Award-winning Manchester Township Historical Property Review: ‘This stately house was the home of Dr. Adam Eisenhart’

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This is the 1800s home of Dr. Adam Eisenhart, now part of the Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene’s campus in Manchester Township, Pa. It’s among scores of properties on the Manchester Township Historical Society’s Historical Property Review. A digital file on the building lists the property of high historical value. ‘According to census data and genealogy research, the 1860 owner was Dr. Adam Eisenhart, 1811-1872. His wife was Leah Ferry (or Ferree), 1820-1882,’ the property review states. The review also gave this summary: ‘This stately house was the home of Dr. Adam Eisenhart.’  The historical society’s review consists of a mapped, searchable database of such historical structures. See second photo, courtesy of Scott Mingus, below. Also of interest: Dallastown Area Historical Society does right thing: Promoting borough history on Web, too.

Every year, the York County Heritage Trust recognizes people who have made special contributions toward the ‘preservation, interpretation, or promotion of the history of York County.’

One of the awards this year went to the Manchester Township Historical Society in recognition for its work on its Historic Places Register.

It’s a rich and deep and easily accessible registry of historically significant buildings in that township. Wonderful work.

Two things to say about this. It’s an example of how the local history enterprise is rushing to embrace the digital world. Local history is made for that, with searchable databases and the ability to access information from afar.

Manchester Township Historical Society’s activities do not center around a museum or other expensive-to-keep-going buildings, so it can focus its energy on digital audiences.

Secondly, this gives an opportunity for readers to see how colorfully and wonderfully and passionately Steve Feldmann, a banker and historian, introduces winners in this annual recognition.

So, here is Steve’s introduction of the Manchester Township Historical Society’s award:

Esther Dyson, the journalist, philanthropist and investor, opined that, “The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.”

Not a day goes by where we don’t have a collision with the Internet.  One way or another, the net bounces something off of our brain cells – through our own devices, or through the latest news of hackers invading a corporate or government database. Many of us, I am one of them, sometimes think the whole thing has gone too far. The quill pens and candles of the General Gates House seem very appealing in moments like that.

But then I am introduced to something like the Manchester Township Historical Society’s Historic Places Register, and I go, “Wow, THAT, is really cool!”  And I am reminded of the power of the net to bring closeness and real information to people, anytime, anywhere.

It all started with the kind of phone call that, by itself, was not exactly pleasant. A resident called the township with a complaint – a house had been torn down near their school, and there turned out to be a very old log home underneath the vinyl siding and replacement windows. Does anybody at the Township even care about the historic significance of properties around here, was the cry?  Well, the answer was, yes, but what to do?

Mike Beshore and Bill Einsig of the Manchester Township Historical Society heard about the problem, and got to thinking.  And the answer, developed in a terrific blending of technology, creativity, and a whole lot of just plain old paper-shuffling research, is an intuitive, easy-to-use, point and click database of nearly 250 properties, homes, cemeteries, points of interest, even centuries-old trees, throughout Manchester Township.  At the core of the Register is an overlay of the venerable 1860 Shearer Map of the Township, a large scale map that included the then-current landowner’s names, onto Google Earth, and hundreds of indicators that open a link to a page for each property.  Inside that link is research conducted by a diverse team of volunteers from across the county, from history students at York College to retired school teachers and other history enthusiasts. Also included are links to other sites, such as county records or the National Register of Historic Places, if the property is listed there. If available, the link includes photographs, and information in categories of interest, such as genealogical findings, and military, architectural and agricultural significance.  Soon to come is a link to title search information located in the Society’s online library, and more ongoing research to flesh out more properties.

For their work in making historic research on local properties available to everyone in an inventive, robust, and comprehensive way, in a user-friendly online site that is WAY COOL – The York County Heritage Trust is honored to award is 2015 Community Service Award for local history to the Manchester Township Historical Society.

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But wait, we’ll also include Steve’s explanation of the York County Planning Commission’s work in winning another Heritage Trust Award.

We do this of the commission’s creative solution in preservation planning. And we could not pass up Steve’s deployment of a great quote from the late philosopher Yogi Berra:

 

It’s a problem many of us have faced in our work lives, I suspect. There’s not enough resources to do it right, but you still have to do it. The resources could be anything: time, money, staff, skills, server capacity, 2X4s or Elmer’s Glue.  But whatever it is, you are not going to get it the way you wanted it.

The York County Planning Commission has a simple and fascinating Mission Statement:

“Guiding sustainable development and preservation to improve quality of life in York County communities.”

The key word in that statement for us today is, unsurprisingly, “preservation.”  The Planning Commission advises County Government in three key areas of preservation: Natural Features, Agricultural Preservation, and Historic Resources.

In terms of executing on their mission for historic resources, Director Felicia Dell and her team faced a dilemma. The standard answer in county planning was a comprehensive database.  The Commission had confidence in their skills and capabilities in areas of Natural Features and Agriculture, but lacked skills and training in things historic. And, in 2008, as markets crashed and budgets went down in flames, state and federal resources intended for alleviating those paucities dried up. The need to identify and preserve important historic resources in a growing and changing county, however, did not.

Director Dell and her team’s answer to their dilemma is the reason they are in the room today. The Planning Commission essentially used a tried and true business idea in a creative way – they outsourced it. They formed an Advisory Steering Committee for Historic Resources and filled it with college professors, representatives from the Heritage Trust and Historic York, and other county government officials and interested residents. This committee developed a process by which landowners or other interested parties, who believe a property of potential historic value is threatened, can determine its actual value.  If the process reveals a potential loss of significance, it goes on to identify ways and means to go about protecting, and preserving, the subject property. This planning process and community resource took a hard situation and answered it with collaboration, volunteer expertise and a determination to find a practical and meaningful solution to a county planning need.

The recently-departed and always erudite Yogi Berra, once stated unequivocally, “If you don’t think about where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” For their willingness to think their way out of the box they were in, and to take a path not travelled to build a solution that embodies the spirit of York County and helps preserve York County history, the York County Heritage Trust gratefully awards its 2015 Community Service Award for Government to the York County Planning Commission.

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Cannonball blogger Scott Mingus noted
that the Confederates visited the Eisenhart house in their campaign across the York County to the Susquehanna River in the days leading up the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. ‘Eisenhart lost an 8-yr-old dark sorrel mare that he estimated to have been fifteen hands high. It was taken from his stable in his barn. The horse was taken on Monday, June 29, by Col. William H. French‘s 17th Virginia Cavalry,’ Mingus wrote.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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