Could Palmerton be designated as an National Historic District in time for the celebration of its Centennial later this year?
Members of the Palmerton Area Historical Society certainly hope so, and met last week to discuss the borough's possible inclusion.
A crowd of about 20 attended the meeting in the Knight's Gallery on the second floor of the Palmerton Area Library.
Dale Freudenberger, anthracite region coordinator with the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, told the group the PAHS has pursued the historic district designation for the past several years, with assistance from the D&L.
The group hired a historic preservation consultant, Ben Harvey, who completed all of the district survey and documentation work, Freudenberger said. Most recently, Harvey was contracted again to prepare the Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, he said.
Freudenberger said the State Historic Preservation Board is set to review the borough's Nomination to the National Register in June. If the nomination is approved on the state level, it will then be forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C., for its review and hopeful approval.
The nomination is based upon the town's history and design as a well-planned, 'Industrial Company Town', Freudenberger said. The borough would be the first in the state to be approved under that criteria, he said.
"The nomination is being looked at at the state level with great anticipation," Freudenberger said. "This is a very strong application; the nomination was well done, and is a really strong candidate for a historic district."
This past summer, Freudenberger said the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission approved a Keystone Historic Preservation Grant for $10,000 toward the National Register nomination. The Palmerton Area Historical Society contributed $10,000 as well, he said.
While there are sections of the borough that won't be considered as part of the historic district, most of it will, Freudenberger said.
"The vast majority of the community has been included," he said. "They're pretty impressed that a lot of the integrity has been preserved here in Palmerton."
Peter Kern, a member of the PAHS, asked if the fact that the extreme east end of town where newer homes have been built aren't included implies anything, to which Freudenberger replied it doesn't.
"It was simply because those areas were too new," he said. "They need to be at least 50 years old."
George Ashman, a member of the PAHS, noted that the New Jersey Zinc Company's West Plant is included, yet the East Plant is not.
"They did include the West Plant site because it's an older area," Freudenberger said. "It's just that there's no real artifacts there."
Rodger Danielson, borough manager, said he was surprised that the area near Palmerton Hospital is not included.
"It was cut out because of the modern area," Freudenberger said. "The structures that remain there have lost their structural identity."
Kern then asked whether a public meeting would need to be held in the event the community ever decided they would want to enact an ordinance through their council, to which Freudenberger said there would.
"(However), that's not what we're looking to create here in Palmerton," Freudenberger said. "We are hoping you may want to take good care of your property and say, 'let's give a second look to these things'".
Kern said he believes there's a benefit that goes beyond the distinction itself.
"It engenders a certain amount of pride; pride of the homeowners, pride of the merchants," Kern said. "I think all this will do is to enhance the image of Palmerton over time; it would certainly enhance the self-esteem of the community."
Kern agreed that changes have occurred in the borough over the course of the past century.
"During that 100 years, a number of changes have been done," he said. "Buildings have been built, buildings have been destroyed."
The key, Kern said, is "We want to control as much as we can, the history of the community."
Freudenberger concurred with Kern's sentiment.
"I don't see this bringing you anything but good things," he said. "I think it's something you should be proud of."
But, Freudenberger said it takes the efforts of the entire community for such a distinction to realize its full potential.
"It will do nothing for you if you do nothing with it," he said. "It's a great tool if you pick it up and use it."
In November, the borough will celebrate the Centennial of its incorporation in 1912. If all goes as planned, Freudenberger said the official designation of the borough as an National Historic District would be the pinnacle of Palmerton's Centennial Celebration.