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Mercersburg Council prepares to sell Irwin House

December 02, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- The Mercersburg Borough Council is preparing to sell the Irwin House, a late 18th-century log house discovered when a 2003 fire destroyed the structure surrounding it.

The council was given ownership of the house after the fire and repaired it in the years since. Grants and volunteer labor were used for some of the rehabilitation, which includes a new foundation and roof.

However, the council wants out of the renovation business due to prevailing wage requirements and red tape.

"The fact of the matter is it's evident there's not much grant funding coming through," Borough Manager Jason Cohen said.

Cohen started talking to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development about creating a lease program for someone to take over renovations of the Irwin House and start a business there. While doing that, he was approached by people in the community who wanted to complete the project if they were able to own the building.

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"It basically grew from a long-term lease project to a sale project," Cohen said.

In November, the borough council talked to its solicitor about what it wanted included in potential sale documents. Cohen said the council is expected to approve those documents Dec. 14.

Included will be five provisions:

o Only sealed bids for at least $10,000 will be accepted, and they must include a contingency.

o Renovations must be complete within 18 months of settlement.

o The exterior's historical appearance and integrity must be maintained.

o The property must stay with the purchaser or his family for 10 years as long as a business within is making a profit.

o An information center must be created on the first floor for municipal or civic visitors.

"Once the documents are approved, bids will be accepted until the Irwin House meeting in January," Cohen said, noting the documents will be available by visiting or calling Borough Hall at 717-328-3116.

The house, built by Archibald Irwin, is on the town's square and in the historic district. A committee oversees construction within the historic district.

"They'll be in a position to approve or deny any facade changes," Cohen said.

Although the bid amount will be an important consideration, Cohen said the council can also look at aspects that make a "responsible bidder." He said borough officials are concerned about aesthetics, commercial viability and historic preservation.

Archibald Irwin's granddaughter, Jane, married William Henry Harrison Jr., son of the nation's ninth president. She served as the first lady for her father-in-law, according to published reports.

Irwin's other granddaughter, Elizabeth, married John Scott Harrison and became the mother of Benjamin Harrison, the country's 23rd president.

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