Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our Crown Jewels

In the past weeks, with all the talk of Montgomery Hospital and building preservation, I've noticed that quite a few people don't have a handle on what the National Register of Historical Places is, or even that Norristown has buildings and districts listed on it. With a listing comes a certain amount of protection for these resources.

From the NRHP website: "The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources." Pennsylvania also has a register, administered by the PA Historic and Museum Commission. To be considered for the NRHP, a building must make the state register first. The process involves 2 applications, one to the state, then once a building is accepted, another to the National Park Service, which involves extensive research.

Some of you know we have historic districts in Norristown. This isn't just someone in town saying that these districts ought to be considered historical. They were designated historical by the National Park Service and placed on the National Register. What that basically means is that, as I said in a previous blog, we've got museum-quality collections of fine historical architectural, and they've been recognized on a national level. If you want to change the facade of a building in either historic district, or build new construction, the plans have to pass our Historical Architectural Review Board, who make sure the integrity of our historic areas are maintained and the buildings in those areas are protected. You can get a better view of a map of both the Central and West Historic Areas at

But many residents are surprised to hear that we've also got individual buildings listed on the National Register:

1. David Rittenhouse Junior High School (Pine and Roberts Sts) was built in 1928, the first junior high school in Norristown, named for local surveyor David Rittenhouse (1732–1796). It's Colonial Revival, red brick with limestone trim and detailing, featuring an ornate, two-story, semi-circular entrance portico, palladian window, and limestone clad tower. The school closed in June 1981, and the building was, years later, renovated into senior apartments and placed on the National Register in 1996.

2. The General Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory (pictured at top), on Harding Blvd., is now the home of Greater Norristown PAL. It was built in 1927-1928 to serve as an armory for our local National Guard unit, constructed of yellow brick on a concrete foundation, with decorative stonework and a parapet, in the Classical Revival style. It was named for a Norristown resident who went on to become the state adjutant general of the PA National Guard (Stewart Middle School was named for him, too). The building was added to the NRHP in 1991.

3. Globe Knitting Mills, also known as the Rambo & Regar Globe Knitting Mills, are two historic textile mill buildings located on East Main. They were built in 1898, constructed of red brick with heavy timber framing and Italianate style design elements. The main building is three-stories tall and rectangular in plan. When I first saw that this building was added to the National Register, I thought, "Really? It's just an old factory building." Then I got a closer look at it. It's been beautifully renovated into an office building, but it doesn't look like a typical office building on the inside. Much of the original timberframing, brickwork, hardwood floors, and even the old machinery is still intact. It's a history lesson in turn-of-the-20th-century milling. The building was added to the NRHP in 2003.
We've got other buildings listed on the PA Historic Register, for instance, the original Winfield S. Hancock Elementary School, built in 1897, and now serving as the Montgomery County OIC. As I said, the application to the NRHP requires extensive research, which can be expensive or, at least, time-consuming. If you're renovating a building, a listing on the NRHP can get you federal funding, so it's often worth it for developers to spend the money on the research (all of the above buildings received their NRHP designation while being renovated).  We've got other buildings in Norristown that ought to be listed--like the Old Prison and Selma Mansion--but it's difficult for volunteer groups to go through the process, and often governments don't want to.

Montgomery Hospital is listed on the PA Historic Register, and has been deemed eligible for the NRHP, meaning it needs only the final paperwork. It would be a shame to let it get this close to becoming one of our crown jewels, like Rittenhouse, GNPAL, and Globe Knitting Mills, only to be demolished and lost forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment