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Historic Bell Tavern

The historic Bell Tavern building, located at the intersection of Louis Parkway and Carlisle Pike, Silver Spring Township, was being torn down last week.

A final resolution on the status of the former Bell Tavern could happen within the next month, according to a press release issued Tuesday by property owner Triple Crown Corporation.

The Lower Paxton Township-based company states it was caught off guard “as most others were in Silver Spring Township” by the potential historical significance of the stone house at 7086 Carlisle Pike.

Triple Crown reports it voluntarily halted demolition of the property after being informed of its potential significance by township supervisor Dave Lenker. The press release states the company wanted to try to gain a better understanding of the facts.

“Several discussions and meetings with township officials have occurred over the last week,” the release reads. “It is anticipated that a final resolution as to the property status will happen within the next month.”

Built in 1780 as the James Bell Tavern, the old stone building at the intersection of Louis Parkway and the Carlisle Pike is the reputed birthplace of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Sentinel reported last week the structure hosted the Stony Ridge Convention on July 3, 1788, a meeting of Anti-Federalists opposed to ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which led to amending the document with the Bill of Rights.

Prior to its application for a demolition permit, Triple Crown Corporation examined federal, state, county and township records for any reference to an historical registration, according to the release. “This review was required by the demolition permit itself.”

“There was no indication of any historical significance of the property on any of the above sites,” Triple Crown states. “Upon proper issuance of the demolition permit mobilization and dismantling of the property began.”

The release mentioned how the company had submitted at least four separate industrial land development and subdivision plans during the 40 years it has owned land adjoining the tavern. “At no time during these publicly advertised and open to the public meetings was there any mention of the potential historical significance of the property,” the release states.

The company added that, in the early 1990s, the Cumberland County Solid Waste Authority had submitted land development plans for the relocation of the county solid waste transfer facility to this property. “During that review process, no information was brought forth as to the potential historical significance of this property,” the release states.

Triple Crown acquired the land the tavern sits on about a year ago in a foreclosure process. Most recently the building was used as a real estate office, computer repair store, and a used car lot. During the foreclosure process, the property was abandoned and continued to deteriorate, according to the press release.

“Although we are in sincere dialogue with Silver Spring Township, we must emphasize that this is private property,” Triple Crown says. “Over the decades, the state, county and township all have had multiple opportunities to acquire and protect this asset. This could have been done for the benefit of the citizens at the expense of the citizens.

“Demanding that ownership repair and give this property to a governmental or historical preservation group at the sole cost of an individual owner is in direct opposition of what the Bill of Rights stand for,” the release reads.

The township issued its own press release stating that when staff members became aware of the building’s potential significance, they issued a stop-work order on the demolition giving them time to assess whether Triple Crown was in compliance with local regulations including the township zoning ordinance.

A township review found that, for whatever reason, the Bell Tavern was not listed as a historically protected building on the township’s Cultural Feature Map or Historic Buildings List as referenced in the zoning ordinance. Based on that, staff lifted the stop-work order, but Triple Crown has continued to suspend demolition “affording us the opportunity to engage in discussions about the preservation of the building,” according to the township press release.

Christine Musser is a member of the township’s conservation and preservation committee and the author of a pictorial history book about Silver Spring that was published in 2014 as part of Arcadia Press “Images of America” series.

According to meeting minutes obtained by Musser, the 1788 Stony Ridge Convention held at the former James Bell Tavern was attended by Robert Whitehall of Cumberland County who is noted as the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” It is believed by some that the conception of the Bill of Rights came out of the meeting held at the Bell Tavern.

The township, in its press release, mentioned how interim administrative measures have been undertaken to ensure that future demolition permit applications are screened for historic site compliance by the township rather than leave that responsibility on the applicant. The township also announced it has taken steps to update its historic building map and list.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.