The recent completion of exterior painting finishes the work necessary to preserve the Craighead House in South Middleton Township for future generations.

Supporters gathered Friday morning to mark the milestone event with the official placement of a bronze plaque listing the home at 318 E. Old York Road on the Cumberland County Register of Historic Places.

Once a drab gray color, the building along the Yellow Breeches Creek is now white with gold and green trim. The effort presses on to transform the 1886 home into an educational center on nature and local history.

“The paint job really brightened it up,” said Johnson Coyle, board president of the Craighead House Committee Corp., the nonprofit organization behind the effort.

“It’s quite an improvement,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments from the neighborhood and people driving by. People are asking ‘What is happening with the Craighead House?’”

The house was in desperate need of repair when it was first acquired in 2012 from the grandchildren of original owners Charles and Agnes Craighead, said Tom Benjey, a board member and local historian. “With the generosity of several local organizations and hundreds of individual donors, the house’s underpinnings were shored up, the porches were rebuilt from the ground up and the roofs were replaced.”

Craighead legacy

The final exterior project was to repaint the building in a color scheme matching how it looked in the mid-1930s during its heyday as a summer retreat for two generations of naturalists who made contributions to world ecology and literature.

Frank Craighead Sr. became the chief forest entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1950, he wrote “Insect Enemies of the Eastern Forest,” which remains the definitive book on the subject.

His brother Eugene Craighead became an entomologist for the state who specialized in insects that affect orchards. A renowned fly fisherman, Eugene invented lures and tested them out in the waterways around the family home.

Twins Frank Jr. and John Craighead became naturalists credited with saving the grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park and drafting language that became the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Their younger sister Jean Craighead George wrote over 100 young adult books relating to nature, including the “Summer of the Falcon,” which documented what it was like to grow up in central Pennsylvania during the 1930s while living in the house.

The Cumberland County Historical Society has placed about 25 properties on its register, which is patterned after the National Register of Historic Places, an entirely separate listing with stricter nomination and eligibility requirements.

The county register recognizes significant people, places and architecture in the county, said Jason Illari, CCHS executive director. He said the register also acknowledges the hard work of volunteers who preserve places “we hold near and dear”.

“It has been a big help to us,” Coyle said of the designation. “People can look at the list and see the Craighead House.”

A grant from the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau funded two-third of the costs of the exterior painting, Benjey said.

The tourism draw

CVVB has awarded about $30,000 in grants to the Craighead House project, Promotions Manager Ashley Kurtz said Friday. “These funds are being used to set a backdrop for the story they want to tell. We’re very excited about the work that is happening here. We’re very proud of this gem, and we can’t wait to share it.”

Aside from the exterior paint job, CVVB funds have been used to develop and print a brochure on the Craighead House and to pay for a roadside sign directing visitors to the house, its parking lot and its creek-side access.

The Craighead House matches two of the top three tourism draws to Cumberland County — the outdoors and history, said Kristen Rowe, communications manager for CVVB. The third draw is the car shows.

“The Craighead House is a national story,” said Valerie Copenhaver, CVVB director of marketing. “We believe that people will travel for that story. We’re trying to bring an increase in participation.”

Parking lot next

CVVB has awarded a $15,000 grant for improvements to the Craighead House parking lot as required by South Middleton Township and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The corporation board is also seeking grants from the Cumberland County Planning Department, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Work covered by those grant requests would narrow and pave the driveway entrance off Old York Road; grade, gravel and mark the parking lot for 15 spaces; pave a handicapped accessible parking space and pathway from the parking lot to the house; and build a handicapped accessible restroom adjacent to the pathway.

The corporation board has until June to complete the driveway entrance phase of the parking lot project, Benjey said. The rest of the work can be phased in as money becomes available. “It’s a function of when we get the funding,” he said.

The board had to submit a parking lot design as part of the minor subdivision plan approved by the township supervisors, Benjey said. That plan expires in four years. He is confident the board could raise the money in time to complete the work.

Ideally, the board would like to do all the parking lot work at once instead of piecemeal, Benjey said. The total cost is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000. Once the parking lot improvements are complete, attention will shift to improving the interior of the house.

The first floor rooms could be used as conference and meeting space while the second floor bedrooms could be converted into offices, Coyle said. He added, in keeping with the legacy of the building, one goal of the restoration is to facilitate groups that promote conservation.

The bedroom of Jean Craighead George will be developed into a museum exhibit in recognition of her career as a writer, which started when she was a teenager staying at the Craighead family retreat, Coyle said.

To learn more about the Craighead House project, visit its website at www.craigheadhouse.org or contact board members at craigheadhouse@gmail.com. Volunteers and donations are welcome.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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