Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office


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
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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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Two photographs of two wood CCC buildings.

July 10, 2019
by Elizabeth Shultz

Laurel Hill State Park and HistoriCorps: Partnership for Preservation

In preservation, it is often observed that one of the most promising tactics for the achievement of a “preservation win” is the engagement of as diverse a collection of partners as possible to participate in the project at hand.

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