On December 14, 2022, Craig Deutsch and Bill Mahler – members of the Newtown Joint Historic Commission (JHC) – visited the property off of Twining Bridge Road that Toll Brothers agreed to donate to the township as part of a settlement agreement to build 45 homes nearby. The goal was to examine the old farmhouse and springhouse1 on the property to determine if the site qualified as an “historic resource” according to JHC standards.
1NOTE: Before modern plumbing and refrigeration, a springhouse provided a cool space and fresh water. Stone-lined channels or tanks were carefully engineered to take full advantage of running or spring water. These would enable dairy farmers to cool milk and other perishable food items. [Mr. Mahler informed me that the outbuilding was more likely a root cellar and well house, as opposed to a springhouse as there is no evidence of running water nearby.]
“Understanding the Buck county Comp plan is working on ‘identifying’ Historic Resources... Well we just discovered a major one. :),” said Mr. Deutsch in an email.
The settlement agreement specified that “Prior to offering the Township dedication of the Open Space Parcel, the Developer shall demolish the existing house on the Open Space Parcel, remove it from the Property, and grade the Property to the satisfaction of the Township Engineer.” At the October 26, 2022, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting, Peggy Driscoll, Chair of the Planning Commission, recommended that the supervisors allow the JHC to visit the site and document any existing historic structure before issuing demolition permits.
At the February 26, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisor Kyle Davis asked about the structure on the property and Mr. Justin Barnett [Toll Bros Site Designer] said it was an “abandoned farmhouse and springhouse1 near the existing driveway on Twining Bridge Road.”
Mr. Davis asked how old the house was and Mr. Barnett did not know, however added that a historic resource survey form was completed as part of the planning module and the response from the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission did not have any comments that it was historical in nature. “We know that William Twining purchased the land in 1695,” said Mr. Mahler. “I would have to do some research, but we do know there was a structure at this location pre civil war. Based on our observations of the building materials and architecture, I would speculate that there was an original home, with two later additions and that the oldest portion was pre-1857.”
Toll submitted a Request to Initiate a SHPO Consultation, which determined that "There are NO HISTORIC PROPERTIES in the Area of Potential Effect." This document is dated 8.14.2019 well before Toll was asked to confirm with JHC in Feb 2022.
I have been told by members of the JHC that just because a building is not on the list of historic properties, it does not mean it is NOT historic. It is just not designated as such by the PA Historic Museum Commission, which may never have been asked to classify it as historic.
Around February 29, 2022, Toll was informed: “There is a house on the open space portion of the property. A demolition permit is required to remove the existing house. As part of the demolition permit, the Board of Supervisors requests that Toll Brothers appear before the Joint Historic Commission to determine if the house is historic. If the house is determined to be historic, then no additional action need take place. If it is not historic, then Toll should remove it and grade the property prior to dedication of the open space.”
Before Toll can demolish the building(s) it must file an application with the Joint Historic Commission, which will examine the property and determine if it qualifies by their standards as an historic site. If so, they will make a recommendation that it NOT be demolished.
If, as is likely, the JHC determines that the property is “historic” and should be preserved, I hope that the township, with the help of the JHC, can find the money – perhaps via a grant – to restore the building and make it accessible to residents.
Posted on 16 Dec 2022, 10:11 - Category: Development