If you noticed I phrased the title of this post with a question mark at the end. I have to as much as it pains me, because after almost five years I am still trying to figure out what the East Whiteland Historical Commission actually does and what historic preservation means in East Whiteland.
Yes they have a page on the East Whiteland Township website. But it says nothing. Except they meet once a month. There are no meeting agendas posted or archived on the township website that can be found and the same can be said for meeting minutes. Yes they meet once a month but people have lives and it is a nice theory to attend their meetings every month of every year, but wouldn’t it be easier if they simply posted an agenda? And meeting minutes after the fact?
For years all I did was go to municipal meetings. We live in the Internet age, we should be able to discover what is going on via each township website if it does not happen via local access television. And every other historical commission or whatever a municipality calls their historical preservation committee pretty much does that. They post information. They host events. They interact. They are generally speaking, really cool people who really care about the history of where they live. Willistown, East Goshen, Radnor, and Lower Merion Townships come to mind immediately. You might not always agree with what the various independent hstorical societies or municipality based historical commissions do or don’t do, but you can find them. They don’t act like a social club meets secret society.
Look at Historic Sugartown and Historic Goshenville. That is preservation in action. Those were two things I checked very soon after I came to Chester County. And the Historic Village of Yellow Springs was a favorite before I moved to Chester County.
East Whiteland as a municipality is one a lot of people do not recognize. It is a place people go through. There is no town center. It’s identity gets lost in the “Malvern” of it all. And Malvern is in how many municipalities? None of this is East Whiteland’s fault, it is just the way the township evolved with it’s place in Chester County.
East Whiteland has more commercial “residents” than residential “residents”. But it is a cool place with a lot of interesting history. And the history is at risk, because much like a neighboring municipality (Tredyffrin) there really is not anything written down anywhere that can save historic assets. Not that a lot of municipalities in Pennsylvania are truly protected when it comes to their historic assets.
There are a lot of people with good intentions in Pennsylvania but the truth is if you go through the Municipalities Planning Code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania there isn’t enough on historic preservation – there is guidance but the truth of the matter is Pennsylvania does not make it as enticing as some other states do with regards to rewarding people for historic preservation. A number of states offer a tidy bit of “encouragement” in the form of serious property tax abatements, credits for rehabilitation, including owner-occupied residential properties, and tax deductions for easement donations. (See preservationnation.org and truthfully historic tax credits in other states are a little shaky in a funky economy according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.)
I have watched as historic structures have fallen. Literally. I watched it happen with Addison Mizner’s La Ronda which stood until the fall of 2009. And even the extremely well-heeled and politically connected Lower Merion Township could save that beauty. And they tried. It was one of those rare occasions in that politically over-active township when all residents and factions came together with the purpose of saving La Ronda. The sad thing there is the commissioners vowed after La Ronda fell to do better at historic preservation. Residents, sadly, still wait for that as they fear every new development plan.
At a recent open house at Loch Aerie I encountered some woman from the East Whiteland Historical Commission. Seriously, if she could have willed the ground to have opened up and swallowed me she would have. Her name escapes me. She mentioned that Loch Aerie was going to be discussed at an upcoming meeting. I asked what it was they were going to do to save the mansion, what could they do? Blank stare. What did I mean? (Yes, really.)
So I asked about other historic preservation efforts namely Linden Hall also on Lancaster Ave at the foot of Route 352. She tells me it is saved. I asked if it really was since the only thing that had really occurred was the developer said they would save it during plan approval stage, but they in truth don’t have to save it as there was nothing to make them save it.
And Linden Hall just gets more and more sad by the day. The stick frame cheap looking townhouses are going up all around her and Linden Hall? Just sits there and continues to deteriorate. If Linden Hall is being preserved and it was a condition of development approval from another developer different from the one now building the surrounding townhouses, when is preservation set to begin? Is there a date? A plan? A time line?
There has been increasing media attention on the fate of Loch Aerie. That has not been generated by the East Whiteland Historical Commission. It has been generated by concerned Chester County and East Whiteland residents NOT part of the East Whiteland Historical Commission or having anything to do with the township at all. But East Whiteland residents and those in Chester County concerned with historic preservation would love it if the East Whiteland Historical Commission were more visible and consistently verbal. They had media at a recent meeting because residents told them when the meeting was, not because they were invited.
Look East Whiteland is not the only municipality that needs to be more active and consistent in historic preservation, but the needs are pressing in this particular township because of structures like Linden Hall and Loch Aerie.
Loch Aerie has been described by more than me as being Chester County’s La Ronda. Only there is a chance here if everyone pulls together of Loch Aerie NOT succumbing to the same fate as La Ronda, which ceased to exist on a brilliant fall day in 2009.
Here is the press thus far on Loch Aerie (and more is coming now that the Philadelphia Inquire put her on the front page of the Sunday paper):
The historic Loch Aerie mansion goes up for auction next week. Local preservationists vow to save it. APRIL 12, 2016 AT 8:00 AM
Vista Today: A Diamond in the Sprawl, This Historic Chester County Mansion is Heading to the Auction Block Posted date: April 11, 2016