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Chester County Press

Event sheds light on goal to preserve historic structure

08/06/2019 12:52PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Early in the evening of August 5, two dozen citizens and local historians gathered in front of the brick and stone remains of an old house that still stands deep the woods of London Britain Township, as part of a unified effort to preserve it, and hopefully bring it back to life.

Local residents joined with members of the Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve London Tract Historical Committee and the New Garden Township Historic Commission at the site of the John Evans House, located in the White Clay Creek Preserve, near the historic London Tract Baptist Meetinghouse. The gathering was part of the “This Place Matters Program,”  an initiative developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation that encourages people to celebrate the places that are meaningful to them and to their communities.

Drawing public attention to the structure, which was built in 1715 and is purported to be the oldest house in the area, could not have come at a more crucial moment in the 300-year life of the home, which was severely damaged by a fire on Sept. 20, 2017. Earlier this year, several guardians of local history and conservation learned that the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) had made it public that they wish to eventually demolish the house.

On May 29, Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve sent a letter to State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, encouraging his office to “use its powers to halt DCNR's demolition plan,” and allow the committee additional time to study the site and secure funding in order to preserve it.

“The Historical Committee envisions the future of the John Evans House as a fully documented and stabilized ruin, with interpretive panels that will allow current and future generations to continue to enjoy and to interpret the significance of this structure and its place in migration patterns and industry of the time,” the letter read. “It is the Historical Committee's aim to secure the site with fencing and security cameras as soon as possible, and begin the process of serious study of the history, architecture and archaeology” of the house.

The Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve weren't the only letter writers. On June 5, Shane Morgan of the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River Program sent a letter to Phil Schmidt of the Ridley Creek State Park and White Clay Creek Preserve, requesting that the proposed demolition “be postponed while preservation alternatives are explored.”

In her letter, Morgan referred to White Clay Scenic's Tributaries Management Plan, which sets three management goals for the preservation of cultural and historic resources like the Evans House. They include fostering a general awareness of the value of cultural resources; protecting and preserving the existing form and integrity of watershed cultural resources; and ensuring the review of publicly funded projects for negative impact on watershed cultural resources.

In his June 10 letter to the Hon. Cindy Adams Dunn of the DCNR, Dinniman requested a meeting with DCNR staff to discuss the planned demolition of the house, as well as a site visit with the DCNR that would bring in community members, township officials and members of the Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve and White Clay National Wild & Scenic River.

A spokesperson for Sen. Dinniman's office informed the Chester County Press that the DCNR has informed the office that it has removed the John Evans House from its demolition list until it conducts a site visit of the property with Sen. Dinniman and other officials, which is scheduled for mid-September. 

While the structure awaits full historical, architectural and archaeological studies – and very likely, fundraising efforts – David Hawk of the New Garden Township Historic Commission said that one of the ideas being considered is the possibility of re-pointing the home's brick work and rebuilding the home's upper structure, and then protecting it with a plexiglass covering that will allow visitors to see clearly within the home's interior.

“That would allow a lot of light in so that people can come by and admire the home's interior fireplaces and brick work,” Hawk said. “Architecturally, what's going on here is pretty fascinating.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].