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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Protect history and culture - Bill of Rights and pride in democracy

"...public outcry caught them off guard."

"If Silver Spring Township  (Pennsylvania) officials and a local real estate developer didn’t know that an old stone house on Route 11 is the reputed birthplace of the U.S. Bill of Rights before they started demolition there last week, they definitely know now."

A small stone early colonial house in Silver Spring Township (Pennsylvania) is a symbol of how protecting history is symptomatic of preserving cultural pride. Although a municipal accident caused the partial destruction of a simple stone house, the reality of how the sructure represented America's Bill of Rights, finally overcame the zeal of razing the structure. (Wait! Didn't the Taliban in Afghanistan first capture rabid international attention when they began to dismantle cultural icons and institutions?  
In fact, the Taliban was as notorious for destroying the magnificent Buddhas of Bamiyan, as much as for the group's Islamic terrorism tactics.)

Here's the report about the Bell Tavern, a Maine Writer blog reader sent from Pennsylvania newspapers:

Historic mistake for Silver Spring stone house
Phyllis Zimmerman The Sentinel

Historic Bell Tavern
Bell Tavern building in Silver Spring Township was nearly destroyed before demolition was halted

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – The debate over the Bell Tavern continues in Silver Spring Township. The partially demolished building is still standing in the 7000 block of the Carlisle Pike. Many want to know what the future holds for it.

According to the Cumberland County Historical Society, the Bell Tavern is not on any historical registry. However, they say the building was written about frequently for its ties to the Bill of Rights and also was a part of a tour given by the Cumberland County Historical society. That’s why residents raised concerns when they noticed the building was being demolished.

The property is owned by Triple Crown Corporation, which has halted the demolition. In a new release, the company said the public outcry caught them off guard.

“Prior to application for a demolition permit, Triple Crown Corporation examined the federal, state, county and township records for any historical registration. This review was required by the demolition permit itself. There is no indication of any historical significance of the property on any of the above sites,” said Karen Jordan, marketing manager of Triple Crown Corporation. “During a 40-year ownership time frame, Triple Crown Corporation has submitted at least four separate industrial land development and subdivision plans. At no time during these publicly advertised and open to the public meetings was there any mention as to the potential historical significance of this property.

ABC 27 tried to contact Silver Spring Township to inquire why the permit for demolition was approved. They did not return calls. They previously released a statement to our media partners at The Sentinel which read in part:

“Whether intentional or by error in 1995, the Bell Tavern was not listed as an historic, protected building on the township’s cultural features map and historic buildings list referred to in our zoning ordinance. Based on that, the township had to lift the stop-work order. Despite the lifting of the order, the developer has continued to suspend demolition, affording us the opportunity to engage in discussions about the preservation of the building.”

The company is currently in talks with the township about how to move forward.

“Although we are in sincere dialogue with the Silver Spring Township, we must emphasize that this is private property. Over the decades, the state, county and township all have had multiple opportunities to acquire and protect this asset. This could have been done for the benefit of the citizens at the expense of the citizens. Demanding that ownership repair and give this property to a governmental or historical preservation group at the sole cost of an individual owner is in direct opposition of what the Bill of Rights stands for,” Jordan said.

And the local newspaer, The Sentinel reported:
If Silver Spring Township officials and a local real estate developer didn’t know that an old stone house on Route 11 is the reputed birthplace of the U.S. Bill of Rights before they started demolition there last week, they definitely know now.

On Jan. 6, workers began demolishing a two-story stone house at 7086 Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township that most recently was the site of Stone House Auto Sales.

This just isn’t any stone house, however. Built in 1780 as the James Bell Tavern, the structure hosted the Stony Ridge Convention on July 3, 1788, a meeting of Anti-Federalists opposed to ratification of U.S. Constitution, which led to amending the document with the Bill of Rights.

Triple Crown Corporation, the property’s owner, legally obtained a permit from the township for the demolition, according to Christine Musser, a member of the township’s Conservation and Preservation Committee.

