Underground Railroad site faces demolition
An Underground Railroad safe house's days could be numbered.
The old stone structure just off of the Wrightsville exit of Route 30 predates the American Revolution, served as a safe house on the Underground Railroad and played a role during the Civil War. Preservation Pennsylvania recently listed the house as one of its "at-risk" sites for destruction this year.
Katina Snyder, an officer with the Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society, said she received a copy of the demolition permit on Tuesday afternoon.
The society had to be notified because the house is listed as a historical property in the township. She has asked the township for 45 days to review the permit, and she plans to talk with officials this week about whether that will be granted.
Protesters recently rallied along Cool Creek Road seeking to save the property. It's owned by two couples -- Robert and Agnes Blessing and Wayne and Susan Blessing -- and it sits near a growing industrial park.
Approval for the demolition permit will have to come from Commonwealth Codes, the township's agent for building codes, township supervisor Galen Weibley said in an email. No public hearing or other approval will be required because it involves private property.
Historians say the house is a significant site. In the 19th century, the Mifflin family — Jonathan and Susanna Mifflin, and their son, Samuel — hid freedom-seekers and helped to ferry them across the Susquehanna River. The house plays a key role in understanding the story of the Underground Railroad, said Randy Harris, a consulting historian from Lancaster County.
Mindy Crawford, executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania, said she believes the only way to save the site is to change the ownership. She hopes that the Blessing family -- the owners of the property -- and Kinsley would be willing to sell and give preservationists time to find a buyer for the site. She said her organization would be willing to be part of the conversation.
"I think the only way to save it ... is time and money," she said.
Rules and regulations are not going to stop the demolition, Crawford said. The laws for preservation are not that strong.
Harris will be one of the speakers at a two-day symposium on the Underground Railroad this weekend at the York County History Center. He said he plans to talk about how "we need to step up and do a better job of preserving our historical resources."
Kinsley Properties vice president of development Tim Kinsley could not be reached for comment.
The Blessing family also could not be reached for comment.
Snyder said she wants to bring attention to the historical value of the property in hopes of trying to save it. If the company moves forward with the demolition, she wants to be able to take photographs and measurements to document the place before it comes down.
After the permit is approved, demolition can take place within 24 hours, she said.
"It's not just another house," Snyder said. "...People cannot let this happen."
Weibley posted a public comment on his township supervisor Facebook page Tuesday, where he states that the permit will be sent to York-based Commonwealth Code Inspection prior to final approval. The township also is coordinating with Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society "to recommend options to preserve the existing structure." Weibley could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
"Upon receiving news regarding the Mifflin House, I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the private decision to erase a part of our important history here in Eastern York County," Weibley states.
He added: "The Mifflin House serves as a reminder of Hellam Township residents’ courage and perseverance against social injustice within their community. We should all do our part to ensure the history and memory of Jonathan and (Susanna) Mifflin are preserved on paper before it is too late."