Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

A Tale of Three Cities: Moon Township

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45 communities in Pennsylvania have a formal working relationship with the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PASHPO) on a variety of preservation-related programs and projects. Known as Certified Local Governments (CLGs) these communities represent a broad geographic, demographic and economic swath across the Commonwealth. From Philadelphia (Pop. 1.5 million) to Mercersburg, Franklin County (Pop. 1500) and located in over a third of Pennsylvania counties, the CLG program provides exclusive funding and technical assistance for local governments. The CLG program is one of several federal programs administered by the PASHPO; in this case, the National Park Service provides guidance, rules and funding for the CLG program.    

Three communities in the PASHPO Western Region deliver a portrait of the range of preservation activities CLGs embark upon and illustrate how the City of Bradford, Moon Township and Pittsburgh have used the CLG program to leverage their preservation programs.  A few months ago, this post focused on the great work they’re doing in City of Bradford, McKean County.  Today we’re looking at Moon Township, and later this summer, we’ll talk about what’s happening in Pittsburgh.

Moon Township is one of Pennsylvania’s newer CLGs, entering the program in 2011. Incorporated in 1788, Moon is one of the oldest towns in Allegheny County and for much of its history was a quiet agricultural community. Located atop the south bluffs of the Ohio River less than 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, in the early-mid 20th century many grand summer homes were built in Moon by Pittsburgh industrialists eager to escape the heat and pollution of area’s industrial river valleys.

Roselea Farm, a c. 1905 summer home in Moon Township. Photo by Laura Ricketts, Skelly & Loy in Moon Township Preservation Plan, PA SHPO files.

Roselea Farm, a c. 1905 summer home in Moon Township. Photo by Laura Ricketts, Skelly & Loy in Moon Township Preservation Plan, PA SHPO files.

Moon Township’s population exploded after World War II with the completion of Pittsburgh International Airport in 1952 (PIT had a Moon mailing address until recently) and the US Route 22/30 highway corridor which connected the airport with downtown Pittsburgh. As a result, Moon became an early post-war commuter suburb and as such has a rich and interesting suburban story to go along with its early Euro-American and industrial settlement history.

c. 1960 home, Moon Township. Photo by Laura Ricketts, Skelly & Loy in Moon Township Preservation Plan, PA SHPO files.

c. 1960 home, Moon Township. Photo by Laura Ricketts, Skelly & Loy in Moon Township Preservation Plan, PA SHPO files.

Part of Moon’s history includes a significant WW II home-front story. Overlooking Neville Island, Moon Township’s Mooncrest neighborhood was built as defense worker housing. During WWII Neville Island was home of the Dravo Corporation shipyards where hundreds of Landing Ship Tank (LST) craft were built. Virtually every water-based invasion led by Allied troops in the war used the huge LSTs which transported equipment, troops and supplies to beachheads across the globe.

The USS LST 325 in 2010. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

The USS LST 325 in 2010. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

Many of the shipbuilders at Dravo—women and men–lived in the US government-built Mooncrest neighborhood, located only a 1 ½ miles downstream but nearly 300 vertical feet above Neville Island.

2009 View of Neville Island from Overlook Park, Mooncrest neighborhood. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

2009 View of Neville Island from Overlook Park, Mooncrest neighborhood. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

In the decades following the war, Mooncrest suffered from a variety of ills. Physically separated from most of Moon Township, Mooncrest has limited access to services such as grocery and convenience stores, healthcare and recreation. In recent years much of the neighborhood has converted to rental residential and many property owners live outside Moon Township. The neighborhood recently lost access to public transportation due to Port Authority budget cuts.

The former Moon Neighborhood Association property in Mooncrest in 2009. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

The former Moon Neighborhood Association property in Mooncrest in 2009. Photo by Bill Callahan, PA SHPO.

To help raise awareness about the Township’s historic character but especially to spur interest and investment in Mooncrest, Moon Township has undertaken a number of cutting-edge preservation-related projects and programs using a combination of their own general funds, CLG grants, and Keystone Historic Preservation Project Grant funding.

Several years ago the Township passed a preservation ordinance to help guide sensitive, cost effective rehabilitation projects in Mooncrest. In early 2013 the Township successfully nominated Mooncrest to the National Register of Historic Places (The Mooncrest Historic District is Key #125935). The National Register nomination was part of a larger project that included development of a Moon Area School District history/social studies lesson plan based on Mooncrest’ s history, a popular publication dedicated to the history of Mooncrest and was funded in part by a Keystone Historic Preservation Grant.

In late 2013 Moon Township completed an historic preservation plan that outlines several relatively simple, practical recommendations for future preservation-related work. The Township’s preservation plan was funded in part by a Keystone Preservation Project grant and was aided by extensive technical assistance from PASHPO staff.  You can take a look at Moon Township’s outstanding historic preservation plan here: http://www.moontwp.com/pdf/2014_preservation_plan.pdf.

Township of Moon Historic Preservation Plan cover by T&B Planning, Inc. Source: PA SHPO files.

Township of Moon Historic Preservation Plan cover by T&B Planning, Inc. Source: PA SHPO files.

This past year, implementing a preservation plan recommendation, Moon received Certified Local Government funding to help pay for a market study and analysis of the Mooncrest neighborhood based in part on the neighborhood’s significant history and location. This market study provides vital data to the Township, Mooncrest property owners and residents to help guide investment in the neighborhood.  To take a look at the groundbreaking Mooncrest neighborhood market study, visit: http://fourtheconomy.com/publication/view/mooncrest-economic-and-market-analysis/.

Cover of Mooncrest Economic & Market Study Analysis, designed by Fourth Economy Consulting. Source: PA SHPO files.

Cover of Mooncrest Economic & Market Study Analysis, designed by Fourth Economy Consulting. Source: PA SHPO files.

Moon Township’s HARB members have worked tirelessly to promote the principles of historic preservation in the community and have been leaders in developing strategies to help residents understand the value of preservation. Like many dedicated municipal employees, Moon CLG staff Lora Dombrowski wears an astonishing number of hats but still provides unparalleled, thoughtful leadership for the Township. The Township supervisors and many community members have consistently supported the efforts of the HARB and municipal staff and have shown that thoughtful planning for preservation developed through hard work and a relatively small amount of funding can provide great benefits to a community. The PASHPO is proud to have been a part of these efforts through its CLG and other programs.

Author: Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan is the western Pennsylvania Community Preservation Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PASHPO). The PASHPO is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Bill is located at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. The PASHPO is responsible for implementing state and federal historic preservation programs throughout the Commonwealth. Bill has nearly 30 years’ experience working with federal, state and local historic preservation programs in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nebraska and has also worked in the private sector, for several years managing two businesses in an historic downtown. Contact Bill at wcallahan@pa.gov and 412-565-3575, 601 Commonwealth Place, Point State Park, Building B, Pittsburgh PA 15222-1212.

2 Comments

  1. It was my pleasure to work with the people of Mooncrest to create and install the Mooncrest historical marker when I was director of the PHMC’s Historical Marker Program. I was so impressed with the love the residents had for the place and their desire to better it. I am glad Moon Twp. is working with you to preserve this slice of American life.

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