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Protesters stand in rain to spread word about impending demolition of Smith House

February 05, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Protesters stand Saturday across the street from the Smith House in Mercersburg, Pa., protesting the demolition of the historic house scheduled for Monday. From left are Jerry Ross, Joe Burkot, Tim McCown, Dr. Paul Orange, Amy Delaney and Karen Ramsburg.
By Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Ice crystals clung to Karen Ramsburg's hair, but she didn't seem to mind as she braved damp and drizzling weather smiling to passing motorists hoping to spread awareness about the impending demolition of the historic Smith House in Mercersburg.

With demolition set for Monday, about six people held signs and waved to passing motorists Saturday hoping for a last-ditch effort to save the house which dates to the mid-1700s.

Ramsburg, former president of the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House, said the house is the birthplace of the American Revolution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"We'll be out here all day," said Ramsburg as a passing motorist beeped his horn and gave the protesters thumbs up in support.

John Szajna of Chambersburg, Pa., attorney for the board of directors of the Mercersburg Montgomery Peters and Warren Volunteer Fire Co., which owns the house, has said the stone building is "coming down on Monday."

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.

The protesters stood across the street from the Smith House — one of the possible locations where the historic house could be relocated.

As she held a sign reading "Save the Smith House for our Children," Amy Delaney said seeing two pieces of equipment poised to demolish the house made her "nauseous."

"Saving this (Smith House) will provide a viable tourism trade, something for our children to be proud of — to learn what history is," Delaney said. "A viable source of history is being torn down."

When she handed out fliers at the nearby traffic light to passing motorists on Friday, Delaney said 75 percent of the drivers were supportive of keeping the Smith House intact.

Dr. Paul Orange, who has offered to buy the house and relocate it at his own expense, stood out in the rain hoping to save the stone structure.

"They wouldn't tear down Mount Vernon, and if they tore down a historic property in Gettysburg, they'd be crucified, but they can demolish this house," Orange said in disbelief.

Orange offered to pay for 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.

He's already put $10,000 of his own money into an escrow account with the help of a neutral attorney.

"This is a very important site in the history of America. It deserves to be saved," Orange said. "If you look at it, it doesn't look great, but our vision of what it can look like and what it would have looked like is totally different. We would bring it back to life the way it looked in the 1750s."

If demolition occurs Monday, Orange said that he will be "extremely saddened and very sad for every citizen in the country because we lose a treasure."

Tim McCown lives just up the street from the Smith House and doesn't want to stop the fire company from expanding. He just wants to save the Smith House.

"If you're going to destroy the house, let us have it. You can have your property to expand. Why is this such an all-fired rush?" McCown said. "They don't have any plans yet. They haven't even done the site survey to know if they can even build there."

Based on the Historic Preservation Trust, McCown said a Smith House Museum could bring in between $500,000 and $1 million a year to the Mercersburg community.

Holding a sign reading "Save Our History, Justice William Smith," Joe Burkot said the issue has divided the community.

"I've always held the fire department with a high regard of respect. They are a community service organization, and I just find it incredulous that they wouldn't work with the community to save this house at no cost," he said.

Burkot said if the Smith House is razed, the community would be ripped apart.

"If they tear this down, they are really tearing apart the community and it's going to take a very long time — if ever — to heal the wounds it's created," Burkot said.

The protest will be held today and continue Monday beginning at 8 a.m.

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