Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commision Logo

September 18, 2019
by Karen Galle

December means Holidays and Historical Markers!

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) invites members of the public to prepare and submit marker nominations for the upcoming December 1, 2019 annual deadline.  The Historical Marker Program is one of PHMC’s most popular public programs, with nearly 2,500 markers throughout the Commonwealth and new ones dedicated each year. 

Nominating markers

The nomination process has gone from being exclusively staff driven through a transitional period to being exclusively public driven.  Staff can provide assistance with preparation of nominations, but interested members of the public are responsible for the completion of nomination forms and doing the research to document the subjects’ significance. 

It can be a lot of fun to discover a person, place, event, or innovation that you or many members of the public were not aware of and bring the subject to light in the form of a marker.  Markers are a great source of community pride.

Advertisement for slinky toy showing boy and a slinky.
A Historical Marker for the Slinky was recently dedicated in Clifton Heights, PA.

Evaluating markers

The Commission has established Approval Criteria for evaluating marker nominations.  The criteria have been slightly revised since first adopted in the 1980s, but the primary criterion, “that the subject have statewide and/or national rather than local or regional historical significance” remains in effect. 

A requirement for inclusion of scholarly documentation with each nomination is also important to verify claims of significance in the narrative portion of the nomination.  Nominators are expected to include both primary and secondary source material. 

Additionally, there is a requirement that the subject, if an individual, have a substantial connection to Pennsylvania, more than simply having been born here.  The person must have spent enough time in Pennsylvania to have been shaped here, got their start in their life’s profession here, and/or have exhibited a long-term effect of having lived in the Commonwealth.

Historical Marker for Dr. Anna E. Broomall in Chester, Delaware County.

Marking underrepresented people, places, events, and innovations

PHMC is especially interested in encouraging markers for subjects or in regions of PA that are generally underrepresented. 

To further this aim, historical societies in counties where there are 10 or less markers as well as minority commissions under the Governor’s jurisdiction have been contacted to encourage them to promote marker nominations in those areas or related to minority history.  PHMC has committed funds to cover the manufacturing costs for a handful of these markers each year.

This year, PHMC has agreed to support the Pandenarium marker in Mercer County and the Cynthia Catlin Miller marker in Warren County, both scheduled for installation and dedication this fall. 

Pandenarium is a historic archaeological site of a free African American community that was established in the 1850s.  It fits two of categories PHMC is anxious to promote:  African American history markers in counties other than Philadelphia and archaeology-related markers. 

Current view of Pandenarium, Mercer County.

Cynthia Catlin Miller was an abolitionist leader active in the Underground Railroad.  It fits three of categories that PHMC is anxious to promote:  African American history markers in counties other than Philadelphia, markers for notable women, and under-represented counties (10 extant). 

We anticipate the opportunity to support several nominations for under-represented markers again this year.

PHMC recently launched a social media campaign using historical markers to commemorate 400 years of African American history in North America.  We join the 400 Years of African-American History Commission, other cultural and historical institutions, and media organizations to commemorate this legacy and recognize the contributions made by these enslaved and later free people by launching a social media campaign. 

This was the first of series of posts about African American history in Pennsylvania.

Each week through February 2020, PHMC will feature selected stories to highlight the multifaceted African American experience across Pennsylvania and will include both well-known and lesser-known people, places and themes. PHMC will share these over all of its social media platforms and encourages its thousands of followers to share these posts using the hashtag #400yearsPA.

We can help

It is generally helpful for a potential nominator to consult with PHMC staff in the initial stages of his or her research.  Staff is available to review draft nominations, and can provide advice on whether or not a particular subject is viable and suggest ways to adjust focus or sources to pursue that would afford one a better chance for approval.  To allow time to make revisions to your nomination and meet the December 1 deadline, drafts must be submitted prior to November 1, 2019.

You can also join us for an informative webinar, “Tips & Tricks for a Successful Application,” on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 10:00.  Click here for more information and instructions for connecting with us.

