Preservation is the result of careful Conservations (physical interventions into the fabric of a structure) that can may take one or all of the following forms; Arrested Decay, Restoration, Rehabilitation, Renovation, Reconstitution and Reconstruction.
The changes experienced overtime by The Plumsteadville School I feel meets the Secretary of the Interior, National Park Service’s (NPS) definition of Rehabilitation that reads as
“an act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.” (“Rehabilitation (Links to an external site.)”, NPS)
I feel this way because it both acknowledges the need for alterations in order to provide for continued use because it has been successfully integrated into the greater Plumstead Township Municipal Building “complex.” And, it did so while maintaining its historic character because it is still recognizable as a two room schoolhouse. Also, it still functions today as a place where the public comes together for the purpose of sharing ideas. Once a schoolhouse, now the main meeting room for all publicly attended township matters where the township Supervisors, and Zoning Hearing Boards meet and vote. What I find a little humorous, is when very important things are about to happen, just like school children, you will see people all lined up in perfect rows with hands raised, waiting their turn to speak 🙂
A good way to discuss in more detail what makes the schoolhouse a good example of rehabilitation is to compare and contrast it to the four categories of standards set out by the SOI. From least to most aggressive approaches; Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. Reason being is that in reality, most projects require the use of interventions from more than one of the four categories in order for the project to reach completion.
But first, there is a school of thought that I feel rests before the first standard of Preservation because it takes a very strict approach that even John Ruskin may appreciate. It is called “Arrested Decay.” This is when, at the very moment of possession, you take the position of stopping all human interaction with the property allowing for the inevitable results of the ongoing process of entropy. Or, the “do nothing” approach as any action in Ruskin’s mind would be considered a work of “restoration” and ultimately an untruth/lie. This form of preservation can be experienced at both Bodie State Park, CA and the Eastern State Penitentiary, Phila., PA. where it is as if, the inhabitants just wondered off the very moment before you stopped in.
While at the Plumsteadville schoolhouse, I observed building fabric elements that followed the NPS’s standard of Preservation. Most notably, the work that retained the materials that embody the charming culpa where inside you can still spot hanging the bell that once rang loudly. Or, in the quaintness you feel when standing in the same space children once did while beneath the simplicity of the preserved portico. Here you can appreciate the character of both the exposed rafters and the worn woodwork that wraps around the wide entrance door. Once inside the schoolhouse you will find the large, over six foot in width, 1859 illustrated map of Plumstead that hangs proudly behind glass, as well as a collection of other artifacts kept safe but placed on view.
The evidence of Rehabilitation are plentiful and easy to spot. Beginning with exterior, I adore the idea that the schoolhouse’s fieldstone foundation seems to insist on making itself known by peeking above the earth just enough to remain on view as to show off its rough nature from behind now well worn white paint. The thick exterior walls have been made even more so via a smeary layer of painted stucco that too is staging it’s own protest as it is already starting to remove itself. Newer 9/6 replacement windows are intact but the original trim have all been neatly wrapped in aluminum to shield them from the weather. Back at the main entry door, you will find that it is always locked. You can only open it now from the inside. “Crash bar” door handles have been installed allowing them to serve as the required secondary means of egress, as per modern fire code. Once inside the schoolhouse, you find wall to wall commercial grade tan carpeting and an array of ceiling tiles with the classic fluorescent light insets. These modern coverings truly conceal details I would love to see Preserved and on display but, I appreciate how the new use required Rehabilitation interventions that in the end also provide some protection of the original building fabric. I cannot image the damage the modern metal stacking chairs would cause as they are constantly being rearranged. And, the drop ceiling system may have been chosen as it provides space enough to hide all of the modern A/C components, fire sprinklers and new wiring needed to bring the schoolhouse up to code(s). Finally, the interior walls have also been smoothed over with a new coats of painted, and textured plaster surely adding to the deep recesses seen in window sills looking to the outside.
Examples of Restoration are difficult to be certain of because although there are two known major alterations to the schoolhouse, I have no information as to the conditions of the schoolhouse prior to each. Inside hangs a wood carved plaque that informs readers of a 1982 “remodel” of the space that I am going to guess may have been when the two schoolrooms were combined to make the single large meeting room seen today. The second major alteration is memorialized on a metal plaque found inside the lobby within the hyphen, that connects old with new, regarding the dedication of the “construction of the municipal building” that occurred in 1994. I very much enjoyed the view from this hyphen as I noticed how it allows for a wonderful view up to the copula as you make your way into the schoolhouse meeting room of today. You can even see the bell’s green patina. I am interested in the Preservation that took place to the cupola. I am most curious to discover if the bell was Restored to working a condition or, if it was Reconstructed using a different bell altogether. Even more interesting is the possibility that the bell could have been made available by the still in operation local bell factory, Mallmark. A well documented and hard earned example of a complete exterior & interior restoration would be the Meyer May home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Finally there are a few small examples of what can be considered Reconstruction. An early photo of the Schoolhouse circa 1900, indicates what looks like natural roofing materials. The cross gabled rooflines of the only two room schoolhouse, have been Reconstructed in appearance via the all too neat alignment seen in what looks like manufactured faux slates. And my favorite discovery can be found inside. Just about where you imagine the copper bell to be waiting high above you in the cupola, you will find a newer rope hanging down through the ceiling tiles, ready to sound it’s call for assembly. A fun example of a reconstruction done recently, is the interior construction of the Brady Bunch home discussed in class. I feel this is a reconstruction because the home itself was never used for filming.
The choice of Rehabilitation, combined with additional NPS forms of treatment defined by the NPS, I feel overall, benefited The Plumsteadville Schoolhouse. Even though the 1994 addition is massive and a bit overpowering, the schoolhouse was designed to remain in clear view along Stump Rd and was made the gem of the new “municipal complex” that it is adjacent to. Also and despite the less than optimal and aggressive modernizations, I feel visitors can very easy still understand that the structure was once a schoolhouse.
In summary, it is worth challenging though, the notion that Rehabilitation is always a positive form of preservation. Because every town has an example of a Rehabilitation where permanent changes were made to a property such that the end result left the property’s historic nature, diminished or worse, lost. Say for example the disturbing project “on tap” for the property where also rests The Stockton Inn that oddly includes more attention to the details surrounding the addition of a 1000 seat outdoor concert venue over any considerations for the continued Preservation of the historic Inn itself.
I wonder if these situations are a result of people placing the future use of a historic property as the primary factor in determining which of the four NPS approaches to take? I feel you do better by first working through the NPS guidelines as they prioritize the protection of the historic property’s building fabric over changes needed to meet a new use. Ultimately, choosing the right formula of interventions should prevent the need for harmful interventions and the unnecessary sacrifice of the very same things that you desired to preserve at the onset of your rehabilitation project.
Plumstead Township Historic Advisory Committee. Plumstead Township; Images of America. Charleston, SC, Arcadia Pub., 2005.
“Rehabilitation as a Treatment.” US Department of the Interior, The National Park Service. Online. https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/four-treatments/treatment-rehabilitation.htm (Links to an external site.). Accessed 28 March 2021.