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Harris Township Plans to Restore Historic Blacksmith Shop

by on July 15, 2015 11:14 AM

If you’ve ever been to Boalsburg on Memorial Day, you’ve probably seen the forge in the historic blacksmith shop roar to life with fire blooming as the bellows blow.

The shop has stood for roughly 200 years, and continues to delight area schoolchildren and history buffs with blacksmithing demonstrations and educational programming – but Harris Township needs to act fast to save this historic property, and it might need your help to do it.

“Boalsburg is on the national historic register, and this shop is a contributing property,” says Harris Township manager Amy Farkas. “Unfortunately, it’s beginning to show its age.”

Although the township has already approved a project to reinforce the shop’s roof, a recent report from the State College-based Fernsler Hutchinson architecture group found a number of additional concerns: settling foundations, rotting wood, warped windows, water damage and poor drainage.

Repairs to this important facet of Boalsburg’s unique character could cost as much $34,000, but Farkas has a plan to keep the shop around for another couple hundred years. 

Renovations to the shop would likely qualify for a historic preservation construction grant through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, but there’s a catch. The grant requires matching funds, meaning the township would have to put up as much as $17,000 to get the green.

Farkas also has a plan to overcome this obstacle, but the township will need a little help with from its friends.

“If the township is able to put up $10,000, we can ask our friends with the Conservancy and Heritage Museum to help with a public fundraising push to raise the other $7,000,” Farkas told the Harris Township Board of Supervisors on Monday. “This way we can form a three-way partnership so our taxpayers aren’t bearing that full burden.”

The conservancy and museum were both involved when the township acquired the shop back in the 1980s, and continue to be involved with planning educational programming to this day.

Representatives from both groups were present at the meeting on Monday to express support for the idea and reaffirm the importance of the blacksmith shop for its historical, educational and governmental value.

But there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered before the township applies for the grant next March: will the renovations focus on refurbishing existing structures, or will they focus on adding new supports to the existing materials? How many additions can they get away with before negatively impacting its historical value? Where will they find a contractor with experience in historical preservation who’s up for the job?

Despite these challenges, Farkas is confident the township will be able to get down to business on the blacksmith shop by this time next year.

“It’s simple,” Farkas says. “We have to do something, or we’re going to lose this place.”

 



Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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