Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office

2016’s First SHPO Shout-Out


The internet tells me that 45% of all Americans make News Year’s resolutions. The top ones – which I think we’ve all made at one time or another – are to be happier, healthier, and more organized. A psychologist friend tells me that one of the ways to be happier and healthier is to manage your stress. Well, duh, right? This same friend also tells me one way to do that is to all seek out good news to balance all of the bad news in our world. I’m sure you’re all thinking, “well, that’s great, Shelby, but why are you talking about this in a SHPO Shout-Out post?” I’m talking about it because the SHPO Shout-Out is all about good news! A well-known TV talk show doctor even says sharing good news boosts your mood. I’m no doctor or expert on these matters, but it seems like taking just a few minutes to read this post and think about all the wonderful things happening in our communities can help reduce your stress level and – like icing on a cake – if you share it with others you might just be happier, too!

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So let’s get started on your ‘get healthier and happier’ New Year’s resolution:

Rebirth for the Lazaretto

Our first Shout-Out goes to all the organizations that joined forces and funds to save the Philadelphia Lazaretto in Tinicum Township, Delaware County. The list is long and includes Tinicum Township, the Delaware County Board of Commissioners, Preservation Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania, Vitetta, and countless others who donated their time and talents. (As a fun aside, did you know that ‘lazaretto’ is an Italian word that means a quarantine station specifically for maritime travelers? First used for a building in Venice in 1423, lazarettos could be a building, ship, or even an entire island. I thought that was a cool fact to add to this story.)

This hidden Federal-style brick gem along the Delaware River was built in 1799 as the first quarantine hospital in the United States. The property has a fascinating history that I can’t do justice here; check out the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) history or read about its history from the PA historical marker at the site to learn more. I can only give you a quick snapshot here to illustrate why this place is so important. The City of Philadelphia built it as a quarantine hospital for people and cargo seeking admittance to the country; it operated in this capacity from 1801 to 1895. By at least one count, one-third of all Americans can trace their ancestry to someone who passed through the Philadelphia Lazaretto. Today it stands as the oldest quarantine facility in the Western Hemisphere and the 7th oldest in the world.

Looking toward the Lazaretto's main façade from the Delaware River waterfront.

Looking toward the Lazaretto’s main façade from the Delaware River waterfront.

After its closing, the property became The Orchard Club (a Philadelphia sports club) and later the Philadelphia School of Aviation, one of the country’s first private flying clubs. Not long after that it was used a training site for the Army Signal Corps, which established the country’s first seaplane base there. The property was listed in the National Register in 1972. Toward the end of the 20th century, the property sat vacant and abandoned but still retained its remarkable integrity with very little change to the main building. By the early 21st century, historians, architects, and preservationists started the call to save this unique and important property that was threatened with demolition for new commercial or municipal development.

In 2005, Tinicum Township purchased the property, and the Lazaretto Preservation Association of Tinicum Township (LPATT) was formed in 2007 to negotiate a future for the Lazaretto; the board included three township representatives, Preservation Pennsylvania, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They were successful in saving the Lazaretto, and then turned their sites on what to do with the property. A PA SHPO Keystone grant in 2010 helped fund some important planning studies by Preservation Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. In 2012, the Township and the Delaware County Board of Commissioners pulled together additional funding to complete the planning studies and begin the renovations for its new use.

This image is representative of the building's well-preserved interior.

This image is representative of the building’s well-preserved interior.

I am happy to report that the Township has started rehabilitating the 16,000 sq.ft. Lazaretto for the Township offices as well as interpretive/museum and commercial spaces. I had the pleasure to tour the project recently with Township officials and the Vitetta architect overseeing the work, and the plans are pretty impressive and focused on the character of this historic gem.  This project not only saves this historic resource but also puts it back into use in a way that respects and celebrates its fascinating story and architecture. Stay tuned for future blog posts about preservation at the Lazaretto.

Century Farms at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

Moving across the state, we will stop in the Central Region to Shout Out to all the state agencies and local, regional, and statewide organizations, including the Department of Agriculture and Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Foundation, who helped Pennsylvanian’s celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This year, the Farm Show organizers placed historic photos and educational panels throughout the complex illustrating the history of the Farm Show and the history of agriculture in Pennsylvania to build awareness about the importance of agriculture in Pennsylvania’s past and future. The Farm Show staff worked closely with the PA SHPO to develop the educational panels using our agricultural historic context. The PA SHPO was there with a booth about the Century Farm program and the National Register of Historic Places.

PA SHPO Acting Director Andrea MacDonald poses in front of one of the many educational panels at this year's Farm Show.

PA SHPO Acting Director Andrea MacDonald poses in front of one of the many educational panels at this year’s Farm Show.

Capacity Building in Central PA

I also want to send out a quick Shout Out and congratulations to the South Mountain Partnership on being selected as a participant in the Chesapeake Bay Trust Regional Capacity Building Initiative. The PA SHPO is one of the Partnership’s partners, and our Central Region community coordinator, Bryan Van Sweden, was been working with the group building capacity and strengthening relationships to help protect our natural and cultural resources.

Pittsburgh Preservation Summit

Now onto the Western Region…there is so much great preservation work happening out there that it’s always tough to choose just one to feature. This month I’ll give the Shout Out to the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning for the successful preservation summit they organized on November 16, 2015 called “Preserving the Past by Planning for the Future.” Seventy people, including PA SHPO’s own Western Region coordinator Bill Callahan, attend the all-day workshop to listen to Donovan Rypkema and other preservationists talk about several recently-completed historic preservation studies as part of the City’s ongoing preservation initiatives. Point Park University was part of this impressive effort, and the PA SHPO help fund several of the studies. Keep your eye out for more great preservation happening in Pittsburgh!

Participants at the Pittsburgh Preservation Summit in 2015.

Participants at the Pittsburgh Preservation Summit in 2015.

As always, my last SHPO Shout-Out is to thank you for all the good work you do every day to preserve, protect, and promote our historic places!


If you or your friends and colleagues are involved in or hear about great preservation happening in Pennsylvania, please email me at with your suggestions! While I can’t promise that it will get covered in the monthly Shout-Out, I can promise that we’ll add it to our growing list of great preservation work happening across Pennsylvania. Quick reminder: eligible Shout-Outs must be related to SHPO program areas (the National Register, historic resource survey, historic tax credits, Keystone grants, community coordinators/preservation planning, CRGIS, historic markers, and environmental project review/mitigation) and can recognize small baby steps to large milestones, and everything in between, led by the public, an organization, municipality, community group, regional government, or state or Federal agency. Thanks!

Author: Shelby Weaver Splain

Shelby Weaver Splain is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Shelby is a native of Bucks County and holds a Masters degree in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Historic Preservation from Goucher College.

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