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Chester County Press

Historic John Evans House to be saved from demolition

09/24/2019 03:02PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, together with members of the White Clay Creek Preserve London Tract Historical Committee, met with representatives from two Pennsylvania organizations on Sept. 17 to explore the possibility of saving the historic John Evans House in the White Clay Creek Preserve, built in 1715 and said to be the oldest house in the area.

Together, they all did.

The house, a key structure in the efforts being made to preserve the entire historic London Tract Village that surrounds it, was saved from demolition after a meeting that brought Dinniman and conservation groups together with representatives from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  

As a result of the meeting, a plan is now in the works for the groups to work together to stabilize and preserve the structure’s shell as part of the rich history of the White Clay Creek Preserve and the surrounding region.

“The John Evans House tells the story of our nation – from its founding by colonists to the fight for the freedom and independence in the Revolutionary War to the establishment of the Mason-Dixon Line and the abolitionist movement in the antebellum period,” Dinniman said. “It is vital that this structure be preserved for posterity as a testament to our rich history and that of Chester County’s White Clay Creek Preserve.”

The land that surrounds the John Evans House figures prominently in the original settlement of the region. In 1683, Lenape Chief Kekelappen sold the land the White Clay Creek Preserve is located on to William Penn. Historians believe that Chief Kekelappen may have lived in Opasiskunk, a large Native American town situated at the confluence of the east and middle branches of the White Clay Creek.

According to reports, the John Evans family, who were Welsh Baptists, came to Colonial America between 1696 and 1700, and in 1714, Evans purchased 600 acres in what is now Chester County, Pennsylvania and New Castle County, Delaware, on which the home was built.

While the grassroots efforts to save the John Evans House have primarily been engineered by the White Clay Creek Preserve London Tract Historical Committee [LTHC], they have been joined in support by several environmental and historical agencies, including the New Garden Township Historical Commission, the White Clay Watershed Association, the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River Program, London Britain Township and Chester County Planning Commission.

Their collective efforts culminated in a May 29 letter to Dinniman, encouraging his office to “use its powers to halt DCNR's demolition plan,” and allow 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.

On June 10, Sen. Dinniman wrote a letter to The Hon. Cindy Adams Dunn at the DCNR, expressing his concern about the agency's demolition plans, and requesting a site visit meeting with DCNR officials and members of the LTHC and elected officials.

“Since it has become known that the Department has plans to demolish this structure, a significant number of my constituents have contacted me with strong opposition to the proposed removal of this historic resource,” Dinniman's letter read. “Simply put, many in my district are concerned that the demolition of this historic property will forever remove the potential opportunity for future generations to witness a direct link to our nation's founding.”

John Starzmann of the LTHC pointed to the Commission’s letter to Dinniman as a vital component of what led to the decision to preserve the John Evans House.

“I feel our efforts to save the John Evans House would be dead if it were not for Andy Dinniman,” said Starzmann, who attended and gave a presentation at the Sept. 17 meeting. “He put all of the people together in one place. I know I couldn’t have gotten all of these people down here, many of whom had to drive two to three hours.”

Starzmann said that he and the LTHC are planning to take the next steps in preserving the structure.

“I was in a panic mode when I found that the Evans House was going to be demolished,” he said, “but now that the pressure is off and we know that the house will be preserved, now we have to see how we’re going to obtain various kinds of funding in order to stabilize the structure.”

Dinniman also said the group plans to work to have the entire London Tract Meeting House District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. The tract includes additional historic structures and is also believed to have once been home to a railroad and Native Americans of the Lenape tribe who grew corn, beans, and squash.

Recently, Dinniman worked with DCNR to complete infrastructure improvements, including a new roof, on the London Tract Meeting House, which today houses the preserve’s Nature Center.

In addition, Dinniman also helped secure key state funding to acquire and permanently protect more than 1,700 acres owned by George Strawbridge Jr. in southern Chester County – land that will be added to the White Clay Creek Preserve. Combined, the Strawbridge property and Maryland’s Fairhill Natural Resources Management Area (FNRMA), will result in a contiguous block of open, recreation space in excess of 7,000 acres – one of the largest in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

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