SOUTH MIDDLETON TWP. — Supporters of the movement to preserve and restore the 128-year-old summer retreat of the Craighead family are optimistic that the addition of a state historical marker this June will be an important step in their efforts.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recently approved the placement of a marker at 318 Old York Road recognizing the family. A dedication ceremony for the marker is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, at the home located about halfway between Boiling Springs and Route 94.
Built in 1886, the house is best remembered as the summer retreat of renowned naturalists Frank Craighead Jr., his brother John and their younger sister, author Jean Craighead George. The three siblings spent a significant part of their childhood and young adult years at the house.
Tom Benjey, a volunteer with the Craighead House Committee, submitted paperwork in November to the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program. In the application, Benjey focused on how the family was important to Cumberland County history and how its members through two generations made important contributions to world ecology and literature.
The Craighead House website says the Rev. Thomas Craighead, a Presbyterian minister, settled in the Cumberland Valley in the 1730s. His youngest son, John, purchased a large tract of land in the 1740s along the Yellow Breeches Creek in present-day South Middleton Township.
A descendent, John Weakly Craighead, then sold a right-of-way through the original tract to the South Mountain Railroad in 1868. His son, Charles, then built a Victorian style home adjacent to the tracks and the creek where he operated several businesses and raised five children. It was here that his children and grandchildren developed their love of nature.
Included in this family of naturalists was Frank Craighead Sr., who became the chief forest entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1950, he authored “Insect Enemies of the Eastern Forest,” which remains the definitive book on the subject.
Eugene Craighead, the brother of Frank Sr., became an entomologist for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, specializing in insects that affect orchards, Benjey said. Eugene was also a renowned fly fisherman who invented new lures and tested them out in local waterways.
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, Benjey said. Jean Craighead George wrote more than 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 in the 1930s while living in the Craighead House.
Supporters of preserving the site hope the historical marker would draw attention to the house and the goal of developing it into a center for educating the public about nature, said Johnson Coyle, committee president. “A blue and gold sign will give it an air of authenticity and permanency.”
Benjey said the marker will better identify the importance of the building.
“A lot of times people do not know what is in their back yard,” he said. “When they drive by, they will see the sign and learn something about it.”
He said the committee has received 501c3 tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and a $15,000 grant from the G.B. Stuart Foundation, which will be used to hire a contractor to rebuild the first floor joists and beams that are showing signs of deterioration.
Coyle said the committee so far has raised about $20,000, which it has used to pay the mortgage on the house and repair a leaky roof. Within a year, the group will launch a major fundraising campaign to fund a major restoration, he said.
Work could include the installation of modern heating and air-conditioning, rebuilding the porches and preparing the upstairs for use as an office for the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The building eventually could be used for such on-site activities as meetings, training sessions and lectures. It could also display historical items from the family along with the literary works of Jean Craighead George who won the Newberry medal for “Julie of the Wolves.” Her “My Side of the Mountain” was a Newberry Honor Book.
For more information about the Craighead House or to make a donation toward the restoration, visit craigheadhouse.org. Donations can also be sent to Friends of Craighead House at P.O. Box 335, Boiling Springs, PA 17007.