Mercersburg's Smith House gets 'stay of execution'

February 07, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Partial demolition occurred Monday on the historic Smith House in Mercersburg, Pa. The building at rear is the MMP&W Fire Co. station.
By Jennifer Fitch/Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — The Smith House received a “stay of execution” Monday, according to the Fayetteville, Pa., doctor who will purchase pieces of the 275-year-old house to reconstruct it.

“We want to try to turn it into a museum. ... It’ll be a gift to America,” Paul Orange said.

Demolition was scheduled to begin Monday morning for the Smith House, which proponents of preservation say played a key role in the “Black Boys Rebellion of 1765.” They believe the actions of Justice William Smith were crucial to the start of the American Revolution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The MMP&W Fire Co. purchased the property, which is adjacent to its station, in 2009 for future expansion. The plans met resistance from a group of preservationists who said the house should be saved.

After being in limbo for about a year and a half, the future of the Smith House continued to be debated as a crew from R&D Excavating arrived on the scene. Preservationists presented the demolition workers with a typed letter from Orange offering to buy the material.

Attorney John Szajna, who represents MMP&W’s board of directors, said the contract for demolition always allowed for the option of having materials salvaged.

“We don’t want it to go to a landfill. If it can be reused, that’s wonderful,” Szajna said.

Orange said he’s working on a written agreement with the excavators but anticipates the cost to him will be “tens of thousands of dollars.” He asked for the stone and floor from the original structure, as well as the summer kitchen and outdoor fireplace.

Once preservationists receive a government-recognized nonprofit organization status, Orange said they’ll launch a fundraising campaign to rebuild the house across the street at a bank-owned property.

The pieces will be numbered for reconstruction, Orange said.

“We’re going to keep everything in storage and put it back together this spring or summer,” he said.

The systematic demolition will take one to two weeks, Szajna said.

The site will undergo grading to allow for temporary parking, Szajna said. From there, plans will be further developed for firehouse expansion, which could include a new magisterial district judge office, he said.

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