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.

 

1996 – Walnut Street Bridge, Dauphin & Cumberland Counties

 

Walnut Street Bridge

Photo by origamidon on flickr

• SAVED (Partially) •

Erected in 1889-1890 and comprised of 15 wrought-iron, steel pin-connected Baltimore truss spans, the 2,850-foot Walnut Street Bridge (or People’s Bridge) was one of the largest multi-span truss bridges ever fabricated by Pennsylvania’s nationally significant Phoenix Bridge Company using their patented Phoenix column.  By 1893, the toll bridge carried trolleys that transported passengers between the west shore of the Susquehanna River and the state capital, as well as foot traffic and horse-drawn vehicles.  The bridge also enabled recreational development on City Island in the early 20th century, including baseball, football and track, as well as picnicking, swimming and boating.

With evolutions in popular modes of transportation and periodic damage from storms and floods, owners of the Walnut Street Bridge have dealt with minor structural problems since about 1910.  After overcoming resistance by the private property owner, the Commonwealth finally acquired the toll bridge in 1954.  They continued to collect tolls on the bridge until 1957.  The bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  That same year, flood waters from Hurricane Agnes caused severe damage to the bridge, and it was closed to vehicular traffic.  However, the bridge survived as an important pedestrian link between the west shore, City Island, and Harrisburg’s downtown commercial district.  The Walnut Street Bridge was one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

In January of 1996, the Walnut Street Bridge was again seriously damaged by ice-dammed flood waters.  Three metal trusses were destroyed, and the piers that had supported them were removed.  Overwhelming local support and extraordinary stewardship by the Commonwealth resulted in the rehabilitation of the remaining eastern spans, which provide pedestrian access between downtown Harrisburg and City Island facilities.  The bridge is used by over one million visitors, tourists, and residents each year.

There are no plans to replace the three missing spans to reconnect the Walnut Street Bridge to the Susquehanna River’s west shore.  The City of Harrisburg, which is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge, is currently unable to devote financial resources to this project.  Fortunately, a coalition of residents, area businesses, and other partners, known collectively as Lighten Up Harrisburg, is working to illuminate the historic Walnut Street Bridge and address other urgent safety needs.

To support this project, please visit Lighten Up Harrisburg.

 

In 2008, metal truss bridges statewide were recognized by Preservation Pennsylvania as an endangered resource; many truss bridges were at risk for replacement due to strength deficiencies, size limitations, deferred maintenance and the high cost of repairs.  In 1996, 328 truss bridges in Pennsylvania were eligible for or listed in the National Register.  Following the Commonwealth’s “Accelerated Bridge Program,” that number was expected to decline to 237 by the end of 2008 and just 184 by the end of 2012.  While not all metal truss bridges can and should be saved, some may be strengthened to continue to serve the community.  

In reaction to concerns about the shrinking population of metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania, PennDOT is currently working to develop a management plan to help maintain the bridges and prioritize select bridges for rehabilitation rather than replacement.  The plan seeks to balance sound engineering with historic preservation considerations in evaluating the level of significance and the rehabilitation potential for each bridge.  PennDOT anticipates that the plan will be an invaluable tool to be used throughout their planning and project development process.

 

For 30 years folk artist Nancy Rosier of Rosier Period Art has dedicated her life to the preservation of a dying and disappearing art form from the early to mid-1800’s – theorem painting.

Theorem painting is the art of making stencils and using them to make paintings on fabric (Nancy uses an egg-shelled colored velvet cotton).  Popular during the 1800’s, theorem painting was taught to women in academics and boarding schools in Colonial New England.  The appeal of the genre lay in the fact that it allowed the non-professional artist to create a work of art that was acceptable enough to display. It derived its name from the definition of the word – “an expression of relations in an equation or a formula”, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary.

Every one of Nancy’s paintings starts the same way – with a black and white line drawing that she will turn into a stencil to use during the painting phase.  These drawings are always drawn freehand, even when she is reproducing a period painting.

When she is ready to begin painting, Nancy doesn’t use the typical brushes one would expect a painter to use.  She uses a piece of the cotton velveteen over her finger, though she does go back over the painting at the end with a detail brush to add defining outlines as needed.

But Nancy does stop there, to have total artistic control over how her paintings are presented she has learned several traditional decorative art techniques she uses to paint the handmade frames for her theorems.  (Her husband even  constructs the frames for her to use.)

In true folk art style, Nancy is self-taught – she has learned her craft through studying antique theorems and reproducing them.  She became so accomplished at the historical reproductions that she was commissioned and provided Colonial Williamsburg with thirty-three large paintings, which hang in the public and private spaces of the Williamsburg Lodge.

 

After spending some time mastering the reproduction of 19th-Century theorems, she began to branch out to include her own original designs.

Her work clearly speaks for itself.

Nancy has been selected each year for close to twenty years as a member of the nationally acclaimed “Directory of Traditional American Crafts” which showcases America’s finest artisans who are dedicated to preserving the early American crafts.  Her work was among the few artists asked to contribute their art to decorting the Christmas White House during the Clinton administration.

 

 

 

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.