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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Historic Trust reflects on County annex idea

  • MILFORD - A reasoned compromise with the Pike County Commissioners, keeping the historic Kenworthey House in place and part of a more modest courthouse annex proposal, are central to concerns of the Historic Preservation Trust of Pike County.
    Edgar Brannon, the recently appointed president of the Trust, recently explained their goals and dilemma with what they view as the County's grandiose plan.
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  • MILFORD -  A reasoned compromise with the Pike County Commissioners, keeping the historic Kenworthey House in place and part of a more modest courthouse annex proposal, are central to concerns of the Historic Preservation Trust of Pike County.
       Edgar Brannon, the recently appointed president of the Trust, recently explained their goals and dilemma with what they view as the County's grandiose plan.
    ••• Not radical fringe group
        Brannon is a retired executive director of Grey Towers National Historic Site, a post he held 15 years. During that time he oversaw raising approximately $12 million to restore the 1886 Pinchot mansion. Some others on the Trust, who also share concerns with the present annex proposal, include Thomas Hoff, whose family donated "over a million" to the Pike County Public Library, Richard Snyder, who is on the Milford Enhancement Committee, and William Kyger, a long-time, former Milford Borough Councilman.
        "We're mainstream business leaders in town...," Brannon pointed out, "We're not a radical fringe group."
        The Trust, he said, was instrumental in establishing the National Historic District in Milford, which he added received overwhelming public support. Milford, he said, has suffered a number of significant losses as important structures were torn down. Among the nicest remaining examples of historic architecture line Harford and Broad streets, the heart of town where the Queen-Anne style Kenworthey House (County Judge's Chambers) stands as a gem, next the 1873 courthouse.
         Although the County Commissioners have offered to the Trust, in writing, a plan to move the Kenworthey building out of harm's way, Brannon explained why that option is not so simple.
       He explained that it is not a matter that it would be more preferable to let the circa 1890 house be demolished than see it moved out of the center of the Historic District. In fact, he said it would be better to move it than see it destroyed.
        The problem is that the costs, despite the County's offer, remain huge and more than he said the Trust could bear.
         The County offered to let the Trust take the house and move it a lot the County owns next to the Column Museum two blocks away. The County would lease the lot to the Trust and offer the Trust $40,000 towards the expense, which is the cost the County estimates would spend to have it torn down.
       He said the Trust is concerned the total cost of preparing the new site, moving the house and utilities and doing landscaping would far exceed $40,000.  "The County would have to pay for the whole cost," he said.
    ••• Much too big
    Page 2 of 3 -    Meanwhile, even with the house safely relocated, defenders of the Historic District must contend with the County's annex design, which Brannon stressed was just too imposing, out of character and unnecessarily large.
       While adding he was not an architect, he said he questions why all of the county judicial systems must be under one roof. The County is looking to improve security while giving adequate space and greater efficiency for the Courts, Sheriff's Office, Probation Department and related county functions.
       Brannon suggested that certain functions, such as Juvenile Probation, may be able to safely exist in its own separate and secure structure. He noted several properties in Milford the County either owns or will be taking ownership. These include the present Sheriff's offices- the old jail; the Malhame Vestment building where temporary court facilities are being put; the former Miller oil Co. building and the PennDOT building, which the County will obtain once the state relocates the offices to Lords Valley.
      "Is it worth wrecking the town because you can't get everyone in the same building?," he asked.
    ••• Bad precedent
       The large annex planned by the County on Broad Street, Brannon said, would set a bad precedent. He asked what if some developer wanted to tear down the historic Forest Hall building at Broad & Harford, to put up a drug store? "We'd be devastated," he said.
      He said they fear that allowing this huge annex to replace the Kenworthey would remove any important influence the Milford Borough Architectural Review Board (ARB) would have, relegating its decisions to "signs and railings."
        Milford's economy, legacy and quality of life are at stake, Brannon summed.
        The Trust suggests that the County choose an alternative plan that includes the Kenworthey House as part of the annex, attached to it in back. Brannon suggests that this alternative would reduce the annex size by 10 percent and give a 50 percent savings in space. The Trust suggests lifting the Kenworthey and put in a full basement for storage.
        With their plan, the Trust would make the annex subordinate to the 1873 courthouse structure, allowing it to stand out.
        The County's present annex plan has 18 rest rooms- due to many secure hallways. By reshuffling some functions that don't have to be under one roof, the size and costs would not have to be so great.
        Brannon gave his opinion that County officials have not been receptive to their ideas and concerns.
       He said he and others from the Trust attended a county hearing concerning repairs to the old courthouse. Brannon was upset that they could not give their input till the very end. He is concerned that the county's architect lacked experience in historic preservation that the 1873 courthouse deserves.
    Page 3 of 3 -    The present annex plan does have 2nd Empire window style and a Greek revival pediment, in a clear attempt to mimic the style of the 1873 courthouse, Brannon noted. The scale of the annex, however, has the Trust concerned.
       He said they have advised over and over that the County get the assistance of the PA Historic & Museum Commission (PHMC). The County, however, has determined that the County is exempt from needing the PHMC approval before disturbing the Historic District.
        Wayne County's courthouse annex, Brannon noted, was built to the rear and does not dominate the historic courthouse in front.  
       Brannon said he was glad that the County agreed to "soften" the exterior of the proposed annex, although he did not know yet what that would entail.
       He said the Trust has no interest in a court action, unless it was the only way. He said a court action would only "create a lot of hard feelings" and would waste a lot of time and energy.
       The County's plan must be reviewed by the ARB and Borough Planning, before going to Milford Council for a vote.
       "For us to support them [the County], we want them to respect Milford's historic resources," Brannon said. "I don't think that's too much to ask."

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