Historic John C. Plumer House Protected by Preservation Easement
The Mon Valley Initiative (MVI) has donated a preservation easement to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to ensure the preservation and protection of the historic John C. Plumer House in West Newton, Pennsylvania, in Westmoreland County.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the original 2½-story frame house was completed in 1814 as the home of John Campbell Plumer and his new bride, Elizabeth Peaire. A brick addition was constructed in 1846.
A preservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement made between a property owner and a qualified preservation organization to protect the exterior of a historic site in perpetuity. It is recorded on the deed and filed in the Recorder of Deeds office. This easement would not have been possible without the partnership of a number of parties and a timely phone call.
“About a year ago, Ben Markle, president of the West Newton Historical Society, notified us that there was a possibility that the Plumer House might be demolished,” said PHLF President Arthur Ziegler. “When we contacted the Borough of West Newton, the owner of the property, we learned they were open to preserving the property if they could relinquish their ownership of it.”
Knowing how important the Plumer House could be to the economic revitalization of the Borough, PHLF began working with Downtown West Newton, Inc., a local non-profit group dedicated to the improvement of West Newton’s Main Street District. The organization already had a project underway with MVI. This project was a focused marketing initiative to promote the economic growth of West Newton.
These two organizations had local connections and a deep understanding of the community’s real estate market, which allowed for a strong partnership between all of the groups involved. Because of this, PHLF elected to work with MVI rather than accept a donation of the property.
“It couldn’t have worked out better,” says George Molovich, president of the West Newton Borough Council. “After learning more about preservation easements and reviewing our options, Council decided to convey the property to MVI on the condition that they donate and endow a preservation easement to PHLF and use the Plumer House to stimulate economic development.”
To help the process, PHLF deferred MVI’s contribution to endow annual monitoring costs to assure compliance with the terms of the easement and will assist MVI in marketing the Plumer House to a new owner.
“This undertaking is a wonderful example of what happens when there is an excellent relationship between an involved local Community Development Corporation, a supportive local government and strong non-profits,” says MVI Senior Real Estate Developer Patrick Shattuck. “A year ago, there was a chance that this one-of-a-kind property might be lost. Now, it is an important part of our strategic revitalization strategy for West Newton and is already attracting outside interest to this vibrant community.”
Under the easement terms, MVI and future Plumer House owners will continue to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the house, and PHLF will be responsible for monitoring the property on at least an annual basis in perpetuity to assure compliance with the conditions of the easement. No changes can be made to the exterior of the building without PHLF’s prior approval and any changes should conform to the United States Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
While granting a preservation easement on a historic property limits what an owner may do with the exterior of that property, granting the easement provides several benefits. The first and most obvious is that the property owner has protected the historic property in perpetuity from destruction, inappropriate alteration, or development of its land. Another is that an individual or corporate easement donor may be entitled to claim a federal charitable contribution tax deduction equal to the value of the preservation easement if certain conditions are met.
For example, without the federal charitable contribution deduction and rehabilitation tax credits associated with the restoration of historic properties, projects like the Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA, and the Heinz Lofts and Armstrong Cork Factory Apartments in Pittsburgh, PA, might never have been developed. A charitable contribution deduction was not associated with the Plumer transaction, however, since the donor was a non-profit organization.
PHLF holds nearly 50 preservation easements and deed restrictions on Western Pennsylvania properties, and will announce another one on September 14 during its annual donor recognition event.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1964 whose mission is to identify and save historically significant places; revitalize historic neighborhoods; preserve historic farms and historic designed landscapes; and educate people about the Pittsburgh region’s rich architectural heritage. More information can be found at www.phlf.org.
The Mon Valley Initiative is a non-profit community and economic development coalition currently comprised of 10 Community Development Corporations whose mission is to work together to unite communities and restore the economic vitality of the Mon Valley. Downtown West Newton, Inc., is one of the member CDCs. More information can be found at www.monvalleyinitiative.com.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPERTY
Born in 1788, John C. Plumer was an important pioneer who spent the early part of his life trading in commodities necessary to frontier life. Upon his return from serving in the War of 1812, he was elected captain of a troop of Pennsylvania militia cavalry raised in Fayette and Westmoreland Counties and served a term of seven years.
He was active in many phases of community life. He bought a gristmill and saw mill from his brother and grew the business into one of the largest in the area. He also purchased a mill on Sewickley Creek and built a dam across the Youghiogheny River to furnish the power. Navigation was kept open by means of a lock. When a toll bridge was built to replace the ferry at nearby West Newton, Plumer supervised its construction and was a principal stockholder.
A follower of Andrew Jackson, Plumer was elected to the State Legislature in 1830 and the State Senate in 1839. Locally, he served as a Justice of the Peace and pioneered the movement for a free school system. Retiring from business in 1866, he died July 18, 1873.