So, do a little research.  See if you can dig up an interesting and significant tidbit of history related to your community.  If interested in learning about how to apply for a PHMC marker or simply to learn more about the Historical Marker Program, please visit our website at


September 11, 2019
by Guest Contributor

CRGIS your Commute!

The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike is the oldest paved highway in America. It was chartered in 1792 and opened in 1795, connecting farmers in Lancaster County with markets in Philadelphia via a state-of-the-art crushed gravel (or “macadamized”) surface pioneered by Scottish engineer John Loudon Macadam to prevent the wheels of wagons and carriages from sinking into the notorious mud of standard dirt roads.

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September 4, 2019
by Multiple Authors

Mather Mill: A Model for Developing Resiliency for Historic Properties

On October 3rd, 2018, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) hosted a demonstration workshop to explore resiliency options for Mather Mill, a National Register–listed gristmill constructed ca. 1820 in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County.

The workshop was conducted as part of PA SHPO’s Disaster Planning for Historic Properties (DPHP) initiative, a program developed with a grant from the National Park Service that is made available to states impacted in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.

Mather Mill in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County

This demonstration workshop provided an opportunity for PA SHPO to narrow its focus. The office invited architecture and planning firms from throughout the region to attend a one-day workshop dedicated to learning about a single, specific property—its particular history, risks and opportunities—and brainstorm possible resiliency solutions and ways to scale them to other at-risk properties.

Mather Mill

Mather Mill, our target property for this workshop, is a Commonwealth-owned property in need of a new use. It’s also representative of a common property type that is, by definition, near and potentially at risk from water. Both the mill and nearby properties are in the 100-year floodplain, and the mill has flooded several times since the Commonwealth acquired it in 1966. The Commonwealth plans to eventually transfer ownership of the property but no specific client or program currently exists.

A property immediately across Mathers Lane that was recently acquired by Whitemarsh Township was included as part of the workshop’s scope. After two flood-prone buildings were demolished, the property is now subject to Federal Emergency Management Agency deed restrictions that require it to remain as open space. This does allow for some minimal development supporting continued use of the property as open space.

These now empty lots across Mathers Lane once had older houses that were demolished by FEMA several years ago after repeated flooding.

The Workshop

The day of the workshop started with an introduction to the DPHP program from PA SHPO director Andrea MacDonald. Presentations included a brief overview of the National Park Service’s standards and guidelines for rehabilitating historic properties, contextual background on the Wissahickon Valley Watershed, and floodproofing techniques and how they might impact historic properties.

Marco Ciarla of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presents techniques on floodproofing at the workshop.

In addition to the subject matter experts who gave presentations, a few more people were available for an afternoon discussion:

  • Two members of the Friends of Hope Lodge, which manages the historic Georgian mansion Hope Lodge in nearby Fort Washington and also cares for Mather Mill for PHMC, provided an on-the-ground perspective and possible options for the mill’s future use.
  • Justin Spangler, a water resources engineer with LandStudies Inc., spoke at length about floodplain restoration, and his input spurred an extended conversation.
  • Ernie Szabo, from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), talked about flooding in Pennsylvania and PEMA’s programs.

The quality of a discussion like this is a direct result of the people involved, and they provided a valuable source of information that had not been specifically addressed in the morning presentation.


Following the workshop, the firms were given two weeks to create design proposals for use and resiliency at Mather Mill and suggest strategies for scaling those proposals to other at-risk properties. The firms were given substantial format flexibility. We wanted to see a variety of design approaches, visual styles, and ways of prioritizing the issues at play.

PA SHPO received materials from five firms:

  • Mark B. Thompson Associates of Philadelphia,
  • Seiler + Drury Architecture of Norristown,
  • BWA Architecture + Planning of Philadelphia,
  • Heritage Design Collaborative of Media, and
  • Vitetta of Harrisburg.

To learn more about the Mather Mill designs, check out its record in our online CRGIS system. All six proposals are uploaded and available.