Musser said she was informed about the stone house’s history by an “outside source.” After “doing some digging” about the matter at the Cumberland County Historical Society, she alerted township officials about the matter.

Demolition of the historic structure was “put on hold” and discontinued on Jan. 7, Musser said. To her estimation, about a third of the building was demolished during the initial process.

“Triple Crown apparently had no clue of the building’s historical significance. It was an oversight,” Musser stated.

“Late Wednesday, January 6, township staff became aware that demolition of a building later identified as the Bell Tavern had begun by Triple Crown Corporation,” Silver Spring Township officials said in a news release issued Thursday. “Township staff issued a stop-work order on the demolition, and the developer complied. By that time, a portion of the building had been demolished. The stop-work order allowed us to assess the situation and whether the developer was in compliance with our ordinances.”

“Currently, the law requires building and demolition permits to be issued within tight timeframes,” the news release read. “The onus is then upon applicants to ensure that they are in compliance with other laws and ordinances, including the section of our zoning ordinance that serves as some protection for historic buildings.

“Whether intentional or by error in 1995, the Bell Tavern was not listed as an historic, protected building on the Township’s Cultural Features Map and Historic Buildings List, referred to in our zoning ordinance. Based on that, the Township had to lift the stop-work order. Despite the lifting of the order, the developer has continued to suspend demolition, affording us the opportunity to engage in discussions about the preservation of the building.”

The history: 
Musser is no stranger to Cumberland County’s history. Her pictorial history book about Silver Spring Township was published in 2014 as part of the Arcadia Press’ “Images of America” series.

According to meeting minutes obtained by Musser, the 1788, Stony Ridge Convention held at the former James Bell Tavern was attended by Benjamin Blythe, one of Shippensburg’s first settlers, and Robert Whitehill of Cumberland County. 

Whitehill is noted as the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” according to ExplorePAHistory.com, with its conception reportedly happening at that meeting at the Bell Tavern.

Before that, Whitehill had led an anti-federalist minority at the 1787 convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution. 

Anti-federalists opposed a strong central government as proposed in the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, which amended the Constitution with individual rights and limitations of federal and state government limitations, was adopted in 1791, according to Britanica.com.

Whitehill went on to serve in the state House of Representatives from 1797-1800; the state Senate from 1801-1804; and the ninth Congress and four succeeding Congresses until his death in 1813. In the 1990s, a historic marker was designated at the site of Whitehill’s home, Lauther Manor, at 1903 Market St., Camp Hill. The homestead of Benjamin Blythe at 217 Means Hollow Road, Shippensburg, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What to do?

For now, the fate of the Bell Tavern stone house remains undecided. Triple Crown representatives did not respond to requests for comments for this story.

“Those of us, Township staff and elected officials, who work on behalf of the people of Silver Spring Township, were upset by the circumstance. To further protect historic buildings and sites within the township, we have taken steps to update the historic building map and list,” the township’s news release reads.

“We have put in place an interim administrative measure to ensure that future demolition permit applications are screened for historic site compliance by the township prior to the issuance of demolition permits, rather than leaving the responsibility on the applicant. Additionally, we will be considering further preservation measures in the coming days and months to provide greater protection for our invaluable historic architecture in the township.”

Maine Writer summary- Americans can't allow the symbols of our democracy, regardless of how seemingly structurally benign, to become the victims of municipal redevelopment. Otherwise, to remain silent or to pretend the significance of symbolisms are unimportant, will reduce our national pride to the low level of ignorant anti-culturalism. 

In other words, we can't ignore symbolism.  In fact, to ignore the symbolism of the very place where the Bill of Rights was conceptualized, written for the purpose of protecting individual rights, is to deny the essential importance of the basic tenets of the soul of our democracy. Considerable discusssion about this issue is posted by readers on The Sentinel news site, check out this link:

http://cumberlink.com/news/local/communities/mechanicsburg/historic-mistake-for-silver-spring-stone-house/article_45931055-9a18-5da0-981e-9828fc6eff77.html

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