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No demolition permit for Underground Railroad house

Written by Teresa Boeckel/The York Daily Record | Jul 26, 2017 1:22 PM
mifflinhouse.jpg

Photo by Paul Kuehnel, File, York Daily Record

The Mifflin House, in Hellam Township, shown with a brick summer kitchen at left, is in jeopardy of being demolished. Historic preservationists, noting its connection to the Underground Railroad, want it saved.

The Hellam Township Zoning Hearing Board upheld the zoning officer's denial of a demolition permit.

(Undated) -- A Hellam Township board upheld a zoning officer's decision to deny a demolition permit for the Mifflin House, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The township's zoning hearing board voted 3-0 on the decision Tuesday night. The board listened to hours of testimony last month, which centered mainly on the words "existing farm complex to remain" on subdivision plans for the "Wright's Crossing Business Park." The words "to remain" were removed in more recent plans.

"...there were excellent points made on both sides," board member Michael Rhoads said. "...the board spent a good bit of time considering all the evidence provided ..."

Peter Solymos, the board's solicitor, said he will issue a written decision in 15 days, and Kinsley Equities II would have 30 days after receiving the decision to file an appeal to the York County Court of Common Pleas.

The Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society thanked the zoning hearing board for its decision in a news release, and Randy Harris, a consulting historian from Lancaster County, called it a "positive outcome." 

"We have time now to present our plan to try to get a resolution to avoid demolition," Harris said. "We're finishing a plan that will demonstrate how and why the building can be preserved and recycled, reused to tell this amazing story ..."

In the 19th century, the Mifflin family -- Jonathan and Susanna Mifflin, and their son, Samuel -- hid freedom-seekers and helped to ferry them across the Susquehanna River. The house also played a role during the Civil War.

The Mifflin House is historically significant enough to be eligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Preservationists plan to show how the river, other properties in Wrightsville and in Lancaster County can be part of a larger-scale landscape for the story of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War, Harris said.

Preservationists hope to convince Kinsley and the Blessing family to consider the plan, Harris said.

Tim Kinsley did not comment on the decision.

The zoning hearing board met in executive session to ask legal questions of its solicitor before rendering its decision.

The small meeting room at the Hellam Township building was packed, and people stood outside of the room to hear the decision.

Don Bair of Historical Wrightsville Inc., a local historical society, said he was elated by the decision but remains reserved at the same time. It gives some time.

"That kind of history needs to be passed on to people," he said.

A stone Hellam Township farmhouse with much of its original interior, and part of the Underground Railroad may soon become part of an industrial park. Paul Kuehnel

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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