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State agency to begin survey of region’s historic farms

Pittsburgh Post GazetteBy Don Hopey,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dozens of historic buildings and farms have fallen through the cracks in the southwestern Pennsylvania coalfields, but a planned survey may help the state produce a much-needed safety net.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has received a $75,000 federal grant from Preserve America to conduct a two-year survey of more than 2,800 farms and other properties in Washington and Greene counties.

While some historic buildings, like the Ernest Thralls House near Spraggs in Greene County, have been damaged by longwall mine subsidence because the state did little to save them, others have been lost because not even the agencies that are supposed to protect them knew they were there, tucked along the back roads in the rolling hills of the mostly rural counties.

Carol Lee, the commission’s National Register of Historic Places coordinator, said the state’s official history agency is limited by staffing and funding, and doesn’t know how many historic properties have been damaged by longwall mining or even how many listed or eligible properties still exist.

“We have listed and eligible historic properties in each county, but we would have to survey or get reports from local groups to know what is happening to them,” Ms. Lee said.

That lack of information can be a problem because the commission is supposed to provide the state Department of Environmental Protection, which issues mining permits, with pre-mining advisory opinions about whether subsidence caused by longwall operations will damage those properties.

The commission lists 92 properties in Washington County on the National Register of Historic Places and another 197 sites eligible for listing, and 41 properties in Greene County, with another 23 judged eligible. But some historians say there are many more.

The commission will plan the historical farm survey this winter and begin field survey work next spring.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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