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Meadowcroft, Chatham Village become Landmarks

By Patricia Lowry,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, May 02, 2005

One of the earliest places of human habitation in North America and one of its most influential planned communities have been designated National Historic Landmarks.

Washington County’s Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Mount Washington’s Chatham Village this month joined fewer than 2,500 places around the country to be so honored.

“It’s something that will give us some national exposure, and by reinforcing the significance of that archaeological site, it will help us attract more visitors to Meadowcroft and ensure its preservation,” said David Scofield, director of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life.

The designation “comes at an ideal time, since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rockshelter’s discovery in 1955,” said James Adovasio, the Mercyhurst College professor who’s been the site’s principal investigator since 1973.

Adovasio’s research challenged the long-held view that humans crossed the Bering Strait and first settled in North America near Clovis, N.M., about 12,000 years ago. Artifacts, animal bones and other evidence suggest there was human habitation under a rock overhang at Meadowcroft 16,000 years ago.

Meadowcroft opened for its 37th season yesterday, and visitors will be able to tour the excavation site and an additional historic building at Meadowcroft Village. An 1870s clapboard-covered log church, moved from just outside Jollytown, Greene County, in 1997 to Meadowcroft, joins four other relocated historic structures open to the public — a schoolhouse, two log houses and the Pine Bank covered bridge.

Two of the buildings — the schoolhouse and one log house — are associated with the family of Meadowcroft founders Albert and Delvin Miller. A blacksmith shop also is on site; all have costumed interpreters.

This season’s programs include Adovasio leading “insider” tours of the rockshelter from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 18, July 16 and Aug. 20. Information: 724-587-3412 or

For Chatham Village, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998, designation as a National Historic Landmark means more that just added prestige.

The U.S. Dept. of the Interior annually reviews the conditions of and threats to National Historic Landmarks, and makes legislators aware of potential threats.

“They are getting the word out of the need to preserve these properties,” said architect and 20-year Chatham Village resident David Vater, who wrote the original National Register nomination.

Vater said the federal agency pursued the National Historic Landmark designation after reviewing the National Register nomination and a theme study of the early planned communities of master planner-architects Clarence S. Stein and Henry Wright.

The designation regards Chatham Village, built in the early 1930s, as “one of the most celebrated and influential projects to result from Stein and Wright’s highly creative, 10-year collaboration and the efforts of the Regional Planning Association of America to promote social reform and improvement in the housing of moderate-income Americans in metropolitan areas.”

Its plan of low-rise buildings clustered around a village green helped shape the design of the first federally funded public housing projects of the 1930s.

Eight to 10 village families open their homes every other year for the Chatham Village house and garden tour, which will be held Oct. 5.

(Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.)

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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