By Richard L. Gaw
The Lyceum House, a 161-year-old, 900 square-foot historical artifact in New Garden Township that now stands in the township's park, is currently in the process of undergoing renovations, in preparation for its future use as a township community center.
At its Nov. 25 meeting, the township's board of supervisors gave the green light to several improvements to the house's basement level, which includes the purchase and installation of a kitchenette, cabinetry and counter tops. The board approved installation not to exceed $3,900 as well as parts not to exceed $1,851.
The board's approval of these renovations is just the latest in what has been a two-year stretch of great news for the building, which through the efforts of the township's Historical Commission and Supervisor Robert Perrotti, has taken the building from a state of near-disrepair and neglect to a rebirth as a potential community center. In March 2012, the house was moved from its former and original location on Route 41 to New Garden Township Park.
The Lyceum House was built in 1852 when Enoch Lewis sold an acre on Gap-Newport Pike to the New Garden Lyceum Company for $25. Within the year, the company constructed a one-story frame building, and for the next 30 years, the building was the center of community life in the Township. In addition to musicals and dramatic presentations, there were lectures and debates on such topics as temperance, abolition, the use of tobacco, and womens' suffrage. It also served as a location for prohibitionist meetings, and was also the headquarters for abolitionists before the Civil War, a station for the Underground Railroad. Township meetings and elections were also held in the building.
Dr. Margaret “Peg” Jones, a driving force in the township's Historical Commission who helped spearhead the township's efforts to save the historic house, credited Perrotti for his work. Jones said that after many years of seeing the structure standing unused on Route 41, township officials had heard that the owner of the property on which the building stood.
“Bob said that if the township would ever be able to move the building, it could be placed on a hillside, so that it could have two levels, which could be used for parks and recreation,” she said. “The Lyceum House when it was built was essentially a community center before there were school auditoriums, before there were large spaces in churches in Landenberg, where people would gather for debates, political speeches and spelling bees. Bob has long had a dream of having a community center in the park...and I think Bob is going to achieve his dream.”