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.

1999 – Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm, Green County

historic preservation in pennsylvania, preserving pennsylvania's architecture, architectural preservation, historic preservation
Photo from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

 

• SAVED! (Sort of…)•

The 1851 brick farmhouse and the associated outbuildings and fields that comprise the 102-acre Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm reflect the agricultural heritage of southwestern Pennsylvania from the mid 19th century until the onset of the Great Depression. In 1999, the structural integrity of the farmhouse was threatened by longwall mining, an underground coal mining technique that removes whole panels from a coal seam without leaving columns of earth in place to support the mine ceiling. As the land above the extracted coal seam drops between four and six feet, an event known as subsidence, the surrounding land slumps and shifts. This movement results in damage to land and buildings, often disrupting or eliminating the natural water supply.

In an attempt to protect their historic farm from longwall coal mining impacts, the property owners engaged in an expensive, all-consuming multi-year legal battle. They opposed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which issued a permit for longwall mining under their property despite the clear potential for adverse effects to this historic property. Rather than choosing an alternative that would avoid or minimize harmful impacts to the historic farm, the DEP allowed the mine operators to proceed as long as they agreed to repair the damage or compensate the property owner for their loss.

Recognizing that the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan was insufficient, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the federal Office of Surface Mining, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, and the DEP in 2001, allowing longwall mining to proceed under the farm, provided that appropriate repairs be carried out afterward.

Despite bands and cables wrapped around the house in an attempt to hold the structure together during mining and the subsidence that followed, cracks more than 1 3⁄4 inches wide formed in the exterior walls of the 1851 brick house. Upon completion of the longwall mining, an entire corner of the house (more than 15,000 bricks) had to be reconstructed.

Large crews spent months working to repair the damage. It is fortunate that the MOA was in place because the level of work required to repair the house was well beyond what the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan would have repaired.  Despite a monumental legal battle to prevent damage to the farm, longwall mining was still allowed to occur. While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically “saved” from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised. The owners still hear subsidence cracking more than 10 years later and worry that the house remains in danger.

While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically saved from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised.

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Today, longwall mining still threatens historic resources in Pennsylvania.  Plantation Plenty (the Isaac Manchester Farm) was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 2010 and was included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places as a result of proposed longwall mining.  Preservation Pennsylvania continues to work with our partners to protect this historic farm and other properties from damage by longwall mining.

historic preservation in pennsylvania, preserving pennsylvania's architecture, architectural preservation, historic preservation
Photo from Act 54 Reform

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