghost” siting occurs in the older cell blocks, where visitors report a dark, human-like figure who just stands there emitting angry energy.

Mason: It doesn’t seem like it’s actually haunted – I checked pretty thoroughly.  Maybe even in a few spots I wasn’t technically supposed to.

Gracie: Eastern State Penitentiary was creepy, mysterious, intriguing, and ancient all at the same time.

[pe2-gallery] Spooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State PenitentiarySpooky Eastern State Penitentiary Spooky Eastern State Penitentiary[/pe2-gallery]

Do you know what the future of preservation in Pennsylvania is?  Did you know we have a strategic plan for preserving our places here in Pennsylvania?  We do, it’s called “Pennsylvania’s Statewide Historic Preservation Plan 2012-2017”.  Here’s the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s overview slideshow presentation of the plan.

[slideshare id=13842954&doc=pennsylvaniastatewidehistoricpreservationplan2012-2017-120802150346-phpapp02&type=d]

Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties

The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and re-use of historic buildings. It creates jobs and is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs. It has leveraged over $62 billion in private investment to preserve 38,000 historic properties since 1976. The National Park Service and the Internal Revenue Service administer the program in partnership with State Historic Preservation Offices.

Group of people on a tour of Baltimore tax incentives projects.

20% Tax Credit

A 20% income tax credit is available for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings that are determined by the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, to be “certified historic structures.” The State Historic Preservation Offices and the National Park Service review the rehabilitation work to ensure that it complies with the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The Internal Revenue Service defines qualified rehabilitation expenses on which the credit may be taken. Owner-occupied residential properties do not qualify for the federal rehabilitation tax credit. Learn more about this credit before you apply.

Each year, Technical Preservation Services approves approximately 1000 projects, leveraging nearly $4 billion annually in private investment in the rehabilitation of historic buildings across the country.

10% Tax Credit

The 10% tax credit is available for the rehabilitation of non-historic buildings placed in service before 1936. The building must be rehabilitated for non-residential use. In order to qualify for the tax credit, the rehabilitation must meet three criteria: at least 50% of the existing external walls must remain in place as external walls, at least 75% of the existing external walls must remain in place as either external or internal walls, and at least 75% of the internal structural framework must remain in place. There is no formal review process for rehabilitations of non-historic buildings. Learn more about this credit in Historic Preservation Tax Incentives.

Tax Benefits for Historic Preservation Easements

A historic preservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement, typically in the form of a deed, that permanently protects an historic property. Through the easement, a property owner places restrictions on the development of or changes to the historic property, then transfers these restrictions to a preservation or conservation organization. A historic property owner who donates an easement may be eligible for tax benefits, such as a Federal income tax deduction. Easement rules are complex, so property owners interested in the potential tax benefits of an easement donation should consult with their accountant or tax attorney. Learn more about easements in Easements to Protect Historic Properties: A Useful Historic Preservation Tool with Potential Tax Benefits.

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Tell us your thoughts…

Have you been involved in a project that used the federal rehabilitation tax credit?

What questions do you have about the federal income tax credit for historic properties?

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