Work could be underway this spring on a project to improve the parking lot of the Craighead House at 318 E. Old York Road in South Middleton Township.

The Craighead House Committee Corp. has about $110,000 in grant money to put toward the project that could start as soon as the contractor receives a building permit from the township, said Tom Benjey, a board member and local historian.

The state Department of Transportation has set a June deadline for the nonprofit organization to complete the work to narrow and pave the driveway entrance off Old York Road, Benjey said.

Aside from the driveway, the scope of work calls for the contractor to grade, gravel and mark a lot for 15 spaces; pave a handicapped accessible parking space and pathway from the parking lot to the house; and build an accessible restroom adjacent to the pathway.

The low bid came in around $142,000, Benjey said. “We are making up the difference with donations from various individuals.”

The $110,000 includes a $70,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a $25,890 grant from the Cumberland County planning department and a $15,000 grant from the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau.

The corporation board is behind the effort to transform the 1886 home into an educational center on nature and local history. The building served as the 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 Yellow Breeches Creek that flows past 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 house was in desperate need of repair when it was acquired in 2012 from the descendants of the original owners, Charles and Agnes Craighead. Money from organizations and individual donors paid to shore up the underpinnings of the home, rebuild its porches and replace its roofs.

The exterior was painted white with gold and green trim to restore how it looked in the mid-1930s. A bronze plaque was installed in July 2017 listing the home on the Cumberland County Register of Historic Places.

The parking lot upgrade would allow more people to attend outdoor events at the house. It will also enable the corporation board to shift its attention to improving the interior. “It brings us a step closer to an occupancy permit for the home,” Benjey said.

Outdoor events include the annual perennial plant exchange scheduled for 10 a.m. April 20. People can bring up to five plants, receiving a ticket for each. The tickets are drawn from a hat and each person has a chance to pick a number of plants equal to what they brought with them.

One goal of the restoration work is to facilitate groups that promote conservation. The first floor rooms could be used as conference and meeting space while the second floor bedrooms could be converted into offices.

There is talk of converting the bedroom of Jean Craighead George into a museum exhibit in recognition of her career as a writer, which started when she was a teenager staying at the family retreat. This June marks the 100th anniversary of her birth. In recognition of that, the corporation board has organized a Book of the Month celebration that each month features a different book by George that is still in print or available at local libraries.

The Book of the Month celebration was organized by Sarah Fischer, an assistant professor of literacy education at Messiah College and the new education coordinator for the Craighead House corporation board, Benjey said.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.


Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.