SHPO’s Design Proposal

In addition to the participating firms, Shawn Massey, Architectural Designer here at the SHPO, also produced a design proposal. Here is what he had to say:

“The focus of my design board of Mather Mill was to reconnect the once thriving physical partnership of the neighboring waterway back with the abandoned mill. My design reopened the raceway so the water of the Wissahickon Creek could once again occupy the mill in a way that would create new experiences for the supportive users. This new revived raceway and creek way would be dug deeper so that boaters, fishermen, and other water activity enthusiasts could interact with the mill in a unique new way. This raceway would be an entry/rest/exit point for the users of the creek, site, and building, while also starting to deal with the flooding issues that put a dark cloud over the site.

PA SHPO’s design proposal. See this in better detail here on CRGIS.

Another part of the design was a new pervious parking lot across the street that would support the above-mentioned new circulation points along with making it much safer to access the mill and the surrounding land.  The design also included a bridge from the mill to reconnect the neighboring island area to allow for outdoor activities and events.

Not only did the design deal with natural environment factors but it also gave Mather Mill a supportive interior program. The interior was proposed in the design to be a community gathering space where climbing walls, skateboard ramps, and other public events could be held. This would allow the mill to retain its existing open space with minimal edits to the historic structure. I believed with support from the surrounding community organizations this may be a viable use for a historical mill that needs to be brought back to life.” 

Open House

In November, the proposed materials were presented to the public at an open house event in Whitemarsh Township.

Open house in December 2018 to share the various design proposals from the demonstration workshop and information about Mather Mill.

More to come!

While the question of how to scale resiliency solutions received less focus than solutions specific to Mather Mill, it remains PA SHPO’s central concern.

Later this month, PA SHPO will be partnering with the City of Philadelphia on a second workshop in the city. A second workshop allow us to continue exploring these solutions. Keep an eye out for more information; we will be scheduling a public open house for later in the year to showcase the results of our second workshop. The best way to be “in the know” about opportunities like our open houses is to sign up for our e-news.

John Gardosik manages the Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Shawn Massey is PA SHPO’s Architectural Designer.

August 28, 2019
by Guest Contributor
1 Comment

Lykens: A Case Study on the After-Effects of Flooding on Pennsylvania’s Communities

In the last installment about the ongoing Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative we focused on survey work in the City of Harrisburg. Since that time, the survey teams led by Commonwealth Heritage Group and ASC Group have moved on to other communities in Dauphin County.

Located at the northern end of the county, Lykens Borough is home to a large number of properties that are both over 45 years old and located in the 100-year floodplain. The survey teams spent more than a week collecting flood elevation data on 227 buildings throughout the borough. While there, we met many residents who talked about Tropical Storm Agnes and how flooding from the storm changed the community in profound and lasting ways.

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Blue metal sign with yellow writing over yellow background

August 19, 2019
1 Comment

400 Years of African American History

It’s been 400 years since the documented arrival of African people in America. In August 1619 the first enslaved Africans were brought to the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia. To recognize the contributions and commemorate the resilience of African Americans, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) will be sharing highlights from the Pennsylvania Historical Markers dedicated to African Americans and the contributions they’ve made to Pennsylvania’s rich and diverse heritage.

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Several men and women digging in the ground with trowels.

August 7, 2019
by Guest Contributor

Archaeology students help uncover Stroudsburg’s history

Where Main and 9th Streets meet in downtown Stroudsburg, Monroe County, PA has been occupied by people since long before the streets were constructed.

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July 31, 2019
by Guest Contributor

Getting to Know Mod Betty Better

In the second installment of this two-part interview with Pennsylvania Historic Preservation blog, Mod Betty discusses her research methods, her main influences, and “the ones that got away.”  Missed Part 1? Read it here!

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July 24, 2019
by Guest Contributor

Disaster Planning in the Capital: Surveying the City of Harrisburg

Much like the early settlers of Harrisburg, many of us today feel drawn to bodies of water, whether for their natural beauty, ability to fuel industries, or provision of vital resources to developing communities.

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July 17, 2019
by Guest Contributor

Getting to Know Mod Betty

Known by legions of her fans as “Mod Betty,” Beth Lennon is a prolific Phoenixville-based travel writer who has been documenting and celebrating roadside architecture, mom-and-pop businesses, and other Americana landmarks for over a decade.

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