If this were the game show Jeopardy!, the question would be “What grant, administered by PHMC, was the “key” to celebrating the history and significance of Pennsylvania’s Lawrence Park?”
And the answer, of course, is the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant!
A “Garden City” in Erie County
In 1910, General Electric established Lawrence Park as a company town with the construction of a new factory just south of Lake Erie, east of the City of Erie.
Around the factory, company officials envisioned and designed the surrounding “Garden City.” Garden Cities were concept communities centered on providing a healthy and pleasing environment for the factory workers and local businesses by building homes with garden plots. The Lawrence Park community grew from 1913 through the 1950’s.
The Garden City concept was extended through much of the overall community landscape, with a green belt separating the factory and residences and parks strategically placed within the town. The first streets, such as Rankine, Silliman and Smithson, were laid out and named after famous scientists, inventors and engineers.
By 1913, General Electric had built 106 single homes and offered them at moderate prices with low monthly installments. They installed utilities, street lighting and planted 1,000 trees along the streets. Additionally, the Erie and Suburban Company offered trolley service into Erie with a line down Iroquois Avenue.
General Electric also constructed the first four-room school and several commercial buildings to support their employees’ family lives.
The outbreak of World War I created a severe housing shortage for war workers and General Electric abandoned the “Garden City” concept in favor of brick row houses with garden spaces for each home. Ultimately, GE built almost 500 units that became the core of the community.
Today, Lawrence Park Township has grown to approximately 4,000 in population. Luckily, much of the original design, and almost all of the original buildings, remain in place within the original plan.
Recognizing Lawrence Park’s History
You may remember reading about Erie County’s new Cultural Heritage Plan in our blog back in December 13, 2017. The Cultural Heritage Plan, partially funded through the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program in fiscal year 2014-15, identified many important historic properties, traditions and other attributes that local constituents felt created the fabric of their community.
One of the Plan’s recommendations was to seek National Register listing of the Lawrence Park Historic District. It is great to see how quickly community groups worked to implement a plan goal!
The Lawrence Park Historical Society and Lawrence Park Township applied for and received a Keystone Historic Preservation Grant in the Planning Category to hire a consultant to prepare and shepherd the nomination through the process.
Their fiscal year 2015-16 Keystone grant went on to leverage additional community donations from both General Electric and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority to fully implement the project. The project team selected historic preservation consultants, NaylorWellman, LLC, to prepare the documentation, technical mapping, photographs, and support the public engagement of the project.
The proposed Lawrence Park Historic District is a mostly residential area in the heart of the Lawrence Park Township that includes approximately 700 resources. The district includes a mixture of residential architecture primarily from the early 20th century.
Among its specific features are many brick rowhouse blocks, a building type commonly found in urban settings but rather rare in Erie County.
The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board evaluated the Lawrence Park Historic District nomination on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at their meeting at the Green Room at the Forum Auditorium in Harrisburg.
A Trip to the Forum
What was most fascinating about the board meeting was the number of residents and stakeholders who declared their support of the nomination. Public involvement was a large component of the project from the onset.
The project team, working with the consultant, actively engaged the community to be aware of and engaged during the entire nomination process. The local print and on-air media coverage was essential to inform residents and business owners about the Lawrence Park Historic District and its significance and resultant impact of the listing to the local community.
The team also hosted a series of well-advertised public meetings and presentations, and project updates and notices published through the Lawrence Park Township and Lawrence Park Historical Society’s website and social media platforms.
The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board approved the Lawrence Park Historic District nomination. Next, PA SHPO will forward it to the National Park Service for technical review and listing in the National Register.
The district nomination is just one step in a multi-phase historic preservation plan for the Lawrence Park.
The public engagement efforts throughout the Keystone project encouraged the community to see its potential and the important link its history and built environment will have on its future. Their goal is to make preservation a priority for the Township. If all goes well, the Township and Historical Society may be collaborating with the PHMC’s Keystone program for years to come to meet their preservation goals.
This very special planned community in northwest Pennsylvania still nurtures a very strong sense of community in its residents. The Keystone funded National Register nomination was a great opportunity to educate the community about the historical significance of the township as well as use National Register designation as a foundation for local historic preservation planning and zoning.