Picketing Planned to Save Historic Mercersburg House
When the British government failed to protect their homes and farms, residents of Pennsylvania’s Conococheague Valley gathered in 1765 at a house in what is now Mercersburg to organize themselves into a militia.
That historic house may be demolished to make room for a volunteer fire company’s expansion, and some 21st century residents plan to gather this weekend to oppose that plan.
“It will be a peaceful protest,” said Tim McCown, a spokesman for the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House. “We want the fire board to see that the community is behind saving the house.”
Participants will gather at 8 a.m. today, Sunday and Monday in front of the property on Mercersburg’s Main Street. They will hand out fliers describing the building’s history and will outline efforts to rescue or relocate it.
The house and land on which it stands belong to the MMP&W Fire Co., which acquired them in August 2009. The initials in its name stand for the Franklin County communities it serves: Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren. They are about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The site is next to the fire company’s aging garage and headquarters. Fire officials have said they were interested in only the land. Plans to demolish the building, however, have been on hold since a Chambersburg physician came forward with a plan to relocate the house to a vacant lot across the street. That property had been occupied by a gas station. Dr. Paul Orange has said he was willing to cover the costs of moving the building if it will save it from demolition.
Dr. Orange placed $10,000 in an escrow account as a show of good faith while sporadic talks have continued with the firefighters and the demolition firm. The parties, however, have been unable to come to an agreement.
The relocation plan has support from Mercersburg Mayor James Zeger and some members of borough council. Dr. Orange said he was hoping to enlist their aid in setting up another meeting with the firefighters.
Supporters of the house are worried, however, by signs of activity around the Smith house that they fear are preparations to start the demolition. A chain-link fence was put up Thursday.
A spokesman for the fire company did not return calls seeking comment.
William Smith was an 18th-century businessman and local magistrate. His home, originally a one-story stone cottage, has been altered and renovated extensively in the 250 years since it was built.
His house was the meeting place for mostly Scotch-Irish settlers who armed and organized themselves into militia units. Their purpose was to protect themselves from raids by Native Americans who opposed white settlement in the region.
William Smith’s brother-in-law, James Smith, took armed resistance one step further. Among the settlers’ complaints was that Philadelphia merchants were sending arms and ammunition to Fort Pitt, knowing that some of those weapons would be sold to hostile Native American warriors.
Eight years before Bostonians dressed up like Indians to throw British tea into Boston Harbor, James Smith led disguised settlers in a raid on pack trains heading west. Smith’s “Black Boys” confiscated and destroyed supplies they thought might aid their Indian foes.
When the British sent troops to nearby Fort Loudon to protect the traders, the soldiers found themselves surrounded and besieged by angry frontiersmen.
Those actions, years before the Boston Tea Party, were the first shots of the American Revolution, Mr. McCown said. The activities of the frontier militia also laid the groundwork for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms, he said.