A Chester County developer has started preliminary work on a possible plan to develop a warehouse on a 19th century farmstead in Middlesex Township eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Liberty Property Trust of Malvern has yet to submit a land development plan to the township for an 825,000-square-foot warehousing and distribution center being looked at for 65 acres at 1701 Harrisburg Pike, township zoning officer Mark Carpenter said.
State law requires developers to seek an historic resource clearance from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission whenever they apply for a state permit for storm water drainage or sewer work, Carpenter said.
He said the typical protocol is for the developer to submit map coordinates to PHMC officials who then determine if the property in question should be surveyed as an historic resource.
The property at 1701 Harrisburg Pike came back as land that needed to be surveyed, prompting Liberty Trust to hire as a consultant Samantha Driscoll, an architectural historian with A.D. Marble & Company of Conshohocken, Montgomery County.
Driscoll prepared an historic resource survey form, which was then submitted to the PHMC for review. In it, she identified the farmstead as the Hetrick Front Farm located northwest of the intersection of Harrisburg Pike and Carolina Way. This property is also known as the Kann Farm after the current family, which can trace its ownership back to 1946 through deed records on file in the Cumberland County courthouse.
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Based on criteria, this farmstead is recommended eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because it represents a period of agricultural significance from 1815, when the limestone farmhouse was built, to about 1946, the last evidence of farm modernization, Driscoll said.
She added the farmstead is significant for its association with the theme of agriculture in the Great Valley of Pennsylvania and as an example of cultural tenancy patterns. Pennsylvania Germans often structured the “lending” of land to their sons, with the son taking over management of the farm while the father retains ownership until his death, according to Driscoll.
The farmstead also reflects a connection to Pennsylvania German cultural patterns in the architecture of its buildings and the way the structures are arranged on site, Driscoll said. However, most buildings on the farmstead do not embody a particular style or method of construction or stand as a prime example of the work of a master craftsman.
Driscoll said the farmstead is not directly associated with any notable persons in local, regional or state history. At the time she prepared the survey, archaeologists had not completed their investigation of the farmstead site.
The site includes a limestone farmhouse built around 1815 along with a summer kitchen, chicken house, workshop and barn built around 1850. There is also a chicken house, cistern/pump house, two wagon sheds and three other sheds that date from around 1880.
No demolition permit has been issued for the farmhouse or any of the other buildings located on the farmstead, Carpenter said.
Near Bell Tavern
The farmstead is located just west of the partially demolished Bell Tavern in Silver Spring Township. Triple Crown Corporation recently was in the process of demolishing the tavern to make way for future development when the possible historical significance of that building came to the forefront and halted demolition.
Local historian Christine Musser is active in the effort to preserve and restore the Bell Tavern. She is aware and concerned about the possible plan for a warehouse on the farmstead property. “I’m trying to work hard at saving these properties,” Musser said. “I just want to preserve the history of the county as much as possible.”
So far, Middlesex Township officials have only been involved in preliminary talks with Liberty Property Trust on the prospect of developing the farmstead into a warehousing and distribution center, Carpenter said. “It is serious. They are moving forward with a development plan. We have not received a plan. It is coming.”
He added the developer has been very organized in its efforts to move a plan through the process. The historic resource survey form is one of the steps the developer is required to do under state law, Carpenter said. He first became aware of a possible plan at the January meeting of the Cumberland County conservation district.
So far, Carpenter has only seen a sketch plan of the possible warehousing and distribution center identified by Driscoll on the survey form as the Kann Farms Project. Carpenter said it appears the developer may seek a driveway entrance to the center off Carolina Way not the Harrisburg Pike.
Though the farmhouse is vacant, the land was farmed last season, Carpenter said. He added the farmstead is surrounded by a built-up commercial area that includes already existing warehousing and distribution centers.
The farmstead is bounded on the south by the Harrisburg Pike, on the west by the IdleAir Truck Stop, on the north by Interstate 81 and on the east by Carolina Way and adjacent businesses.
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