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Saving our history

Published April 07. 2011 05:00PM

For historians, there's nothing like a good preservation story.

We were heartened last month to learn that a 95-acre piece of land, which was the site of major fighting during the first day's action during the battle of Gettysburg 152 year ago, was purchased by the National Park Service from a conservation group.

For almost two decades the NPS had been trying to acquire the property - part of the Emanuel Harman and Abraham Spangler farms in 1863 - for preservation. However, it was unable to reach an agreement with the Gettysburg Country Club, which developed the land in the 1950s. Most of it was used for a golf course until the club filed for bankruptcy and closed in 2008.

A Maryland developer then bought the property at a sheriff's sale with the intent to build 200 houses. Fortunately, the Conservation Fund, a land preservation group, was able to work out a deal with the developer and purchased it, thus saving one of the largest privately-held properties inside the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Preserving our history does not come without a price. In this case, The National Park Service paid the conservation group $1.6 million. But, as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stated, with the land acquisition, "we are able to include another important chapter in the story that helped shape our country."

Although on a much smaller scale, we are encouraged to hear that there has been local interest in the Lehighton area to save the historic horse racing stand which loomed over the track at Carbon County Fairgrounds for so many years when the borough hosted the annual fair. Late last month, council officials determined it was just too expensive to have the domed structure refurbished. Council had hoped to move it from its present location at the Community Grove, where it is stored, to the park downtown.

The one bid received by the borough to refurbish the structure was for $115,000, which in this time of budget belt-tightening, represents too heavy an expenditure for a small municipality. Any restoration would require replacing the rotted wood.

There was an additional roadblock due to the size of the stand. The 30-foot height will require dealing with overhead utility lines.

Council has offered the stand free to anyone willing to remove it at their own expense, and said if there is no interest by the end of April, the stand will be scrapped.

We were hoping that some person or group - perhaps some resourceful high school students looking for a challenging senior project to take on - would step up with a strategy to save the historic piece. The materials wouldn't have to be authentic to the period, but at least you would be saving the heart and soul of a piece of local fair history.

According to Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig, at least one organization, as well as several individuals, have expressed an interest to move and restore the century-old relic.

We hope the rescue happens. To see such an important piece of Lehighton's past - and fair history - delivered to a scrap yard would not be a fitting end.

By Jim Zbick

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