Salvaging history

Preserving the tangible also preserves an intangible community spirit


In his Guest Opinion of July 13, Bernard Cullen eloquently attempts to justify why the Spread Eagle Inn is a "lost cause, incapable of being salvaged." Some disagree.

A number of "intelligent, well-meaning" Northampton residents have organized under the auspices of Northampton Township Historical Society, the original organization dedicated to stewardship in preserving the historical remnants in our community. We must admit that in a county rich with history, Northampton has been a bit remiss in taking a proactive stance to preserve its historic sites. The Committee for Historic Preservation has actively worked to increase public awareness, reminding citizens that they have a civic duty to keep historic icons alive as functional components of their community.

Contributions by developers have enabled the township to move forward with plans to relocate the inn on its lot. Currently the Spread Eagle is being prepared for bids by moving contractors. Members of CHP participated in decisions regarding the inventory and storage of the inn's contents. It is possible that these items will be offered for sale to the general public as part of the 2001 Northampton Days celebration scheduled for Sept. 9.

Many scoff sarcastically, "The Spread Eagle - historic?" Instead of becoming informed about the past of this Federal-style building standing at the main intersection of Richboro, most choose to judge the building by its current, outwardly dilapidated appearance. "An eyesore!"

While this "eyesore" is not particularly ancient from a historic perspective, its role in local history cannot be argued. Post-Revolutionary War volunteer militias used Enoch Addis' White Bear Tavern as a site for their meetings and encampments. In addition, the tavern was the location of action addressing black suffrage. Renamed the Spread Eagle Inn in 1937, the building undeniably has an unusual and colorful past.

The preservation of history does not always fall under "economic feasibility." Encouraged by the findings presented by a detailed architectural analysis of the inn, performed by preservation consultant Kathryn Ann Auerbach, the committee has submitted an application to the National Register of Historic Places. The Spread Eagle Inn, while suffering from cosmetic changes and neglect over recent years, remains structurally sound and retains much of its historic integrity.

Mr. Cullen argues that the Spread Eagle "has no design nuances or architectural distinctions." Quite contrary to this statement, Ms. Auerbach's analysis verifies that the inn distinctively exhibits characteristics of the Federal period: modified Georgian fenestration, typical attic staircase, and a five-bay front facade. In addition, the second-floor woodwork and fretwork date from the original Federal construction and demonstrate a degree of elegance found in finer homes of the period. Much of the original plan and finished details are still present within the building and could be easily restored and replicated. Because many of the Spread Eagle's original architectural details are intact, there is great potential to provide information on living and traveling habits as well as military maneuvers dating back to the late 18th and 19th centuries. It is believed that such information could be retrieved through excavation of both the site and the basement of the building, itself.

Let's face it. Today we belong to a "throw-away society." Not only do we discard the tangible, we also trash the intangible spirit that gave birth to our past. Do we continue to erode the historical foundation upon which our future is built? The present is the best time to preserve the past for the future.

Any act of preservation is controversial and a risk. Citizens commonly question who makes the decisions as to what's worthy of preservation and the wisdom of spending tax dollars for these projects. The relocation of any building holds inherent risks. But the tragedy of not taking the risk is far worse than having taken the risk and failed.

A lost cause? Perhaps, if public attitudes continue to ignore the importance of preserving the remaining aspects of the heritage that has shaped us as a people.

A lost cause? Perhaps NOT, if citizens "act locally" and responsibly to support the efforts and vision of the Northampton Township Historical Society.

Deborah Glessner, of Churchville, is a Library-Media Specialist at Hillcrest Elementary School in Northampton and a member of the Northampton Township Historical Society. For more information on historic preservation, visit the following web sites:;

COURIER TIMES - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

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