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Protest planned to save Smith House

Supporters say building was birthplace of the American Revolution

February 03, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@heraldmail.com
  • In this 2010, file photo, Karen Ramsburg, now former president of the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House, is shown standing near the 275-year-old Mercersburg home shown in the background. With demolition set to begin early next week, members of the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House are planning to stage a peaceful, three-day protest in hopes of buying time for the historic structure.
Herald-Mail file photo

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — With demolition set to begin early next week, members of the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House are planning to stage a peaceful, three-day protest in hopes of buying  time for the historic structure.

"This is a real treasure. I think we're down to the last wire now," said Karen Ramsburg, former president of the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House.

Demolition of the house, which dates back to the mid-1700s, is set for Monday, according to John Szajna, of Chambersburg, Pa., the attorney for the board of directors of the Mercersburg Montgomery Peters and Warren Volunteer Fire Co., which owns the house.

The fire department purchased the property adjacent to the fire department, at 11 Veterans Way, a block off Main Street, in 2009 for future expansion of the firehouse, additional parking, a bunk area and amenities designed to recruit younger volunteers, fire officials said previously.

Desperate to save the house from the wrecking ball, Ramsburg and other members of the committee are staging a peaceful protest at the front of the Smith House on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, beginning at 8 a.m. each day.

Szajna said Smith House supporters had ample time to work out an arrangement with the fire board.

"The fire board has been more than patient with this group or groups of people. We have given them every opportunity, and all we get is rhetoric and nothing concrete. They don't come up with anything," Szajna said.

He said the fire company needs the space to expand, but exact plans haven't been prepared. Parking is just a temporary step before expansion, he said.

But Ramsburg and other supporters of the Smith House said they have a proposal from Dr. Paul Orange of Fayetteville, Pa.

Orange offered to buy the house for $100, plus the $19,400 that it was going to cost to demolish the house, and move it to another location for about $100,000 — all at his own expense.

But Orange said the fire board and its attorney have been "stonewalling" him so far.

"I put down $10,000 in cash of my own money in an escrow account with a neutral attorney, and their (the fire board's) attorney is well aware of that money being there," Orange said.

"I want to sit down and say, 'What's the best way we can resolve this issue?' Plus, I'm going to save you money in the long run because you're not going to have to pay the cost to take it down, and with the way today's economy is today, who wouldn't want to save $19,400?" he said.

Szajna denied stonewalling anyone.

"Since November, Dr. Orange has failed to reply to a proposal that I sent him. He has done nothing," Szajna said. "We told him that speed was of the essence, and time has gone by, and he has sat on his laurels and has done nothing."

With the asbestos to be removed today, Szajna said nothing would stop the demolition from taking place on Monday.

"It is not going to stop us from moving forward," Szajna said.



Birth of the Revolution

Research points to the historical significance of the Smith House as the meeting place where, over a nine-month period, the first armed resistance against British rule was organized in 1765, Ramsburg said previously.

"The Pennsylvania frontier was the American Revolution, and Smith's rebellion gave rise to ideas that would later impact our U.S. Bill of Rights Second Amendment right to bear arms," she said.

"We're asking everyone to support saving the birthplace of the American Revolution and the Birthplace of the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms to attend the protest," Ramsburg said. "This house symbolizes the American dream in 1765, and to destroy it would be an assault on every middle-class American value from our right to defend ourselves to our right to safety and security."

Orange said once the Smith House is gone, a piece of history is lost forever.

"If this goes down, we all lose — this county loses, the state loses, my daughter loses — because the history of this place will rewrite the history book of the Revolution," Orange said. "It didn't start in Boston. It started here. We have the claim that the Revolutionary War started here. The Second Amendment started right here."

Ultimately, supporters of the Smith House want to move it either across the street from its current location to the former Exxon gas station owned by the First National Bank of Mercersburg, or to property owned by the VFW.

However, both Ramsburg and Orange said the first step is to acquire the house.

"We can't make any deals with anybody unless we have possession of the house. They've been fighting back and forth about this for two years, and I'm sure the fire board is getting ticked off and tempers are flying — but I'm trying to do what is right for the county, for history and for the country," Orange said.

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