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Justice William Smith House to be rebuilt with help of 12-year-old Fayetteville girl

July 09, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Riley Bitner, 9, of Greencastle, Pa., and Spencer Dofflemyer, 13, of Mercersburg, Pa., dig through piles of dirt while looking for artifacts Saturday from the remains of the Smith House in Mercersburg, Pa.
By Roxann Miller

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — At first glance, the pile of rubble that once was the Justice William Smith House in Mercersburg might seem like a lost cause, but don't tell that to 12-year-old Bailey Orange.

The Fayetteville, Pa., girl is spearheading efforts to breathe new life into the historic structure that was dismantled in February by the Mercersburg Montgomery Peters and Warren Volunteer Fire Co. for expansion.

"I always loved history, so what we're doing is trying to restore this house so future generations can see it," Bailey said.

Even though she was sad when the building was torn down piece by piece, Bailey said she didn't give up hope.

"It would have been nice if we could have kept it like it was, but we can still build it again," Bailey said. "I think it might be even better. We're going to have a museum in it and it'll have some interesting things."

On Saturday, she kicked things off with a reconstruction ceremony at the new home of the Justice William Smith House at the former Exxon gas station, which is across the street from the house's original location.

The gas station site was owned by the First National Bank of Mercersburg until Friday, when Bailey's father, Dr. Paul Orange, purchased it for $69,500.

Orange purchased pieces of the house, which dates to the mid-1700s, for $49,500 in order to reconstruct it.

Smith House supporters believe the actions of Smith were crucial to the start of the American Revolution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and her new website kidslovehistory.org, Bailey plans to spread the word that the birthplace of the American Revolution was Pennsylvania in 1765, not Massachusetts in 1775.

"We feel that what happened here started the American Revolution," Paul Orange said. "It wasn't Lexington and Concord. The things that happened here in the frontier were the spark that ignited the fire for the Revolution."

He said he needs about $500,000 to develop a Smith House property.

"I'd like the community to help, and we're going to try and get some federal, state and local money, if possible, but I will invest what I have to," Orange said.

He said the first phase of fundraising is in the hands of children.

"These are kids that care enough about history that they want to see this preserved in their lifetime," Orange said.

All of the dirt that the children dug through Saturday comprised a 2-foot wide by 2-foot deep space around the house.

"It was in the basement and we had them peel off that area around the house," said Jerry Ross, president of Birthplace of the Nation Foundation. "We felt that that would be the most intense in terms of artifacts. They made three piles here. This is all from the original property."

More than a dozen kids dug their shovels into one of three mounds of dirt, each time pulling out a treasure of broken pottery or something unique.

Digging in the dirt might not be Kendra Zaruba's favorite thing to do, but it was all in the name of history — her favorite subject.

"It's a part of history and it's really important for other generations to see it," the 12-year-old Waynesboro girl said. "I want it to be rebuilt so that other people can come and see it. It's really cool to think that we helped build it up again."

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