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South Middleton's Craighead House to be preserved, restored
Craighead

South Middleton's Craighead House to be preserved, restored

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Craighead House is notable for the families its housed over the years.

It was the South Middleton Township family home of famed naturalists John and Frank Craighead Jr. and prolific children’s book author Jean Craighead.

And now, the Craighead House Committee plans on preserving and restoring the historic building.

The house at 318 East Old York Road will undergo restoration to a late 19th-century appearance, Craighead committee President Dr. Johnson Coyle said at a press conference outside the house on Monday.

Slight interior work to modernize the house also will be performed so it can be used by “one or more nonprofit nature-type organizations,” according to Coyle. He said the local branch of the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy is interested in office space in the building.

Work will include the installation of modern heating and air conditioning, reroofing the building and rebuilding the porches. A bedroom will also be furnished for a caretaker or volunteer to use. Despite the work to be done, Coyle said that no construction will be performed to change the “footprint” of the house.

“In recent decades, it had fallen into disrepair,” Coyle said. “There was a very real possibility that the house would be lost. Now, a group of local citizens, many of whom knew and loved the Craighead family and their books, plan to preserve the home.”

The building eventually could be used for on-site activities such as meetings, training sessions and lectures. Coyle also said the building may display historical and literary items from Jean Craighead George’s career as a Newbery Award-winning author. He also said the building may be used for outdoor education, such as stream-side education and fly fishing.

Coyle said that he hopes the work will be finished within two years.

“It’s kind of like a grand old lady here on the banks of the stream,” he said. “We just hate to see it go away. It’s been here a long time. It’s part of the fabric of the community.”

The Craighead House is a house rooted in history. Built in 1886, it was in this house that twins Frank Jr. and John Craighead, along with their sister Jean, spent summers with other members of the family. Frank Jr. and John would go on to become famous naturalist researchers and writers credited with saving the grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. Jean Craighead George is credited with writing more than 100 children’s books relating to nature.

Volunteer for the Craighead House Committee Tom Benjey called the Craighead family “extraordinary people.”

Coyle agreed.

“For Frank and John Craighead, their sister Jean Craighead George and succeeding generations of kids who love nature, this is where it all began,” he said.

Those looking for signs of the house’s historic nature need look no further than the kitchen, the walls of which are decorated with drawings and art from different family members and visitors from over the years.

Rats seemingly running into the old chimney pipe of the house with cats giving chase, and the coat of arms of an Indian prince that visited the household are just some of the drawings on the kitchen’s walls. Coyle said that the kitchen walls alone are worth preserving. Benjey said that he could see the kitchen serving as a workshop for young students. Coyle had a similar idea.

“We envisioned this as a meeting room,” Coyle said. “You could sit here, and if you weren’t interested in the topic, you could at least kind of daydream at the wall.”

Jean Craighead George’s old room is just as telling. An old desk that Benjey said she painted herself as a little girl still sits in the room, with a picturesque view of the Yellow Breeches Creek from a window to the left of the desk. Benjey managed to get a picture of her in her chair when she visited last year.

“She loved sitting here looking out at the creek,” Benjey said. “That’s where she started her writing career, right there.”

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.

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