Preserving, Documenting, demolishing York
Plank Road and Route 24, Hopewell Township
In the past 10 years, three Stewartstown-area structures, only a few miles apart, faced uncertain futures.
One was saved. The other two were razed.
But a caveat attached to one of the demolished buildings underscores another option for preservationists. Before the James Patterson Farmhouse in Hopewell Township came down, it was thoroughly documented.
The old Hyson School in East Hopewell Township is the once-threatened building that stands today.
The Ramsay Theater, a 1920 moviehouse that ceased operations about 1960, stood on South Main Street in deteriorating condition for years. It was demolished, undocumented, in August.
Not all old structures can be saved. And not all structures should be saved. But as York County’s population continues its growth – 5 percent in the past decade – more development pressure will be levied at the expense of old structures and green space. That represents a direct challenge to quality of life in York County.
A major story in this fast-growing county in the past 50 years is one of the loss of century-plus-old structures to make way for shopping centers that soon give way to shinier retail storefronts and high-density subdivisions that show wear after a half-dozen southeastern Pennsylvania winters.
So the documentation strategy – holding off developers until an expert can learn lessons from the structure before or as it is slowly demolished – offers a third way. This option is about as solid as plywood for some preservationists, but offers something better than the take-it-down-before-someone-objects demolition tactic deployed by some developers.
Which brings us to a common line between the Patterson and Hyson projects.
Don Linebaugh, a University of Maryland professor in architecture, planning and preservation, was hands on, often sifting through dirt, in preserving the old stone Hyson School and documenting the log Patterson Farmhouse. Linebaugh plied his archaeological craft as the farmhouse and other buildings were dismantled to make way for a housing development.
The Stewartstown-area resident and leader in the Stewartstown Area Historical Society lays out in detail the challenges and opportunities facing preservation in the big picture: Scholar’s archaeological work started with a dig under a York County front porch.
And in the same interview, he focused on the Hyson and Patterson projects and their significance, as found in detail below.
From Don Linebaugh about the old Hyson School and Patterson Farmhouse and Farm projects:
I would say I have been involved in architectural and archaeological work on these projects. It is often the case that these resources provide complementary information that help us tell a more complete story. My entire career has been working at the intersection of these two data sets to integrate them into a cohesive narrative.
The Hyson School project involved a complete restoration of one of the earliest one room schools in our part of the country. The removal of the floor in the building revealed artifacts, bottles, ceramics, etc., on the surface, and provided an opportunity to investigate more thoroughly. This was particularly important as a concrete pad was going to be poured making future access unlikely. The historical and architectural work revealed that the School was used from 1858 to 1892 and then became a dwelling. The archaeology helped us to get a better sense of the activities at the site during both periods and types of use.
In the course of the research we also discovered that the survival of both the original Hyson School (1858-1892) and the new Hyson School (1892-1951) across from each other was very significant, as it was typical that the old school was torn down when a new school was built. We believe that this might be the only case of two generations of schools that survive intact in Pennsylvania.
The Patterson farm project was really an archaeological project that involved both the house and the surrounding property. Because the house was being dismantled, it provided an opportunity to do an “archaeological” approach to understanding its evolution. As the building was taken down, we could literally study the layers and levels to uncover hidden features and deposits that informed our understanding of its building history.
The house was built in the late 18th or every early 19th century and thus one of the older surviving log houses in our area of the county. Its survival until the early 21st century offered the opportunity to understand how the occupants modified the spaces to accommodate their needs over two plus centuries. In terms of the belowground evidence, formal excavation was not possible but I surface collected the property as the work was underway to clear the property for the proposed subdivision.
While this meant that we couldn’t establish the types of control over where the artifacts were recovered, it did provide a good collection of materials from the late 18th century to present that spoke to the evolution of the property and its use over time; this evidence correlates nicely with the architectural story of the property.
The collection also demonstrates that there were intact archaeological resources that were destroyed during the project, and calls out the need for a countywide archaeological protection program. Again, other jurisdictions have established successful programs through proffer systems where a developer proffers an archaeological survey in advance of the project as an incentive in getting approvals and perhaps for tradeoffs that might ease other restrictions or rules.
In the story and video above, you see how the Patterson house has changed over time. Imagine purchasing a house (timestamp 19:32), and uncovering the historical significance of your new home. You tear off the siding, revealing the original timbers from the 1700s (timestamp 20:28). What would you do? Would you conduct an archeological dig to research its unique past? Or would you find yourself sacrificing its historical integrity to meet your budget?
Related links and sources Don Linebaugh’s Stewartstown Area Historical Society presentation, Sept. 8, 2021. Rusk Reports: 1, 2, 3. Top and bottom photo by Jim McClure. Middle photo, Stewartstown Area Historical Society
— By JAMIE NOERPEL and JIM McCLURE