What better time of year than National Historic Preservation Month to announce the latest round of PA SHPO’s Community Initiative Award winners. This year’s projects and recipients showcase a range of preservation success stories, demonstrating the power of perseverance, collaboration and partnership.

What are the Community Initiative Awards?

PA SHPO’s Community Initiative Awards recognize the hard work and dedication of outstanding organizations, municipalities, agencies and individuals whose work embodies the theme of Pennsylvania’s statewide historic preservation plan, #PreservationhAppenshere. The plan provides a framework of activities and goals that will help Pennsylvanians better understand historic preservation and its benefits, appreciate their shared histories as told through historic places, and balance history and economic development to manage change within their communities.

There is no formal application for the Community Initiative Awards. PA SHPO selects candidates for consideration in the following ways:

PA SHPO considered over 70 candidates this year from different communities across the commonwealth. It was tough to choose this year’s winners! This week’s post announces the three winners and each will be featured in a longer post each Wednesday in May.

Wilkinsburg Train Station Restoration Project, Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County

Built in 1916 in downtown Wilkinsburg as a station for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Wilkinsburg Train Station is an iconic community landmark. The Beaux Arts building, designed by architect Walter H. Cookson, closed in the mid-1970s as passenger rail service began to decline. Despite many attempts to reuse the station in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the building remained vacant and significantly deteriorated through the first two decades of the 21st century.

Brick building with tall center block and two smaller side wings.
Wilkinsburg Train Station, before rehabilitation, mid-2010s. Image courtesy of Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Beginning in 2015, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) and its many partners and supporters started the ambitious project to save the train station and return it to use as a hub for the Wilkinsburg community. Although the building’s condition after 50 years of vacancy would deter some, WCDC moved forward with construction starting in 2017, with an eye toward preserving historic fabric where it survived and sensitively adding new materials, spaces and systems. The rehabilitated station opened in 2021. This project is an example of how a leap of faith and dedication, despite long odds, can result in a transformational project for the entire community.

Brick building with tall center block and two smaller side wings.
Wilkinsburg Train Station, after rehabilitation, 2021. Image courtesy of Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Preservation and Discovery by the Friends of Fort Halifax Park, Halifax, Dauphin County

The nonprofit Friends of Fort Halifax Park led two important preservation and discovery efforts at Fort Halifax Park in 2021. The Friends successfully applied for, received and managed grants from several funders to underwrite an ambitious archaeology project in a community park.

View of Fort Halifax Park from the air showing fields and archaeology tents at left and the barn, house, and other buildings at top..
Aerial view of Fort Halifax Park, 2021. Archaeology dig at bottom left with barn, farmhouse and other buildings at top right. Image courtesy of Friends of Fort Halifax Park.

The Friends’ interest in and dedication to the Juniata College field project was commendable as they raised funds and organized volunteers to feed the field school students and staff every day and contributed countless hours of volunteer fieldwork to help see the project to a successful conclusion, which was not only the recovery of thousands of artifacts but also finding the location of Colonial Fort Halifax. We covered this amazing project in this post and this post last year.

Small sign with the words, Archaeology at Ft Halifax Park! Fort Found!!
Juniata College’s 2021 dig at Fort Halifax Park found the location of the 1756 fort. Image courtesy of Friends of Fort Halifax Park.

At the same time, the Friends’ advocacy was instrumental in mediating and negotiating with Halifax Township, Preservation Pennsylvania, the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, and PA SHPO to prevent the imminent demolition of the 19th-century barn and house at the park. Those negotiations continue as a path to preservation, and adaptive reuse for the farm buildings is charted.

Walkitecture Tour, Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County

Wilkes-Barre Walkitecture: Stepping through History is a self-guided, 2.2-mile walk through Wilkes-Barre’s historic district that highlights architecture and local history through engaging current and historic images and stories. Residents and tourists can download the free Walkitecture app or follow the tour using a companion booklet that can be found at many locations throughout the city or online.

Small metal sign attached to a wood pole. Sign gives 2 mile mark and includes logo.
Signage along the route through the National Register-listed River Street Historic District in Wilkes-Barre.

Funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Health Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant, this project is a successful collaboration between public health, local history and historic preservation to encourage exercise and support healthy lifestyles for city residents. Using information provided by the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society, the Walkitecture project packages local history and learning about historic places into a format that is attractive and accessible for the public and that encourages deeper connection to and interest in their community.

Collage image showing a logo, four black and white photographs of buildings, and a mobile phone screen.
The free app provides walkers along the route with historic photos and local history. Source: https://vizvibe.com/walkitecture/index.php.

Celebrate National Historic Preservation Month

National Historic Preservation Month was started in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) to draw attention to older and historic places across the country and to highlight the benefits of historic preservation in the nation’s communities.

One of the easy ways you can celebrate is to send us a Preservation Success Story! Simply use the #PreservationhAppensHere hashtag in your social media posts or share it with us through PA-SHARE. You don’t need an account to submit a success story in PA-SHARE. The steps are easy:

To submit a Success Story through PA-SHARE:

  • Sign in to PA-SHARE with your account or as a Guest User.
  • Go the the Submit page and open the Success Story wizard.
  • Fill in the short form and provide at least one photograph.
  • Click “Submit to SHPO”.

Step-by-step instructions are available in Submitting a Success Story in PA-SHARE. Please contact the PA-SHARE Help Desk pashare@pa.gov for assistance.

Congratulations to the 2021 winners! And Happy Preservation Month!