Lebanon County’s Historic Preservation Trust is doing what it can to maintain some of the oldest properties in the area, but more help is always appreciated.

LebTown spoke with Jan Morrissey, president of the Trust, about what the office is doing, what kinds of fundraising help, and what is needed moving forward, as well as sharing details about an open house planned for Saturday, May 13.

Legacy architecture in Lebanon

The Trust owns a few very old properties – Light’s Fort is one of them. Made of formidable stone, the building was built by John Light, who is identified on the Trust’s website as “John the immigrant,” on a plot that eventually came to comprise about 155 acres, with a massive stone façade that takes some upkeep. Built to be impregnable during colonial-era conflicts, Light’s Fort is rumored to have had underground tunnels at one time.

Light’s Fort may not meet the common image of a “fort,” but it was utilized as such by settlers. According to folklore, there was a tunnel system beneath the stone structure. (Jeff Falk)

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Now, Morrissey said, that interior is in “rough shape,” although she noted the building is “not falling apart.”

It would be good, she added, to get things to the point that the Light Fort could accommodate groups for events.

The Trust also participates in maintaining the Chestnut Street Log House dating back to a time when Lebanon was originally called “Steitztown.” The Germanic structure is believed to date back to the 1760s, as its layout resembles 18th-century structures found in Germany today.

View of the Chestnut Street Log House from Chestnut Street. (Will Trostel)

Read More: LebTown tours the Chestnut Street Log House

The third building owned by the Trust is the Monroe Valley Chapel, which was built between 1760 and 1800 and likely used by the Moravians. The Lutherans took over at some point as an 1869 Business Directory lists the church as the Monroe Valley Meeting House. Morrissey said the chapel was completely in ruins prior to 1976, when two Lebanon high school teachers and a group of students put it back together “brick by brick, and mortar by mortar.”

The Monroe Valley Chapel, located in what is now Swatara Township, Lebanon County, was built between 1760 and 1800 as a place of worship and later served as a school until the mid-1800s. (Provided photo)

Maintaining history with volunteer power

Morrissey said the Trust relies greatly on the support of the community, both in private donations, and volunteer efforts. The volunteer base, she said, is “very limited” and mostly comprised of individuals over the age of 60.

“It’s good to get youth involved,” she said, making a plea to Boy Scout groups and others. “Help is always appreciated.”

On the financial side, Morrissey said donations are most of the budget. About 30 members, she said, contribute to funding, and occasional fundraisers help. Some grants, she noted, are available, but often involve matching funds which might be prohibitive.

Morrissey gave an example, where roof work is being done now on Light’s Fort. The Trust, she said, is fortunate to be able to pay for the roofing work from existing funds, but needs donated contractor services for things like electrical work and even painting. New doors are also needed.

In terms of goals, she stated preserving a “status quo” for the properties that the Trust owns and maintains.

Individual donations are crucial. The organization operates on a shoestring to preserve buildings which are priceless when it comes to Lebanon’s history.

At this time, she said, the Trust isn’t actively looking to partner with other groups on additional properties.

“What we have, we are trying to keep,” she said.

Historic offices and the community

Other local offices also look carefully at what’s happening with historic properties in Lebanon County.

Bruce Bomberger is the archivist at the Lebanon County Historical Society.

Read More: Local historian Bruce Bomberger on documenting the history of today

“They would be advocates,” Bomberger said of the Historic Preservation Trust and their work in the community. He gave the example of groups who would be concerned about a particular property being modified or torn down, where they could contact local groups like the Trust.

Every state in the country, he said, has a different infrastructure for historic preservation and record-keeping. Public entities, he added, are limited in their oversight.

“(State offices) depend on local preservation groups to be the grassroots – (for example) in an effort to save a building,” he said.

Bomberger spoke about the history of Light’s Fort and referenced a piece he wrote for a recent newsletter that talks about the long history of the building. In the 19th century, he said, it’s likely that Light’s Fort was turned into a distillery and in the early 1900s, a tornado destabilized part of the building, which led to some loss of the historic structure.

He said there’s evidence that someone extended the building to the south at one point.

“They changed it in other ways, too,” he said.

Fundraiser activities: Take a look

Public events are coming up this season, and Light’s Fort and other historic properties will be open May 13 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. for an open house event.

Historic Preservation Trust Open House

All properties will be open Saturday, May 13, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Chestnut Street Log House
1110 Chestnut Street, Lebanon

Light’s Fort
11th and Maple Street, Lebanon

Monroe Valley Chapel
449 Monroe Valley Drive, Jonestown

Lindley Murray School
Asher Miner Road, Annville

Properties are generally open for tours by appointment, she said, but since May is historic preservation month, it makes sense to open them up in the spring to get more people through.

There’s also a garden tour happening July 8.

Morrissey explained that the annual fundraiser involves people buying a $15 ticket and getting addresses of local gardens.

“Sometimes we have small gardens,” she said, “sometimes people have an acre.”

People can start anywhere they want on self-guided tours.

With the open house and garden tour coming up, it’s likely that locals will be learning more about the Trust and its work as spring and summer commence. Look for more on the Trust’s website as involved parties try to keep Lebanon’s past legacy alive.

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