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110-Year-Old Voting House on the Move in Derry Township

Thursday, December 02, 2010
By Margaret Smykla

One-room cabin will be preserved

The welcome mat outside the Simpson Voting House in Derry Township should read “Home Sweet Home” after the 110-year-old structure’s scheduled relocation this week by Westmoreland County.

Its new site is just a mile away in New Alexandria, less than two miles from the intersection of Route 982 and Route 22.

“This move will save it forever,” said Bob Reintgen, a member and former president of the Derry Area Historical Society. “It will be on land donated to the county. [Since] the house is also owned by the county, the county will do maintenance and take care of it.”

The one-story, one-room cabin on private land was built for voting at a time when the county was largely rural and voting houses were common. Machines were brought in on Election Day each year and taken away at day’s end.

As the number of voting houses dwindled, the Simpson Voting House, despite falling into disrepair, continued to be used until 2003.

“It is the only county-owned voting house still in existence, so it is a gem,” said Mr. Reintgen of Latrobe.

The move will cost the county less than $15,000, with the preparation work done by the Public Works Department.

“We’re working on plans now to restore it so that the people of the Simpson District may vote in it again,” county Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

“We think it is important to honor the heritage of this county and a forgotten period when people voted in voting houses.”

About 15 years ago, Mr. Reintgen, a retired history teacher, directed his students in a project to paint the house and perform other tasks in an effort to reverse the deterioration.

Afterward, without maintenance and with animals using it for shelter, it fell into disrepair again, despite the society’s work to give it a new roof and siding and remove a wall to rid it of bees.

Nine years ago, the group learned that the state Department of Transportation was going to widen Route 22 to four lanes and was planning to tear down the house, which stood on the land for one of the new lanes. The organization began its campaign to relocate the house.

“It was a struggle, as you can guess with the county, the society and PennDOT involved,” said Evelyn Baker Ruffing of Derry Township, vice president of the historical society.

The new site will be in a park-like setting and will have modern restrooms and a parking lot and be accessible to handicapped people.

The old-fashioned flavor of the century-old building — such as the coal stove in the center of the room –will be retained, Mr. Reintgen said.

“We’ll have to work our touch-screen voting machines around it,” he said of blending the old and new.

The original outhouse, which is in need of a new floor, will be erected for display purposes only.

The historical society will lend its assistance and guidance with the project.”Hopefully, the county will shepherd the building throughout the 21st century,” Mr. Reintgen said.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633